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OCTOBER 25, 1999: 

Three to Tango

A struggling architect (Matthew Perry) is asked by his potential billionaire client (Dylan McDermott) -- who thinks the architect is gay -- to watch over his girlfriend (Neve Campbell) because he doesn't trust other men around her. The architect is straight, however, and secretly falls for the billionaire's girl. Meanwhile, word is out that one of Chicago's most promising young architects is homosexual. Chaos ensues. Laughing yet?

It wasn't funny when Kevin Kline did it in the inexplicably popular In & Out, and it's not funny now. Director Damon Santostefano desperately tries to inject some humor into the uninspired story by piling on the slapstick, but that only makes things worse. Perry isn't awful, he just leans too heavily on a less sarcastic Chandler routine, which is reduced to banality without the Friends to pick on. Campbell is teeth-grindingly irritating as the bubbly "free spirit" whose whine is more piercing than the one Campbell uses on Party of Five; her outfits, however, are cute. And McDermott makes good eye candy when he smiles -- otherwise his shifty-eyed, fakely grinning tycoon is so cartoonish, you expect him to reach up and twirl an invisible moustache. One in 10 persons will find this film predictable, disjointed, and tasteless. So will the other nine.

-- Jumana Farouky


Rosie: The Devil Inside my Head

The divisiveness in Belgian director Patrice Toye's debut feature is more familial and psychological than political, but the consequences, though internalized, are as devastating. The title heroine, tough and cynical at 13, is processed into a youth-detention center for some undisclosed crime. Flashbacks unfold the mystery with tantalizing sleight of hand and crusty working-class detail, circa 1980. Her unmarried mother, Irene, pretends that Rosie is her sister -- she had Rosie when she was only 14 -- so she can attract a husband. Further undermining their bond is the unwelcome appearance of Irene's brother Michel, who tries to act as Rosie's father. Alienated, Rosie finds solace in her "white knight," Jimi, and the two set off on a peripatetic adventure involving a purloined baby. Although overlong, Rosie packs some sly surprises that illuminate as well as startle.

-- Peter Keough


Life, Love & Celluloid

Originally made to chronicle the Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, this documentary was directed by Juliane Lorenz, who was Fassbinder's wife, editor, and frequent collaborator. Although there are some wonderful still photos of the legendary filmmaker, there is very little archival footage and not all that much about Fassbinder himself. There are many talking heads (curators, actors, academics) who discuss Fassbinder briefly and then segue into mostly embarrassing diatribes about independent cinema and its future. A young German actor has an inexplicable almost-love scene with Veronika Voss's Rosel Zech; there are some equally inexplicable aerial shots of Berlin, Hollywood, and New York with jarring piano accompaniment.

I enjoyed the odd but highly entertaining performance by a cabaret singer whose song manages to include the title of every Fassbinder film (no mean feat). And the staging of several of Fassbinder's theatrical scripts must be seen to be believed (they are campily bad, but I suspect that's due to clumsy translation). Given her knowledge of and access to Fassbinder, it's surprising that Lorenz was not able to create a film worthy of the filmmaker's prolific and daring career.

-- Peg Aloi


Grand Illusion

With the discovery of the camera negative of Jean Renoir's 1937 Grand Illusion, we can now see this classic -- long available only in soft, contrast-deficient copies -- in a clear, crisp print with deep blacks and subtle grays. The new print makes the world of the film richer and fuller. "World" is a key word in discussing Renoir: his fluid, multilayered movies convince you that their architectural, natural, and behavioral landscapes are parts of wholes that recombine to infinity beyond the edges of the screen.

Set during World War I, Grand Illusion is about three captured French officers (Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, and Pierre Fresnay) and how they try to escape from German POW camps. Their adventures illuminate the enforced democratization of the war. Renoir shows people acting the way we want to think we'd act in their situations: that's why we're stirred when British officers in drag, apprised of a French military victory, break out with La Marseillaise in the middle of a theatrical performance, or when a German guard gives Gabin a harmonica, or when Gabin and Dalio hug each other goodbye before setting out on their final trek toward the Swiss border. As good as they become and as much as they love freedom, these men will go on killing each other -- that's the pessimism at the core of Renoir's humanism.

-- Chris Fujiwara


Get Bruce!

If you've ever endured the tired humor of the fourth hour of an Oscars broadcast hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, you probably have wanted to get Bruce too. Bruce Vilanch, the hirsute and roly-poly ("Jim Henson just had his fist up my ass," he once retorted to Donny Osmond when the latter compared him to a Muppet) comedy writer responsible for some of the highs and lows of the past decade of Academy Awards shows (from Billy Crystal's Jack Palance routine to the infamous Rob Lowe/Snow White production), nonetheless deserves better than this glib and sloppy documentary by Andrew J. Kuehn. Cobbled together mostly from interviews with Vilanch's clients (Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Crystal), the film degenerates into a showcase of their egos rather than an exploration of a little-known aspect of the entertainment industry and a profile of one of its more colorful proponents. The few glimpses into Vilanch's background and personal life -- openly gay and an AIDS activist, he has a revealingly tense moment with Steven Seagal -- suggest there might be a genuine story behind the smarm and self-promotion. Someone should get Bruce to tell it.

