The Movie Report
Volume 70

#239 - 240
May 26, 2000 - June 9, 2000

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

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#240 June 9, 2000 by Michael Dequina


Big Momma's House poster Big Momma's House (PG-13) **
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Make no mistake--Big Momma's House is all about Martin Lawrence donning large old lady drag. That's what moviegoers will buy their tickets to see, and apparently that's the only reason why the director and writers made this project, for the thin sliver of a plot is just an excuse to get Lawrence in costume and let him do his thing.

That, of course, is not an entirely bad thing. Lawrence is a talented comedian, and he is able to bring more than a few laughs to the proceedings. As FBI agent Malcolm Turner, who spends most of the film buried under makeup and prosthetics as the elderly Big Momma, Lawrence's timing and manic energy juices up obvious gags cooked up by writers Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer. Since Big Momma is really a young man wearing a fat suit, a lot of the humor derives from seeing what appears to be a heavyset old lady doing un-old-lady-like things. Big Momma tears it up on the basketball court. Big Momma beats up a surly self-defense instructor. Big Momma gets her groove on during a church service. Then there are the fish-out-of-water gags, such as when Big Momma is called on to assist in a childbirth--an area, of course, in which Malcolm has no level of expertise.

Individual episodes such as these are what viewers will remember most about Big Momma's House, and that may very well be enough for the film to become a hit. But this isn't a sketch comedy on the television set; it's a big screen film that is supposed to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and plot gets all but lost as director Raja Gosnell goes from vignette to vignette. For the record, Malcolm's disguise is part of plan to capture a vicious escaped con (a barely used Terrence Howard). His ex-girlfriend Sherry (Howard's The Best Man co-star Nia Long, also wasted) may or may not hold some crucial information, so Malcolm disguises himself as her old friend Big Momma (currently out on vacation), whose home she is about to visit.

The story never makes complete sense, and while it really doesn't matter considering the film's overall intent, it would have helped if there were a strong spine on which to hang all the individual set pieces. But there isn't one, and this House ultimately collapses under the weight of Big Momma and her unfocused schtick.

Gone in Sixty Seconds poster Gone in Sixty Seconds (PG-13) **
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Given the presence of Angelina Jolie--and how prominent her presence is in the film's advertising campaign--one would be led to believe that Gone in Sixty Seconds is the first Jerry Bruckheimer-produced actioner with a strong female presence. In Jolie, a wild child who is just as ballsy, if not more, than any male counterpart, Bruckheimer has a female star that he could run with. If only he could see it that way.

No, not even the force of nature that is Angelina can combat the rampant testosterone in Sixty, a reworking of the 1974 film of the same name. But that is but one way the film is typical Bruckheimer. There are all the glossy visuals and stylish cutting; there are the awkwardly forced moments of "emotion"; there is a pumped-up soundtrack scoring accordingly amped-up action scenes; there is a talented cast that is wildly overqualified to do this type of popcorn fodder. This time around, however, the surface thrills that it does deliver aren't quite enough.Nicolas Cage stars as Randall "Memphis" Raines, a reformed car thief who is forced back into action when his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) runs afoul of the evil car thief Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston). In order to spare Kip's life, Memphis must steal 50 cars within 72 hours.

Of course, Memphis and his crew don't strike until the the last night, so we can have the familiar race against time finale. As such, Gone in Sixty Seconds doesn't start to deliver the anticipated action until well into the third act. While director Dominic Sena ably shoots and stages it with all the heavy style that one associates with a Bruckheimer production, the climactic car chase cannot erase the memory of the draggy and often tedious two acts that precede the mayhem.

