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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

AUGUST 25, 1997: 

AIR FORCE ONE. A high-octane blend of action and patriotism fuel this predictable, average action flick. Harrison Ford plays one really worried looking Commander-in-Chief, scheming with all his nation-building smarts to save his family and staff from the clutches of savage terrorists. They don't believe in the sanctity of human life! They speak English with Russian accents! There are problems with fuel, problems with parachutes, guns, explosions--you know the drill. Gary Oldman, as the rat-like terrorist leader, is actually sort of charming; but Air Force One lacks the ingenuity and humor that sometimes make this kind of movie fun. Or, imagine Speed in the air, with Keanu Reeves as President. --Richter

BRASSED OFF! This goofy, affable, golden-retriever of a movie trots along offering modest pleasures and no real surprises. The time is the 1980s; the place a coal-mining town in England where Margaret Thatcher's policies are forcing the closure of the pit that supports an entire community. And with it will go the brass band that's offered a small slice of glory and culture to men who spend most of their lives underground. To top it all off, a girl wants to join the band! Underground heartthrob Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) portrays an angry young trumpet player with his usual flair, and Pete Postlethwaite does a fine job as the single-minded, ailing band leader; but Tara Fitzgerald is flimsy and annoying as the city-girl horn player Gloria. Plus, you could toss a tuba through the holes in the plot. Why doesn't the band ever turn the pages of the sheet music on the stands in front of them? --Richter

CONSPIRACY THEORY. Who does Mel Gibson think he's fooling? In his role as a scruffy New York cab driver with an overactive suspicion gland, Gibson constantly stutters, mumbles, and acts like a coked-up manchild. It's ridiculous. Like Gibson, director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) can't seem to find an appropriate tone for what, in truth, is a disturbing portrait of an unhinged paranoid. Inevitably Donner gives up and makes the weird choice of directing Conspiracy Theory like just another fun-loving Mel Gibson flick. That would have worked fine for a straightforward mystery/thriller, but the film's plot makes so many sharp right turns, and heads in so many contradictory directions, you end up feeling pretty unhinged yourself. And though it's part of the movie's selling point, the developing romantic tension between Gibson and Julia Roberts (who, as a Federal agent, provides the movie's only unembarrassing performance) just seems inappropriate. --Woodruff

THE DESIGNATED MOURNER. Actor Wallace Shawn wrote this strange, funny movie (based on his play) about a sort of alternate future where the appreciation for literature--indeed, for all nuance, irony and shades of meaning--has been purged by politically sanctioned instant gratification. Despite the fact that the film is very theatrical--the characters face the camera and are sitting on a stage the whole time--the screenplay itself is such a wonderfully nuanced one, full of irony and ambiguity, that The Designated Mourner takes on a surprising dynamism. Mike Nichols (better known as the director of The Graduate and The Birdcage, among others) is terrific as Jack, a man stuck between two realms of pleasure--the highbrow and the lowbrow, as he refers to them. Really though, it's the lowbrow he prefers. Miranda Richardson is prissy and moving as Judy, the last of the pretentious intellectuals. Shawn's original, off-beat screenplay is less of a cautionary, sci-fi tale than a parable about conflict between intellectual elitism and the understanding, dignity and fellowship that book learning seems to promise. --Richter

EVENT HORIZON. Whose idea was it to set a haunted-house flick aboard a spaceship at the far reaches of the solar system? It's not a bad concept, really, but the filmmakers don't have a clue where to take it. Despite some of the best futuristic special effects and set design of the year, director Paul Anderson keeps dipping into a tired old bag of horror-movie tricks including gushing blood, scary sequences that turn out to be dreams, and vague discussions of "pure evil" that sound like even more of a cop-out when couched in science-fiction terms. The cast--which includes Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Kathleen Quinlan--couldn't be better, but you end up wishing the script gave them more to do than run around tortured by their own worst memories. It's like a bad acid-trip combination of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hellraiser and Flatliners. Some have applauded Event Horizon as an antidote to Contact's corny feel-good view of space, but they can keep their cure--the disease was a lot less depressing. --Woodruff

PICTURE PERFECT. Jennifer Aniston plays a Madison Avenue copywriter whose boss, ludicrously, won't promote her unless he senses she's headed for the stability of marriage. When her friend solves the problem by inventing a fiancee based on a snapshot of a stranger (Jay Mohr), everything works out great--until that stranger becomes famous for saving a kid from a fire. Romantic-comedy situations ensue: Aniston hires Mohr to pretend they're a couple, Mohr falls for her, and the rest of the movie flips by like pages in a photo album full of people you don't really want to know. Despite an endless barrage of cleavage, Aniston just doesn't have enough charm to recover sympathy after her character makes some ugly manipulative moves; and though likable at first, Mohr loses our respect by repeatedly reacting to Aniston's callousness with nothing but sappy adoration. In the end, Picture Perfect is a textbook example of the soullessness that results when filmmakers place contrivance above characterization. Only Kevin Bacon, as a womanizing coworker who can't find Aniston attractive unless he thinks she's being "bad," emerges with any comic dignity. --Woodruff

THE PILLOW BOOK. Peter Greenaway applies his lush, layered cinematic style to the customarily austere Japanese aesthetic, with mixed results. Pillow Book is an extravagantly beautiful film, but like Nagiko (Vivian Wu), the empty, self-obsessed fashion model at the center of the story, it's doubtful whether all this beauty means anything. When she was a young girl, Nagiko's father used to paint calligraphic characters on her face for her birthday; as an adult, Nagiko is obsessed with having her lovely body written upon as a sort of Whitman-esque celebration of herself: "I need writing," she says. "Don't ask why. Just take out your pen and write on my arm." Later, Nagiko becomes an author and starts inking up the bodies of men, notably Ewan McGregor, who along with a host of other taut young men, graces us with that rare, sought-after cinematic moment: Full-frontal nudity. Greenaway's slavish devotion to form is dazzling, but the lack of content becomes painfully apparent as this two-and-a-half hour movie winds along. --Richter

THE VAN. This third installment in Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy is written by Doyle and directed by Stephen Frears; despite the talent involved, the film lacks spark. The story concerns Bimbo and Larry, a pair of unemployed Irishmen who decide to employ themselves selling fish and chips from a mobile food truck. After an auspicious start, business bogs down as the two bicker and snipe over the usual issues of ego and temperament. They go out drinking, they get in fights, they have the standard set of conflicts that can occur between blokes. Eventually, it seems this shared business venture has put their very friendship at stake. This film isn't as funny as it wants to be; perhaps the claustrophobic setting of the inside of a truck puts a damper on things. --Richter


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