Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Film Reviews

Film reviews are updated on Fridays. This section compiled by Marjorie Baumgarten (M.B.); with reviews by Hollis Chacona (H.C.), Steve Davis (S.D.), Robert Faires (R.F.), Alison Macor (A.M.), Marc Savlov (M.S.), Russell Smith (R.S.).

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  • Recommended
  • New Releases
  • First Runs
  • Still Playing
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5 stars As perfect as a movie can be
4 stars Slightly flawed, but excellent nonetheless
3 stars Has its good points, and its bad points
2 stars Mediocre, but with one or two bright spots
1 stars Poor, without any saving graces
0 stars La Bomba



D: Murray Lerner. (Not Rated, 128 min.)

We want the world and we want it now. When did the Woodstock generation start believing its own hype and, what's more, when did it quit? Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival documents a bit of that phenomenon, the point at which idealism was overtaken by cynicism. The Isle of Wight Festival was one of the infamous last gasps of the Sixties: a music festival that took place over a five-day period at the end of August, 1970 on an island off the southern coast of England which could only be reached by boat. We've got to get ourselves back to the garden. Over 600,000 people attended. About one-tenth of those people paid admission. Throughout it all, filmmaker Murray Lerner was there recording the events, although it took him another 25 years to find the funds to edit and complete the movie. (One project, From Mao to Mozart, completed by Lerner during the interim, earned the director a best-documentary Oscar.) Part concert movie and part social essay, Message to Love is a unique entry in the field of rock festival documentaries. The movie's dual agenda may be both its strength and its downfall. It's simply too much material for a two-hour time frame. Among the festival performers are Jimi Hendrix (a couple weeks before his death), the Doors (one year before the death of Jim Morrison), the Who, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull, Free, the Moody Blues, Tiny Tim, John Sebastian, Donovan, Ten Years After, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Everyone's entitled to their personal opinions here. Me, I'd trade a whole lot of that "Nights in White Satin" hoo-hah from the Moody Blues for a few more snatches of Miles Davis and Leonard Cohen. But the remarkable aspect of this documentary is the footage wrapped around the concert performances. It's a haunting portrait of bankruptcy in both the spiritual and financial senses. The promoters spent a year planning the event and building a fence around the site, a barrier that was quickly demolished by the gate-crashers, who erected their own hillside community of outsiders dubbed "Desolation Row." What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and tied her with fences. Festival-goers spouted fuzzy-minded logic about how the pigs can't stop the music. All we are saying is give peace a chance. Promoters, seeing their artist payouts and profits disappearing in a thick cloud of hippie hogwash, bemoaned their fate. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. The artists all dealt with the art vs. commerce dilemma as best as they could. The different tacks they choose may contain some of the film's most revealing moments of all. More than a document of a music festival, Message to Love captures a pivotal moment in time, the seeds of the post-Woodstock, post-Altamont Seventies depression. Ah, but you may as well try and catch the wind. All that's left at the end of Message to Love is the metaphorical image: Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row. (See related interview in this week's "Screens" section.) (6/20/97)

3.0 stars (M.B.)


New Review


Bats over Austin: Alicia Silverstone, George Clooney, and Chris O'Donnell wing into town

D: Joel Schumacher; with George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Elle Macpherson. (PG-13, 126 min.)

You know a franchise is in trouble when Joel Schumacher is sniping at Batman fans on the Internet. The director's ongoing brouhaha with local webrunner Harry Knowles is vastly more entertaining than the film itself, though. By its own merits, Batman & Robin fails to engage the spirit of Batman, Robin, or decent marketing in general, and instead ends up as a limp, excruciatingly shallow knockoff that leaves viewers cringing at the unavoidable one-liners that make up the better part of the script. Really, how many times can one stand to hear Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze telling the Cloaked One to "Chill"? Storywise, Akiva Goldsman's script seeks to expand on the dynamics of the duo by incorporating a rift in the form of Thurman's slinky Poison Ivy, a chemically altered botanist with a lethal kiss. When she pits the two crusaders against each other, sparks and libidos fly, but only briefly. The conceit -- one of the few interesting things in the film -- is never fully explored, and dies a lonely death halfway through what seems to be a very long movie. Silverstone, as Alfred the butler's renegade niece (aka Batgirl), is another new addition to the ongoing storyline, but Schumacher, oddly, makes little use of her, preferring instead to pit her against costumed motorcycle gangs in set-ups straight out of Walter Hill's The Warriors. Schwarzenegger is entertaining as Mr. Freeze, a semi-mad scientist clad in some seriously bulky thermal underwear; Freeze's overriding motivation -- to cure his sick wife at any cost -- gives him a more noble air than most of the Caped Crusader's villains, but Goldsman's script gives the villain little to do but cough up endless one-liners that become laughably bad laughably fast. You can feel Schwarzenegger the comic actor struggling to get around the decrepit lines, but it's no use; there's nothing for him to do here but kill and quip, and even the killing gets tiresome quickly. As the series' third incarnation of Bob Kane's Dark Knight, Clooney is passable, but only just. He's got the jaw for it, certainly, but when Goldsman's script forces Bruce Wayne to speak of the necessity of a loving family and the joys of the ties that bind, you can almost hear the actor giggle. That's too bad, because Wayne/Batman's grisly, poignant familial issues are at the heart of the Batman story, and could do with a bit of examining (just not by Clooney). It's only as an exercise in set design that Batman & Robin succeeds, though it's all so over the top that it's more of an exercise in what not to do than anything else. Schumacher has chosen to light his film with outlandishly garish neons and brilliant blues and pinks, which unfortunately make this look more like some ridiculous Batman on Ice escapade than anything else. It's all too much too often, a smorgasbord of boredom, a cavalcade of crap. (And, hey, enough with the nipples on the Batsuits already, okay? Geez...) (6/20/97)

1.0 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


Members of the wedding: Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend's Wedding

D: P.J. Hogan; with Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett. (PG-13, 104 min.)

The Philadelphia Story is 57 years old, George Cukor lies a-moulderin' in the grave, and the theory prevails in some quarters that Hollywood has forgotten how to make good romantic comedies. My Best Friend's Wedding doesn't figure to eclipse the aforementioned classic in the movie firmament. However, it does effectively recall those bygone days when impossibly attractive, charming, and endearingly flawed characters dressed to kill, smoked like creosote plants, and behaved atrociously on the way to rapturous romantic consummation. Our heroine is a suitably Cukoresque figure: cynical, love-averse writer Julianne Potter (Roberts), who finds herself unexpectedly shaken by the engagement of her old flame and lifelong best buddy Michael O'Neal (perpetual superstar hunk-in-waiting Mulroney). Is she still torching for Mike or is it just that his fiancée (Diaz) is too damned perfect: gorgeous, bright, rich, cool, and adventurous? Regardless, Julianne sets out to torpedo the wedding through a combination of outrageous dirty tricks, disinformation, and ever-bolder overtures toward the groom. Her reluctant accomplice and moral sounding board is loyal gay sidekick George (Everett, flawlessly executing a role which in earlier days might have gone to Tony Randall). Despite an irresolute tone that suggests a team-writing effort by Billy Wilder, Tracey Ullman, and Nora Ephron -- the responsible party is actually the talented Ron Bass, whose credits include Rain Man and The Joy Luck Club -- there's an energizing quirkiness and unpredictability about this film. One moment, a bizarre, impromptu Dionne Warwick sing-along erupts at a formal dinner; minutes later, an intimate soul-searching session is given a full measure of time to resolve itself. A few more moments pass and a wedding guest is getting her tongue stuck on the genitalia of a male ice sculpture. This all-over-the-yard feel recalls director Hogan's similarly uneven Muriel's Wedding. But My Best Friend's Wedding is a step forward on several fronts, particularly the smart, consistently funny writing and the topnotch cast, among whom Roberts is first of equals. More a cartoonist's impression of a classical beauty than the genuine article, the toothy, wild-haired Roberts turns out to be perfectly suited in both looks and temperament for the screwball heroine's role. Any actress who can, in the same film, carry off slapstick, femme fatale-ism, nail-spitting cynicism, and sweet vulnerability has something special going for her. Thanks largely to her presence, so does this film. (6/20/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Lakeline, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


Llyr Evans and Rhys Ifans in Twin Town

D: Kevin Allen; with Dougray Scott, Dorien Thomas, Rhys Ifans, Llyr Evans, Sue Roderick, Rachel Scorgie, Brian Hibbard, William Thomas, Jenny Evans. (Not Rated, 105 min.)

