Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Heavens Above

By Susan Ellis

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  Directed by Taylor Hackford (Dolores Claiborne, An Officer and a Gentleman) and written by Tony Gilroy, The Devil's Advocate revolves around Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), a hotshot Florida defense attorney who's wooed to New York by the massively successful lawyer John Milton (Al Pacino), who just happens to be the Devil. Milton lavishes his new employee and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) with a generous salary and a massive apartment. He tests Kevin with a small case and then drops a jewel in his lap -- defending a much-maligned real estate developer (Craig T. Nelson), who's been accused of murdering his wife and two others. Kevin quickly gets used to the good life, ignoring that his wife is becoming increasingly unhinged. By the time Kevin realizes what's happening it's too late -- his mentor has him exactly where he wants him.

If the concept behind The Devil's Advocate sounds a bit too precious, it is. The movie plays out as if it was written by a high-schooler pumped up on too much Surge and heavy-metal music. The Devil as a lawyer (with the name John Milton, no less) is an obvious choice, though it's probably no less scary than, say, if the Devil were your mail carrier. To couch the concept, the filmmakers pump up the film with a lot of gloss and sex with a touch of gore for good measure. The action takes place in sterile, marble-filled opulence. There is lots of nudity, a slit throat, plenty of hallucinations, and bored rich housewives who morph into demons.

Reeves as the Devil's dupe proves to be mostly nondescript despite his syrupy Southern accent. And while Theron puts in a good performance as Kevin's shell-shocked, insecure wife, her character is purely sacrificial. Pacino as the Devil has his moments. He preens and boasts about his prowess with the ladies. His devilish charm aside, however, he hardly comes off as too terrifically sinister. A good push could knock him on his ass. In fact, Milton could be any lawyer with an oversized ego.

The Devil's Advocate isn't exactly hellish. It's more of a two-hour-plus purgatory.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

The success of last year's Scream made horror movies cool again. Writer Kevin Williamson deftly riffed on the genre's conceits for comic effect, while using them to spook the audience. With his latest effort, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Williamson plays it straight, and the result comes off less as a thriller than as a showcase for the four young actors who star.

Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. (the late comic's son) make up a cozy clique of just-graduated high-school seniors who are enjoying their last Fourth of July together in their seaside hometown in North Carolina. Intellectual Julie (Hewitt) and jock Barry (Phillippe) are off to college in Boston. Beauty queen Helen (Gellar) is headed to New York to pursue an acting career, and the working-class Ray (Prinze) is moving there, too, to write. As they head home after saying their goodbyes, Ray strikes a man in Barry's new BMW. The crew panic and opt to save themselves and their futures, so they take the body, dump it off a pier, and swear never to mention the incident again.

One year later, Julie returns home to find an anonymous note informing her that someone knows what she and her friends did. As the Fourth approaches, the foursome are terrorized by that person who they can't see, but who can see them. They decide to find him and stop him.

I Know What You Did Last Summer is by-the-book. Williamson knows which dark corners to put his killer in, when to shake you with a false scare, and how to pull off a bang-up ending. And the four players fill their roles nicely. But the movie's surefootedness is perhaps its biggest flaw. It's not too gory or too surprising or too anything. It's certainly nothing to lose your head over.

Shall We Dance

THE JAPANESE FILM SHALL WE Dance, which has won over audiences across the country, has finally made its way into Memphis.

The film stars Koji Yakusyo as Sugiyama, a straight-up businessman who toils away at his job robotically in order to provide his wife and daughter with the things that are expected of a family man. It's not a bad life, just an ordinary one. While making his way home on the train, he notices a young woman (Tamiyo Kusakari) staring out of a dance-school window. On an impulse one evening, Sugiyama leaves the train to go and find the woman. He winds up enrolling in dance classes -- something he keeps from his family. And while he's no closer to the woman, Mai, he, much to his surprise, begins to enjoy dancing.

Shall We Dance is written and directed by Masayuki Suo. Suo places his characters at counterpoints. There's the fettered Sugiyama and the icy Mai, once a champion dancer forced to work at her father's school instead of pursuing glory. There's the comic forces of the pudgy, pushy Toyoko (Eriko Watanabe) who bullies her classmates, and Sugiyama's coworker Aoki (Naoto Takenaka), a picked-on nerd, who dons wig to become a dancing wild man. As a dance contest nears, all of them must push their conflicts aside, gather the courage to trust their partners, and swallow their anxieties, to dance like they've never danced before.

Shall We Dance draws the viewer in with its almost corny sweetness while demonstrating the release and the beauty of ballroom dance.

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