The Movie Report
Volume 45

#176 - 179
February 4, 1999 - February 25, 1999

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#179 February 25, 1999 by Michael Dequina


8mm poster 8MM (R) **
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As his follow-up to the candy-colored camp catastrophe that was Batman & Robin, director Joel Schumacher has gone to the opposite extreme with the lurid thriller 8MM. Schumacher obviously intended this down-and-dirty film to cleanse his artistic soul, and while 8MM certainly is better than that infamous franchise killer (then again, what wouldn't be?), the film is grainy and unfocused as the object at the center of the plot.

That object is a so-called "snuff" film, a pornographic work in which the woman is killed. The film is found in the safe of a recently deceased millionaire, and private detective Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is hired by the millionaire's widow (Myra Carter) to investigate its origin and track down the family of the young girl who was brutally killed in it.

The mystery is just a perfunctory device for screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker to get to his main concern, which is the psychological effects Tom feels takes when he becomes immersed in the seedy world of underground porn. But did it have to be so perfunctory? Walker doesn't even bother to hide the fact that it is a mere device. The mystery is more or less resolved in an overblown sequence that comes at the end of act two, and the revelations are contrived and incredibly underwhelming. While that may be some sort of sly in-joke on Walker's part, to the viewer, it is simply an unsatisfying cheat.

But once the mystery is out of the way, and Walker frees himself to zero in on Tom's psyche, the movie does get better, and it finally gives Cage something meaty to work with. The pain and anguish of his downward spiral are acutely felt through Cage's chillingly convincing performance. But by this point, the movie is nearly over, with two-thirds of it having been spent on characters plot mechanics that, for the most part, bear little to no weight in the end.

8MM is a competent attempt by Schumacher to reclaim his directorial voice after suffering the grind of a blockbuster studio franchise. Yet while a directorial voice does rings throughout 8MM, it is not Schumacher's--rather, it's that of David Fincher, helmer of Walker's Se7en; Schumacher apes his style from the ample rain to the deliberate pacing. 8MM may indeed be a step up from Schumacher's last film, but he still has a few more steps to go before recapturing his own artistic identity.

Goodbye Lover poster Goodbye Lover (R) ***
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Imagine you're the head of a major studio. You have an interesting little film that is hard to categorize, yet you have enough faith in the project to unveil it at a major international film festival. Your faith is confirmed when the film receives, on the whole, a warm reception. What do you do now? If you're the head of Warner Bros., apparently you don't do anything.

Despite good notices at Cannes last May, Roland Joffé's description-defying Goodbye Lover has been sitting on the studio shelf ever since, its release date being randomly tossed around the schedule like a hot potato (until recently, it had been targeted for a release in January... of 2000). But after much headscratching in the WB marketing department, the studio has now finally decided to bite the bullet, setting an all-but-concrete mid-April release. So what exactly was the problem?

After watching the film, it's easy to see why Warner was at a loss as to what to do. Goodbye Lover is a very enjoyable lark of an entertainment, but the film's virtues are exactly what made it such hell to market--it's a deliciously unpredictable thriller with a dark, very offbeat sense of humor. That the film juggles both elements is unusual enough; that the film juggles them as well as it does is even moreso.

A lot of the enjoyment to be had with Goodbye Lover hinges on surprise, so I'll speak of the plot in the vaguest possible terms. Sultry Los Angeles real estate agent Sandra Dunmore (Patricia Arquette) is married to Jake (Dermot Mulroney), whose career as an ad exec is threatened by his little drinking problem. Jake's older brother is slick, pompous public relations exec Ben (Don Johnson), who is dutifully served by staff underling Peggy Blaine (Mary-Louise Parker). Needless to say, nothing is quite as it seems in this twisted little circle, and eventually a crime within it brings the group to the attention of burned-out police detective Rita Pompano (Ellen DeGeneres).