Produced by Andrew MacDonald and Danny Boyle -- the pair who brought us Trainspotting and Shallow Grave -- this feature debut by former documentarian Allen is a drug-fueled, nihilistic, free-for-all ride through the streets and alleys of modern-day Swansea, South Wales. While at first glance, Twin Town appears to be a direct continuation of Trainspotting -- right down to its mordant black humor and over-the-top drug use -- it's a far more scattershot affair. Dylan Thomas called Swansea an "ugly, lovely town," but according to crooked cop-cum-cokehound Terry (Scott), it's just a "pretty, shitty city." Terry, along with his older (and only slightly less corrupt) partner Greyo (Dorien Thomas), are two of the bizarre ensemble characters in Allen's film. The others are Julian (Evans) and Jeremy (Ifans), a pair of glue-sniffing, bong-sucking, blonde twins with the combined mental prowess of a tractor, who, despite their overriding interest in car theft, plan an elaborate revenge scheme against Swansea top dog (and star roofing contractor) Bryn Cartwright (William Thomas). Also on hand are the twins' slag sister Adie (Scorgie), who works as a receptionist in a massage parlor by day and provides discounts to Greyo on the side by night; Bryn's daughter Bonny (Evans), an aspiring karaoke singer and the secret lover of Dai Rees (Hibbard); and a host of other notables, including a pair of not-long-for-this-world family dogs. Allen's film boasts the same methamphetamine, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink flavor of MacDonald and Boyle's past hits, but, unaccountably, Twin Town lacks the narrative drive to keep up with Trainspotting's Mark Renton and company. If anything, Allen's film tries to pack too much black humor into too small a package. As a gritty, humorous portrait of modern-day Swansea, it's not half bad, but when the film begins resorting to scads of piss jokes and outright death and destruction, it falls flat on its face, and lays there in the filthy Swansea gutter, a victim of its own lowbrow hooliganism. There are some awesomely interesting moments, to be sure: The twins themselves are hilariously overblown caricatures of disaffected youth, from their clumsy rave gear on down to their penetratingly dopey and permanently affixed grins. Real-life siblings Evans and Ifans are perfectly cast; it's almost impossible to imagine them out of character and carrying on a rational conversation. Likewise with Scott and Dorien Thomas, the bottom-feeding coppers who are nearly as dim as their quarry, but only half as stoned. Twin Town is worth a peek for these and other reasons, just don't go expecting Trainspotting 2. As that film's loopy, denser younger brother, it's not half bad, though. Renton would've approved. (6/20/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)


Still Playing


D: Griffin Dunne; with Matthew Broderick, Meg Ryan, Kelly Preston, Tcheky Karyo, Maureen Stapleton. (R, 101 min.)

When lovesick small-town astronomer Sam (Broderick) loses his one true love Linda (Preston) to the thrall of the big city, he packs up his things and goes in search of her, sure in his heart that she'll be back in his loving arms soon. His plans are soon stymied when he discovers that Linda has moved in with Anton (Karyo of Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita), a French émigré and owner of a swank Greenwich Village bistro. Unthwarted by this unexpected turn of events, Sam takes up residence in the abandoned tenement across the street from Anton's toney brownstone, where he embarks on a rigorous and wholly scientific study of the blissfully unaware young lovers, still certain that his lady love will yet return to him. Into this odd tableaux comes Maggie (Ryan), Anton's ex-girlfriend, the proverbial woman scorned. While heartsick Sam is only interested in returning his romance to the way it was before, Maggie (a bleached-blonde vision of East Village bohemia) would prefer that the callous Anton be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Uniting under initially separate flags, Sam and Maggie embark on a systematic dismantling of their ex-lover's newfound love, planting grandly contrived evidence of illicit affairs on Anton's person and increasing their espionage capabilities times 10. Director Dunne (who some may remember as Jack the Dead Best Friend in An American Werewolf in London, or as the harried businessman in Scorsese's After Hours) has a sly wit here, and Addicted to Love is more than the simple romantic comedy its uninspired title suggests. It certainly falls easily enough within the parameters of the genre, but Dunne wisely and quite ably avoids the many pitfalls and clichés (or a good number of them, anyway) that appear so ingrained in the storyline. For one thing, Addicted to Love starts off on a wholly unpromising note for young Sam. His nascent adventures in the spy trade catch him offguard initially: With Anton, Linda is a ferocious, passionately vocal lover, leaving Sam to ponder "but she was always so quiet with me." Ryan's feisty, bitter Maggie (our first contact with her is as she zooms around the area on a large black motorcycle, clad head to toe in a tight, black leather racer's suit, and if that doesn't indicate feisty and bitter, then I don't know what does) is the perfect foil for Sam's broken heart; all she cares about is revenge, and when the two finally agree to work together, Addicted to Love soars to bittersweet comedic heights. Dunne's eye is sharp: There's a scene early in the film in which Sam constructs a camera obscura in the shadows of his tenement warren. Bathed in dull, grainy light stolen from Anton's apartment across the way, Sam whitewashes a wall and brings an image of Linda into view. It's a wonderfully inventive, surreal, and wholly original image, and Dunne's film has many such revelatory moments. The final reel's temporary lapse into maudlin sentimentality is perhaps unavoidable in light of all the terrific bits that have preceded it, but still, this is one of the most inventive romantic comedies to come around in some while. (5/23/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lakeline, Lincoln, Movies 12, Roundrock


D: Luis Llosa; with Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos, Danny Trejo. (PG-13, 89 min.)

The best giant snake film of 1997! Okay, okay, the only giant snake film of 1997. Which makes it the best, right? Well... yeah, in a way. Truth be told, Anaconda is a numbingly pedestrian affair, surprising no one (discounting the eight-year-old in front of me who thought the whole thing was "way cool") and really letting down those of us who came expecting a rip-snorting monster movie of epic, serpentine proportions. A little bit Creature From the Black Lagoon, a little bit Jaws, and a whole lot of inexplicable facial convulsions from Jon Voight ("Zee Anaconda... eet ess zee purrfect keeling macheen, yaas?"), Anaconda manages some decent shocks, but the most impressive thing here is the cast. More to the point is the question of how on earth all these above-average actors got steamrolled into this reptilian train wreck of a film? Stoltz, as the leader of a team of documentary filmmakers searching for a lost Amazonian tribe, acquits himself admirably, though I suspect this may have much to do with the fact that his character is rendered comatose throughout 90% of the film. He should consider himself lucky. Cameraman Cube and director Lopez are left to carry on, as is Dallas native Wilson (Bottle Rocket), annoying Brit Hyde, and ex-MTV shill Wuhrer, plus assorted other victims-to-be. When the troupe, traveling down river by boat, chance upon a stranded Paraguayan snake-catcher by the name of Paul Sarone (Voight), they take him aboard with promises to put him ashore at the next village. Sarone will have none of that, though, and instead embarks on a suicidal mission to capture the legendary giant anaconda that haunts the riverbed, taking the filmmakers, against their better judgment, along for the ride. The only questions remaining are who gets the honor of becoming hors d'oeuvres first, and when does the nefarious Sarone get his? In the end, natch, and the scene is nicely shot, to boot, but that can't save the bloated Anaconda from chasing its tail for a good 90 minutes before the bad guys get regurgitated. Working with both life-size (40-foot-long) animatronic snakes and CGI animated ones, Steve Johnson's EFX team manages only a passable job, at best. Let's face it, folks, in a monster movie of this sort, the most important character is the monster, and if that doesn't look good, then the film dies on the spot. From its opening shots, Anaconda's beast looks like a hastily rendered computer graphic strung together with puppetry that makes old Muppet Show outtakes look downright Spielbergian by comparison. Cut-rate horror shows may have worked back when Roger Corman was making his way through the cinematic jungle primeval, but the days of using Glad Bags in lieu of Giant Leeches are long gone, or certainly should be. Charmless, unfrightening, and even devoid of the requisite gratuitous nudity, Anaconda just plain bites. (4/11/97)

1.0 stars (M.S.)

Lake Creek, Westgate


D: Jay Roach; with Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Mimi Rogers, Robert Wagner. (PG-13, 87 min.)

The swingin' Sixties -- those were the glory days for international intrigue, eh? When 007 could spook SPECTRE, UNCLE would thrash THRUSH, and superspies dressed for the job. With Bond in his sleek black tux or John Steed with that dapper bowler or Ilya Kuryakin in his oh-so-moody turtlenecks, our spies were sure to save the world from whatever megalomaniac was out to enslave it this week. They had to; they had better clothes! I mean, the whole spy game was all about style, wasn't it? Sure, and Mike Myers knows that. That's why the hero of his comic tribute to Sixties superspies is decked out in crushed velvet and lace, why his speech is spiced with "groovy" and "baby," why his jet is equipped with a round, rotating bed. Grrrrowr! This secret agent man has style to burn, baby! Which is a lot of what makes this send-up such a fab gas. It nails with fond hilarity every garish, trippy detail of that era's mutant mix of high adventure and high fashion: plastic dresses and velvet suits in neon oranges and blues, bosomy temptresses, Space Age gadgetry, and preposterously convoluted death traps. The look is spot on, down to the painfully phony rock walls in the villain's mountain lair and cinematographer Peter Deming's overlit Sixties style that washes out the color but keeps it lurid. The sound swings with Burt Bacharach, Brasil '66, and George S. Clinton's brass-blaring homage to John Barry's 007 scores. But this is Myers' baby, baby, and his script and twin turn as both Powers and his nemesis, Dr. Evil, supply most of the laughs, zeroing in on spy-film style like Gert Frobe's laser on Sean Connery's crotch. His Powers is a cheeky hipster, all go-go lingo and love machine moves, despite an upper plate like the Yellowed Cliffs of Dover and a thatch of chest hair off a nutria. And his Dr. Evil is the ultimate in out-of-it oppression. Bald, scarred, and trapped in one of those truly bad, shapeless gray jackets with no lapels and a high collar, this guy can't get a good look to save his life. And he shows he knows it in a pathetically pouty lower lip. Perhaps only people reared on this stuff will love Austin Powers, but there's more here than the perfect recreation of Sixties absurdities and genre spoofery; there's comedy that would be hilarious in any context. Austin Powers is the kind of movie Mel Brooks used to make -- extravagantly funny, with plenty of juvenile humor, but as much or more of it smart, delivered with a dead aim at a cultural milestone, affection for its victim, and style. Lots of style. That's what makes it shagedelic, baby. (5/9/97)

3.5 stars (R.F.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Texas Union, Westgate


D: Mark Herman; with Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tompkinson. (R, 107 min.)