The audience's interest is supposed to be held by two things during the film's first acts. First is the obligatory group of eccentric supporting players. Among Memphis' partners in grand theft auto are mentor Otto (Robert Duvall); former partner Atley (Will Patton); wisecracking buddy Donny (Chi McBride); silent muscleman the Sphinx (Vinnie Jones); ex-flame Sara, a.k.a. "Sway" (Jolie, in an absolute throwaway of a role); and Kip's gang of young techies and lunkheads (Scott Caan, James Duval, TJ Cross, and William Lee Scott). This is indeed a quirky bunch, but not necessarily a colorful one. Aside from McBride (who has some good lines), Duvall (still a commanding presence), and Jolie (alluring eye candy), the group is uninteresting at best and annoying at worst.

Second, one is supposed to be engaged by the purported emotional connections between the characters. Kip only wants to be accepted and respected by his brother; Memphis wants to prove to Sway that his leaving her was for the best. But anyone who's seen a Bruckheimer knows that pyrotechnics are his strong suit, not quiet moments--and when they do come, they are laughably heavy-handed and jarring (witness, for example, the conclusions of Con Air and Armageddon). Sena and writer Scott Rosenberg don't do anything to change that track record; if possible, he's managed to carve a new low with the jaw-droppingly maudlin final encounter between Memphis and the cop (Delroy Lindo, great even in this ridiculous context) who's chasing him.

Somehow, however, I get the feeling that real problems such as these will be lost on the casual viewer. The screening I attended was sweetened with non-press people, and I overheard many of them raving about the film afterward; one even said, "I haven't been this entertained by a film in a long time." Either that guy doesn't get out much, or (more likely) Gone in Sixty Seconds will be another summer success for Bruckheimer--actual quality be damned.

Love's Labour's Lost poster Love's Labour's Lost (PG) **
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In blending the poetry of Shakespearean text with the timeless sounds of pop standards from the 1930s, Kenneth Branagh--a proven hand at handling the Bard and an avowed fan of the old MGM musicals--should theoretically have little problem casting a bewitching romantic spell with Love's Labour's Lost. And that's exactly what he achieves in one sublime moment where new lovers bid each other a reluctant adieu with a solemn rendition of "They Can't Take That Away from Me." The scene is sweet yet genuinely sad, but not without a knowing sense of humor about itself (Branagh makes no bones about lifting Casablanca wholesale). In short, it's the exact type of natural, persuasive emotion that Branagh is going after with the whole of this ambitious project--and, more often than not, ends up falling short of success.

Love's Labour's Lost is one of Shakespeare's more obscure works, and on a basic plot level, it's not difficult to see why. The King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) and his three closest friends--Berowne (Branagh), Dumaine (Adrian Lester), and Longaville (Matthew Lillard)--have made an oath to devote three years entirely to study, meaning no "vain delights" such as romance. However, their vow is almost immediately challenged when the Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her fetching ladies in waiting--Rosaline (Natascha McElhone), Maria (Carmen Ejogo), and Katherine (Emily Mortimer)--arrive to hammer out a financial agreement between the kingdoms. Complications predictably ensue as the four men neglect their oath and pursue true love.

Given such a thin story, Branagh's decision to recast the play in the year 1939 and expand the material with songs of the era is an inspired one. And from a technical standpoint, he knows exactly what he's doing. Everything looks and sounds right: the overlit, soundstagy sets; the insanely elaborate choreography; the free-flying camera angles; the distinct disregard to realism once the music swells. The cast underwent a crash course in dance before filming began, and everyone acquits themselves fairly well, even in the singing department. There are a couple of standouts: on the male end, Lester's fancy footwork puts everyone else's to shame; among the women, McElhone's sultry moves and song stylings lead the pack.

All the competent staging and performance is of little use, however, if the very presence and intent of the musical numbers are questionable. With relatively few exceptions (such as a simple and charming "The Way You Look Tonight" crooned by two of the King's tutors, played by Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers), Branagh does a clunky job of meshing the music with the story. The first few numbers are especially dreadful in this respect. For example, a collective "Huh?" could be sensed in the audience once the King and his buddies abruptly broke into "I'd Rather Charleston" right before they signed their oath; and for all its amusing aping of the classically excessive Busby Berkeley style, the women's pool-set "No Strings (Fancy Free)" simply serves no apparent purpose other than to have a big Busby Berkeley-style number.