Warner Bros. is describing Goodbye Lover as a "film gris" (as opposed to noir), and the description is apt (for the French-challenged, "gris" means grey). In the most basic sense, its underlying, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor keeps it from reaching the darkness of pure noir, yet the mordant nature of the humor doesn't exactly make the film a sunny romp, either. But the "gris" label also fits how seamlessly Joffé and writers Ron Peer, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow meld their two genre worlds. They have their cake and eat it too, coming up with a comic thriller that genuinely surprises or, rather, a twisty comedy that delivers laughs--though, it must be said, that a number of wisecracks, which primarily come from the mouth of Pompano, clang.

However, the occasional groaner is forgivable when there is such an intriguing cast of characters. All are well-played by the actors, but there are two cast members who stand out the most. The most interesting character is Sandra, who looks and dresses like a siren, yet she's also a devout churchgoer (a volunteer, no less) who loves listening to self-improvement tapes and The Sound of Music. Arquette's typically flat line delivery, which often fails her (most recently in The Hi-Lo Country), is actually works here, a perfect fit for the character's ambiguity. DeGeneres has an ideal film showcase as the heard- and seen-it-all Pompano, and though her character's sarcastic asides don't always hit the mark, she delivers them with aplomb.

The greatest irony of year-long marketing-mulling session on Goodbye Lover is that regardless of what direction Warner Bros. decides to take with its publicity campaign, the film is just about certain to flop; its sensibilities are much too warped to appeal to a wide audience. Nonetheless, its fresh, unique voice will likely win Goodbye Lover a devoted group of admirers, as it did nearly a year ago at Cannes.

20 Dates poster 20 Dates (R) ***
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It's one thing for first-time independent directors to make their feature debuts with movies about struggling filmmakers, and it's quite another thing entirely to engage in the singular act of self-indulgence that Myles Berkowitz pulls off in 20 Dates. Instead of making a thinly veiled fiction film about himself, he has unabashedly made a film about himself. And, in an added twist, the film he has made traces the making of the film he has made (got that?).

By that description, 20 Dates sounds like an exercise in cinematic masturbation--and, to a certain extent, it is--but it doesn't feel that way. That's because Berkowitz has an interesting story to tell. Bored with the movies' unrealistic view of love and frustrated with his nonexistent film career and love life, he came up with a high-concept idea: make a movie about his own quest for true love. A camera would follow him on twenty dates (hence the title), and if he somehow fell in love during the course of these dates, not only would he have found love, he would have also captured on film the exact, true moment where people fall for each other--which, he felt, had never been captured in a Hollywood film. But if love never comes, at least he would have his movie.

Because it details real-life events, 20 Dates can be considered a documentary, but it isn't entirely one. The film is peppered by Berkowitz's own narration, in which he makes wry comments and observations on the events in retrospect, and, I suspect, he's also taken certain dramatic liberties with some situations (most notably, the downward fortunes of his producer, Elie Samaha). But 100% true or not, the film is quite funny and never less than amusing, due mostly to Berkowitz himself. He is an entertaining, engaging host, with a charmingly self-effacing attitude about him.

So as one watches 20 Dates, one hopes that he will find success--in his career and in love. Does he? Fox Searchlight's theatrical release of 20 Dates answers the former question, but as for the latter? You'll just have to sit through the film's fun, if ultralightweight, 88 minutes to find out.

200 Cigarettes poster 200 Cigarettes (R) ** 1/2
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As much fun as they may be to make, and as interesting as the assembled talent often is, multi-story and -character ensemble films have a built-in problem: all the stories and characters never hold the same amount of interest. While Robert Altman has shown that it is possible to come up with a consistently engaging pastiche of narrative threads, more often than not similar efforts by others come out wildly uneven. Such is the case with Risa Bramon Garcia's somewhat amusing but underachieving 200 Cigarettes.

