Everybody has an unlucky-star arena in which they've serially flunked out. Madonna, long successful in so many media, has cinema. Can our hyper-ballsy Material Girl be intimidated by "real" acting, as opposed to music video personae she's done fine by? Maybe. But that doesn't explain why, after 30 years' experience behind cameras, she's made a directorial debut as poorly crafted as Filth and Wisdom, which looks cheap and ugly despite all gratuitous visual gimmicks.
That's not even the real problem. Since she got religion, Madonna (like myriad post-hedonist celebrities) thinks she has profound wisdom to share. That renders this wannabe quirky ensemble seriocomedy not just unfunny, but annoying. Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz constantly lectures the camera with vapidities like "There's duality in everything." Good. Evil. They co-exist! If that's all Kabbalah offers, bring on the Zoroastrianism. It's hard not to view Filth and Wisdom as a prism magnifying its auteur's world view, which doesn't flatter. Characters we're meant to like Hutz's emigre rocker, ballerina-cum-stripper (Holly Weston), and drug-thieving pharmacist (Vicky McClure) are snide and resentful. Their sexuality exists to generate $$. Everyone else is a fool or john. Then there's Richard E. Grant's blind poet, pathos apexing when he fondles and smells books he can no longer read. Smells. Seeking to amuse and enlighten, Filth feels joyless and pretentious, yet empty. There will be worse 2008 movies. Probably none will make their makers seem quite so smugly unpleasant.
Filth and Wisdom opens Fri/24 in Bay Area theaters.