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OCTOBER 12, 1998: 

Traveller

D: Jack Green (1996)

with Bill Paxton, Julianna Margulies, Mark Wahlberg

Traveller opens with Bokky (Paxton) spraying the driveway of two genial homeowners with "sealant" for a couple hundred bucks. As rain begins to fall, he speeds away, leaving the suckers to watch as their new blacktop, actually just used crankcase oil, dribbles away. The name "Traveller" refers to a cultish, petty-scam organization run by modern day descendants of Irish immigrants living in South Carolina. A "cousin," as they call each other, is born a Traveller, marries a Traveller, and dies a Traveller. Occasionally, such as with the father of Pat O'Hara (Wahlberg), a Traveller marries an outsider and is banished from the group. Upon his father's death, Pat shows up at the camp wanting back in, only to be coolly rebuffed by the group's boss. But when Bokky promises to look after Pat, the two run a series of more or less successful cons until one of their victims (Margulies) catches Bokky's eye. Betraying all his instincts, he returns her money and begins sneaking away for secret rendezvous knowing full well what will happen if he's caught. The film is based on a tired cliché: The outlaw must decide between the testosterone-filled life of a grifter or the tender touch of a woman. However, the chemistry between Paxton and Margulies lends their characters depth and believability. Paxton does a good job of portraying an intelligent but simple man who is probably for the first time confronting questions about his lifestyle. While the story develops slowly, the tension builds as the stakes get higher. Unforeseen plot twists and a furious climax not only reward us for our patience but leave us sitting on the edge of our seats. -- Jason Zech


Devil in a Blue Dress

D: Carl Franklin (1995)

with Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals


Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins in Devil In a Blue Dress.
Easy Rawlins (Washington) has fallen on hard times in l948 Los Angeles; he's been arbitrarily laid off from his job in an aircraft plant, the wolves are at his door, and it's time to come up with a plan. When a shady character offers him some cash to find a woman's whereabouts, it sounds like easy money, but it turns out to be a bit more involved than he thought. She has a predilection for black men, and is traced to a local mobster named Frank Green, but soon Easy finds himself armpit-deep in a couple of murders, blackmail, political corruption, kiddie porn, and the local mayoral race. After finding out that his new friends play a little rough, Easy calls up his friend Mouse (Cheadle), a trigger-happy psycho who was his homeboy from back in the days when he lived in Houston. All the while, Easy is confronted with the bigotry of segregated Los Angeles (a slimy politician proudly declares himself to be "a friend of the Negro"). He sees much of the City Of AngelsĒ promise deferred and out of his grasp, despite the fact that he's a decorated WWII vet who fought for that brass ring in Europe. Taken from the Walter Mosely novel, Devil is the mean streets of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, seen from a black man's perspective. Easy is about the only man in his working-class black neighborhood to own his own house, and the house is his most prized possession, second only to his pride. He questions himself constantly about his devotion to Mouse, knowing what an evil little shit he is, but their loyalty to each other is unswerving. The plot is full of twists and turns that require close attention, but unfortunately the literary pace of things makes that sort of diligence a little difficult at times. The pacing problems are compounded somewhat by Jennifer Beals' lackluster, vanilla performance as femme fatale Daphne (the titular Devil in a Blue Dress), but such concerns are minor. Cheadle steals every scene where he appears as Mouse, the attention to period detail is meticulous (though it's hard to imagine L.A. ever looking so clean), and Denzel Washington brings some real dimension to Mosely's recurring Easy Rawlins character. Tom Sizemore also excels as the sadistic thug DeWitt Albright. I remember this movie laying an egg at the box office a few years ago, and it's too bad; it's a well-crafted noir that comes from a somewhat different perspective. -- Jerry Renshaw


The Wedding Singer

D: Frank Coraci (1998)

with Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Maybe the trailer was the best thing about The Wedding Singer, a theatrical release only six short months ago, but there's certainly a lot to like about Adam Sandler's harmless paean to the Eighties. Sandler, shedding his slapsticky, relatively unfunny roots, goes for a full-blown parody of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles set that will have anyone in the 20-to-50 demographic groaning. Yes, as it turns out, we only thought we had rid ourselves of personal excess with the Seventies. The painful reminder of how out-of-style Miami Vice and Michael Jackson are now, however, serves to get you to look around at your clothes and haircut and wonder how we'll make fun of ourselves in the next decade. Fortunately, The Wedding Singer is more than just a history lesson: It's extremely funny to boot. While 1997's Romy and Michele's High School Reunion beat Singer out of the gate as the first Eighties-mocker, the later film is easily a better rental because it so closely follows the John Hughes formula (outcast meets girl, outcast loses girl, outcast gets girl back). It's a formula that, surprisingly, still works, but only with the appropriate depth of tongue in cheek. And even if you don't care for sopping late-teen romances, how many other films are going to give you the opportunity to laugh about the painful memory of Boy George? -- Christopher Null


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