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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

JANUARY 12, 1998: 

AS GOOD AS IT GETS. This is one of the first films in what promises to be a rich and varied genre--the Prozac movie. Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a really mean novelist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a razor-sharp wit. The first half of As Good As It Gets, before the guy gets medicated, is honestly funny. Udall is the prototypical nasty New Yorker. He's fair, too. He hates everyone equally. But a saucy waitress (Helen Hunt) makes him "want to be a better man," and, in the style of Awakenings, he begins to snap out of his dark, dank little world. The second half of the movie is less funny than the first; Helen Hunt does okay in short scenes but becomes insufferable when she's on screen too long. And of course, she's way too young for Nicholson. Still, he is in rare form in this movie, charming and repulsive both, and there are plenty of genuine comic moments. This is about as good as it gets for seven bucks at the multiplex these days. --Richter

BEAUMARCHAIS. Fabrice Luchini is extremely compelling as playwright Beaumarchais, whose mild political satires were enough to get him repeatedly thrown into the Bastille in pre-Revolutionary France. However, in spite of his charming insouciance, Luchini's performance cannot completely carry this film through its lurching, uneven episodes. The opening segment deals with Beaumarchais the political artist, but then the movie switches gears to become a spy film, wherein secret plans must be recovered from a gender-bending French agent in England. It's hard to get involved in this tale as no information about the purpose of the mission is given until its resolution, when everything is explained too neatly and without art. Then it's on to another, vaguely related segment, and so on. The only thing providing continuity is a thin tale about a young man who idolizes Beaumarchais and wishes that he would just stick to writing. Still, the dialogue is intermittently hilarious, and Luchini is amusing enough to make this a viable alternative to most Hollywood attempts at entertainment. --DiGiovanna

CRITICAL CARE. Director Sidney Lumet has had a long, prestigious career making films like 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Network; but his latest, Critical Care, is pretty bad. James Spader does a so-so Jimmy Stewart impersonation, trying for an everyman appeal as Dr. Werner Ernst, an oversexed but well-meaning resident sucked into a right-to-die-case, with a twist. Albert Brooks plays an alcohol-damaged doctor who cracks jokes about, what else, HMOs. Kyra Sedgwick is the bratty daughter of a comatose millionaire. Each character seems to have sprung from a different movie, and the lack of unity is startling. Throw in a not-so-distant future setting (where critically ill patients recline on inflatable pool toys) and some corny lines about healing the sick, and you have one disappointing lump of a movie. --Richter

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Woody Allen trundles out the old themes of love, relationships, blow jobs and creative work with lousy results. Allen's character Harry (whom he constructs, by the way, not deconstructs), is a philandering, irresponsible, whining, famous novelist. He's so emotionally empty and thoroughly unlikable that it's almost impossible to be amused by his antics--which include goofball stunts like kidnapping his son and cheating on his wife. Harry, the owner of a thoroughly opaque charm, somehow manages to seduce a bevy of fresh-faced beauties; when he's not doing it himself, his characters are acting out his fantasies for him in little vignettes meant to represent the stories Harry Block is writing. There are occasionally spikes of funniness--Billy Crystal is wonderfully smooth as the devil--but overall, Deconstructing Harry is flat and clunky, if not honestly creepy. --Richter

GABBEH. This is what happens to cultures that don't have enough TV. They start watching rugs for entertainment. Fortunately, the rug that's watched by the elderly couple in Gabbeh is better than most American sit-coms. It stars a beautiful young nomad girl who weaves a playful tale of love, courtship, family, and (implicitly) the importance of ritual and folklore. Written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh gives experimental narrative a good name, using bright primary colors and creative editing to generate unique, magical-realist effects. Though it had a few too many scenes filled with extended sheep baaaaahs for my tastes, I'd still recommend Gabbeh to anyone curious about Iranian rural culture. --Woodruff

MOUSE HUNT. You know that Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon where Coyote is trying to kill Roadrunner but his trap backfires, and he falls off a cliff, and then in the next scene he's fine and tries to kill Roadrunner again, but his trap backfires, and he falls off a cliff, and then that same thing happens again and again and again until you just wish that someone at Acme would invent a device that once and for all finished off the two of them so you could just stare at the empty desert landscape? Well, if you edited out anything that was remotely funny in that cartoon, and then repeated the remaining scenes another four hundred times, you'd have made a film that was almost infinitely more entertaining than Mouse Hunt. For my part, I ran screaming from the theater after the fifth repetition of the hunters-fall-into-their-own-trap "gag," but I hear that many who stayed to the end were forever scarred, and can only walk the desolate back alleyways of life, dreaming of a better world where films have plots, characters, and even some vague sense of craft. --DiGiovanna

MR. MAGOO. Imagine humor-blind filmmakers playing "pin the comedy on the movie" and you've got Mr. Magoo. Watching Leslie Nielsen act like a jackass while squinting is almost as fun as a trip to that optometrist whose halitosis fills your nostrils every time he says "Better or worse?" A blind person who mistakenly walked into Amistad would find more laughs. Director Stanley Tong, a veteran of Jackie Chan action movies, whisks us from misused comedy setup to misused comedy setup as if desperately channel-surfing: Click. I wish Jackie Chan were here. Click. Where's Jackie?! Click. I have no idea what I'm doing. Click. Malcolm McDowell sure looks like Fife Symington. Click. Oh my god this isn't funny. Click. JACKIE!!! Click. Maybe if I go faster nobody will notice how bad this is. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. The film's only assets are Kelly Lynch, as a butt-kicking vixen/villain who changes disguises every other scene (at one point she looks like Mrs. Doubtfire); and Angus the bulldog, who's obviously too talented for this movie and should get his own feature alongside the pooch in As Good As It Gets. --Woodruff

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