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The Movie Report
Archive
Volume 64

#224 - 226
February 4, 2000 - February 20, 2000


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

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#226 February 20, 2000 by Michael Dequina

M O V I E S

Boiler Room poster Boiler Room (R) ***
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The title Boiler Room is not meant to be taken literally, of course, but this smart tale of greed in the stock trade indeed reaches a figurative boil. First-time writer-director Ben Younger sets his film off like a rocket, propelled by his and his eager cast's energy and skill. It's unfortunate that the boiling point is reached prematurely, but while the film's forceful momentum wanes, it never completely fades away.

Greed is hardly a fresh topic for a movie, in particular in the Wall Street arena; most notably in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Boiler Room cannot help but recall that film, and Younger even cheekily references it in one amusing scene; he also pays homage to what can be deemed the film's other "cross" (as in "Wall Street crossed with..."): Glengarry Glen Ross, written for the stage and screen by David Mamet. Glengarry's mantra of "always be closing" is used by the young sharks working for Boiler's J.T. Marlin, a scrappy brokerage firm that aggressively pushes stock shares on unsuspecting buyers. Little do these buyers--and, for that matter, the sellers--know that the shares are in companies that do not exist.

When the film's main character, hungry "boiler room" (so named for the pressure cooker atmosphere and cramped space where the brokers work) up-and-comer Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) discovers that little fact, Boiler Room turns into a fairly pedestrian morality play; will he do the right thing and take the firm down, or will he just stick with it and the illegally-obtained money that comes along with the ride? The film--and Younger--is clearly at their best in the early stages, which drops the audience, along with Seth, in the thick of the high-stakes action. Younger clearly did his homework on the subject, and the authenticity he brings to the dialogue and the atmosphere makes for riveting viewing.

When taking a few steps away from the office, Younger runs into some problems. Much like how the story's turn is rather humdrum, so is the central conflict between Seth and his judge father (Ron Rifkin); ne'er-do-well Seth--who, before hooking up with J.T. Marlin, ran a card casino out of his apartment--wants nothing more than to win his uptight father's respect, and this bit of melodrama is too contrived to completely work. Nonetheless, this subplot is kept watchable and somewhat involving by the performances of Rifkin and especially Ribisi.

Ribisi rebounds nicely from a terrible 1999 (Remember The Other Sister and The Mod Squad? Hopefully not), providing a likable and magnetic anchor in the often frenzied goings-on. Everyone in the cast makes a lasting impression; standing out in the boiler room are Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt as more seasoned hotshots, and Ben Affleck is wonderfully oily in the small role of the firm's head recruiter. As J.T. Marlin's receptionist, Abby, the talented--if underused--Nia Long is able to come off as more than the film's token injection of estrogen and Seth's love interest.

While the energy of Boiler Room's story peters out, the actors never let up, picking up the slack, carrying the film down the home stretch. Boiler Room cannot be called a completely successful debut for Younger, but it is an indisputable triumph for the young acting talent on board.


Pitch Black poster Pitch Black (R) **
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Much imagination can be seen in the science fiction thriller Pitch Black--and I mean "seen": in a time where all the far-off worlds in distant galaxies have come to look the same, cinematographer David Eggby has given the film's central planet a look that is distinctly new and alien. But that is the only thing free from the cookie cutter in David Twohy's otherwise derivative action film.

The plot is a ripoff of Aliens, with a group of people marooned on a desert planet being hunted down by ravenous alien creatures; these creatures themselves resemble the Alien, with a couple of alterations (the most major one being that some have wings). There is another added wrinkle--they only come out in the dark, and when the planets multiple suns undergo simultaneous eclipse, the humans must band together to survive.

Just who are these humans, anyway? There is very little characterization in the script by Twohy and Jim and Ken Wheat. The ostensible lead is fry (Radha Mitchell), a pilot with the requisite personal trauma, which is linked to the crash that placed them on the planet. The other two main characters are just as shallow, but at least they're given some type of memorable characteristic (everyone else isn't). Johns (Cole Hauser) is a lawman who is perhaps even shadier than his prisoner, the murderer Riddick (Vin Diesel), who has special night vision enhanced eyes. Riddick's escape from custody makes for a tedious timekilling subplot before the alien story gets underway; with all the others fearing for their lives while trying to locate him, the film resembles an outer space slasher film.

