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APRIL 20, 1998: 

The Object of My Affection

When confronted with a film as relentlessly PC and romantically feel-good as The Object of My Affection, you eventually have to succumb. Especially when it boasts wry, knowing performances, smart dialogue, mostly subdued direction from The Madness of King George's Nicholas Hytner, and -- despite its four reprises of "You Were Meant for Me" on the soundtrack -- a firm grip on the protean vagaries of contemporary relationships.

Based on local author Stephen McCauley's novel, the film begins with George Hanson (Paul Rudd, a kind of darker Matthew Broderick) being consoled by Nina Borowski (Jennifer Aniston, discovering life beyond perkiness) over his break-up with boyfriend Dr. Joley (Tim Daly) and taking her up on her offer to be her roommate. The inevitable friend/lover tension sets in, not to mention the blurry borders of sexual preference (it's not as if George had never slept with a woman), all complicated by Nina's pregnancy, the return of Joley, and the appearance of a hunk named Paul. Such cute-hip machinations can induce squirming, but it's encouraging when a scene about a Hispanic elderly woman whose daughter is a lesbian is actually funny. That and impeccable supporting performances from Alan Alda, Allison Janney, and George's Nigel Hawthorne make Object not only desirable but satisfyingly obscure.

-- Peter Keough


Suicide Kings

It's bad enough when preppie types make movies about underworld heists, but when they make movies about preppie types who pull off underworld heists, things get a little dilettantish. Paul O'Fallon of TV's thirtysomething and Party of Five wrote and directed this shaggy-dog suspense thriller that despite the requisite appearance of Christopher Walken as a mafioso achieves scarcely a moment of credibility. He's Charlie Barrett, retired New York City don and current kidnapping victim of spoiled, upper-crust buddies Avery (Henry Thomas), Brett (Jay Mohr), Max (Sean Patrick Flanery), and T.K. (Jeremy Sisto). Their half-baked plan is to use his influence to set free Avery's sister, herself kidnapped by malefactors unknown. No sooner than you can say "cat and mouse" than the wily don, taped to a chair in the parental mansion of unwitting accomplice and anal comic relief Ira (Johnny Galecki), starts to unravel the boys' spurious friendship and the film's flimsy plot. With Denis Leary as Barrett's stooge trying to squeeze Tarantino-esque humor from a pair of stingray-skin boots, Suicide Kings plays an empty hand with nothing wild.

-- Peter Keough


Species II

Natasha Henstridge is back in Species II as Eve, the helpful half-human, half-alien clone created by the government to study the alien species that tried to screw the human race in Species. But in this sequel, the in-heat alien in hunky sheep's clothing is Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard), an astronaut who's infected with alien DNA while on a mission to Mars. As one of the uninfected astronauts explains, this alien species "could fuck the human race into extinction" by breeding with humans to create a violent, yucky alien race. Patrick's new extraterrestrial self gives it a go, mating with every appealing female in his line of vision. And he's pretty darn successful, especially if you add up all those alien kids that come tearing out of the women's stomachs about two minutes after he's done with them. Even more intriguing: the offspring exit the womb sporting ready-to-wear potato sacks. How handy.

As for poor, stunning Eve, once she gets in telepathic touch with Patrick, her, um, basic instincts get the better of her. Aside from this storyline, I'm not sure what frightened me more about Species II -- all the guys sitting alone in the movie theater on a sunny Saturday afternoon, or the truly horrific potential for a Species III.

-- Rachel O'Malley


Sonatine

No Armani, no marinara, no Joe Pesci: Takeshi Kitano's Japanese mafia flick lacks the quaint iconography of the Sicilian-American fare we were all weaned on. Yet Sonatine achieves a cold, manic brilliance all its own that owes nothing to Coppola or De Laurentiis but nods coyly to Kubrick and Peckinpah.

As with Kitano's first feature, Fireworks, the photography is stunning and often inventive; but Sonatine's story is livelier and more compact. It's the tale of a Tokyo "don" named Murakawa (Kitano) whose boss, Katajima (Tonbo Zushi), has sent him out to Okinawa to referee a dispute. After an ambush leads him to wonder about Katajima's real agenda, Murakawa retreats with his men to a secluded beachhouse, where they play frisbee, drink, and enact their campy version of kabuki dance, waiting to make their move. Their banal activities are balanced beautifully by Murakawa's inscrutable, icy ruthlessness; in one chilling scene he approaches two acolytes shooting Pepsi cans off each other's heads and engages them in a casual game of Russian roulette. The final confrontation between clans is a masterful piece of understatement, underscoring this film's adroit pacing and tension, a mob-violence aesthetic that manages to look surprisingly new.