Within the loose narrative framework of people finding their way to one big Big Apple bash on the Eve of 1982, Garcia and screenwriter Shana Larsen, both first-timers, do come up with one completely successful plot thread: that of platonic friends/roommates Kevin (Paul Rudd) and Lucy (Courtney Love). Kevin is depressed over his recent breakup with performance artist girlfriend Ellie (Janeane Garofalo, as hilariously acerbic as ever) and the fact that it's also his birthday, and Lucy wants to cheer him up and make him forget about Ellie--in any way she can. Right off the bat one can see where this storyline will lead, but the terrific pairing of Rudd and Love makes it never less than involving. Love is particularly impressive, displaying a warmth and vulnerability that is as delightful as it is surprising; her performance here--in tandem with her breakthrough work in The People vs. Larry Flynt--reveals Love to be the real thing, actingwise.

Unfortunately for Garcia and Larsen--and even worse for us--there is one huge dud of a storyline involving two Long Island teens, Val (Christina Ricci) and Stephie (Gaby Hoffmann), who get lost on the mean streets of the East Village. Along the way, they hook up with a couple of punk rockers, Tom (Casey Affleck) and Dave (Guillermo Diaz). It's always nice to see Ricci onscreen, but her talents are wasted in this story, which is an absolute waste of time--it's not funny; there is no payoff whatsoever; and only two of the characters play notable roles in Garcia and Larsen's grand scheme. Making this thread even more unbearable is a truly grating performance by Hoffmann, who is actually given more to do than Ricci.

The other stories in the hodgepodge that is 200 Cigarettes are varying degrees of just-passable, with some of the actors turning in standout character work. Dave Chappelle is amusing as a slick cabbie who taxis many of the characters around town. Ben Affleck is a hoot as an incredibly square bartender who catches the attention of many a patron, most notably starving artist friends Caitlyn (Angela Featherstone) and Bridget (Nicole Parker). Martha Plimpton is nicely neurotic as the big party's harried hostess, but she's saddled with a tedious thread revolving around her ex's (Brian McCardie) sexual inadequacy. But the one person, other than Love, who makes the strongest impression is newcomer Kate Hudson, who plays the purehearted Cindy, who spends her New Year's Eve with Jack (Jay Mohr), whom she doesn't know is quite the ladies' man. Hudson is effortlessly likable and charming, but Garcia and Larsen too often have her engage in cheap pratfalls and other acts of clumsiness.

"Clumsy" can also describe the way Larsen chooses to close out the film, with a hamfisted monologue about how people "hide" behind cigarettes--as if she were somehow required to explain her title (as if the virtually non-stop lighting and puffing weren't explanation enough). Yet as heavy-handed as that touch and statement is, it also pretty much sums up 200 Cigarettes: what's good about it is hidden behind the smoke of mediocrity.

In Brief

October Sky poster October Sky (PG) ***
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To a certain extent, Joe Johnston's fact-based film is every bit the piece of manipulation its advertising suggests. In 1957, after seeing the Soviet satellite Sputnik traverse the October sky (we have a title!), young Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a group of fairly nondescript friends (with the exception of ubergeek Quentin, played by Chris Owen) is inspired to take up rocket science. The problem is, he's just a kid in a small West Virginia coal mining town (aptly named Coalwood), and his father (Chris Cooper), who runs the mine, wants nothing more than for Homer to follow the family and town tradition of mining.

Lewis Colick's script goes through familiar paces: Homer runs into a series of obstacles in pursuing his dream, but he keeps at it, egged on by a kindhearted teacher (Laura Dern) and others. But as manipulative as the film is whenever the proceedings threaten to degenerate into treacle, Johnston pulls back; as such, the unforced and honest power of the emotion ever so quietly sneaks up on you by film's end. This understatement and sensitivity extends to the actors, especially Gyllenhaal, one of the rare young newcomers who actually displays some real promise.