Character is not as important as action and effects in films such as Pitch Black, and while competently done, nothing here breaks any new ground in those departments; the slow-mo and quick cut style Twohy uses is a pale imitation of John Woo. What is fresh, as I had mentioned, is Eggby's sterling cinematography. The early exterior shots on the planet are striking, with all the colors washed out other than garish shades of yellow. Another interesting conceit is that each of the planet's three sons bear a different hue; as such, when in the light of the blue sun, for instance, the image is awash in blue, etc.

Such striking use of color goes out the window when the key eclipse takes place, and Pitch Black's look matches its title. From that point on, with the action and effects failing to really dazzle, one looks to Twohy to provide something of interest in the story. But no such thing ever comes, and the virtual absence of humor backfires, ironically making the some of the proceedings laughable (the overwrought "emotional" moments come off especially ridiculous). Pitch Black may actually please most audiences for capably executing most of its desired task, but it takes something a bit more to make a lasting impression in a crowded genre.


In Brief

The Whole Nine Yards poster The Whole Nine Yards (R) ** 1/2
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There are a number of genuinely clever twists and ideas in Jonathan Lynn's amiable comedy that it's unfortunate that someone decided to muck it up with cheap slapstick. If what the press notes say is correct, then much of the blame falls on Matthew Perry, who improvised many of the labored pratfalls as a dentist who realizes that his new neighbor (Bruce Willis) is a mob hitman in hiding. This sparks a chain of events in which scripter Mitchell Kapner packs in a number of ingeniously funny twists (none of which I'll divulge here) that easily grab the audience's interest--that is, until any momentum is stopped dead by an easy physical gag. To be fair, not all of Kapner's ideas work (Kevin Pollak's strangely accented crime boss is a big zero), but there is no mistaking that the film's best moments derive largely from inspired plotting and characterization. It's no accident that the actors who underplay the material come off best: Willis, who is perfectly deadpan; Michael Clarke Duncan, showing some comic charm as a mob enforcer; and especially Amanda Peet as Perry's assistant. Those who try to add something more, such as Perry and Rosanna Arquette (who plays his wayward French Canadian wife), just end up being a ruinous distraction that ends up overpowering anything worthwhile.


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#225 February 11, 2000 by Michael Dequina

M O V I E S

The Beach poster The Beach (R) ***
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After the global phenomenon that was Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio truly was the "King of the World" (sorry, James Cameron), having the newfound power to choose whatever follow-up project he wanted--and at any price. But much like his co-star Kate Winslet, DiCaprio has shunned obvious blockbuster efforts and instead opted for more uncommercial works--such as Woody Allen's Celebrity and now The Beach, a stylish and unconventional drama that certainly won't earn him much favor with his fanbase of screaming teenage girls.

That demographic may appreciate the fact that The Beach gives the twentysomething DiCaprio ample opportunity to show off his shockingly pre-pubescent physique. Such flesh-baring may lead one to think that Danny Boyle's adaptation of Alex Garland's novel is a glamour project, but it isn't. In fact, I don't think that young female audience will otherwise find much interest with the fairly dark story of DiCaprio's Richard, an American on vacation in Thailand, who sets out to find a legendary island paradise along with a French couple (Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet). They succeed, only to find a secret society led by the mysterious Sal (Tilda Swinton), who, after some initial trepidation, welcomes the newcomers into the exclusive and self-sufficient community, which is sort of a perpetual beach resort.

The message of The Beach does not take long to come clear; it is rather obvious that reality will ultimately creep in and shatter the delusion of such a utopian lifestyle. The romantic subplot, involving Richard and Ledoyen's Françoise, never really catches fire. That fact is partly due to the screenplay by longtime Boyle collaborator John Hodge, which doesn't quite establish strong character foundations on the page, hence making some of Richard's late character turns feel arbitrary.

