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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

APRIL 27, 1998: 

CITY OF ANGELS. Meg Ryan plays a doctor who operates on human hearts, but is--oh so ironically--unsure of the nature of her own. Nicolas Cage plays Seth, a creepy angel of God who falls in love with her. Though reportedly inspired by Wim Wenders' wonderful Wings of Desire, City of Angels has none of the intelligence or charm of its predecessor. Instead, Cage follows Ryan around Los Angeles in a late-eighties trench coat, striking poses as though in an Aramis commercial. Who wants a guardian angel if all he does is stare at you, and touch you all the time? The rest of the time he hangs out with the other angels, who are as thick as flies at the public library, where they "live." Living, in this case, consists of shuttling from one side of the library to the other with zombie-like detachment. I don't think anyone in the audience would have been surprised if the angels started feasting on human flesh like actual zombies, their salient characteristic being that they are not human (as opposed to, say, spiritual). Seth perks up a little when he becomes Ryan's boyfriend, but overall this movie falls tantalizing close to the so-bad-it's-good-category, without actually making it over the hump. Not surprisingly, annoying drone/chant music is featured throughout. --Richter

GINGERBREAD MAN. Director Robert Altman evokes a dark, gothic vision of the South in this adaptation of a John Grisham story. Kenneth Branaugh plays a lawyer who gets himself involved with a spooky waitress with a deranged stalker father. He tries to save her, but, predictably, she's not the helpless waif he thinks she is. The atmosphere in this movie is wonderful; a hurricane named Geraldo threatens the cast from beginning to end, and the countryside is perpetually choking on ash-colored Spanish moss. But the plot is limp and inconsistent, and isn't it time that we all faced the fact that lawyers make lousy heroes? --Richter

LOST IN SPACE. A family of scientists is sent into space with insufficient dialogue to fight alien spiders and plot-holes. The first half-hour is comically stupid, but boredom sets in after all the cute lines from the original television series have been used up. Nonetheless, this film deserves a special award for least cohesive cast: Putting Matt Leblanc, Mimi Rogers, William Hurt and Gary Oldman together is like casting Moe Howard, Katherine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier and the Great Glildersleeve in a remake of Dracula Vs The Wolfman. Be sure to keep track of the ratio of real dialogue to expository lines: For every "Watch out for the killer robot!" there's five "If my father wasn't a war hero I would have been able to lend emotional support to my son Billy Jr. when he was growing up as a boy genius in the ecologically challenged world we are forced to live in...." --DiGiovanna

MERCURY RISING. Looking for something completely unchallenging? Mercury Rising awaits. Not only do Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin play clones of their past roles (as hero and villain, respectively), but the film lifts key elements from such familiar territory as Rain Man, Three Days of the Condor, Witness and War Games. The resulting story has Willis running around trying to prevent the assassination of a hapless Rain Kid who has inadvertently cracked a billion-dollar government code. This nonsense barely holds together, yet the film does supply some small pleasures. The supporting cast of assassins and encryption geeks has amusing moments, Willis shows delightful restraint and Baldwin is thoroughly watchable as blue-eyed evil in a suit. The two leads' few scenes together (during which Willis manages to interrupt one of Baldwin's typically arrogant speeches with a swift kick to the chest) satisfy nicely. Maybe I'm just a sucker for movies with John Barry soundtracks, but Mercury Rising could have been a lot worse. --Woodruff

MR. NICE GUY. In a stunning departure from his previous films, Jackie Chan plays a martial artist who must fight vicious criminals. He is aided in this pursuit by Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, who mysteriously drops out of the film about halfway through and is never seen again. But Mr. Nice Guy isn't about consistency of plot, character and setting, but rather about Chan doing things that could get him seriously injured. As usual, after the story ends the audience is treated to the outtakes wherein Chan actually is injured. There's nothing funnier than seeing a guy get his butt stuck in a garbage can--and then not be able to get it out!!! I think this is the first time that Chan has had to speak in English throughout a film, and he does an admirable job of acting like he knows what he's saying. Maybe he could give Ethan Hawke a lesson. --DiGiovanna

THE NEWTON BOYS. Richard Linklater directs that triumvirate of hunky studliness, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke. I'm biting down on my knuckles they're so fab. Julianna Marguiles, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Chloe Webb are also in there. The story follows some famous bank robbers called, get this, the Newton Boys. In between robberies they discover gravity. This is Linklater's first film that does not take place during a 24-hour period. Also part of the excitement of this movie: How will they wear their goatees? And will they touch their goatees while thinking about stuff? Oooooh. --Woodruff