Six Ways to Sunday poster Six Ways to Sunday (R) zero stars
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What is it with independent films with days of the week in their title? Last fall brought the awful Thursday, a pointless, plotless, blood-soaked exercise in nihilism. I thought it couldn't possibly get any worse than that detestable film, here comes Six Ways to Sunday, which would more aptly be called 97 Minutes to Nowhere.

Six Ways exemplifies, all too painfully, the traditional criticisms of independent film: pretentiousness, self-indulgent artiness, graphic violence, a would-be "hip" sense of humor, a touch of "taboo" subject matter. The flat-out awfulness shouldn't be a surprise once one discovers what director/co-scripter (with Marc Gerald) Adam Bernstein's only other credit is: arguably the worst big screen Saturday Night Live of all time, It's Pat. Six Ways follows Ohio teen Harry Odum (Norman Reedus), whose progress up the mafia ranks and budding romance with a mafia maid (Elina Lowensöhn) causes some strain with his beloved, overprotective--to say the very least--mother (Deborah Harry).

As with any film, Six Ways's effectiveness--or, rather, lack thereof--lies in the execution, and while the basic story (loosely based on Charles Perry's novel Portrait of a Young Man Drowning) may not sound so bad, it's everything else that makes the film as unwatchable as it is. The dialogue is often laughable in the wrong way; the direction a study in how not to make a film (all flashy cuts and "surreal" visual narrative devices; jarringly abrupt shifts in tone); and the acting is even worse. Reedus is a former model for Prada, and his sub-amateurish performance shows it; Harry and Lowensöhn duke it out for worst performance when their characters square off over Harry's affections. The only person, in front of or behind the camera, who makes any kind of positive impression is Adrien Brody, who plays Harry's wannabe gangsta best friend. That it is also one of the lesser performances I've seen Brody give says a lot about just how insufferable this worst-of-'99 shoo-in is.

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#178 February 19, 1999 by Michael Dequina


Office Space poster Office Space (R) ***
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Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill. Two of the most successful animated television series in recent years--and two of the most annoying creations to ever hit the tube, if you ask me. So I was surprised to find myself laughing through much of the offbeat workplace comedy Office Space, the live-action directorial debut of those series' creator, Mike Judge.

When we first meet Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), he is stuck in the circle of hell known as morning rush hour trafic. But this is nothing compared to the next circle that awaits Peter and his also-traffic-jammed friends Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman) every single day as office drones for the Initech Corporation. As we see Peter being harrassed by his numerous higher-ups about a memo regarding report cover sheets and Michael doing battle with the temperamental office copier and anyone who mentions a certain identically-named singer, Judge's point is abundantly clear: work sucks, as goes the film's tagline.

Judge's recreation of soul-deadening busy work is so painfully dead-on hilarious that it wouldn't really matter if there were much of a plot--and there really isn't much of one. Fed up with his unfulfilling, underappreciated efforts and his smarmy, condescending boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Peter decides to rebel, and he and the about-to-be-laid-off Samir and Michael join forces in an elaborate scheme to fleece the corporation. While their scheming does pave the way for some very effective, very funny set pieces (one gangland-style "beating" is a showstopper), it doesn't have much of a payoff. In fact, perhaps Office Space's weakest element is its rather flat conclusion, which doesn't fulfill the buildup of what preceded it.

Nonetheless, Judge has come up with a wry, perceptive, always-amusing comedy, highlighted by some memorable characters, chief among them the gangsta-rap-loving Michael Bolton; the ever-unctuous Lumbergh; and Milton (Stephen Root), a perpetually stepped-on (or, rather, completely ignored) soft-spoken co-worker. But it's Livingston who holds the film together. Peter, while the main character, may not be the showiest role in the film, but Livingston's low-key, self-effacing attitude works in creating a likable character--and, in turn, an involving film.