Love's Labour's Lost is also meant to be a comedy, and it is in this area that Branagh stumbles the most. His apparent direction to all the cast is to play the material as broadly as possible, hence any real acting is lost behind some insufferable mugging, particularly in the case of the designated comic relief characters played by Timothy Spall and Nathan Lane. To be fair, though, Branagh's script doesn't offer much opportunity for many to attempt any real acting. There are eight core characters, but only half of them (the King, the Princess, Berowne, and Rosaline) are allowed to exhibit some personality; the other four are more like background chorus members.

Also, some given the chance to act drop the ball--or, rather, one. I'm referring, of course, to Branagh's most controversial casting choice, Silverstone. Any chance the Clueless starlet had to silence critics starts to creep out the window the instant she opens her mouth, then comes crashing down below earth during a couple of climactic speeches. She tries her best; the problem is that her effort is much too apparent. The constantly strained look on her face suggests that she's either (1) struggling to remember her lines or (2) struggling to remember how to pronounce them.

Her performance is indicative of the larger problem that plagues Love's Labour's Lost. The film's heart is definitely in the right place, intending to show how easy and natural it is to be consumed by the magic of love. Unfortunately, Branagh's well-meaning but mechanical execution makes falling in love seem like an uncommonly laborious task.

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#239 May 26, 2000 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Better Living Through Circuitry poster Better Living Through Circuitry ***
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Anyone looking to learn more about the underground techno dance party culture of "rave" needn't look any farther than Better Living Through Circuitry, Jon Reiss' comprehensive documentary look at the phenomenon. While the many interviews, covering techno musicians to the ravers themselves, aren't always insightful--the partygoers make redundant comments of how much "fun" and "positive" raves are--but all the individual pieces assemble into a piercing look at the music and the rave. The general point that one comes away with after seeing Better Living Through Circuitry is the utopian sense of equality that a rave creates: people with minimal textbook musical know-how become respected stars; people of all sizes, shapes, and colors unite in love and friendship to a common beat. The rave scene is already in a decline, and when it finally disappears, Better Living Through Circuitry will remain as an affectionate warts-and-all portrait of a bygone era.

8 1/2 Women poster 8 1/2 Women (R) ** 1/2
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The latest from eccentric director Peter Greenaway has all the hallmarks of his work: absurdist humor, pervasive full nudity (of men and women, all ages and sizes)--and very little internal sense. But unlike, say, his last film, The Pillow Book, the headscratching weirdness of 8 1/2 Women doesn't gel into a discernible emotional point--or any point, for that matter. So this story of a recent widower (John Standing) who, with the help of his adventurous son (Matthew Delamere), assembles a harem to give him the sexual liberation he had never experienced, there is no center to hold together the artfully shot nudity and platitudes about loving one's cock. Like all Greenaway films, 8 1/2 Women holds a perverse visual fascination (the performances are also good), but the surface watchability may not be enough to justify the frustration that inevitably comes.

Passion of Mind poster Passion of Mind (PG-13) **
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Marty (Demi Moore, doing just OK in her first screen role in years) is a workaholic literary agent in New York who has recurring dreams in which she is Marie, a single mother and book critic who works out of France. Marie, in turn, has recurring dreams where she is... Marty, a workaholic literary agent in New York. The big mystery, of course, is which of these lives is real, but writer Ron Bass and director Alain Berliner never come up with a compelling reason to care. This is largely because, despite their obvious geographic distance (and the presence of kids in one, though they are a non-issue at best), there seems to be little difference between Marty/Marie's two lives, for the main concern in both is her relationship with an impossibly ideal man (Stellan Skarsgård in France, William Fichtner in NY) who is jealous of the dream lover. So the big revelation--as well as a hokey explanation for Marty/Marie's condition--doesn't seem to matter at all.

