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Even Hugh Grant can't save 'Mickey Blue Eyes'

By Hadley Hury

AUGUST 30, 1999:  Up to the point at which even his most adroit comic maneuvering can no longer prevent his latest vehicle, Mickey Blue Eyes, from crashing and burning in a heap of high-concept contrivance, Hugh Grant proves yet again his mastery of highly sophisticated muggery. Grant is a man of many interests and has not hesitated to make it known that he does not consider his current fling as a movie star to be serious art and that he cannot imagine making a life-long career of it. Perhaps it is this perspective that frees his performances to a refreshing sense of deft subtlety and risk rarely seen in the work of established, big box-office stars who become locked in the deadening, insular, anxiety of image cultivation.

Grant's onscreen persona engages the audience with a conspiratorial wink, like that of Cary Grant, the prototype of cinema suavity with whom he is rightfully compared. Hugh's derring-do, whether with an intelligently antic line reading or a silly bit of physical business, is reminiscent of Cary's at the same age -- the young star of Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, and Arsenic and Old Lace -- before he eased into the more ironic, laid-back drollery of his middle and late career. Both Grants win audience empathy, or at least a sense of collusion, by playing an unmistakable subtext that reads: This is not rocket science or a major medical cure -- this is Hollywood.

Which is not to say that there is evidence that either actor ever treats his work with careless disregard; both are fastidious craftsmen. Indeed, their performances are much less marred by condescension than many a star whose popularity inflates his self-regard so egregiously that he begins to mistake what he does for high art, his projects increasingly resonating with the attitude that he is doing audiences a favor to grace their lives for two hours. Cary Grant joined the circus as a boy, learning his first joys and necessities of performing as a stiltwalker and aerialist; Hugh Grant has sidelines in the similarly risky businesses of media production and the art market. Their film performances invite the viewer to fly along with them without a net, to dare both silliness and the elegant dexterities of an agile mind. In their willingness to be foolish, we are able to laugh at ourselves, and by coupling this heady adventurousness with their parallel challenge to discover comic truth in the delicate, the wry, and the unformulaic, these two actors join the ranks of film's truly great comic actors.

Sad, then, to report that even his most ardent fans will find Hugh's new Mickey Blue Eyes a project that becomes fatally compromised when it veers from its promisingly screwball premise into dire and deadening inanity. Adam Scheinman's script about a good-hearted young turk at a swank New York auction house and his engagement to the daughter of a family of mobsters (Jeanne Tripplehorn) strains credibility from the get-go, but that's not the problem. For the first half of the movie, director Kelly Makin wisely matches his tone and pacing to his leading man's near-perfect pitch and keeps the culture-clash confection aloft and spinning. There are even some early scenes in which Grant's winsome combination of physical and cerebral humor and Makin's off-beat framing goose the film up to a plane of genuinely inspired, eccentric comedy more redolent of Buñuel or Almodovar than of Hollywood's current crop of glossy, lumbering, try-to-please-everybody, concept behemoths (like Runaway Bride).

But Mickey Blue Eyes' initial flirtation with a smart zaniness that might have lived up to Grant's capacities (and which must have attracted him and his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley, who is a co-producer) devolves in the second half of the film into a jarringly ludicrous and unfunny scramble for "real" dramatic tension and emotion. So deflating and improbable is this horribly miscalculated denouement that many viewers may not be able to shake off a very palpable sense of having lost the movie they had been enjoying -- as though perhaps the actors had been given the wrong script halfway through the shoot.

Before he -- along with the film's coherence and comic integrity -- is lost in the rubble, Grant makes more than one would imagine possible of all his scenes. The callow encounters of his decent, discreet, debonair Brit with his in-laws-to-be (who have names like Vinnie "The Butcher") are quietly hilarious, and his mounting exasperation as his fiancee's father (James Caan) draws him into the quagmire of the family business has a giddy escalation. (Nobody in recent film memory is better at what might be called comic implosion than Grant; even his most manic displays of frustration climax not with flailings or shouts but by a stunned vulnerability that draws the viewer in, a wide-eyed disbelief in the state of the universe that seeps like a slow exhalation from the actor, causing him to cave in on himself like a self-effacingly disappointed soufflé.)

Caan and the other supporting actors comport themselves well, even in the face of the dispiriting final scenes. Jeanne Tripplehorn, as the fiancée, brings very little to the party. Her delivery manages characteristically to be at once over-emphatic and monotonic, and her strong, rather implacable, physical features seem to exacerbate the problem of tone that kneecaps -- to evoke her character's familial idiom -- the film.

Run Lola Run is a nifty art house exercise that won the audience award at this year's Sundance Festival. It carves out no stylistic or conceptual territory and resorts unabashedly to cliché in its beat-the-clock storytelling. However, at a fleet 76 minutes, it may well hold the interest of most viewers.

In German with English subtitles, Lola was written and directed by Tom Tykwer, and with its nervous synergy of electronica soundtrack, quick edits, animation, and other computer-enabled techniques, it is likely to appeal most to a late-adolescent and young-adult audience.

Without giving away too much -- which some reviewers have already done -- Lola's quest is, quite literally, a race against time. She is trying to get 100,000 marks to her drug-runner boyfriend before the gangster he owes it to kills him. The gimmick of the movie is that we see three versions of her run which end in three different outcomes.

Franka Potente is an initially low-affect Lola who, in the various courses of the film, blossoms into rage, humor, and fierce determination.

The movie's length works in its favor; it's refreshing to see a film that knows how long it should be, gets in and out, and doesn't suffer from bloat. True, Run Lola Run takes itself too seriously, and the punky attitudes of its lead characters tend to undercut its aspirations to provocative metaphysics. But if viewers can forgive those flaws, they may find it a fairly entertaining little divertissement.

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