Cinema snobs are going to latch onto Franois Ozon's "8 Women" for its purposeful allusions to Jeanne Moreau, Douglas Sirk and other notables of film history both French and American. But you, you're too smart to care about all that. What you want to know is that taking three of your favorite drag queens and some alcoholic contraband to this movie equals a windfall of instant camp.
Anybody who fondly remembers the cross-dressing melodrama "Murder Is a Drag" (presented a few years back at Theatre Downtown) will find something to love about the gleefully preposterous "8 Women," a 1950s murder mystery with a severe case of everything. We're talking severe plot turns, severe wardrobes, severe colors -- all the kitsch tools Ozon needs to properly tell the tale of one man and (you guessed it) eight women trapped in a house full of homicide and hostility. The man, you see, is dead, which allows his distaff relatives and servants -- including wife and animal-print fancier Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) -- to search for clues to his killing while implicating each other with the steely-eyed calculation that only the French can muster. There are catfights, financial machinations, allegations of sexual impropriety, disputed parentage and even the arrival of a slutty lady in red (Fanny Ardant) who appears to have allowed most of the countryside to take a run at her can-can.
Based on a 1960s crime play by one Robert Thomas, "8 Women" is wisely played straight (pardon the expression), maintaining its poker face even when one of the gals occasionally finds human speech too restricting and instead breaks out in song. Each of the eight actresses gets a musical number (some complete with Gidget-esque choreography) with which to reveal her character's innermost thoughts -- musings appropriated from the songbook of Sylvie Vartan and other vocalists of the continent. Ozon, working in a milieu that's a full 180 degrees from his moody "Under the Sand" of last year, uses the musical format to take the proverbial piss out of a story that's an Agatha Christie whodunit at heart (or maybe "Sue Grafton's "C is for Croissant"").
As most musicals do, this one starts to lag a bit somewhere around the sixth number. Not to worry. That's what the drag queens and booze are for.