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION. This film has been deceptively marketed and shot as a fuzzy-wuzzy romantic comedy. Actually, it's a difficult and long-winded melodrama. Jennifer Aniston plays a pouty Brooklynite who dumps her boyfriend because she's smitten with her gay male roommate; Paul Rudd is the sweet-faced love object who reluctantly agrees to help the pregnant Aniston raise her child. Their intimate but sexually frustrating relationship would be plenty compelling if the movie could focus on it for more than two seconds. Instead, peripheral characters are repeatedly introduced and developed while the leads become disturbingly remote. The more the plot shifts in emphasis (with Rudd flaking out on the increasingly whiny Aniston to pursue a male lover), the more the two come across as outsiders in their own story. Not much rings true here: For all the script's insights about unrequited love and the meaning of "family," the picture is too leaden to be effective. One plus: Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George) almost saves the show as a gay theatre critic who struggles to maintain dignity in the face of romantic humiliation. --Woodruff

PAULIE. SKG Dreamworks finally got something right--a kids' movie about a parrot. This is easily the finest talking-animal story since Babe, with a tone just as sweet and effects just as seamless. I tried my damnedest to locate the scenes where animatronics or computer-generated effects replaced the real feathered thing, only to fail miserably. The forgivably flimsy story follows "Paulie" on a quest to reunite with a little girl he once helped overcome stuttering. He flies and insults his way from episode to episode, briefly teaming up with such thoroughly watchable character actors as Gena Rowlands, Cheech Marin, Tony Shaloub and Jay Mohr (who also provides the parrot's nasal-but-nice voice). You know somebody's doing something right when even a Buddy Hackett cameo is enjoyable. Okay, I might as well admit it: This is the best parrot movie I have ever seen. --Woodruff

PRIMARY COLORS. In this wide-ranging, thought-provoking movie, director Mike Nichols takes a hard look at how our political system methodically churns out idealistic hypocrites just aching to run the country. in This thinly disguised account of the 1992 Clinton primary campaign centers on Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta), a manipulative skirt-chaser with a big, throbbing heart; his lovely wife Susan (Emma Thompson), a behind-the-scenes power player; and the starry-eyed Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), the campaign manager who wants to believe that Stanton truly cares about the common man. Governor Stanton's supporters stick by their man through bimbo flare-ups and a general array of dirty tricks, but they suffer from his lack of moral sense. Nichols raises some interesting questions about who believes in what, and why they even bother, without being pedantic about it. --Richter

SPECIES II. According to this movie, we shouldn't send astronauts to Mars, because apparently they'll be infected with alien DNA, come home, have dimly-lit sex with lots of large-breasted women, impregnate them, and then produce alien offspring that burst forth from the poor women's stomachs with the force of a massive, right-wing conspiracy. Then there'll be more nudity and violence and more nudity and violence and more nudity and violence, until sensitive parents are forced to remove their youngsters from the theater (oddly, the parents who did this when I saw Species II did it during the sex, and not the violence). In fact, this film has more naked people bumping in bed together than most HBO After Dark movies. Plus, the dialogue is so abysmal that normally astute character actor Michael Madsen just grunts all his embarrassing lines at Marg Helgenberger, who just shouts all her lines back. The weirdest part is that this abomination was directed by Peter Medak, who made such critically acclaimed films as The Ruling Class, Romeo is Bleeding, The Krays and the extremely dark and intelligent A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. That one is about a couple who must care for their severely brain damaged daughter. They pretend to speak for her, make odd little jokes in her uncomprehending presence, and debate whether or not it would be better to kill her. Not exactly the normal precursor for a space-porno-horror flick that features alien sex fiends and the highly naked "acting" of supermodel Natasha Henstridge.

WILD THINGS. If the previews hadn't given away the first hour of this poorly directed film noir outing, it would probably have been a lot less boring. Denise Richards makes her sophomore appearance here, and she is a marvel of modern science. Luckily, she didn't have the star power to demand a "no nude scenes" clause in her contract like box-office draw/no-talent Neve Campbell, so you can really get a good look at all the scalpel marks on her surgically enhanced body. There's also some plain-old lesbian sex between Richards and Campbell, shots of Theresa Russell's butt, and, I think, a plot. It has something to do with a teacher being framed for rape so that he can sue someone and split the proceeds with everyone who's in on the scam, which turns out to be just about everyone in southern Florida. Since there's no suspense or tension, the task of keeping the audience interested is handed over to the barely-legal sex and Bill Murray's comic-relief role as a sleazy lawyer in a phony neck-brace. --DiGiovanna

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