Robust, combative, big-souled, and unapologetically maudlin, Mark Herman's Brassed Off! draws its blood from the same universal workingman's heart as the English coal-mining culture it portrays. The semi-fictional story is set in the aptly named town of Grimley where, in 1992, the Margaret Thatcher government is threatening to close the local "pit" as part of a national trend toward nuclear power. With the whole town in an uproar, only one person seems oblivious to it all: Danny (Postlethwaite), a sixtyish musician who leads an all-brass band composed entirely of miners. Danny's a hard, inflexible old buzzard with little empathy for the outside problems his players may bring to practice. These troubles are epidemic, though, with families and marriages cracking up over money problems and his own son being menaced by loan sharks. Not even a worsening case of black lung can distract Danny from his dream of leading Grimley to the All-England championship. Postlethwaite, with his terrifying cheekbone structure and penetrating gaze, seems divinely ordained to play this character. Though Danny is from the same stock as his bandsmen, he's consumed by a mission he sees as transcendent. "Music is all that matters!" is his creed, and even the glazed expressions on his musicians' faces when he says it are tempered with traces of awe and respect. His slowly dawning awareness of the larger human issues at stake in Grimley -- and Great Britain as a whole -- set up a great moment when he delivers a fiery working bloke's manifesto to a stunned audience at the Royal Albert Hall. Helping Danny make his breakthrough is Gloria (Fitzgerald), a lovely young newcomer to the band who turns out to be the lead consultant responsible for advising management on the pit closure. Gloria embodies all the agonizing sides of the issue, ranging from homegirl loyalty (she's originally from Grimley) to stark reality (coal, though profitable, is nearly as lousy an energy option as nuclear fission). She's also falling in love with bandmate Andy, played by Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) in a low-keyed, ingratiating performance that further illustrates his range and charisma. Ultimately, it's tough to render a go/no-go judgment on Brassed Off! Its virtues of passion and authenticity are somewhat undermined by predictable plotting, rampant sentimentality (including a lachrymose version of the schmaltz anthem, "Danny Boy"), and a certain chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that dares you to question how hard we should sympathize with saving the coal industry. In the end, though, the undeniable power and emotional richness of this film swing the balance toward the good. (6/13/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)



D: Jonathan Mostow; with Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan. (R, 97 min.)

Breakdown further illustrates the axiom that every truly original movie must be remade again and again until it achieves a state of sublime, all-encompassing idiocy. Actually, since it's still possible to imagine a dimmer stepchild of George Sluizer's coldly mesmerizing 1988 thriller, Spoorloos (which Sluizer remade five years later as the compromised but still effective The Vanishing starring Jeff Bridges), what we have here is probably just the midpoint of the devolution process. The '93 film -- along with Steven Spielberg's Duel -- provides most of the early inspiration, in terms of both theme and atmosphere. Things get underway when travelers Jeff and Amy Taylor (Russell and Quinlan) have car trouble on a godforsaken Southwestern desert highway. A genial-seeming trucker (Walsh) happens along, and Jeff decides to stand guard over his beloved red Cherokee while his wife hitches a ride to the nearest pay phone. But when Jeff manages to fix the car and drive to the remote cafe where Amy was to call a wrecker, none of the patrons remember anyone fitting her description. The psychological screws tighten further when the trucker, whom the now half-crazed Jeff flags down on the road, professes never to have met him before. After the local cops all but brush him off, it's left to Taylor to track down the woman who now seems to exist only in his mind. Mostow handles this rising action adroitly, placing us smack in the middle of the beleaguered hubby's accumulating nightmare. Even without the eerie atmospherics and tantalizing hints of supernatural evil in Sluizer's two films, Mostow effectively uses the stark desert landscape as a symbol of pitiless, hostile nature. Mostow also deserves respect for not instantly morphing Russell from a mild, Oshkosh-clad yupcake into a bazooka-wielding badass. Unfortunately, as the buildup unfolds, we realize that Breakdown's initial mysteries are quickly evaporating and the story is boiling down to a conventional cat-and-mouse action adventure. Sure enough, before very long, grimy rednecks are pummeling the hero with sticks, semis are hurtling through walls and off bridges, and people are hissing, "Don't move or I swear I'll blow your fuckin' head off" at every turn. This decision to trade pro forma, unimaginatively staged action schtick for the subtler pleasures of true suspense is disappointing, and none the less so for being expected. Realistically, of course, there's no use grousing about this ruthless dumbing down of once-intriguing material. But at least we can walk away now before Spoorloos IV: The Final Reckoning becomes a grim reality. (5/2/97)

2.0 stars (R.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Movies 12


D: Caroline Thompson; with Rene Russo, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming, Irma P. Hall, Paul Reubens, John Aylward. (PG, 84 min.)

Just because an 800-pound gorilla can sit anywhere he wants to doesn't mean it's going to be an interesting affair. This directorial debut from screenwriter Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas) drops the macabre good cheer (and witty expertise) of her previous work in favor of a family-aimed tale of animal love, and the result is a brief 84 minutes of painfully unsurprising primates-in-tuxedoes period comedy. Everyone may be crazy about a sharp-dressed gorilla, but Buddy is a sorry, tedious jaunt through the eccentric 1920s upper-crust world of menagerie-owning Trudy Lintz (Russo) and her efforts to raise a Congolese gorilla in her household -- with predictably disastrous results. Based on the novel/memoir Animals Are My Hobby by the real-life Mrs. Lintz, Buddy's growth from sickly, waifish infant to gargantuan wild thang is as notable as a squirrel crossing the road, minus the breathless excitement derived from the eternal question of whether a midday repast of roadkill stew is forthcoming. It's not that this first feature released under the newly minted Jim Henson Pictures banner is terribly shoddy -- there are plenty of humorous scenes of Buddy and his chimpanzee housemates clowning about in their exquisitely tailored Bergdorf Goodman suits and spats -- it's just that nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to take place, no surprises, no explosive climaxes, and no heartbreaking resolution, or at least not one we hadn't seen coming from a good distance ahead. Russo, for her part, acquits herself admirably as the oddball Mrs. Lintz, as does Robbie Coltrane as her physician husband. And only on rare occasions does Buddy -- the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop -- look like a man in a monkey suit. Children will doubtless enjoy the chimps' animated monkeyshines, and the scenes of an upright Buddy serving hors d'oeuvres to the Lintzes' startled guests is surreal in its setup and pleasantly bizarre. Brief homages and references to King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Bringing Up Baby, and even Planet of the Apes pop up at odd moments, but this is, above all, a family affair, and quite a humdrum one at that, even for kids. Such being the case, it's now my fervent hope that director Thompson reunites with Tim Burton to create something of at least passable interest to those of us with a taste for the sublime, if not the simian. (6/6/97)

1.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Lakehills, Lakeline, Movies 12, Roundrock


D: Kevin Smith; with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes. (R, 105 min.)

This third film in Smith's "New Jersey trilogy" is a departure: Not only is it hip, clever, and outrageous (Smith hallmarks), it's also a decidedly adult take on dating and love in the Nineties. Who would have thought the director of the often juvenile, twentysomething comedy Clerks and the bloated Mallrats would have it in him? Obviously, he does. Affleck plays Holden McNeil, a young comic book artist who produces the award-winning Bluntman & Chronic book with his partner and best friend Banky (Lee). While attending a comic book convention, Holden meets fellow cartoonist Alyssa Jones, a stunning blonde beauty with sly wit and legs to match. Holden, his testosterone in an uproar, falls big-time and begins courting Alyssa, only to discover she's not interested: She's a lesbian. The unexpected news hits hard, but the two find they have more in common than they originally thought, and the beginnings of a powerful friendship commence. On top of that, Alyssa finds herself reciprocating her admirer's advances, until one night, quite unexpectedly, the pair consummate their wobbly love affair, and all hell proceeds to break loose. Alyssa's friends are shocked and dismayed to find one of their own "going over to the other side," while Banky -- Holden's best friend since time immemorial -- is frustrated by the possibility of losing Holden to someone else, especially a "scheming dyke." It's not all hearts and flowers, though; Chasing Amy sizzles with Smith's hilarious dialogue, much of which comes in the form of rants from Hooper (Ewell), a gay African-American comic book artist and pal of Holden's who pretends to be a militant straight man for the benefit of the public. And then there's the Smith's old standbys, the trench-coated Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith, not so silent here), a sort of Greek chorus on weed. This is Smith at his best, with a brilliant cast, script, and crew. Some have already taken offense at his decidedly non-PC take on relationships, but so much of what he has to say here -- and he says a lot -- rings true that those arguments are utterly beside the point. More emotionally complex than even I had thought possible, Chasing Amy is the sound of burgeoning genius on the fast track to maturity. "Snootchie-bootchies," indeed. (4/18/97)

4.0 stars (M.S.)

Highland, Village


D: Nana Djordadze; with Pierre Richard, Micheline Presle, Nino Kirtadze, Teimour Kahmhadze, Jean-Yves Gautier. (PG-13, 95 min.)