Shanghai Noon poster Shanghai Noon (PG-13) ***
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Clocking in at less than ten minutes shy of the two hour mark, Shanghai Noon runs a bit longer than any Jackie Chan vehicle has any sane right to be, and, indeed, one feels the length as the film lumbers to its ultimate conclusion. However, this doesn't mean that the film is a bore, especially when the chopsocky star is paired with the lively Owen Wilson, who should find his career taking off with his role here. In this comedy-western, Chan plays Chon Wang, a Chinese Imperial Guardsman who travels to the Forbidden City to the American West to find Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who has been held for ransom by an evil Nevada-based ex-Guard (Roger Yuan). Chon's path repeatedly crosses with wisecracking bandit Roy O'Bannon (Wilson), with whom he eventually--and reluctantly--teams.

Wilson is big talker, but he doesn't try to dominate the screen time like Chan's Rush Hour partner, Chris Tucker; hence, they make a better team. Then again, Shanghai Noon is simply a better film than that, Chan's big U.S. breakthrough. A big reason is that his showcase fight scenes are more in the vein of those in his Hong Kong work; while boasting impressive kung fu moves, the comic outrageousness is also present here--namely, his use of just about anything within arm's reach as a weapon. Still, though, it seems that no American filmmaker will ever get Chan completely "right"; director Tom Dey's big misstep here is with the de rigueur outtake reel, which dismayingly is more about flubbed lines than botched stunts. Nonetheless, as far as light, brainless summer entertainment goes, Shanghai Noon makes the grade.


Agent of Death VHS Agent of Death (R) **
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Bryan Genesse has starred in enough direct-to-video action yarns (Project Shadowchaser II, Cyborg Cop III), so it was perhaps only a matter of time before he tried his hand at writing one himself. With this run-of-the-mill tale of a lone CIA agent (Eric Roberts) who must rescue the President (John Beck) from the clutches of a rogue agent, Genesse (who also plays the President's captor) proves that his writing skills are about on par with his not-too-impressive acting prowess. However, as tired as the whole operation feels, it's strangely inoffensive. Perhaps that's due to the mercifully small size of Ice-T's role as a Secret Service agent or the amusement of seeing a barely used Michael Madsen (as a cop) in such a blatant check-cashing role. Or maybe it's just because films pitting Roberts against former Just the Ten of Us "Lubbock babe" Brooke Theiss in a knock-down, drag-out martial arts tussle are so hard to come by. (Trimark Home Video, DVD also available)

The Blood Oranges DVD The Blood Oranges (R) no stars
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In nearly all reviews of the recently theatrical release Up at the Villa, 1995's Angels and Insects is erroneously identified as husband-wife filmmaking team Philip and Belinda Haas' last film--ignoring this 1997 effort. That's more of a favor to the duo than anything else, for this overheated "erotic" drama based on John Hawkes' novel of the same name is an embarrassment for all involved. Particularly shameful is the work of leads Charles Dance and Sheryl Lee, who ineptly play a swinging married couple in the '70s who try to lure another couple (Laila Robins and Colin Lane, both lesser degrees of terrible) into their free sexual lifestyle. But "tragedy" is afoot, as thuddingly foreshadowed by Dance's ominous voiceover narration. With repeated use of such ridiculous, "risqué" terms as "the love lunch" and "sex singer," can anyone take this film seriously as drama or erotica? Likely not. (Trimark Home Video, DVD also available)

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway DVD The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (PG-13) * 1/2
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If general sincerity were all that mattered in making a motion picture, this drama would be an off-the-board success. The film's story, about a young man (Elijah Wood) who struggles to remember his past during a stay at a hospital for terminally ill youths, is warm, and the performances--especially those of Wood and Rachael Leigh Cook (as his love interest)--are all gently low-key and likable. But sincerity often paves the way for the maudlin and overly touchy-feely, and that's what happens here--as well as a bizarro plot revelation that is simply at odds with the sense of reality that the cast and director Martin Duffy have taken great pains to establish. Imagine the recent teen weepie Here on Earth made even more unconvincing by a strangely surreal, almost sci-fi plot twist, and you have Bumblebee. (USA Home Entertainment)

