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Sci-fi B movies meet the fashion A-list in Nick Jones' riotously funny Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, a high-octane goofball comedy that director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel keeps bouncing off the walls with hilarity.

John Behlmann and Carson Elrod (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The manic Carson Elrod, who has made it known that he's prepared for the role by studying the elegant and brilliant theatre designer William Ivey Long, plays Sam Greevy, 1937s most fabulous closeted southern drawling homosexual dress designer; a man devoted to making the feminine form look as dazzling as possible without any regard for functionality or human endurance.

Insuring his success is the fact that his lover is the influential fashion critic, T.B. Doyle, played by square-jawed, noir-handsome, trench coat-wearing John Behlmann. But it's a changing world. A rival designer, Paul Roms, played by Matthew Saldivar with intense artistic brooding, has come up with something wild and revolutionary. He calls them sweatshirts. They can be worn by both men and women, they don't flatter the figure and most subversive of all, they're comfortable.

Doyle is ready to strike Roms down with a scathing review but his editor, who likes comfort, nixes the pan.

But a closer look reveals that Roms' new line isn't completely original. It seems he's stolen a time machine helmet from scientist Dr. Cromwell (Remy Auberjonois, whose every pronouncement spells certain doom). The device keeps transporting him to the bedroom of a rude and obnoxious 1990s teen (Jon Bass). With each visit, Roms steals an article of the kid's casual wardrobe and returns to his own decade to claim it as his own creation.

Matthew Saldivar
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Unless he is stopped, the smart and chic designs of the 1940s and 50s will be replaced by jeans, track suits and t-shirts. Greevy insists this will lead to the fall of America.

"Fashion is meant to challenge us, to make us strive to have bodies beautiful enough to deserve it," he insists. "If people start embracing clothes that anyone can wear, they'll stop trying to improve themselves. People will stop going to work. Society will crumble."

Jones pays homage to the standard plot twists that are usually featured in such endeavors. Triney Sandoval plays the teen's father, who is accidentally transported to the past, drugged into becoming a zombie-like worker drone and finally transformed into a shaggy-haired beast.

The grand finale involves a malfunctioning time machine that flashes the two rivals into a half-dozen locales, from ancient Rome to 17th Century France to centuries into the future.

The nine-member cast races through a few dozen characters, with many of set designer Timothy R. Mackabee's pieces quickly moving in and out on rollers. Jennifer Moeller's costumes and Jason Lyon's lighting effectively switch us from stylish noir to late 20th Century tacky.

"There will always be those who push the limits of good taste," Doyle says for the benefit of anyone waiting for a message. "But for every schlub who wears sportswear to Christmas dinner, for every girl in a sexy cat Halloween costume two days past Halloween... there will one more who says 'No, I will not dress that way. Because I believe clothes are not just there to cover up my bits and pieces, they are my bits, and my pieces, and I want them to look good."

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