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By Ray Pride, Chris Holmes, Sam Jemielity

AUGUST 31, 1998: 

54

Mike Myers is a nerdy, 'luded Mephistopheles as 1970s disco impresario Steve Rubell in Mark Christopher's "54," and he's really good, inhabiting a downbeat role with flustered grace. The body language he provides Rubell is always at odds with his body, like a marionette just learning to function on its own. The lugubriously paced movie is another story. While Christopher displayed a certain amount of grace in his short "Alkali, IA," "54" bears the unmistakable stamp of a film that has been much-massaged yet little finessed. There's more narration than dialogue in this strangely joyless litany of drug-taking and ill-choreographed dancing, the episodic telling hiccups through subplots, and the advance-touted gay content is present only in a few clumsy lines vomited up by Rubell. (Most of the sustained dialogue are in expository exchanges.) Ryan Phillippe stars as a Jersey boy who wants the glamour of the room, and joins the ranks of pumped, hairless-chested bar backs and bartenders in too-tight, package-enhancing satin gym shorts. He meets coworkers such as Salma Hayek as a coat check girl and singer wannabe and thrusts himself into the sea of banal intrigues. While he may be escaping a miserable lower-class life to go to his dreamland, the folks he finds there are no less prosaic, mostly inarticulate, untalented boobs. Phillippe's character is another of those only-in-the-movies protagonists who only half-compromises, remaining as pure as the driven slush. To cap off the dull proceedings, we're offered a climax that includes an IRS bust, a dance-floor death, a foiled diva and Princess Grace. While the era is presented as a time of equality, with class and social distinctions leveled, all that's leveled here is the idea of compelling drama. The cartooniest element is played by Ellen Albertini Dow, "The Wedding Singer"'s rapping granny, who has a major role as a profane, drug-addled senior denizen. 94m. (Ray Pride)


Blade

Wesley Snipes has come a long way since starring as the badass gangster in Michael Jackson's "Bad" video. "Blade"'s trailer reminded me of the "Highlander" series, so I figured, best case scenario, "Blade" will be as good as "Highlander"; worst case, as bad as "Highlander 2." While not as original as the former, "Blade" may be Snipes' best action film to date, and probably his most enjoyable appearance since " White Men Can't Jump." Donal Logue is terrific as Stephen Dorff's vampire lackey, and some of the action sequences, fight choreography and special effects are phenomenal. But most of Snipes' and Dorff's dialogue is weak, even by the low standard of today's action films. (In the main showdown between Snipes and Dorff, Snipes snips, "There's always some motherfucker trying to ice skate uphill.") Even Snipes' wretched "Passenger 57" yielded the money line "If you ever play roulette, always bet on black." Tune out the inane banter and ignore some gaping plot holes and "Blade" is fair diversion, at least so far as vampire-kung fu-techno-action movies go anyway . Caveat emptor: For those planning to see "Blade" for Traci Lords, her role clocks in at under two minutes. (Chris Holmes)


Polish Wedding

Theresa Connelly's humid, tumid, Detroit-set family-values sex comedy about growing up in a loving and lusting right-on-the-razor's-edge-of-offensive-stereotype Polish Catholic family in Detroit, stars Clare Danes as the unlikely issue of Lena Olin and Gabriel Byrne. There are absurdities galore, including the relentlessly voluptuous Olin insisting that she's a worn-out old crone, but everyone has nice skin and we get to see lots of it. (Ray Pride)


Wrongfully Accused

In this crushingly unfunny spoof of "The Fugitive," Leslie Nielsen spends ninety minutes chasing around that elusive thing, humor, with about as much luck as Tommy Lee Jones had snaring Harrison Ford in Andy Davis' remake. Nielsen plays Ryan Harrison, the Michael Flatley of electric violin, who gets framed for murder after a "Fugitive"-like struggle with a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed man (played by... you know what, I'll leave the other actors names out in the interests of their careers). From there on, it's a death march of sight gags that go on way, way too long - like the requisite bus crash/train wreck sequence, which ends with the train stalking Harrison through the forest. It seems first-time director Pat Proft (who wrote or co-wrote the much funnier spoofs "Naked Gun!" trilogy, "Hot Shots" and "Hot Shots! Part Deux") panicked that there wouldn't be enough material from "The Fugitive" to parody, so he throws in gags on "Titanic," "Mission: Impossible," even - as if the original isn't the funniest thing going - "Baywatch." Sadly, it's still not enough. (Sam Jemielity)


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