A French-Georgian co-production with international assists from Germany, Belgium, and Ukraine, the much-lauded A Chef in Love is truly a labor d'amour, gastronomical and otherwise. Spanning the course of six decades, Djordadze's epic love note begins with the latter-day discovery of a cache of memoirs by French art dealer Anton Gogoladze (Gautier). The writings in question belong to one Pascal Ichac (Richard), a renowned gourmand and notable French chef possessed of an exquisitely keen sense of taste and smell. Ichac, who reached his peak while traveling in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and went on to found a famous French restaurant -- the Eldorado -- before the Russian Revolution, was fond of Anton's mother, the Princess Cecilia Abachidze (Kirtadze), although Anton never really knew just how deep their relationship went. Djordadze ricochets through time, introducing the boisterous, silver-maned Ichac to his future love aboard a Georgian-bound steam engine, and from there to the gloriously romantic backwoods and flowing countrysides of pre-revolutionary Georgia. As its title plainly suggests, Djordadze's film is at its heart a love story, but the passion has as much to do with the epicurean delights of gourmet dining and the rapturous beauty of the Republic of Georgia as it does with traditional hearts and flowers. Djordadze crams her palette to bursting with images of the sun-struck hills and verdant forests of her native land, and her mouth-watering depictions of Ichac's ceremonial banquets and masterfully prepared feasts (one scene has a young Winston Churchill dropping in for a bite) may put viewers in mind of such recent exercises in the cinema of foodstuffs as Big Night and Like Water for Chocolate; seeing A Chef in Love on an empty stomach is the least recommended course of action. It's not all truffles and cognac, though. As the revolution breaks across the land, Ichac and Cecilia find themselves mercilessly hounded by the newly minted military. Cecilia is forced to marry a smarmy former anarchist, while Ichac attempts to pass on his culinary expertise to the closest chef at hand -- a low-ranking Russian prole with little experience to speak of. The scenes of Ichac's lovely Eldorado overrun by the piggish soldiers are oddly reminiscent of Pasolini's Salo, and as Ichac's plight becomes all too apparent, further secrets are revealed while all around collapses. Though it crystallizes on a tragic note, A Chef in Love remains a breathlessly intoxicating ride: through history, lover's hearts, and other lustrous realms. (6/6/97)

4.0 stars (M.S.)



D: Peter Duncan; with Judy Davis, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham, Richard Roxburgh, Rachel Griffiths, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Kiefel. (R, 99 min.)

What if Joseph Stalin had spawned a son before his untimely death? And what if this son were to be raised in a revolutionary household by a Party princess mom and then let loose to run according to his genetic program? And then, what if all these best-laid plans went astray? The Boys From Brazil it's not, but this debut feature from Australian director Duncan is still a wonderful sociopolitical experiment, dripping with sarcasm and bizarre, oddball humor, which make it all the more potent. Bracketed by faux documentary-style interviews, Children of the Revolution begins with Australian Communist Party zealot Joan Fraser (Davis, perfectly cast) trying to marshal her disenfranchised (and thoroughly bourgeois) troops to revolution in 1949 Sydney. No one in her tiny circle, it seems, has a will as powerful as Joan's, not even Welch (Rush), her forlorn and lovestruck right-hand man and best friend. When Joan is invited to Moscow to meet Big Joe himself, she ends up falling victim to his inconsiderable charms and making love to him -- whereupon Stalin promptly keels over, a smile on his face and presumably the echo of a song in his unbeating heart. Nine months later, Joan (now married to Welch out of necessity) gives birth to young Joe (played as an adult by Roxburgh), who grows up in a rabid Communist environment, only to exhibit all the wrong symptoms (he has a "jail fetish," for one thing). Duncan's comedy runs the gamut from broad to fiercely pointed, though it's always fairly focused. A scene featuring Abraham's Stalin crooning "I Get a Kick Out of You" to a nonplused Joan while a googly-eyed Khrushchev and assorted other Party demagogues enact a stunningly inept chorus line in the background is unadulterated Zen comedy of the highest order. Another subtly cerebral gag is Joe, Jr.'s penchant for siding with (and eventually assuming control of) the Australian police forces -- even going so far as to marry a comely sergeant. The joke -- that young Joe is more like his father than mom Joan could ever hope to admit, that he's his daddy's boy but in all the wrong ways -- is a good one, and carries Children of the Revolution through a number of weak patches, notably an unnecessary subplot involving Sam Neill as the Australian/Soviet double agent Nine, a fellow who is convinced that Joe, Jr. is not Stalin's progeny, but his own. Duncan would have done well to jettison the whole bit, but Rush, Roxburgh, and particularly Davis, are a perfectly cast commie triumvirate. Davis' role requires her to grow from youthful party animal to aged, bitter Mother of the Revolution in 90 or so minutes, and she pulls it off brilliantly. Children of the Revolution may not be for everyone's taste; its humor is shot through with more than a bit of dark venom, but it's never overly malicious or strident. Instead, Duncan charms you with roses and rhetoric, and then beats you senseless with a rubber chicken truncheon. Clever. (5/23/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)



D: Simon West; with Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin. (R, 125 min.)

Based on Con Air, you would never guess that Don Simpson no longer strides this mortal coil. Alongside longtime co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Simpson stamped his extra-large testosterone imprint on everything from Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun to Flashdance and The Rock. This audience-gratifying tradition continues unabated since Simpson's untimely death last year, with Con Air containing more slo-mo fireballs and snappy one-liners than most all the other summer action movies so far. Big deal. Simpson and Bruckheimer always aimed for the lowest common denominator when it came to mass-market entertainment, and likely as not, they hit that sucker right smack dab in its slope-browed noggin. Con Air -- directed by relative unknown Simon West -- is no different, featuring scores of shots in which a) someone gets killed, b) someone else gets killed, or c) someone narrowly avoids getting killed, then pops off a pithy one-liner before killing someone else entirely. Also on board is Mark Macina, whose din-in-a-steel-drum score rivals his creatively bombastic work on Bad Boys, Speed, and, uh, Monkey Trouble. Just so you know who you're dealing with here. Storywise, it's Nicolas Cage versus everyone, as Cage's unjustly imprisoned-and-freshly-paroled Cameron Poe must fight his way home to his wife and baby daughter's lovin' arms when the prison transport plane he's riding in is hijacked by The Worst Cons in the Whole Wide World. Among them are Malkovich as criminal genius Cyrus the Virus; Rhames as an underground black-power movement leader-killer; and Buscemi as serial killer Garland Greene who, along with Cage, gets all the best lines. This is as it should be. There's nary a hint of suspense in West's film, though, mainly because he loudly trumpets the upcoming disasters so early in the film. You know you're in trouble when poor Mr. Poe nearly gets weepy over the stuffed bunny he's brought on board as a gift to the daughter he's yet to see. Cusack provides a nice turn as a U.S. Marshal who's the only guy in Poe's corner, but you can't help but get the feeling he's wondering what the hell he's doing in this film. Say Anything it ain't, nor is it The Rock, which, oddly, worked much better as a Simpson-Bruckheimer creation, giving Nicolas Cage's character at least a smidgen of reality to play with. Con Air gives him little else but the chance to strut his buffstuff and growl Stallonian non sequiturs with all the believability of Siegfried & Roy. To be fair, if you're looking to kill a couple of hours, there are worse fates awaiting you out there. Just don't ride Con Air expecting to go first class; it's cargo-hold all the way. (6/13/97)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lakeline, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


D: David Cronenberg; with James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette. (NC-17, 100 min.)

A sublimely horrific descent into our love of cars, sex, and self, filtered through the transgressive subconscious of Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, Crash is also the first date movie for the auto-asphyxia set. Based on J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, Cronenberg's futuristic yet timeless vision of Ballard's premise is wonderfully realized. As in all his previous films, Cronenberg is dealing here with men and machines, or, more specifically, the consequences of man's day-to-day interaction with a common technology -- in this case, the automobile. Ballard's notion of how cars and, inevitably, car crashes have become part of the cultural iconography is perfect fodder for Cronenberg's acutely clinical sensibilities. Spader plays James Ballard (according to the author, the character is largely autobiographical), a television producer who spends his free time having sexual encounters with women other than his wife, Catherine (Unger). That's fine with her; she does the same and, later on, they get together to replay the extramarital coitus for each other. When Ballard is involved in a head-on automobile accident with Dr. Helen Remington (Hunter) and her husband -- who is killed -- he discovers a powerful new form of erotic release in the tortured shriek of metal on metal on flesh. Dr. Remington is likewise sexually affected by the resulting auto-trauma, and the two begin to seek out others with similarly aggravated tastes. They find a kindred spirit in Vaughan (Koteas), a scientist, of sorts, who is obsessed with the sensuality of car crashes and their survivors. A walking road map of scar tissue, Vaughan hosts spectacular reenactments of notable auto smash-ups and introduces the pair to a fringe subculture of deep-down trauma hounds, the walking wounded, and Volvo's worst nightmare. Much has been made of the film's jarring and disturbing tone; Crash has been banned in Britain, and television magnate Ted Turner has repeatedly attacked the film in public (oddly, Turner's production company help to fund Crash in its early stages). Certainly, Cronenberg holds nothing back -- Crash is rife with images of automotive destruction, death, and all manner of sexual coupling. But at its heart, Crash is essentially a love story: Man plus machine plus woman equals fulfillment, and hearts broken by steering columns are no less romantically engaging than those broken by more traditional means. While it's clearly not for everyone (and note that the movie is rated NC-17 here in the U.S.), Crash remains an amazing piece of work, from its spare, gritty set design to Howard Shore's powerfully evocative score, not to mention some unforgettable performances -- particularly Spader's. My only regret? We no longer have any local drive-in theatres and their invariably steamy back seats from which to view this amazing spectacle. (3/21/97)

4.0 stars (M.S.)



D: Peter Cohn; with Richard Lewis, Dianne Wiest, Faye Dunaway, Amanda Plummer, Parker Posey, Liza Harris, Spalding Gray, Howard Rollins. (R, 88 min.)

