Review: 'Velvet Buzzsaw' cuts with dull blade

Art world satire has juicy performances but loses its way

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Velvet Buzzsaw."

A savage art world takedown is interspersed with a so-so horror satire in "Velvet Buzzsaw," Dan Gilroy's over-the-top-but-scattered commentary on Los Angeles art types.  

In his first two films "Nightcrawler" and "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," Gilroy positioned himself as a chronicler of odd corners of L.A. life, a cousin to Michael Mann's stylized, nighttime view of the City of Angels. 

With "Velvet Buzzsaw," he ventures into the realm of the absurd, but still has an affection for the city even as he holds a knife to its throat. 

Jake Gyllenhaal, who also starred in "Nightcrawler," plays Morf Vandewalt, a prominent art critic whose word can make or break an exhibit or a sale. His interest is piqued by the work of Ventril Dease, an artist whose work is discovered after his death by art world climber Josephina (Zawe Ashton). 

Josephina ignores Dease's wish that his artworks be destroyed, and in death he becomes the toast of the art world. Rhedora Haze (Rene Russo) is hungry to display his works, even as strange things begin to happen to those who come in contact with them. Just wait and see what happens with Gretchen (Toni Collette), a museum buyer, and a giant metallic sphere. 

"Velvet Buzzsaw" has fun sending up the pretentiousness of the art world and its collective clamoring to discover the Next Big Thing, but it loses its bite as it morphs into a directionless horror romp. The performances are quite delicious, especially Gyllenhaal, who cries, "the admiration I had for your work has completely evaporated!" at a young artist. But by the end of "Velvet Buzzsaw," you'll know how he feels.


'Velvet Buzzsaw'


Rated R for violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and brief drug use

Running time: 111 minutes

Now streaming on Netflix