However, The Beach is a less a film about its narrative than its style, and as he has in the past (excepting his last film, the disastrous-on-all-levels A Life Less Ordinary), Boyle is able to engage the audience with his style when the script falters. His forays into surrealism are especially inspired, such as a strange scene where Richard's jungle adventures literally turn into a video game. This scene was met with much derisive laughter from the audience with whom I saw the film, but it is actually a rather inventive way to show how immaturely and lightly he takes such a real and serious situation. Boyle is ably supported by cinematographer Darius Khondji, who makes The Beach as impossibly beautiful as it should be.

Adding immeasurably to The Beach's watchability is, indeed, DiCaprio. His teen idol status may be the primary reason he gets so much ink in the press now, but his talent will keep his name in the memory for years to come. The Beach is certain to fail at the box office (I can see the headlines now--"Leo's Post-Titanic Bellyflop"), but it further proves DiCaprio to be an interesting and boldly risk-taking actor--even if the risks don't always completely pay off.


In Brief

The Tigger Movie poster The Tigger Movie (G) ** 1/2
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It's kind of bullyish to knock a film as gentle as this big-screen showcase for the beloved, bouncy staple (voiced by Jim Cummings) of A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books, but I'm afraid that's what I'm going to do. All the familiar characters in the Hundred Acre Wood--Tigger, Pooh (also voiced by Cummings), Piglet (John Fiedler), Eeyore (Peter Cullen), Rabbit (Ken Sansom), Owl (Andre Stojka), Kanga (Kath Soucie), and Roo (Nikita Hopkins)--are as cute and charming as they have ever been (which accounts for their enduring appeal), but cuteness can only go so far in keeping an obvious, if warm and well-meaning, story interesting to adults. The plot has Tigger, who had always said that "the wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one," searching for the family he never knew. The outcome of the story--and its moral--will be quite apparent to adults in the early going, and the slapsticky gags that fill the space in between will hold only faint interest to those older than 9.

What are obviously designed to keep the grown-ups interested are the songs by Pooh veterans the Sherman Brothers, Richard M. and Robert B. There's a curious choice at the heart of the song score: for some reason screenwriter-director Jun Falkenstein decided to shoehorn The Tigger Movie into the traditional Disney musical formula. So Tigger gets his own "I Want" song, as well as a big showstopping production number. Both songs --and the others--are pleasant enough (if not terribly memorable), but I wish that Disney let Pooh be Pooh, Tigger be Tigger; the production number feels especially out of place, taking the action away from the Hundred Acre Wood and into Tigger's surreal Busby Berkeley/"Be Our Guest"-style fantasies. Tigger and his friends have remained family favorites over the years by remaining themselves, and the studio should have had more faith in them to not mold it into the cookie cutter it had already begun to shy away from. Of course, kids won't care, and The Tigger Movie will finds its true worth on video, for it'll make an ideal 76-minute babysitter.


V I D E O

Absence of the Good DVD Absence of the Good (R) *
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The title says it all. The plot (cop with emotional baggage tracks serial killer) is so pro forma and just as faceless (if fairly competent) in execution, all that distinguishes it are the incidentals: setting (Salt Lake City), star (Stephen Baldwin), protagonist's trauma (shooting death of young son), and killer's weapon of choice (hammer). You can fill in the blanks yourself; chances are it's a hell of a lot more interesting than what writer James Reid and director John Flynn come up with here. (Columbia TriStar Home Video, DVD also available)


The Day of the Beast poster The Day of the Beast (R) ***
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One key difference between the film industries in America and Spain: America would never honor a horror comedy with multiple Oscar wins, let alone nominations. In Spain, Alex de la Iglesia's tongue-in-cheek 1995 thriller won no fewer than six of its Oscar equivalent, the Goyas. I wouldn't go so far as to call this film award-worthy, but it certainly is a lot of fun. In what can be described as a comic--and much more entertaining--precursor to End of Days, a priest (Alex Angulo) tries to thwart the coming of Satan--with the not-always-able help of a metalhead record store clerk (Santiago Segura) and the host (Armando DeRazza) of a paranormal-themed TV talk show. Those two characters are just the tip of the outrageous iceberg in this wild and perverse flick, whose overly pat resolution does not quite live up to all the inventive madness that precedes it. Nonetheless, those who like their buckets of blood to come with an equal amount of bellylaughs. (Trimark Home Video)


