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DECEMBER 29, 1997: 

The Postman

After his Waterworld budget-busting debacle, one wonders why Kevin Costner would jeopardize his capricious career with yet another post-Apocalyptic action flick. Yet The Postman isn't as atrocious as the inane trailers and media hype suggested. The set-up, based on David Brin's novel, is essentially that of Waterworld, the Mad Max series or even Planet of the Apes: in the near-future (2013) civilization has crumbled, and in some remote recess decent folk struggle for survival in a lawless, Western-like landscape that is demonized by a tyrannical megalomaniac. Will Patton plays the maniacal baddie, General Bethlehem, a former copier salesman who leads a clan of neo-Nazis on plundering raids throughout the Pacific Northwest. Costner, rehashing his Waterworld and Dances with Wolves characters, drifts in as a stranger claiming to be a US Postal Service jock, with the intent of stirring up sentiment and cadging a meal. But as folly, circumstance, and the formulaic plot would have it, Costner's courier reluctantly rises above his own interest to become a symbol of hope and a catalyst for an insurrection against Bethlehem and his sadistic hordes.

At three hours, The Postman is surprisingly coherent, though it struggles against its maudlin, epic-like framework. Costner, at his nonchalant best, is palatable, but Patton is a sheer spectacle, posturing his Napoleonic psycho with gestures and inflections that beg comedic comparison to Charlton Heston. The film's most gracious performance comes from Olivia Williams as Costner's love interest. Unfortunately, even her sensual effervescence can't redeem the inept dialogue and perplexing overuse of slow-motion sequencing.

-- Tom Meek


Mr. Magoo

Mr. Magoo should be boycotted. Not because it ridicules vision-impaired people, but because it's so unfair to the legacy of the cartoon. Poor Quincy Magoo, and poor Leslie Nielsen. Brilliant in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies, Nielsen has since lent his deadpan delivery and blissfully absentminded persona to such slapstick clunkers as Spy Hard and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But neither of these can compare with the atrocity that is Magoo.

Acclaimed Hong Kong director Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx) gets his fight scenes in (Kelly Lynch is a villain with a mean karate chop), and co-screenwriter Pat Proft (who helped script The Naked Gun) inserts a few pale imitations of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker jokes. But they both forget Magoo. Where the cartoon character naively but gracefully slid through life, the flesh-and-blood Nielsen gets banged up and knocked around like one of the Stooges. Nielsen is best on the rare occasion when he takes charge, quits pretending he's Magoo altogether, and becomes Lieutenant Frank Drebin. There's no reason for the National Federation of the Blind to be upset about Mr. Magoo -- its members should be thankful they can't see this one.

-- Mark Bazer


Jour de fête

Among his admirers are Jean Cocteau and François Truffaut; and Marguerite Duras called Jacques Tati (1908-1982) "perhaps the world's greatest filmmaker." But few in America are familiar with the French sight-gag king, who wrote, directed, and starred in such abiding comic classics as Monsieur Hulot's Vacation (1953), Mon oncle (1958), and Playtime (1967). Emulating Chaplin in Modern Times, Tati would often unleash his screen persona amid technology run faceless and wild. Dancing himself through the manmade environment with a pipe and a cane, he responded to mechanical chaos as matter-of-factly, as dexterously, as straight-facedly as Buster Keaton in The General.

Jour de fête (1947), Tati's first film, newly restored in color, is a mild apprentice work for his later near-masterpieces. It's a whimsical tale about a one-day fair in the town square of a small French village. A carnival roustabout, Roger (Guy Decobie), flirts with a local gal whenever his wife turns her head. The town postman, François (Tati), delivers the mail by bicycle.

There's no story at all, just lots of comme ci comme ça visual gags. Tati is pretty funny when, dead drunk, he tries to mount his bicycle from the other side of a fence. He gets funnier when, emulating American mailmen he encounters in a chauvinist US documentary (they deliver letters by dropping from a helicopter), he decides that speed is everything. He races his bicycle, frenzied American-style, until he learns the lesson that slow and French is A-okay. Tati's pre-Monsieur Hulot persona is Charles De Gaulle on wheels, as a lanky, likable country rube.

-- Gerald Peary


An American Werewolf in Paris

The idea of Julie Delpy as a werewolf sounds kinky enough on paper, but this anemic, in-name-only sequel to John Landis's An American Werewolf in London (1981) turns the humane French actress into a bit player. In what amounts to a cameo, Delpy plays a suicidal lycanthrope who's saved from jumping off the Eiffel Tower by Andy (Tom Everett Scott), the least offensive of three American meatheads in Paris. He considers her "the woman of my dreams," but she proves moody by moonlight and powerless to prevent his own initiation into wolfdom. Before long, he's eating rare steak with his hands and she's whipping up heart-juice cocktails.

Meaning to put its tongue in cheek, this Werewolf bites it off instead: the humor isn't funny, the horror isn't scary, and the digital wolf f/x look cheap. The hack-like Landis at least delivered on the romantic side of his boy-meets-girl, boy-becomes-wolf tale, but this film's love story pales beside such freakish caricatures as the werewolf/monk/performance artist who crucifies unwitting Americans, and the undead bimbo who spurts blood out her cheek when she tries to whistle. Yeccch. Director Anthony Waller started his career by aping Brian De Palma in Mute Witness; now he's wolfing down warmed-over John Landis -- a monstrous transformation if there ever was one.

-- Rob Nelson


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