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#177 February 11, 1999 by Michael Dequina


Message in a Bottle poster Message in a Bottle (PG-13) ** 1/2
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I am a sucker for a shamelessly romantic confection, and the swoony trailer for Luis Mandoki's adaptation of Nicholas Sparks's bestseller Message in a Bottle promised the tear-stained goods. A woman finds the titular item and is so touched by the letter that she seeks out the letter writer--and finds him. Along the way, we hear such wonderfully saccharine lines as, "Don't you think it's brave--to love like that in this world?", "Choose between yesterday and tomorrow," and, most memorably, "You were my true north."

But as Message dashed headlong into its tear-wringing final frames, the audience at the screening I attended was noticeably dry-eyed and -nosed, with very few audible sniffles. And it's understandable why, for I certainly was not one of those few. I don't mind a formulaic film if the film goes about the formula in an interesting way, or the story is strong enough to sweep me away, formula be damned. Message does neither. It is a rather conventional and conventionally told tale where a lonely woman (here, Chicago newspaper researcher/divorced single mom Theresa Osborne, played by Robin Wright Penn) finds a kindred spirit in another lonely soul (North Carolina widower Garret Blake, played by Kevin Costner, the author of the message), but his devotion to a lost love (dead wife Catherine) keeps him from committing.

There is nothing wrong with that story in and of itself, and Costner and the radiant Wright Penn are a natural screen pair. But director Luis Mandoki and scripter Gerald DiPego wrap it in too much formula. Theresa and Garret fall for each other, but there's a Big Secret that threatens the future of their relationship, the revelation of which naturally comes at the pinnacle of their happiness (read: after they first make love). (The Big Secret in question, of course, is that Theresa found Garret's bottle and sought him out.) But even way before the story gets to that point, there are other irksome cliches, in particular Theresa getting an early wrong impression Garret after spying him in a brawl with his former brother-in-law. Speaking of in-laws, too much time is spent on a pointless subplot involving Garret's strained relationship with them. As if that weren't damaging enough as it is, the thread is resolved in an overblown, wordless, melodramatically-scored scene that borders on the laughable.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Message in a Bottle is that it really could have turned out to be something. The story has a proven hook, and the casting is dead-on. Wright Penn is captivating and likable; Costner's typical stiffness is compensated by his rapport with his female lead; and they are well-supported by Illeana Douglas (as Theresa's best friend/co-worker), Robbie Coltrane (as Theresa's boss), and, in a scene-stealing turn, Paul Newman (as Garret's father). But these individual elements are just that, elements, floating in a large, overly familiar sea.

Simply Irresistible poster Simply Irresistible (PG-13) **
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They say that the way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach, so one would think that before Simply Irresistible, a food-centered romance would have hit the big screen...

...oh, I forgot--Like Water for Chocolate got there first.

Then allow me to rephrase: one would think that one would come up with a romance that was not only food-centered, but a fantasy where the besotted chef's emotions magically manifest themselves in her cooking...

...oh, I forgot--Like Water for Chocolate covered that, too.

That leaves writer Judith Roberts and director Mark Tarlov with nary a fresh idea between them, and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sean Patrick Flanery with nothing fresh to work with. The latter fact is especially a shame, for Flanery and the luminous Gellar are wonderfully matched as, respectively, wealthy department store manager Tom Bartlett and the young woman he eventually falls for, a mediocre chef at a struggling New York restaurant named Amanda Shelton. The two Meet Cute at a street food market, where a mysterious stranger sells Amanda a basket of crabs, one of which is magical (!) and pinches Tom's leg. Forcing a meeting between Amanda and Tom is just the first trick up the crab's sleeve, for he turns Amanda into a master chef, winning the hearts of many, not least of all being the commitment-phobic Tom's, with her divine culinary masterpieces.