The great insight of 12-step programs is that chronic substance abuse is less about thrills than finding a system for living and a source of daily comfort. Like Lou Reed said about The Big H: "It's my life and it's my wife." In this film adaptation of Gary Lennon's play Blackout, the characters are all members of a New York City Alcoholics Anonymous group for whom the corny A.A. rituals and mantras ("By the grace of God, one day at a time, I've got 70 days sober. Thank you.") are substitutes of a sort for less manageable regimens of boozing and doping. Most of the action happens during one nighttime meeting, from which Jim (Lewis) disappears in a funk after delivering an emotional speech about his lifelong problems with self-medication. In alternating scenes, new members passionately describe why they got on the wagon as the long-sober Jim hits a series of Times Square liquor stores in preparation for a disastrous swan-dive off. Like many standup comics before him, Lewis displays an innate flair for dramatic acting and more than holds his own among the talent-packed roster of co-stars. The agonizing scenes in which he wavers on the brink of his epic bender vividly illustrate the torment of a man who knows that self-destruction is his most natural mode of behavior, and that living straight is like breathing an alien atmosphere for which his lungs were never designed. Less successful are the group members' testimonial scenes, which are individually brilliant if a bit wearing in their cumulative effect. Dunaway, Rollins, Harris, and Plummer all nail their plainspokenly eloquent soliloquies, creating fully realized characters in five-minute bursts of dialogue. Watching these eminent actors do their thing is great stuff, though after a while it starts to feel like you're at a carnival watching a procession of sledgehammer-wielding bruisers try to ring the bell on one of those test-your-strength machines. ("Faye Dunaway -- Take your shot!") Nonetheless, the unapologetically earnest message of Drunks comes across with force and conviction and will probably leave you with a new respect for A.A. and other programs of its ilk. Like Glen Caron's Clean and Sober, Drunks is a 100-proof shot of reality from a tenuous, desperate place where millions of us live 24-7-365. (6/6/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)



D: Ivan Reitman; with Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nastassja Kinski, Charlie Hofheimer. (PG-13, 101 min.)

Fathers' Day is a mildly diverting summer family comedy. In general, that's not a bad rap, but when you've got an expectant blockbuster that stars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal and has been directed by Ivan Reitman -- all of them true kings of comedy -- them words "mildly diverting" are clearly less than the desired result. So what went wrong? American adaptations of French comedies are, in general, questionable propositions. Fathers' Day is a remake of Les Comperes, minus some of the 1984 French film's plot convolutions and scenery. That leaves the Fathers' Day set-up extremely weak and unbelievable as the ever-beautiful mom played by Nastassja Kinski convinces two men with whom she slept 17 years ago that each is the father of her 16-year-old son. It's a far-fetched ploy that banks on the men's misplaced sense of fatherhood to get them to go off in search of her runaway son. Never addressed is why this errand is something she can't accomplish herself (especially since the teen's not at all difficult to find), or why her husband makes a belated and comedically dead-ended (he thrashes about in an overturned latrine for a good part of the film) attempt at retrieval. In a roundabout way, I think some of the problem derives from Space Jam, a movie that probably would not have been a fraction of the success it was without the supervising sensibilities of producer Ivan Reitman. Space Jam is the kind of film that made it safe to team up megastars in such unlikely combinations as Michael Jordan and the inanimate Looney Tunes stable. I have visions of producers (Fathers' Day has five of them, not least among them Joel Silver) clucking to themselves about how Billy Crystal and Robin Williams were the stars of their movie and what more could anyone want? Well, something hilarious for them to do would be nice. The pair (who are in virtually every scene of the film) create few uproarious comedic sparks. If Reitman succumbed to the "What, me worry?" school of filmmaking, Williams seems to forging the "I'll be in anything as long as you shoot it close to my home in San Francisco" school (I offer Mrs. Doubtfire, Jack, and now, Fathers' Day as evidence). As for Crystal, he'll probably have to make a few more films before he acquiesces to his fate as perpetual host/never the star. In the end, Fathers' Day offers little in the way of comic relief. (5/9/97)

1.5 stars (M.B.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills


D: Susan Streitfield; with Tilda Swinton, Amy Madigan, Karen Sillas, Frances Fisher, Laila Robins, Paulina Porizkova, Clancy Brown, Dale Shuger. (R, 119 min.)

Strange bedfellows, indeed. Female Perversions is a movie which, by all conventional wisdom, should not work. Yet it not only works, it accomplishes something thoroughly original. Female Perversions is the most intelligent, entertaining, provocative, absorbing, and, yes, feminist movie to grace our theatres in quite some time. Hardly the salacious kinkathon that the title suggests, the movie definitely has its erotic aspects but they're all there to service the movie's line of inquiry into how social conditioning shapes the female psyche. The movie's title is the same as that of the non-fiction book which inspired the first-time director Susan Streitfield. The book is a theoretical study by psychoanalyst Louise J. Kaplan that examines the ways in which the very act of being female in society is in itself a perversion. Since women are conditioned by stereotyping and gender expectations against deviating from the "norms," Kaplan argues that a woman's life is a constant strategic negotiation. It's this that she regards as the perversion. All women engage in perverse behaviors or strategies; the only differences are where they fall on the scale of perversion. The movie, however, is a fictional narrative, not a documentary or essay. Anchored as it is in such weighty premises and provocations, it is no small accomplishment that the film succeeds in creating such an engaging narrative and compelling characters, and does it with considerable visual flourish to boot. The amazing Scottish actress Tilda Swinton (Orlando, Edward II) makes her American debut here. Swinton and Amy Madigan play sisters and it's wonderful to see two such thoughtful actresses applying their talents to such difficult material. Swinton's Eve Stephens is a woman who appears to have it all: looks, a high-powered job as an attorney, a handsome and thrilling male lover (Brown), and a beautiful and desirous female lover (Sillas). Her entire demeanor exudes competence and loveliness. Yet in her mind she hears offscreen voices whispering about her fat hips, and we witness her moments of panic as she discreetly obsesses about a loose thread on her hem during an important interview with the governor or stresses over her shade of lipstick. Then, on the eve of her appointment to a court judgeship, the balance of her life begins to crumble. She's called to rescue her sister Maddy, a kleptomaniac and Ph.D. candidate who's defending her dissertation about a matriarchal society in Mexico where all the women grow fat. This introduces Eve into the household where Maddy resides with a broken-hearted woman who runs a bridal shop, the woman's adolescent daughter who has taken to self-injury and cutting herself with razor blades, and the girl's Aunt Annunciata, a stripper. The array of subordinate characters is fascinating, and offers a range of representations of the scale of perversity. But they're also a bit of the problem as well. There's either too much of them or not enough, and the subordinate dramas sometimes take away from the time we want to spend with the central story. The same could be said for Eve's recurrent flashbacks to a childhood incident at her family's swimming pool and her vague yet provocative erotic fantasies. A close-to-all-woman crew crafted this movie at every step of production. (Serving as line producer was Rana Joy Glickman, who was recently in town for the SXSW Film Festival screenings of Real Stories of the Donut Men and Full Tilt Boogie, both of which she produced). Yet, interestingly, Zalman King, who produced and scripted 9 1/2 Weeks and directed Wild Orchid, is credited as Female Perversions' executive producer. Strange bedfellows, I repeat. But, in the case of Female Perversions, strange has proven to be the very best kind. The making of an original piece of theoretical feminist drama such as this surpasses the restrictions of common sense. (5/23/97)

4.0 stars (M.B.)



D: Luc Besson; with Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovavich, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, Tricky, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Lee Evans, Brion James. (PG-13, 126 min.)

Now, officially, summer is here. The first real blockbuster of Summer '97 has arrived and it's a French science fiction epic, no less. Granted, the French are far better known for their unfunny bedroom comedies than they are for their gripping speculative fictions, but of all the current French directors working today Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional) is perhaps best suited to the job. Based on a story Besson wrote as a 16-year-old schoolboy, The Fifth Element chronicles the adventures of Korben Dallas (Willis), a 23rd-century New York City cabdriver who finds himself caught up in a grandiose mystery involving a 5,000-year-old evil that seeks to destroy all life in the universe, and specifically life on earth. The only line of defense rests with Leeloo (Jovavich), a genetically superior perfect being who literally falls in Dallas' lap one busy afternoon. Many others, however, are hot on Leeloo's tracks: the relentlessly nasty Zorg (Oldman); his backstabbing alien minions, the Mangalores; and government agents headed by General Munro (James). Working at cross-purposes, the various factions must attempt to secure or destroy (depending on which side they're on) a quartet of extraterrestrial stones that can help destroy the onrushing evil. Besson's film is a pretty straightforward affair, and once you cut through the glitz there's barely a skeleton of a plot, but that rarely detracts from what is essentially a gorgeous, electrifying visual smorgasbord. The Fifth Element actually feels like it was scripted by a daydreaming teenager, but in a good way; that is to say, there's a certain "gosh, wow" sense of wonder to the whole thing that echoes the completely unique universes of George Lucas and company. Besson completely immerses the audience in a crowded, murky future in which mankind has mastered the art of instant cloning and spread itself outward into the galaxy. Granted, much of this is a tip of the hat to Blade Runner, I think, especially in the New York City scenes where thousands of flying cars jam the colossal skyline and a thick patina of grime hangs over every shot and creates a funereal pallor. Even those who detest science fiction will have to applaud Jean-Paul Gaultier's striking costume design and Dan Weil's brilliant production design. However, it's Besson's brilliant editing and sly sense of humor that keep the two hour-plus film from bogging down; despite its grim storyline, The Fifth Element never takes itself too seriously. Oldman is hilarious as the effete, over-the-top Zorg; Willis plays essentially the same character he's played in his last five films -- ever the scruffy rebel; and Jovavich is gorgeous, charming, and thoroughly believable as Leeloo (thanks to some terrific post-English language skills). Even U.K. trip-hop sensation Tricky scores points as Zorg's right-hand toadie. Although the film tends to suffer from a severe case of overt preachiness in the third reel (shades of James Cameron's The Abyss), it's still a wonderfully visual, exciting ride. Besson remains one of France's great national treasures, and The Fifth Element is a surprising, delightful melange of old-school dare-deviltry and new-age sci-fi. (5/9/97)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside


D: Christopher Cain; with Joe Pesci, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette, Willie Nelson, Lynn Whitfield, Nick Brimble. (PG, 94 min.)

