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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

MAY 4, 1998: 

HE GOT GAME. Spike Lee can't help himself--he's always taking on the grand themes, with varying levels of success. Here, he takes on The Game, i.e. Life, i.e. Basketball--and he scores! We Got Game is a long, ambitious movie about the country's best high-school basketball player negotiating the difficult terrain of success. Everyone wants a piece of Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), a focused, talented, and personable kid--including his father Jake (Denzel Washington), a murderer who's been let out of prison briefly to try to persuade Jesus to sign up with a university referred to only by the Kafkaesque moniker, "Big State." The plot is so contrived that it actually turns a corner and becomes believable again. (Who could make this up?) Somehow Lee pulls it all off with aplomb. His filmmaking style is as fresh and wonderfully visual as ever, and the story has some of the heart-stabbing tension of Hoop Dreams. The score is by Aaron Copeland and Public Enemy--which gives some indication of Lee's territorial range. --Richter

MEN WITH GUNS. John Sayles takes us on a tour through a jungle full of evil soldiers, exploited workers, and ruthless guerrillas in Men With Guns, the latest offering from America's most determined independent filmmaker. Our guide on this tour is a complacent, middle class, Central American doctor (Federico Luppi), who acts as a sort of stand-in for all complacent, comfortable audience members. The doctor, safe in his shell, doesn't believe the tales of atrocities and power abuse that he hears until he voyages into the jungle himself, in search of a group of students he trained to give medical care to isolated peasant villages. Once there, he finds that most of his students have fled or been murdered in the aftermath of a brutally suppressed peasant rebellion. On his journey, the doctor picks up traveling companions, Wizard of Oz-style, as he searches for some shard of justice and humanity. Sayles tells this difficult story with style and grace, despite a certain amount of visual clunkiness. And he had the guts to write the dialogue in Spanish. --Richter

TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY. Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers anonymity stars in this uninteresting outing wherein Tarzan must defend his beloved Africa from white looters. The film gains points by portraying the Indiana Jones-styled Nigel Ravens, an archeologist who thinks nothing of stealing local treasures, as a ruthless and cowardly villain. I never understood why we were supposed to cheer at the beginning of the first Indiana Jones movie when he robs those people of their sacred gem. If only they'd killed Indy and feasted on his imperialist flesh. Oh well. Jane March, of The Lover, loses the last of her art-house cred by appearing as Tarzan's fiancée Jane, but she at least provides a beautiful face to distract audiences from this poorly paced tale, which eschews clever storytelling for a deus-ex-machina ending and several improbable assists from an African shaman with the supernatural power to fill in plot holes. Maybe youngsters would enjoy the scenes of Tarzan freeing trapped and caged animals, and teaming up with gorillas to fight the white boys, but Tarzan and the Lost City's 100 minutes will feel quite a bit longer to adult moviegoers.

TWO GIRLS AND A GUY. James Toback wrote the screenplay for this playful, racy, one-set movie, but much of the dialogue and action was improvised. It shows: Not only does Robert Downey Jr. have an extended scene babbling weird noises in front of a mirror, but there are times when Two Girls and A Guy comes to a complete standstill, or heads off at a 90-degree angle for no clear reason. Toback's smart, machine-gun-fast dialogue, which abruptly kicks in whenever the actors run out of improvisation, is so good it left me wishing Toback had spent more time developing the story. Hovering over the movie like a bad smell is the question of why the two female leads, Heather Graham and Natasha Wagner (the most vital and engaging of the three), even bother to stick around Downey's studio apartment after they learn he's been lying to each of them for 10 months. We get an answer, but not soon enough. Toback does have some challenging things to say about the battle between sexual fidelity and emotional reality, but he hasn't said enough here, and the film feels terribly unfinished. Send it back! And while you're at it, rewrite the cop-out ending!

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