Fist of Legend poster Supercop 2 poster Fist of Legend (R) *** 1/2
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Supercop 2 (R) ** 1/2
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Hollywood chose the wrong Jet Li movie to release in theatres to capitalize on his Lethal Weapon 4 heat. While Black Mask, released by Artisan last may, is certainly Li's slickest, most Hollywood-style effort, people don't watch his movies for the sleek sheen. Rather, they want to see Li fight--and does he ever do that in Fist of Legend, a 1994 Hong Kong effort that at one point was slated for a theatrical release by Rolling Thunder Pictures in a subtitled form. That deal fell through, but luckily the masses will be able to see it now, albeit on the small screen and in a (not so badly) dubbed version. Gordon Chan's film is a remake of the Bruce Lee classic The Chinese Connection, and Li is the martial artist who is out to avenge his former teacher's death. As with any of these films, plot is secondary to the fight scenes, which are spectacular. There is none of the high-flying wire antics that many of Li's other films employ; all of the intricately choreographed fighting is real, proving the doubters of Li's fighting skills very wrong. Viewers looking for action, however, cannot do wrong with renting this film.

After stealing the show in the Jackie Chan vehicle Supercop (which was released widely stateside in 1996), it was only natural that Michelle Yeoh's tough mainland cop Inspector Yang be spun off into her own starring vehicle. It's unfortunate that that film, being released on video by Dimension as Supercop 2 (its alternate Hong Kong titles are Once a Cop, Police Story III, Part 2 and Project S), is such a disappointment. Yang is sent to Hong Kong to help the police there to foil some bad guys--one of whom, unbeknownst to her, happens to be an estranged boyfriend she has never gotten over. The big miscalculation in Supercop 2 is not giving Yeoh (who does her own dubbing) much opportunity to show off her very impressive fighting ability; there is only one fight of note, and it comes too late in the game to redeem the talky scenes that make up the bulk of the film. Yeoh, as always, is incredibly charismatic and watchable, but one cannot help but feel let down seeing her behind the wheel in an extended car chase scene rather than kicking some butt. With such traditional action scenes as that, Supercop 2 more than resembles a typical Hollywood production--which is exactly what one tries to get away from when watching an HK actioner. A horribly dubbed Chan turns up in a bizarre cameo that has no connection to the main story. (Dimension Home Video, DVDs also available)


Introducing Dorothy Dandridge poster Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (R) ***
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Halle Berry won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the 1950s screen star, the first African-American to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award, and her performance is indeed the highlight of this made-for-HBO biopic. Like too many made-for-pay-cable projects, Dorothy employs a flashback structure as awkward as it is unnecessary, and director Martha Coolidge never strays from the beaten path of biography filmmaking: Dorothy faces adversity, triumphs, has a ruinous romance (with director Otto Preminger, played here by Klaus Maria Brandauer) that sends her down the path of self-destruction, and recovers only to suffer a tragically untimely death. However, the traditional approach seems to be the point; Coolidge and Berry have an obvious affection and passion for this movie trailblazer, and the film they have made is an accordingly respectful tribute to a talent that was truly ahead of its time. (HBO Home Video, DVD also available)


My Life So Far poster My Life So Far (PG-13) ***
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It would be easy to call Hugh Hudson's fact-based portrait of a family in 1920s Scotland overly sunny and anticlimactic, but one must bear in mind the "so far" in the title, and why it's there: the film is told through the eyes of 10-year-old Fraser (Robert Norman). The events of one especially eventful summer, in which his family life is shaken up by the arrival of his uncle's (Malcolm McDowell) much younger fiancée (Irène Jacob), are seen from his perspective, and the naive yet sensible way he takes all the events in stride is quite endearing. Also endearing is the ensemble cast, which includes Colin Firth as Fraser's moss-farming father, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (somewhat underused) as Fraser's mother, and Rosemary Harris as the family matriarch; all turn in solid character work. (Miramax Home Entertainment, DVD also available)


