Love: Disbelieved, On the Lam and Out of Time.
By Rick Barton
JULY 13, 1998:
FILM: Mr. Jealousy
What conceivably could be worse than failing to trust the person you love? That's the problem Lester Grimm (Eric Stoltz) has faced all his life in writer/director Noah Baumbach's thirtysomething comedy of bad manners, Mr. Jealousy. When Lester was in high school, he caught his girlfriend kissing someone else. Now, he just can't get over the notion that whoever he might fall in love with surely will betray him. You want to shake Lester until he does a whole lot of growing up, but along the way you laugh out loud at the desperation that can grip him.
Lester is now in his early 30s. He's a substitute teacher and wannabe writer when he meets saucy Ramona Ray (Annabella Sciorra), an art history graduate student. Lester and Ramona seem a dream match. They have common interests, mutual friends and comparable dispositions. The problem for Lester is he just can't stand that there were men in Ramona's life before him. The better they get to know each other and the more Ramona reveals about her past relationships, the more bugged Lester gets. When he thinks about the fact that she went to bed with him on their first date, he even manages to become jealous of himself. In particular, though, he finds himself jealous of Dashiell Frank (Chris Eigeman), a former boyfriend who has gone on to write a best selling collection of short stories. Because Dashiell has accomplished the very thing Lester aspires to, Lester becomes convinced that Ramona would actually prefer to be with Dashiell. Therein lies serious trouble for Lester and delicious comedy for us.
Lester takes to following Dashiell around, and when Lester learns that Dashiell belongs to a therapy group, he contrives to join himself. Only Lester can't actually join as himself. That might somehow lead Dashiell to become reacquainted with Ramona, which is Lester's greatest fear. So Lester joins the group and identifies himself as his best friend, Vince (Carlos Jacott). This plan meets with the real Vince's enthusiastic endorsement. So Lester joins as Vince and talks about Vince's problems, never his own. Complications ensue.
Ramona is likably quirky, sexy, funny and refreshingly different. I think Baumbach makes a critical error, however, in sketching her as quite so sexually easy. The whole of the story would have more bite if indeed Lester weren't actually correct in worrying that she might be unfaithful to him. And a late development with Lester beginning to find himself as an artist is altogether squirmy. Still, there are delights here. When Lester decides to withdraw from the group, for instance, Vince doesn't want him to because Vince, via Lester's role-playing, feels himself on the verge of an emotional breakthrough. A nice mix of comedy and reflection on the nature of contemporary relationships, Mr. Jealousy is a worthy outing for anyone who ever dared fall in love.
FILM: Out of Sight
Steven Soderbergh tells a more conventionally Hollywood love story in Out of Sight. Adapted by Scott Frank (who also wrote Get Shorty) from the Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight is the story of Jack Foley (George Clooney), bank robber extraordinaire. Foley is a three-time loser, but he has good looks and charm to go along with his bad luck. As the film opens, he manages to rob a bank while armed with nothing more than guts and a winning smile. After some time in prison, he stages a jailbreak that gets complicated when federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) just happens to be waiting next to his getaway car with a shotgun. No problem. A little dipsy doodle, and pretty soon Jack's partner, Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames), is driving away with Jack and Karen in the trunk all snug as two bugs in a rug. What are a couple of lonely hearts to do? Yes, that's right, they talk. And gosh-darn it if they don't discover they have an awful lot in common.
Well, Jack and Karen go their separate ways. Karen goes back to busting evildoers, and Jack plots with Buddy and some baddies to take down a multi-millionaire named Dick Ripley (an almost unrecognizable Albert Brooks). Buddy and Jack knew Ripley in prison when the latter, a stand-in for Michael Milken, was in for securities fraud. Jack took care of Ripley when he was in the slammer, but the best Ripley could do when they got out was offer him a job as a uniformed security guard. Pogo stick that. So Jack figures Ripley owes him that glittering treasure of uncut diamonds Ripley keeps somewhere in his Detroit-area mansion. But all of sudden, wait a minute. It's time for a romantic interlude. Jack and Karen run into each other, declare an evening's truce, doff their clothes and try to discover if that night in the trunk was just a fleeting thing.
This is all total silliness, of course. Jennifer Lopez is about as convincing a federal marshal as Bubba Smith is a prima ballerina. Even if you accept her character, it makes not a lick of sense that Karen Sisco would be attracted to Jack Foley, no matter those dimples. And it's even more preposterous that Karen's federal cop dad (Dennis Farina) would keep pushing her toward Jack when the two haven't even met. Then, as we drive toward the climax, we find it awfully puzzling that Ripley would seem to employ a small army of security officers even though absolutely none are ever stationed at or around his ungated home. Isn't that called "asking for it"?
But you know what? None of that matters. Lopez and Clooney click. We do believe the pure physical sizzle they give off. And Frank's script delivers plenty of snap, crackle and pop. It's long been a core premise of Elmore Leonard's work that most criminals are blithering idiots. And for that purpose here, we have Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), a stoner crook so stupid he's liable to drown standing out in the rain because it never occurs to him to keep his mouth shut. Glenn's got lots of company in the dimwit department. Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle) is one very bad dude. But when he can't find Ripley's diamonds, Maurice will sure take the time to steal the man's suits. Not that it doesn't irk him when in the very same vein his sidekick, White Boy Bob (Keith Loneker), pauses to loot the millionaire's freezer of some choice cuts of beef. So forget the fact that this whole piece is a crock pot of improbability. It's downright fun, and everybody's in on the joke. A happy ensemble delivers a high energy performance, and we go home with smiles on our faces.
William Goldman argued in Adventures in the Screen Trade, his scathing indictment of the motion picture industry, that "nobody in Hollywood knows anything." And now we have proof positive once again. How in the world did the nimknobs in Lala-land think Godzilla was going to be this summer's biggest hit when Michael Bay's Armageddon was already in the can and scheduled to open for the Fourth of July weekend? That's not to say that Armageddon is any good. It isn't. But it's no good in the world-saving tradition of Independence Day, and I'm predicting it's going to be no good in front of more people than any other picture this year. And this despite the fact that it's the exact same picture as Deep Impact, only more so.
Somebody rushed out and rebuilt the Chrysler Building that was leveled twice this summer already in Godzilla and Deep Impact, but it gets blasted right back to the pavement in a meteor shower. That's just a little drizzle of fiery rocks compared to what's coming, however, namely an asteroid as big as Texas. As Billy Bob Thornton makes sure we know, even bacteria have to be afraid of this hunk of granite. Well, Robert Duvall managed to save us from that itty-bitty comet in Deep Impact, but it's gonna take a younger, buffer buckeroo this time. So call in Bruce Willis. True, he's not an astronaut, but he is the world's best oil driller. And he and his team of grease-smeared felons are just the guys to save old Earth from the ash heap. Yep, just like Duvall and his guys, they'll just Space Shuttle up to the asteroid and blow it to bits with a trusty old nuke that has nary a Russkie to be concerned about anymore anyway. Now here's what they call inventiveness in Hollywood. See, in Deep Impact, they just nuked the itty bitty old comet. In Armageddon, Bruce and the boys are gonna have to drill a hole first. You won't believe what happens (unless you've seen Deep Impact, that is).
So why is this picture gonna be a cash cow? Because it has Steve Buscemi along to make a bunch of genuinely funny wisecracks. And because Bruce has got a beautiful daughter (Liv Tyler) who loves him like the dickens and also loves his young Bruce-to-be sidekick (Ben Affleck), who you know is gonna come through in the clutch. So you laugh and cry and feel gosh-darned good that all those tax dollars you spent on those nukes have finally paid off in the end.
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