-- Peter Keough


Crazy in Alabama

Following the incomprehensible success of Double Jeopardy, here's another inept movie about a homicidal wife made by a non-American director. Adapted from the breezy, '60s-set Mark Childress bestseller by Spanish actor Antonio Banderas in his feature debut, Crazy in Alabama features Banderas's wife, Melanie Griffith, as Lucille, an Alabama mother of seven who snaps one day when her abusive husband mocks her dream of heading to Hollywood to star on Bewitched. She offs him with d-Con, cuts off his head and puts it in Tupperware, drops off the kids at her mom's, and hightails it westward, but not before establishing a bond with her orphaned nephew Peejoe (Lucas Black, the best thing in the movie despite the relentless voiceover narration). Peejoe's got his own education in oppression to undergo, as the town of Industry where he is staying with his undertaker uncle Dove (a nondescript David Morse) is being racked by the civil-rights movement. Laboriously intercutting the two tales to make its clumsy points about freedom, guilt, and celebrity, Crazy doesn't go really crazy until near the end, when Rod Steiger takes over as a judge and demonstrates what an overbaked Southern ham is like.

-- Peter Keough


Bringing Out the Dead

Maybe the streets of New York City just aren't that mean anymore, or maybe in the two decades since Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader have lost their sense of urgency. Whatever the reason -- and the semi-autobiographical, episodic, faux magical-realist Joe Connelly novel on which Bringing Out the Dead is based may be the biggest one -- this new film from the great director and his screenwriting collaborator lurches around as ineffectually as its burnt-out hero.

Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage, out of his depth since Leaving Las Vegas) is an EMT who's been working the late shift in Hell's Kitchen for too long. He's drinking too much and he hasn't saved anyone for months, until one night he punches life back into the chest of Mr. Burke, a hard-living 60ish working stiff who ends up on life support. Burke's voice, and the faces of those he couldn't save, haunt Frank as he scours the city with a variety of partners (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore), but Scorsese's rendition is a listless mix of ER and Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, seldom reaching in its more hallucinatory passages the skewed surreality of his underrated After Hours.

Cage's Frank is no Travis Bickle, though there is an underage girl of the street named Rose whom he once failed to rescue and whose accusing specter lurks on every corner. Even less convincing is Frank's relationship with Mary (Patricia Arquette), Burke's recovering-addict daughter; Cage seems to play down with her and play up with the guys, and neither extreme rings true. A series of uninspired set pieces backed by Cage's droning voice-over narration, Dead careers aimlessly like Frank's ambulance; the lights are on but nobody's home.

-- Peter Keough


Body Shots

Eight twentysomethings hit the hip streets of LA for some club life, binge drinking, and sex. The guys all drive luxury sport coupes, have über-yuppie jobs (one of them is a pro football player, even though the Rams are long gone), and chatter incessantly about getting laid. The young ladies are equally shallow: they dress to the nines, talk about blow jobs, and seem concerned only with self-fulfillment. After a lot of blue, back-lit posturing punctured with shards of popcorn psychology, they all get what they want until one of the swanky blondes (Tara Reid) cries date rape against the arrogant football stud (Jerry O'Connell).

That's when the "he" lawyer (a beleaguered-looking Sean Patrick Flanery) and the "she" lawyer (Amanda Peet) take sides and the film becomes a vapid marriage of 90210 and L.A. Law. The characters are listless, almost loathsome, and the dialogue is inanely irresponsible -- especially the football grunt's "she wanted it" spiel. About the only things that work in this trashy tedium, the inauspicious big-screen debut of playwright Michael Cristofer, are its techno backbeat, the vignettes of soft-core erotica, and Ron Livingston's hilariously tenacious horndog.

-- Tom Meek


Bats

Here's something guaranteed to drive audiences from the theaters screaming: a scare picture devoid of suspense. Not only is Bats frightless, it squanders easy opportunities for camp, coming up inane where silly would be preferable.

The tepid tale of mayhem begins when the bat population in a small Texas town goes berserk and starts to feast on the townsfolk. Disease Control officials call in a bat-ologist (Dina Meyer, the tough female footsoldier in Starship Troopers) to remedy the situation, but bigger, more devious forces are at work. It turns out that the bats are the product of an über-engineering experiment gone awry. They are smarter and tougher than ordinary bats or any of the all-too-easy-to-kill humanoids in the film.

It's kind of The Birds by way of Deep Blue Sea. Meyer, who seems comfortable trying her hand at Sigourney Weaver's Alien shtick, gets paired up with Lou Diamond Phillips's rough-and-tumble sheriff, and in the climactic scene, the duo attempt to save the town by wading through a river of bat feces. Now that's some scary shit.

-- Tom Meek


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