My Son the Fanatic poster My Son the Fanatic (R) ***
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While a London-based Pakistani cab driver's (Om Puri) turbulent relationship with his Islamic fundamentalist son (Akbar Kurtha) provides the core of this involving domestic drama, its heart lies with the gentle love story between the cabbie and a prostitute (Rachel Griffiths) whom he counts among his regular fares. Puri and Griffiths work beautifully together, and while that enough would make Udayan Prasad's film something special, what gives it an added layer of interest is its point of view, which sheds real insight on the constant cultural conflict experienced by immigrants in any country. (Miramax Home Entertainment, DVD also available)


Made for Network TV

Lost in the Bermuda Triangle VHS Lost in the Bermuda Triangle (PG) * 1/2
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A certain sense of diminished expectations and standards come with reviewing a made-for-TV sci-fi thriller--coming from UPN, no less--but even those aren't met in this tale of a man (Tom Verica) whose wife (Charlotte D'Amboise) disappears in that mysterious realm near the Caribbean island. One is able to swallow the decent-to-amateurish acting and cheesy special effects in the hope that an explanation is in the offing for all the parallel universe mumbo jumbo, but one never comes. In the end, one is left with something along the lines of an episode of Baywatch Nights, with none of the campiness to make it halfway interesting. (Paramount Home Video)


Ruby Bridges DVD Ruby Bridges ***
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Don't count the made-for-The Wonderful World of Disney origins against this docudrama, based on the true story of a bright African-American youngster (Chaz Monet) who attended a predominantly white school in racist '60s New Orleans. What sets this film apart from its typically treacly ilk is the restraint exhibited by director Euzhan Palcy and the strong, subtle work by the cast, led by Lela Rochon and a superb Michael Beach as Ruby's parents. Then again, make that "most of the cast"--an inexplicably top-billed Penelope Ann Miller is true to unconvincing form as Ruby's kind teacher. (Walt Disney Home Video)


D V D

Scooby-Doo: The Original Mysteries DVD Scooby-Doo: The Original Mysteries
Disc: ***
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The lovable canine Scooby-Doo and the rest of the crew in the Mystery Machine, Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, make their DVD debut in this nicely assembled package, which includes the very first five episodes of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? animated series. These shows are timeless entertainments for children and look great in the digital format (though no subtitles--for any language--are provided). The angle that will hold the most interest from a grown-up perspective is as a '60s historical document. It's almost impossible to believe that Fred's white sweater-over-blue-outfit-topped-by-orange-tie look was considered remotely fashionable, and that someone thought adding a laugh track to cartoons would make them more enjoyable (they're simply distracting). But such choices as those are preserved for posterity here, and it contributes greatly to the show's charm.

The extras, on the other hand, fall a bit short; it's as if someone were inspired enough to come up with some interesting ideas yet too lazy to follow them through. There is a Scooby-Doo trivia quiz, which could've been more fun if there were more than four questions. There are audio clips of Scooby-Doo songs, but they are just that--clips, lasting about 30 seconds each. The Scooby-Doo music video is really a thinly-veiled promo for the forthcoming straigh-to-tape feature Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers. The one extra is done as well as it could be are the Scooby-Doo recipes, including--yes--one to make your own Scooby Snacks. However truncated the special features are, one can easily appreciate the effort put into giving Scooby some type of well-deserved deluxe treatment. (Warner Home Video)


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#224 February 4, 2000 by Michael Dequina

M O V I E S

Gun Shy poster Gun Shy (R) **
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Sandra Bullock co-stars and produces; Liam Neeson, whose recognition is at an all-time high thanks to a certain sci-fi prequel, is the lead; character actor extraordinaire Oliver Platt plays Neeson's foil. An impressive assemblage of talent headlines Gun Shy, yet Buena Vista is only giving the film an initial regional release. It could be argued that the comedy's unconventional nature factored into that decision, but a more convincing argument would be that the film simply falls far short of its ambitions.