Once you rule out the notion of ancestral destiny for an actor named Pesci, it's hard to figure how Gone Fishin' got made in this day and age. Ingratiating and sweet-natured to an almost surreal degree, this winsome buddy pic seems to have no place in a comedy marketplace where raunch, scorched-earth satire and heavy irony are the orders of the day. Niceness, I say, is a heinously underrated virtue, and the fact that so many talented actors found time and motivation to create this warm, frolicsome cocker spaniel puppy of a film raises them even higher in my esteem. But as much as I wanted to like Gone Fishin', an insuperable barrier stands in the way: It's just not all that funny. From the moment when lifelong fishing buds Joe and Gus (Pesci and Glover) hitch their boat to their vintage Barracuda and head for a dream fishing vacation in the Florida Everglades, the bubbly dialogue, Kodachrome-hued images and peppy score all signify Big Fun. It's a promise the script fails to deliver, though. The lads' adventures, which develop from their efforts to collect a $100,000 reward for helping bust a murderous gigolo (Brimble), play out as a never-ending setup with little comic payoff to speak of. There are some semi-amusing gags involving alligators, a runaway luxury boat, and Gus' sleepwalking tendencies, but nothing that had the child-dominated audience choking on their Sour Patch Kids from unbridled mirth. Arquette and Whitfield, as two women who've been jilted by Brimble's gigolo, pop in and out of the story but they have little to contribute comedically. Apparently, they're just around to give daddies a little visual reward for squiring a minivan full of kids out to the multiplex. Nelson adds a couple of funny moments, however, as a sort of mystical Dalai Lama of the rec fishing world. Okay, bottom line: I'm giving this thing two stars, resisting the urge to juice it up a half-star or more for its radical, in-your-face pleasantness. It made me smile, and that's something. Maybe the sequel will even make me laugh. (6/6/97)

2.0 stars (R.S.)

Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Northcross, Roundrock, Westgate


D: George Armitage; with John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack, Jeremy Piven. (R, 107 min.)

"You can never go home again, but you can shop there," is how Martin Blank (Cusack) responds when he discovers that his childhood home has been razed and turned into a convenience store. This is just one of the surprises that awaits Martin when he returns to Grosse Pointe, Michigan for his 10-year high school reunion. George Armitage (who, over the years, has directed Private Duty Nurses and Miami Blues, scripted HBO's The Late Shift and produced Roger Corman's Gas-s-s-s) solidly directs John Cusack (also credited as the film's co-screenwriter and co-executive producer) in a wacky joyride through Martin's whirlwind weekend in Grosse Pointe, one that includes a reunion with the girlfriend (Driver) whom he dumped on the night of their high school prom. To say that Debi is bitter is an understatement. Her surprise at seeing Martin again is outdone only by her reaction to his revelation that he is a freelance hit man. When Martin's kooky assistant (Joan Cusack) discovers that his next hit happens to be scheduled for his hometown during his reunion, she convinces Martin that he should take advantage of such an opportunity. Of course, the hit and Debi's life overlap in unexpected ways, and Martin must put his money where his mouth is and decide whether or not he is ready for early retirement. Hugely appealing on most levels, Grosse Pointe Blank does have a few graphically violent moments that seem out of step with the rest of the film. However, Cusack never fails to make me laugh and although this character doesn't offer much beyond the actor's previous roles, it's still a stand-up performance. Fans of Circle of Friends will see Driver in a different light as she tackles screwball comedy and Cusack's impeccable timing -- both of which she does admirably. Cusack's sister Joan (Toys, Working Girl) proves once again that comedic talent does run in the family, and Alan Arkin does a nice turn as Martin's rosary-toting shrink, a man unwilling to treat a client who never gets mad but always gets even. Grosse Pointe Blank dares to ask the question, "Can a nice hit man find true love at his high school reunion?" In finding the answer, the film proves that the course of true love seldom runs smoothly. The trick is to proceed with caution and carry a big gun. (4/11/97)

3.5 stars (A.M.)



D: Tom Shadyac; with Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Justin Cooper, Jennifer Tilly, Cary Elwes, Amanda Donohoe, Swoosie Kurtz. (PG-13, 87 min.)

Now that Jim Carrey's star quality is as commodified as Jackie Chan's (he's even started showing outtakes over the end credits), the main question we ask of his new films is whether or not their hit potential justifies paying him enough dough to recapitalize the Social Security trust fund. In the case of Liar Liar, the answer is an unqualified yes. You've seen the trailers, you know the concept: Weasely lawyer (Carrey) is magically rendered incapable of lying for one day. This helps his personal life -- the no-lying bit is his five-year-old son's birthday wish. However, it spells doom for his career, an edifice built on a foundation of pure bullshit. Of course, all the extraneous human drama in Liar Liar can and should be swept aside like so many foam packing chunks. The real goodies lie in Carrey's tour de force (that's French for "thrashing around like a trout flung into boiling water") display of turbocharged slapstick acting. Watch Jim using a toilet seat to flatten his face like a steam-press. Watch Jim's anguished Quasimodo contortions as he tries to physically wrest untruths from his mouth. Watch Jim do his frenzied Three Faces of Eve schtick in the courtroom, first urging his witnesses to lie for him, then screaming objections to his own tactics. It's bold, reckless, genuinely brilliant stuff that, even if the Ace Ventura movies and The Mask had never been made, would assure Carrey's superstar status. Liar Liar's producers have made two very savvy moves here. First, they've reunited Carrey with Shadyac, the director of 1994's breakthrough Ace Ventura: Pet Detective hit. Second, they've hired writers (Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur) who not only excel at devising scenes that Carrey can physically improvise upon, but also at scripting witty repartee, for which he has a real unsung flair. The result is a smooth step toward what The Cable Guy attempted less successfully: transitioning Carrey from a Jerry Lewis-like pure physical comedian to a screwball comic actor with something extra... not that anyone will ever mistake Jim Carrey for the second coming of Spencer Tracy or Cary Grant, or that Liar Liar will dim Billy Wilder's star in the comedy firmament. This film is both too formulaic and too much a one-man vehicle to rate as a true masterpiece. But God strike me dead if I'm lying, this is one gut-busting funny movie. (3/21/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Highland, Lakeline, Westgate


D: David Lynch; with Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Robert Blake, Henry Rollins, Balthazar Getty, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia, Richard Pryor. (R, 135 min.)

Enigmatic even by Lynchian standards, the storyline of Lost Highway was perhaps best summed up by Lynch himself on a recent segment of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After effusing briefly about Robert Blake's clip, Leno queried the director about the film's plot, to which Lynch replied: "It's about [long pause]... a man in trouble." Very succinct, maddeningly vague, but also quite accurate. What better way to describe this complex, wildly frustrating journey into the Lynch's tortured, oddly prosaic film psyche? Like Blue Velvet, Lost Highway deals with the everyday turned upside-down, or rather, gutted and then pulled inside-out. Normalcy is a fraud, and nothing is quite what it seems, although fans of Lynch's Lumberton and Twin Peaks sagas will find themselves stymied in the nameless, Los Angelesean desert suburbia of Lost Highway. Now more than ever, nothing makes much sense. Fred Madison (Pullman) is a tenor saxman. By night, he blows his horn at the local club; by day, he hangs out with his wife Renee (Arquette), a Betty Page doppelganger. When the couple begins receiving mysterious videotapes on their front porch -- tapes apparently made inside their home, while they were sleeping -- the police are called. They offer little comfort, though, and Fred begins to suspect his wife is having an affair. Things take a sidestep into the awful when Renee is viciously murdered, and her husband is found guilty of the crime. Incarcerated for a crime he may or may not have committed, Fred waits out his days in lockup until, without explanation, he literally vanishes, and in his place is found Pete Dayton (Getty), a young auto mechanic who inexplicably appears in Fred's cell. Things get stranger from here on out, and considering the elliptical, highly subjective nature of Lynch's film, there's no point in giving anything else away. Suffice to say Fred and Pete's lives are commingled, with Renee at the center. Lynch, who penned the screenplay with novelist Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart), seems to be attempting to capture not just a sense of place and time (it never works -- Lost Highway is wholly, irrevocably, out of place and without any linear time or time line to speak of), but also a sense of madness. Is Fred insane? Is Pete insane? Who killed Renee (and is she even dead to begin with)? Cocky auteur that he is, Lynch provides the audience with an abundance of clues, but no solid answers. What he does provide is a deliciously delirious descent into his own mental mise-en-scene: It may not appear to make any sense, but, my god, it looks good. Lost Highway pushes the envelope of sight and sound, and merges these two most important elements of film into a hallucinatory orgy. Angelo Badalamenti's score is wondrously arcane, and Lynch's choice of soundtrack recordings perfectly echoes the spiraling sense of onscreen disorientation, from Trent Reznor's eerie soundscapes to Lou Reed's ominously carefree "This Magic Moment." Couple that with Peter Deming's dark, spare lighting and camerawork, and you've got Lynch/Kafka overkill. With a running time of 135 minutes, Lost Highway could have stood some final trimming -- some passages seem to go on endlessly, pointlessly -- but you get the feeling the director just likes to make you squirm. Confounding and disconcerting, Lost Highway is David Lynch consciously attempting to outdo himself. He does, gloriously, and in doing so loses the rest of us in the process. (2/28/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)



D: Steven Spielberg; with Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare. (PG-13, 129 min.)