This setup plays about as dreadful as it sounds, with only the appeal and chemistry of Gellar and Flanery keeping it watchable. But around the midpoint, with the appearance of the object of its original title--Vanilla Fog--Simply Irresistible starts to develop some low-key charm. At this juncture, Tarlov and Roberts appear to realize that the mere presence of magic does not a magical film make. As exhibited in Alfonso Arau's absolutely enchanting 1993 film Like Water for Chocolate, fantasy elements must be firmly rooted in the characters and story in order to really work, and once the fog appears and lifts, the emphasis is placed less on the magic than the characters, and as such that element feels more like a necessary part of the story and not an arbitrary gimmick.

Even so, it's too little too late--the damage caused by the unpromising opening and the annoying plot device of the crab (which, like the stranger who sells it to Amanda, is never explained) is done, and the effectiveness of Simply Irresistible's latter half merely serves as a glimpse of what might have been had the filmmakers been more focused. As such, this murky and ultimately bland effort lives up to that former title--Vanilla Fog, indeed.

In Brief

Blast from the Past poster Blast from the Past (PG-13) **
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It's a terrible premise: believing that America would be bombed by the Russians in 1962, an eccentric but brilliant scientist (Christopher Walken) and his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacek) lock themselves in a homey underground fallout shelter. After the timed locks open after 35 years, their son, Adam (Brendan Fraser) is ready to go up to the surface to get more supplies. There he meets the oh-so-conveniently named Eve (Alicia Silverstone), who schools the '60s-era-bred Adam in the ways of the '90s L.A....and, of course, in love.

Surprisingly, however, Blast from the Past does have its charms, chief among them being some good comic character work from Walken and Dave Foley, who plays Eve's gay brother. Fraser and Silverstone also have a sweet, unforced romantic rapport. But it's not enough to overcome the thudding weight of the premise, which serves as the springboard for too many lame gags, the lamest of all being a bar owner (Joey Slotnick) who thinks Adam is God (don't ask). In the end, the charm of Blast from the Past cannot overpower the cheese.

My Favorite Martian poster My Favorite Martian (PG) zero stars
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Grab a thesaurus. Look up the word "bad." See those words listed? There you have my review of the absolutely atrocious screen version of the 1960s TV sitcom. The Martian in question (Christopher Lloyd) becomes the "favorite" of TV news producer Tim O'Hara, who reluctantly allows the alien (who passes himself off as Tim's "Uncle Martin") and his living, talking space suit to live with him as they repair their damaged spaceship. Certainly some suspension of disbelief is in order, but there was one thing that kept on bugging me while watching this film: just where exactly was the Martian heading if he didn't want to land on earth? It makes no sense.

Not that sense should be the priority of director Donald Petrie and writers Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver--their main concern should be laughs. But there are none to be had in this tedious turkey, which uses a lot of admittedly diverting (but not diverting enough) effects work in a futile attempt to hide the clunkiness of the script and, worst of all, the performances. Lloyd is insufferably obnoxious and smug; Daniels is a complete blank; Daryl Hannah (as Daniels's devoted camera operator) is even worse. But as bad as they are, they don't come close to the abysmal, forced work of Elizabeth Hurley. She's a born straightwoman, yet she's called on to actually be funny as bitchy reporter Brace Channing--and she has no clue how, showing no sense of comic timing whatsoever. It's not a pretty sight---a statement that can be applied to the entire waste of celluloid that is My Favorite Martian.

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#176 February 4, 1999 by Michael Dequina


Payback poster Payback (R) ** 1/2
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Immediately after watching Payback, the friend with whom I attended the screening came up with a snappy line: "Payback--where the good guys are bad, and the bad guys are badder!" Actually, an equally snappy and more accurate line would be, "Payback--where the bad guys are bad, and the good guys are even worse," for the "hero" of this offbeat and somewhat amusing action thriller is arguably more evil than the "villains."

His name is Porter (Mel Gibson), a small-time hood who is swindled out of $70,000 and left for dead by fellow crook Val (Gregg Henry) and Porter's own junkie wife, Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger). Of course, Porter improbably recovers from his two potentially fatal gunshots to the back, and he takes violent, often murderous, ends to even the score--or, at the very least, get his $70,000.