Neeson, in a rare comic role, gamely but awkwardly plays Charlie Mayo, a deep cover DEA agent whose legendary toughness has been broken after one particularly traumatic failed sting. Even so, he is assigned to bust mafia hitman Fulvio Nesstra (Oliver Platt) and Colombian drug dealer Fidel Vaillar (Jose Zuniga) in a complex money laundering scheme. The newly-spineless Charlie is deathly afraid of the famously hot-tempered Fulvio, but behind his cold stare hides someone decidedly less vicious.

Writer-director Eric Blakeney was obviously shooting for something along the lines of a previous Buena Vista release, Grosse Pointe Blank: a bit of the madcap tinged with a bit of the dark. The difference is that while the makers of that film aimed for smart, ironic humor, Blakeney contents himself with cheap physical and bodily function gags. Fidel's associate Estuvio (Michael DeLorenzo) gets a testicle shot off and walks strange for the rest of the film. An even more tiresome running gag is Charlie's stress-related illness; he cannot control his bowels, so every so often we hear his stomach grumble and see him run to toilets--not exactly what I'd call hilarious.

Charlie's health is what leads him to meet Judy Tipp (Bullock), a nurse for whom he quickly falls. This romantic angle never feels of a piece with the rest of Gun Shy, and the blame falls largely on Bullock. She is an easily likable actress, and she looks beautiful throughout the film, but she isn't right for the part. Not only does she have no chemistry with Neeson, she is a bit too generically sunny to belong in this darker world. Blakeney also holds some blame, for Judy isn't a very interesting character to begin with; she's just the token love interest.

In fact, the only truly interesting--and truly funny--characters in Gun Shy are the henpecked Fulvio, played marvelously by Platt, and his tough cookie wife, Gloria, played by a scene-stealing and unrecognizable Mary McCormack. One wishes that Blakeney had written a film that focused squarely on them, for Charlie's story and the half-hearted mystery revolving around who's really behind the shady deals never catches fire. Platt and McCormack ignite from the start, and one gets the sense that Gun Shy would have had they been the main characters.


Scream 3 poster Scream 3 (R) **
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As Scream was still raking in the dough at the box office in early 1997, its first sequel was rushed into production, seeing the inside of moviehouses by December of that year. Despite its quickie slasher sequel nature, Scream 2 hardly felt like a rush job; it had all the genuine scares and--crucially--the sharp, self-effacing wit that distinguished the original film. Conversely, a little over two years separate the release of S2 and the arrival of the horror franchise's third and final installment, but despite the longer lead time, Scream 3 feels like it was sloppily slapped together--a pale, watered-down shadow of what had been a clever and highly enjoyable franchise.

The drop in quality is undoubtedly a result of the absence of writer Kevin Williamson, whose funny and genuinely scary scripts for the first two films were every bit as, if not more, responsible for their success as the taut direction of Wes Craven, who is back on board for S3. Craven has had enough triumphs in the genre to justify his reputation as a master of horror, but his rather uneven body of work (Vampire in Brooklyn, anyone?) proves that his filmmaking skill cannot overcome a lacking script--and that's exactly what new Screamwriter Ehren Kruger has provided Scream 3.

The diminished luster of this go-round is suggested the film's opening. Like the first two films, the Hollywood-set S3 begins with a killing. Following in the footsteps of name brand actresses Drew Barrymore and Jada Pinkett Smith as the sacrificial starlet? Kelly Rutherford, best known as doormat ex-hooker Megan during the forgettable final seasons of Melrose Place. Her character's murder is but the first to be linked with the production of Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro, the latest installment of the horror series inspired by the events that took place in the first two Screams. Of course, the murder springs ever-inquisitive TV news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette), whose books inspired the first two Stab movies, into action. Naturally, her investigation leads to a run-in and reluctant reteaming with ex-flame (yes, they once again broke up between films) and former Woodsboro police deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette)--who, as it happens, is working on Stab 3 as a technical consultant.