The phrase "long-awaited" kind of falls short of the mark when discussing Spielberg's $70 million-plus follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time. Suffice to say, fans of the first film won't be disappointed by the sequel, with the possible exception of Professor Stephen Hawking, who will doubtless miss all the earlier film's discussions about chaos theory. Loosely based on Michael Crichton's bestselling novel, The Lost World reunites the inimitably goofy mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum, nicely twitchy, as always) with a whole new passel of big, scary monsters, this time on a remote island some 80 miles from the original dino-site. According to billionaire venture capitalist John Hammond (Attenborough), this second island was used to breed the original dinosaurs for Jurassic Park and has since fallen into disrepair. Hammond, sick and bedridden at this point, no longer seeks financial gain from his cloned critters, but instead wants them studied and preserved for the benefit of the scientific community and the world at large. To this end he sends Malcolm and a team of three others -- including Malcolm's girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Moore) -- to study and photograph the creatures. Unbeknownst to the group, Hammond's nephew Peter Ludlow (Howard) is leading a group of InGen scientists into the field to salvage what they can for the ailing corporation. That includes capturing a live Tyrannosaur and returning it to a new theme park in San Diego. Bad idea. The Lost World (unlike Spielberg's original film) leaps head first into the action, rushing, it seems, to get the film's real stars -- the dinosaurs -- to the screen as quickly as possible, and it does so with considerable verve. Stegosauri, Tyrannosaurs, and all manner of new creatures make their chaotic debuts within the film's first 30 minutes, and from that point on, The Lost World feels like less of a movie than it does a carnival ride -- all precipitous highs and nerve-jangling lows. In fact, there's so much rushing about that you're tempted to think it's all much ado about nothing, but just then a T-rex eats someone whole and your gut drops out from under you and the ride continues, unabated and wild. Much of the fun (and there's a lot of it) relies on gory black humor: an InGen stooge gets tromped by a T-rex and remains stuck on the carnosaur's foot for a while, a neighborhood pet brings new meaning to the term "dog food," etc. Considering this, parents might want to think twice before allowing younger children to catch that matinee. Film buffs will get a kick out of the many in-jokes Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp have tossed in (Koepp himself plays a Tyrannosaur victim), including homages to the original King Kong, among others. Schindler's List it's not, nor is it even Jaws, but it is pure Spielbergian fantasy, and as such, The Lost World may just be the perfect Saturday afternoon summer movie. (5/30/97)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


D: Joe Mantello; with Jason Alexander, Randy Becker, Stephen Bogardus, John Glover, John Benjamin Hickey, Justin Kirk, Stephen Spinella. (R, 115 min.)

The Big Chill. The Boys in the Band. Anything by Chekhov. (I'll spare you the exclamation points.) These are some of the more discernible ingredients of Love! Valour! Compassion! All great models actually, and I don't really mean to give the impression that LVC is derivative or a copycat. It's just that... I don't know, there's always the distracting sense that the story's undergarments are poking through its seams. Mind you, it's good clean underwear, the kind you want to make sure you're wearing when wheeled into the emergency room, but it's not the kind of stuff that can pass for outer garments. Some of the awkwardness can surely be chalked up to the difficulties of transferring Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play to the screen and the inexperience of director Joe Mantello (also LVC's stage director), who here tackles his first film project. Yet, the problem goes beyond the film's staginess (although there's plenty of that to go around). It could even have something to do with the delicate difficulties involved in the successful transfer of stage camp to the more intimate level of film. But, all in all, those miscalculations are largely forgivable, given the genuinely likeable nature of the material and the natural impulse to embrace it to your heart. This is especially true with this particular cast of actors who, except for Jason Alexander, all created these roles on the stage and whose characterizations in the film exude an extremely lived-in and intimate knowledge of who these people are and what their relationships are about. It's in this sense that the movie shines: in its presentation of the many facets of relationships between loving gay men. It's here that the movie goes beyond The Boys in the Band and most of the contemporary gay cinema and becomes something that has more in common with The Big Chill's depiction of the continuity and sustenance of forged family relationships. But the way in which these relationships are played out over the course of three holiday weekends virtually screams out the words "three-act play." These are typical of the story's painfully obvious narrative constructions. It's not simply enough for there to be one actor (Glover) who plays the dual roles of twin brothers -- one stereotypically good and the other, of course, evil -- the brothers' surname must also be Jeckyll. A meaningful obviousness hangs in the air, whether it's the lusted-after Latino hunk who, in turn, desires the blind member of the group, or the aging choreographer and dancer who struts over his ménage from his practice room in the attic. By the time things conclude with a Chekhovian group swim in the moonlight (one of several scenes during which I can promise you there is, literally, no underwear showing) you may wish that some obliterating water was splashed over pages of the shooting script, but soon enough a feeling of love, valour, and compassion will wash over you. Just without the exclamation points. (6/13/97)

2.5 stars (M.B.)



D: John Waters; with Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Edith Massey, Channing Wilroy, Cookie Mueller, Paul Swift, Susan Walsh. (NC-17, 100 min.)

It hardly seems as though 25 years have passed since the initial release of this movie that Fran Lebowitz called the "sickest" and "one of the funniest" ever made, but yes, it's been that long. John Waters is now a respected (more or less) member of the film community which he scorned so long ago, Divine has passed on to that great drag ball in the sky (as have David Lochary, Edith Massey, Paul Swift, and Nazzy the Dog), and what we now call "midnight movies" are a staple of the American cinematic landscape, their collective permanence assured, in part, by Waters' most outrageously famous and famously outrageous film. In 1972, the war between America and North Vietnam was nothing compared with the war between Babs Johnson (Divine) and Connie & Raymond Marble (Stole and Lochary). Vying for the title of "Filthiest People Alive," Divine and her extended family -- Mama Edie (Massey), who cries petulantly for the Egg Man; bottle-blonde and semi-significant other Cotton (Pearce); and chicken rapist Crackers (Mills) -- take up arms against the treacherous and scheming Marbles, who run an illegal adoption ring out of their home and have a sideline in playground heroin sales (not to mention hairstyles that redefine the word "crappy"). If you're one of the few who haven't yet been indoctrinated into the world of Pink Flamingos, but have only heard eerie, second-hand tales around the campfire, now's your chance to see what all the gagging was about. This re-release is the original, uncut (and thankfully unrestored) article, and then some, which means a full order of singing sphincters, bizarre sex acts, and the now legendary "dogshit" scene. Waters has (perhaps unnecessarily) tacked on a 10-minute epilogue, in which he introduces a few lost scenes he says were recently unearthed "in my attic." "Lost" scenes usually end up that way for good reason, and these new tidbits add little to the overall impact of the film. Pink Flamingos is, in its own unique way, the quintessential American Family Film. Not my family, certainly, and probably not yours, but a family nonetheless. So here's to family values. And shock values, too. (5/23/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)



D: David Mirkin; with Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garofalo. (R, 91 min.)

Romy (Sorvino) and Michele (Kudrow) are poor, their idea of ultimate pathos is the scene in Pretty Woman in which Julia Roberts gets the snub from Rodeo Drive shop clerks, and their Wonderbras are filled out a lot more substantially than their crania. Still, they're happy -- at least until word of their upcoming 10-year high school reunion sets them off on a binge of anxiety and regret about their humble stations in life. How, the two roomies and lifelong pals wonder, are they going to wow all those A-List girls and unattainable cute guys who once regarded them as geeks? With all the strategic acumen that our culture generally ascribes to well-stacked young blondes, they hatch an absurd plan to pose as business entrepreneurs who've earned queenly fortunes by inventing Post-It notes. Their ruse is exposed almost instantly, of course, leaving them to face down their teenage demons with only their friendship, chutzpah, and daringly insouciant fashion wiles as weapons. The tension is heightened by a spat between the pair that comes to a head over the issue of who's the "Mary" and who's the "Rhoda" in the relationship. Hot rats! you say, a movie that combines two of the tiredest, most thoroughly tapped-out comic themes of all: dumb blondes and high school reunions. Well, insofar as there are no fresh, unexpected jokes in this adaptation of Robin Schiff's play, The Ladies' Room, your worst fears about this film will be confirmed. However, if you're even slightly disposed to give bonus credit for sweet-naturedness, lack of pretension, and gung-ho, no-guts-no-glory comic acting, then you might find Romy and Michele worth a matinee flyer. Sorvino and Kudrow, for whatever inscrutable reasons, seem to be having a blast with their ridiculous characters, and both shine in the loopy set-pieces and dream sequences that pepper the story. At times, they even manage to evoke some pity and fellow feeling as the bimboesque but essentially benign duo are tormented by nasty -- though no less shallow -- cheerleader types. And Garofalo, who's making a career out of providing the brightest, funniest moments in mediocre films, does it again as a foul-mouthed former punkette who rains nonstop invective on all the assembled grotesques. Other than these saving graces, however, I'm hard-pressed to muster any compelling reasons why you should risk the 1-in-838,990 chance of death in a fiery traffic accident to go see Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. (5/2/97)

2.0 stars (R.S.)

Lake Creek, Lakehills


D: Billy Bob Thornton; with Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, Robert Duvall. (R, 135 min.)

