BOSTON — Now that 90210 is the world's most famous ZIP Code thanks to the TV show, it's not surprising that another branch of Hollywood has decided to explore not the dark side exactly, but the tacky side of Beverly Hills. It's a view complete with run-down apartments, seedy neighbors, and families that move out in the dead of night so they won't have to pay the past month's rent.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" is less a hard-edged expos than a mood-shifting satire, though approaching its subject with a wryly ironic touch.
We view the action through the eyes of Vivian, a mid-1970s adolescent with an unsuccessful dad, an irresponsible brother, and an out-of-control cousin whose parents help out with the bills. Vivian oscillates between worrying about this bunch and coping with her own teenage crises, including sexual adventures that give the picture its well-deserved R rating.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" gets much of its energy from a first-rate cast including Natasha Lyonne as the heroine, Alan Arkin as her father, Marisa Tomei as her cousin, and veteran comic Carl Reiner as her crusty old uncle.
Equally impressive are the unpredictable twists of the screenplay by Tamara Jenkins, who also directed the picture after developing it for executive producer Robert Redford - not usually known for such streetwise fare - at the Sundance Institute. She's a newcomer with a future.
* Rated R; contains sex, nudity, vulgar language, and drug use.