So where does this leave our long-suffering heroine, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)? Contrary to what had been reported by some media outlets, S3 does not have Sidney settled in Tinseltown and actively pursuing a career in acting; instead, she is quite understandably living in quiet seclusion in Northern California, working out of her home under a false name as a phone-in crisis counselor. It goes without saying that the ghost-masked killer's antics eventually force Sidney down to SoCal and the scenes of the crimes, but what is surprising is how long she is left on the sidelines. With so little given to do, it's almost understandable that Campbell phones in her performance.

Campbell isn't the only Scream 3 principal who appears less than interested. The newlywed Arquettes' performances also have a been-there, done-that air about them; their characters' increased time in the spotlight does not equate with fresh directions for them. (I take that back--vain glamourpuss Gale's new wrinkle is her inexplicably dowdy appearance.) Then again, Kruger fails to take the Scream franchise itself in any new directions. Although the hyper-reflexive, inside-Hollywood premise opens up even more possibilities for self-parody, the satirical in-jokes disappear within a half hour. (The mid-film exception is the brief return, by way of videotape, of film geek and S2 victim Randy Meeks, played with usual--and sorely missed--spark by Jamie Kennedy.) For the most part--aside from a laugh or two provided by Parker Posey, quite amusing as the bitchy actress who plays Gale in the Stab films--Scream 3, while never boring, isn't all that funny, nor is it all that scary. No "suspense" scene comes close to touching the first Scream's stunner of an opening or Scream 2's nailbiting car escape scene. It's quite telling that the one scene in Scream 3 that is remotely spooky is the only one that survived from Williamson's original outline for the film: Sidney wanders onto the Stab 3 set, and she is confronted with the spitting image of her former home--which, in turn, brings to mind all the ghosts of her past.

To be fair, Craven's work here feels watered down itself. In an apparent reaction to the Columbine murders, the violence and gore is significantly toned down; there's nothing in S3 that comes close to the bloodbath that closed the first film. While the amount of blood is not necessarily proportional to the amount of excitement generated, in putting a damper on the violence, Craven seems to have also put a damper on his reckless, anything-for-a-scare abandon. He appears to be walking on eggshells throughout the entire film, making extra sure that he doesn't so much as nudge the envelope. With Craven always holding himself in check, it's little wonder that many of the intended shocks don't.

During the course of Scream 3, it is mentioned more than once that in the final act of a trilogy, all bets are off. The suggestion is that all the previously set rules will be broken, and that any surprising twist and turn is possible. Scream 3 indeed boasts a big twist, but the dismaying turn has nothing to do with the story: the film turns the franchise into the type of conventional slasher saga that the first two films so effectively lampooned.


In Brief

Wirey Spindell poster Wirey Spindell **
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As long as it tracks its title character's wild and bizarre formative years, from his precocious sexual experimentation as a child in the late '60s to his drug-and-alcohol-filled adolescence to the loss of his first love in the early '80s, Wirey Spindell is a watchable, if virtually plot-free, film. Where writer-director Eric Schaeffer shoots himself in the foot, however, is by succumbing to the narcissistic voice within. Schaeffer himself plays the commitment-fearing 37-year-old Wirey, who reflects upon his life in the days leading up to his wedding. His Wirey is all nebbishy mannerisms, which in no way resembles the cocky, confident, and likable character shown in the flashback scenes; it is not believable at all that the young man (well-played, in his late teens and early 20s, by Eric Mabius) followed throughout the film could develop into the whiny Schaeffer. In fact, his entire section, despite a nice turn by Callie Thorne as Wirey's fiancée Tabatha, is what weighs the film down. I never bought the romance, for I never understood what Tabatha could see in modern-day Wirey, and as such, I could care less as to the outcome of their relationship--and, hence, the entire film.


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