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Mercury Rising, Mon Homme, and The Newton Boys.

By Ray Pride, Sam Jemielty

APRIL 6, 1998: 

Mercury Rising

Mix "Die Hard" and "Rainman," how can you go wrong? Bruce Willis is back in his you-fill-in-the-blank on-the-edge role: cop-on-the-edge, taxi-driver-on-the-edge, and now Art Jeffries, an FBI agent on-the-edge, reduced to pushing pencils in a Chicago office after punching a fellow law-enforcement official. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, although I was not too impressed with either "The Fifth Element" or "Last Man Standing," not that Bruce was at fault. In "Mercury Rising," though, the formula works to near perfection: An autistic 9-year-old Chicago kid, Simon (Miko Hughes), cracks a top-secret code (codename: Mercury Rising) in a puzzle book (don't ask), his parents get whacked, and only Jeffries can keep the boy from an early grave. Director Harold Becker ("City Hall") wastes no time dropping a few bodies across Jeffriesą path, and the action doesn't slow down except when Simon needs a nap‹and he's pretty peppy. Alec Baldwin is convincingly smarmy as an NSA bigwig morally strong enough to put the lives of the many over the lives of the few, while also appreciating a good bottle of vino. For Hughes' Simon, the best I can say is he consistently stares off into space, throws fits and solves uncrackable codes in a manner that suggests autism to the untutored eye; ultimately, Simon is just an accouterment to Jeffries, a reason to get shot at‹a key element in an action film. Chicago actor Chi McBride fills the crucial role of Jeffries' buddy at the FBI, Robert Stanton and Bodhi Pine Elfman are lovably goofy NSA computer geeks, Kim Dickens is a kind stranger in a clingy sundress, and even the city of Chicago plays a role as Jeffries and Simon cavort on the Kennedy, the Michigan Avenue bridge, the Wrigley Building and the el tracks. (Sam Jemielity)


Mon Homme

A young woman sits at a counter along the marble hall of a Paris shopping center. Barry White murmurs on the soundtrack. Cut closer. Short black hair freshly chewed, black lace bustier looming from her blouse. Cut closer. Barry growls, music starts, she bends her long leg, black-stockinged, high-heeled, a prostitute tempting a bourgeois passerby to try selling her sex. Writer-director Bertrand Blier is a career provocateur, hoping to unsettle in his placid-looking yet roguish and raunchy stories such as "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," "Too Beautiful For You" and "Menage." Blier's later movies are shot in elegant widescreen, capturing sleek decors in which his rebellious bourgeois learn to shed their inhibitions. But they're more than perfume ads with naughty, naughty thoughts. As embodied by Anouk Grinberg, a Blier regular, Marie is an exquisite tramp, both dominant and submissive, a character who's ethereally happy with her chosen profession, yet who is equally likely to discourse on the joy of fucking for pay as the niceties of a simple family life. Check her silky sarcasm on lines like "Is being a whore fun? Joy. Pure Joy." And "I've got a happy mind and a happy ass and a healthy bank balance." Marie says she sells "love, real love, pure love," takes in a bum as her pimp, measures the needs of the oh-so-needy men she meets. Gorecki plays when she spreads her legs. Blier is deadpan to the finish. 95m. (Ray Pride)


The Newton Boys

Bank robbing is funny, as long as the bank's insured and nobody gets shot. That's the basic premise of "The Newton Boys," an entertaining film in which robbery is a family business. Based on the true story of four brothers who robbed eighty banks all over North America between 1919 and 1924 without shooting anyone, "The Newton Boys," like the best bank job, is an ensemble effort. Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey) is the free-spending ringleader convinced that insurance companies are the real crooks. Teamed up with a dyspeptic nitro expert (Dwight Yoakam), Willis enlists his brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke), Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Joe (Skeet Ulrich) to literally ride shotgun, and lots of hootin', lootin' and shootin' ensue as bank facades explode. The film drags when director Richard Linklater turns his attention to the seemingly tacked-on love affair between Willis and Louise ("E.R."'s Julianna Margulies, alternating throughout between smiling winces and wincing smiles) or the more or less incompetent investigators. Hawke steals the show as a wisecracking, boozin' free spirit, and Yoakam wrests all the humor and insight possible out of the fine art of blowing the door off a box safe. It's only when the Boys try to rob a train outside Chicago that someone finally takes a slug, or five, to be exact. Never fear, though; the final credits roll along with reassuring footage of the real-life Joe Newton, in his seventies, laughing off the whole story on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. (Sam Jemielity)


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