Co-writer/director Brian Helgeland (who retains directing credit though "creative differences" with Gibson prompted him to leave the project before its completion) plays the rather scenario for a number of darkly tongue-in-cheek laughs. After all, who would go through so much trouble--and take so much punishment himself--for such an absurdly low figure? Only someone as disturbed as Porter, whom Gibson plays with the same manic, slightly off-kilter energy he always brings to his action roles.

Based on the above, Payback sounds much lighter than it is--for all the humor in it, the film is quite gritty and dark, reflected most obviously in Emerson Core's often frustratingly grainy cinematography, which casts a blue-gray wash over the entire film. Payback is extremely violent; I would go so far as to say excessively so at certain points. Even the gung-ho male action fans who sat next to me were audibly shocked by some of Porter's extremely brutal behavior--which he gets his own taste of in a unsettling torture scene involving a sledgehammer. There are a number of sadomasochistic touches, courtesy of an Asian-mob-affliated dominatrix (Lucy Liu, a long way from Ally McBeal). This brings me to another point that will surely spark some controversy: the film's treatment of women. A touch of misogyny is expected in a macho action picture such as this, but when the three prominent female characters--who, I might add, are just about the only females in the film--are two prostitutes (one being the dominatrix, the other being Maria Bello's gold-hearted hooker/Porter love interest) and a heroin addict, one could easily see that the fairer sex gets a far from fair treatment.

One's enjoyment of Payback essentially boils down to one's opinion of Porter, and, to a certain degree, Gibson himself: depending on your view, he can come off as either a badass or an asshole, with no in-between. The bulk of the audience with whom I saw the film appeared to think the former, and, being a Gibson fan, I'm with them. Nonetheless, I never was more than amused by Payback, whose thin story never generates any genuine excitement.

In Brief

A Cool, Dry Place poster A Cool, Dry Place (PG-13) **
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Cool: Vince Vaughn, whose charisma is at full, effective force as Russ Durrell, a lawyer who moves to a small Kansas town with his young son Calvin (Bobby Moat) after being fired from his big-time Chicago firm. The casting of the slick Vaughn as a caring single dad is a stretch, but it's one he pulls off quite well, unlike his recent strained effort as Psycho's Norman Bates. As written, Russ is a good parent, and Vaughn's surprising warmth with Moat is convincing. But he's not a perfect parent, and Vaughn works in more comfortable territory in brining to clear life Russ's rougher, darker edges, such as a quick temper.

Dry: The movie itself. Despite some solid acting by Vaughn, Monica Potter, and Joey Lauren Adams, there is no escaping the movie-of-the-week trappings of Matthew McDuffie's script (based on Michael Grant Jaffe's novel Dance Real Slow, which, if it bears any resemblance to the film, is aptly named): Russ's romance with local woman Beth (Adams) and bond with Calvin is threatened by both the reappearance of his estranged wife Kate (Potter) and his hotshot career aspirations. The film ends in exactly the manner one would expect, with John N. Smith's lethargic direction doing nothing in the way of generating suspense. It's hardly surprising that Fox literally snuck this one into theatres with no press screenings and virtually no promotion; the film was made with equally as much energy, or lack thereof.


Who Am I? poster Who Am I? (PG-13) ** 1/2
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Jackie Chan's most recent Hong Kong effort--and his first directorial work in nearly ten years--made its American debut last summer on HBO, and it's clear why. Although there are some vintage Chan action sequences, and his comic flair is sharper than ever, this tale of an amnesiac commando (Chan) who must foil a dastardly conspiracy plot takes much too long to get going, and once it does, one must stomach the absolutely wretched performance of Michelle Ferre as Chan's sidekick. It's light, agreeable enough fun from Chan, as can be expected, but only to a point. (Columbia TriStar Home Video)

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