So you thought you were talking funny after seeing Fargo, yah? Well, Billy Bob, you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait until you experience Sling Blade. Not only will it take some time to get your speech right again, it'll be a good while before you get your mind right again. That's how deeply Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade gets under your skin and soaks right through to the tributaries in your skull. Thornton, who wrote, directed, and stars in Sling Blade, has created an unforgettable character and situation, a film that's sure to become an American classic. It's something of a Southern gothic tale populated with characters who might have stepped over from a Carson McCullers story. Thornton plays Karl Childers, a mildly retarded man with a distinctive speech pattern who, at the start of the film, is involuntarily released from an asylum for the criminally insane where he has spent the last 25 years for the crime of killing two people. He returns to the small Southern town of his birth where he is befriended by a young boy named Frank (Black), who is probably about the same age as Karl was went he was sent away and is also the first person to accept this strange child/man without judgment. Frank and his mother Linda (Canerday) take Karl into their home, a shelter that is darkened by the abusive, alcoholic violence that pours forth from Linda's ever-encroaching boyfriend Doyle (Yoakam). The situation forces Karl into a moral dilemma, which he confronts with all the understanding of good and evil that his simple mental capacity and warped religious background can bear. A virtuosic showcase for the talents of Billy Bob Thornton (a fact that has not escaped Academy voters who nominated Thornton in dual Oscar categories), the success of Sling Blade nevertheless stems from so much more than Thornton's efforts alone. Sling Blade is a character-driven story, dependent on so many vivid performances and original characters. John Ritter (Thornton's co-star in the short-lived TV series Hearts Afire) delivers a career-great performance as Linda's best friend and ineffectual protector, a closeted gay man trying to live unobtrusively in this small Southern town; Dwight Yoakam is, at first, virtually unrecognizable as Linda's despicable cur of a boyfriend; and not until I saw the end credits was I able to see that it was Robert Duvall (the original Boo Radley figure) who portrayed Karl's disheveled, besotted hull of a father. In addition to figures such as Jim Jarmusch showing up in a cameo as a Tastee Cream counter clerk and J.T. Walsh lending his distinctive brand of eccentricity to the proceedings, musicians such as Vic Chesnutt and local luminary Ian Moore make priceless appearances as members of Doyle's godawful backyard band. Although it might be argued that Sling Blade could withstand a touch of judicious trimming and that the plot occasionally strains the boundaries of realism, these things do not mar the awesome achievements of the movie in the least. With an aim that's true, Sling Blade plants one right between the eyes. (2/21/97)

4.0 stars (M.B.)



D: Jan De Bont; with Sandra Bullock, Jason Patric, Willem Dafoe, Temuera Morrison, Brian McCardie, Christine Firkins. (PG-13, 125 min.)

Not as bad as you might have thought it would be, De Bont's Speed 2 hums along nicely as a summer actioner, rarely resting on its laurels, but still somehow managing to capsize midway through, I think somewhere right around the point at which villain Dafoe begins attaching squirming little leeches to his naked torso and bugging his eyes out in a fair-to-middling impression of the late Marty Feldman. There are, of course, the overwhelming public and professional expectations placed on De Bont that have caused him to go so far off course from the streamlined, masterful nerve-wracker that was Speed, and taking that into consideration, this sequel is hardly as awful as pre-release naysayers touted it as being. Bullock, reprising her role as the disaster-prone Annie, once again manages to be simultaneously breathtaking as well as a proper movie heroine. Patric, however, as new love interest Alex -- yet another LAPD yahoo, much to Annie's chagrin -- turns stoicism into an art form here. Whereas Keanu Reeves was required to do little more than act tough and look buff in the prequel, Patric's emotional role is much larger here: He's got to do more than play Top Cop on Big Boat, and he falls considerably short of the mark. To put it lightly, for two characters so hopelessly in love with each other, Patric and Bullock are working without any visible chemistry. The plot, slim though it may be, follows the couple on a Caribbean cruise aboard the truly mammoth ocean liner, the Seabourn Legend, which, wouldn't you know it, is about to be hijacked by madman Dafoe. One of the spiffy things about Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson's screenplay is Dafoe's modus operandi: As his backstory goes, he's the designer of the Seabourn Legend's state-of-the-art navigational system, but after he contracted a rare blood disease (courtesy of all those electromagnetic doodads he's been working with over the years) he was summarily dumped by his employers and left to employ medieval medicinal methods, swill Cutty Sark, and terrorize Sandra Bullock. And you thought disgruntled postal employees were bad news. De Bont's action set-pieces can be things of rare beauty if you let yourself go willingly into their histrionic embrace; he thankfully eschews the high-gloss, Neanderthal touch of Jerry Bruckheimer and Company in favor of some truly awesome devastation. Speed 2's seemingly endless climax is a good example of this, despite the fact that it's, well, seemingly endless. Not nearly as clever at taxing the audience's knuckles as its forerunner, Speed 2 still manages to stay above board long enough to merit a look-see, if only to relish the once-in-a-lifetime pleasure of Mr. Dafoe and his pet leeches. (6/13/97)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


D: Scott Winant; with Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston. (PG-13, 114 min.)

A professor of mine once told me that a paper I wrote seemed to have 75 thesis statements. A similar charge could be made against Scott Winant's feature film debut, 'Til There Was You. This film is as messy as its lead character Gwen's (Tripplehorn) personal life. Raised by parents whose courtship and marriage represent perfection, Gwen grows up with very specific ideas about her future mate. Needless to say, the men Gwen meets as a grownup consistently thwart her fairy tale. But perhaps it's the fairy tale (and Gwen's dogged belief in it) that represents the real obstacle to Gwen's happiness. However, the film's story seems to present at least two conflicting themes: that certain couples are fated to be together, and that the fairy tale of fated love is a myth that consumer culture has invented and perpetuates on a regular basis -- particularly in regard to women. Making the story even more confusing is its awkward attempts to crosscut between Gwen's story and that of her future prince Nick (McDermott). (So problematic is this technique that within the first five minutes of the film, I thought the young actor playing Nick was actually Gwen with an unfortunate little-boy haircut.) Unlike Gwen's home life, Nick's parents communicated to their son that marriage is based on deception and misery. While Gwen searches for Mr. Right, Nick lies his way through a series of relationships. He almost finds happiness with Francesca (Parker), a former child television star with whom he fell in love as a young fan. How do Gwen's and Nick's stories finally intersect, and why even bother with the character of Francesca? It's all part of the film's misguided attempt to weave a number of fateful encounters into a happily-ever-after conclusion. 'Til There Was You's script problems prove baffling because of the solid production team behind this film. Winant's previous work includes the pilot television episodes for acclaimed series thirtysomething and My So-Called Life." Joining him on this film as screenwriter is Winnie Holzman, whose insightful vision made the short-lived series My So-Called Life the dramatic gem that it was. Leads Tripplehorn (The Firm, Basic Instinct) and McDermott (Home for the Holidays, In the Line of Fire) both give solid performances; it just seems as if they are in different films. Inexplicably, the previous good work of these filmmakers and actors seems to have little bearing on how this film turned out. (6/6/97)

1.5 stars (A.M.)



D: Jonathan Lynn; with Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels, Charlize Theron, Rip Torn, Austin Pendleton. (PG-13, 98 min.)

There's a very fine line between formulaic comedies and bizarre torture devices that render viewers insensate with ennui while precious brain cells die yawning by the thousands. Jonathan Lynn's (Sgt. Bilko) new offering manages to fall into both camps simultaneously, artlessly elevating the former into the realm of the latter, while raising the question: "Why even bother?" Obviously, someone, somewhere along the line decided Seinfeld regular Richards would be just swell in a low-brow buddy comedy of this ilk, and all things considered, he's not so terrible. Fans of Richards' Kramer character will recognize many of the actor's well-worn schticks, as most of his work in Trial and Error is copped part and parcel from his sitcom salad days. Still, "a Kramer by any other name...." Daniels plays Charlie Tuttle, a high-powered defense lawyer who, on the eve of his impending marriage to the boss' daughter, is sent to the backwoods of Nevada to handle the case of a family friend accused of 64 counts of fraud. Coincidentally, it's the same day Charlie's buddy Richard Riette (Richards) -- an aspiring actor -- has planned a lavish bachelor party for his soon-to-be-wedded pal. Against his better instincts, Charlie gives in to Richard's pressuring and has "just one drink," which turns into 10 drinks, which, of course, turns into catastrophe for his court date the next morning. Far too hung over to even crawl out of bed, much less handle a simple continuance, Richard attends in Charlie's place, and when the continuance is denied, he must continue the felonious charade to the bitter end. From this premise, occasional laughs ensue, but they're few and far between. Meanwhile, Charlie begins to doubt the validity of his feelings for his fiancée when he meets a leggy, blonde waitress named Billie (Theron), whose simple, homespun ways and wisdom send his already skewed reality into further gridlock. To be fair, Trial and Error isn't really any worse than any of the other buddy-type yuck-fests to come down the pike in recent years, but it's certainly no better, either. Tired clichés, cheap gags (one with Daniels falling through the courtroom ceiling while trying to eavesdrop should have been retired circa Hope and Crosby's final Road jaunt), and uninspired performances abound, although Austin Pendleton's wry take as the bemused Judge Graff is vaguely entertaining -- in the way a bug crawling on your forearm is briefly of passing interest. Lynn's direction is thoroughly unremarkable and workmanlike, and even Richards' spastic Kramer-esque hijinks fall short of outright hilarity. About the only thing Lynn's film has going for it is the title: Paying good money to view this mess would be both a trial and an error. (5/30/97)

.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lake Creek

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