-- Peg Aloi


Paulie

The latest offering from Dreamworks SKG borrows the basic premise of Babe and adds to it the box-of-chocolates platitudes and melodramatic storytelling of Forrest Gump. Paulie (voice of Jay Mohr, doing his own vocal imitation of Joe Pesci) is not your average parrot: he doesn't just mimic human speech but converses with the characters he encounters. Trapped in a cage at a research lab run by a selfish though not completely evil doctor (Bruce Davison), Paulie recounts his life up to that point. After his beloved owner Maria, a shy five-year-old with a stutter, moves away, Paulie starts off on a cross-country trip to find her. Along the way he befriends an elderly widow (Gena Rowlands), sings at an East LA taco stand owned by Cheech Marin, and runs scams with a small-time crook (Mohr again, this time in human form). It all adds up to a sweet, predictable tale that may bore parents (you never doubt that Paulie will be safely reunited with his stuttering sweetie, now a grown-up babe free of speech impediments) but should keep the kids entertained.

-- Jessica Cerretani


I Love You, Don't Touch Me

Starting with the film's title, writer/director Julie Davis takes on the supposed conflicts of today's single gal: madonna versus whore, romance versus sex, balding Jewish mensch versus dashing British cad. Yes, it's Ally McBeal meets Woody Allen as Katie (Marla Schaffel), a 25-year-old virgin, diddles over the fate of her hymen. Smug and self-absorbed, she interrupts her self-pitying whining only to spew male-bashing bile with her salacious pal Janet (Meredith Scott Lynn). It's a bitter, cliché-infested look at the folly of attraction and the "I'm Venus, you're Mars" school of gender typing. It's also downright distasteful: in one scene, Katie likens her dismal dating life to the Holocaust.

Although Davis is right to question the double standards surrounding women's sexuality, this ground was covered with more wit and insight by director Kevin Smith -- a man no less! -- in last year's Chasing Amy. Indeed, at one point, Katie and Janet accuse each other of hobbling feminism's advance. A more likely culprit? Self-loathing trash like this.

-- Alicia Potter


City of Angels

Brad Silberling's film is not so much a remake of Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire as it is a tribute. In both films a guardian angel falls in love with a woman and decides to become human so he can be with her. That's where the similarity ends. Wenders's 1987 classic is dark, heavy, and poetic; Silberling's is light, funny, more Hollywood. But City of Angels recaptures the beauty at the heart of the original and has some powerful images of its own, including a scene where all the angels -- dressed in black -- gather on the beach to watch the sunset.

Nicolas Cage discovers his sensitive, innocent, gentle side as the angel Seth. As Maggie Rice, a heart surgeon who listens to Hendrix in the operating room, Meg Ryan plays the object of Seth's desire with typical Meg Ryan charm and little else. And as friend-to-all Nathaniel Mestenger, Dennis Franz brings a jolly charm to this semi-artsy date flick.

-- Jumana Farouky


Nightwatch

From the opening credits of Ole Bornedal's remake of his Danish hit Nattevagten, it's clear the director is trying very hard. A young woman undergoes bondage. A tinny version of "This Old Man" is cued up. Intercut are flashes of a sloshed law student Martin (a bland Ewan McGregor), his girlfriend Katherine (Patricia Arquette), and best friend James (Josh Brolin) celebrating his new job as night watchman at the city morgue. The inevitable gouts of blood and blatant Psycho references. Police Inspector Cray (Nick Nolte) fielding questions about the latest serial killing on the TV. "It's so creepy," someone mutters about Martin's new position.

So it would seem, and in this empty exercise in style and mood you know there's going to be a bum neon tube flickering outside the room where the bodies are kept to counterpoint the moths fluttering in the light fixture over Martin's desk. Such touches are more intriguing than figuring out who's killing all the heroin-chic prostitutes and trying to pin the blame on Martin. Is it Brolin's Nietzschean James? Nolte's crapulous Cray? Arquette's somnolent Katherine, who seems familiar with the "phenothiazine family" espoused by the duty doctor played by Brad Dourif in a cute cameo? Martin has to stay up all night to figure it out; everybody else will be lucky to make it through the movie.

-- Peter Keough



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