Dance with the Devil poster Dance with the Devil (R/unrated) **
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Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia's award-winning 1995 horror comedy The Day of the Beast was strange and sick--and I mean that in a good way. However, his English language follow-up is both of those things, but not necessarily in a good way. Rosie Perez is indeed, as the video box boasts, "as you've never seen her before" as Perdita Durango, a wild child who, along with her voodoo priest lover Romeo (Javier Bardem), embarks on a mission to kill someone and eat him or her--partly as a sacrifice to his god, but mostly for the sheer fun of it. The stage is set for some outrageously madcap madness à la Beast, but the tone of this Dance is confused: Perez and the plot to to kill and eat go for campy laughs; a thread involving a robbery job Romeo must pull is played straight; and the ending attempts to pull heartstrings. The film would have better off staying with the comic tone, for that's what de la Iglesia does best--and where his interests clearly lie. (A-Pix Entertainment, DVD also available)

The Harmonists poster The Harmonists (R) *** 1/2
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The true story of the German WWII-era vocal harmony ensemble the Comedian Harmonists is brought to life in this bittersweet docudrama. Though not a household name on this side of the Atlantic, the Comedian Harmonists are one of the best-selling and most influential musical acts in Europe, and Joseph Vilsmaier's film does a nice job tracing their humble beginnings, rise to popularity, and their sad breakup, which was brought on by the onset of WWII. Vilsmaier strikes a nice tonal balance; the lighter opening moments are sweet and fun, and they effectively establish the audience's strong rapport with the characters (flawlessly played by the talented acting ensemble), which is crucial when things turn darker--i.e., the Nazi regime puts pressure on the group's Jewish members to quit. Entertaining, poignant, and filled with catchy music, the film was an understandable hit among festival and arthouse audiences--a success streak that should continue in the home video market. (Miramax Home Entertainment)

Hide and Seek DVD Hide and Seek (R) no stars
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A psycho couple desperate for a baby kidnaps a pregnant woman whom everyone, including her husband, believes is dead. Sounds like nothing especially unusual in straight-to-tape thriller land, but when Jennifer Tilly is cast as the psycho wife, what you get is camp nirvana. Never mind the other poor performances here; Daryl Hannah plays the material way too straight as the woman held prisoner, and Vincent Gallo, as Tilly's husband, wildly underplays as to not be noticed (and who can blame him). The film is all about the chirpy Tilly undergoing wild mood swings, acting insanely polite to Hannah one minute, then just plain insane the next, giving each line an added punch with a well-placed scream of "Bitch!" She is the reason why this "thriller" is such a disaster--and such an awfully amusing one at that. (Trimark Home Video, DVD also available)

The Hollywood Knights poster The Hollywood Knights (R) no stars
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This never-on-video 1980 cult favorite had been the most-requested title in Columbia's library, and now that it is finally out for everyone to see, perhaps it would have been best for everyone if it had remained tangled in music rights troubles. The long unavailability undoubtedly contributed to the movie's mystique, for this is one horrendous film--a shapeless, formless mess with little story and even less sense. It is Halloween night, 1965, and Tubby's Drive-In, the hangout for the titular car club, is about to be closed down by snooty Beverly Hills residents. So the gang--or more specifically, troublemaking member Newbomb (Robert Wuhl)--goes on a wild prank spree. That is the entire film, with pseudo-"serious" subplots involving one Knight's (Gary Graham) impending service in Vietnam and another's (Tony Danza) romance with an aspiring actress (Michelle Pfeiffer, whose Grease 2 is a much more flattering filmography entry) breaking the juvenile tone and adding to the general clutter by failing to make a point. Then again, nothing in this film seems to have any point other than to waste perfectly good celluloid--and, now, videotape, DVDs, and their respective packaging materials. (Columbia TriStar Home Video, DVD also available)

