Undeniably powerful but also intensely disturbing and difficult to take, Star 80 is a film that seems to want to make a statement but also can't seem to decide what that statement should be. Director-screenwriter Bob Fosse is to blame for this indecisiveness, but also deserves credit for much of the film's impact. The film has the same visual confidence that marks his best work, with editing by Alan Heim that is a key ingredient in the film's effectiveness. Fosse captures a riveting, full-bodied performance from Eric Roberts. Rarely has an actor so willingly committed himself to creating such an unlikeable, alienating character. If anything, Roberts does his job too well. His performance overpowers the film (as the real man overpowered the life of Dorothy Stratten), giving it a center that is so repulsive that most viewers will feel alienated. Had Fosse the writer been as skillful as Fosse the director, he might have found a way of making this work, but too often the script seems to come down on Snider's side, making the viewer feel, in some strange way, complicit in his actions. The script also gives short shrift to Stratten, making her less realized, especially in Mariel Hemingway's vacant performance. Ultimately, despite the considerable skill and talent of the director and male lead, Star 80 is too off-putting to be the important film it wants to be.
Director Bob Fosse's fact-based tale of Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten's short life and gruesome death focuses less on Stratten (played by Mariel Hemingway) than on her husband/manager, sleazoid pornographer and all-around failure Paul Snider (Eric Roberts, ideally cast). He sees the young beauty as his meal ticket and sets out to pimp her in the adult entertainment business. He marries her and appoints himself her career manager; soon after, she attracts the attention of Playboy executives and wins a spot in the magazine. As her success increases however, so does Snider's alienation as he finds himself left out in the cold. His jealousy begins to consume him; she spurns him on the advice of her new friends; he goes berserk and confronts her. The same murder-suicide inspired the made-for-television Death of a Centerfold. This was choreographer/filmmaker Bob Fosse's final film.