Labor Pains VHS Labor Pains (R) *
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What can you say about a movie that begins with its heroine (Kyra Sedgwick) addressing the camera directly while standing on her head? Or one where the lead gets pregnant because the contraceptive sponge she thought she used was in reality a marshmallow? Or a film that introduces the heroine's parents with a shot of the father (Robert Klein) giving the mother (Mary Tyler Moore) head? As Sedgwick goes into labor over one long night in which she must also contend with her parents, her loopy best friend (Lela Rochon), and her ex-boyfriend and baby's father (Rob Morrow), one is less likely to laugh than feel labor pains themselves. (USA Home Entertainment)

New Blood DVD New Blood (R) ** 1/2
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With his weakness for slo-mo'ed action scenes and freezing the frame, it would be easy to peg writer-director Michael Hurst as a shameless John Woo imitator. And that he is, but at least his "homage" extends beyond the visual arena. Although there is violence aplenty in this actioner about a small-time hood (Nick Moran) who enlists his estranged father's (John Hurt) help to get him out of a jam with a big crime boss, Hurst seems just as concerned with characters and relationships as he is with the big shootouts and twisty doublecrosses. While the characters are dropped into a curve-riddled plot, the basic through-line of the film is the shifting bond between the father and the son, who are both nicely played by Hurt and Moran. The rest of the cast, which also includes Shawn Wayans and The Matrix tandem of Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss, is also impressive. As noble as his intentions are, Hurst isn't quite able to make it all gel; the main arc of the story doesn't pay off emotionally due to a needless and awkward flashback structure, and the action set pieces aren't as energetic as they could be, diminishing the suspense level. Hurst earns points for effort, but his film ultimately falls short of a passing grade. (Columbia TriStar Home Video, DVD also available)

Oxygen poster Oxygen (R) **
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Oxygen is in short supply as the wife (Laila Robins) of a wealthy businessman (James Naughton) is buried alive someplace as part of a psycho's (Adrien Brody) ransom scheme. The psycho, who goes by the name "Harry" as a tribute to idol Harry Houdini, is quickly captured, but answers about the buried woman's location are harder to come by, for Harry indulges in mind games with Madeline (Maura Tierney), the cop on the case. Harry and Madeline's psychological cat-and-mouse is the promising focus of the film, but, like much of everything in writer-director Richard Shepard's thriller, everything isn't quite given the proper follow-through. Madeline's self-destructive tendencies (alcoholism; masochistic extramarital sex) gives her character added grit and dimensions, but that doesn't necessarily make her "exactly like" the insane Harry--a point that he continually uses to get under her skin. The more straightforward thriller element begins well (the burying scene is particularly creepy) but resolves itself in an overly conventional fashion. However, what does remain solid from beginning are the two leads. Brody often strays over the top in his characterization of Harry, but, of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even better, though, is Tierney, who proves to be a strong and captivating screen presence in this, her first film lead. She definitely has what it takes to carry a film; it's unfortunate that this vehicle doesn't give her much of substance to carry. (A-Pix Entertainment, DVD also available)

Relax... It's Just Sex poster Relax... It's Just Sex (R/unrated) ** 1/2
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Writer-director P.J. Castellaneta clearly has his heart in the right place with this pansexual romantic comedy-drama, and he does succeed in making a film that deals with the love lives of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in addition to those of straights accessible and fairly enjoyable for all audiences. The problem, however, is a common pitfall of ensemble films such as this: the more interesting and likable characters (Mitchell Anderson's unlucky-in-love writer, Cynda Williams' victim of two-timing, T.C. Carson's pot-stirring artist) are overshadowed by the more annoying ones (namely those played Jennifer Tilly and the ever-grating Lori Petty, who should stick to horse racing commercials). While there are laughs to be had, life is not all rosy in Castellaneta's world, lending the film some refreshing realism. It's too bad that I simply did not care about enough of the people that populate that world. (A-Pix Entertainment, DVD also available)

The School of Flesh poster The School of Flesh (L'École de la Chair) (R) ***
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With a title like that, as well as its French origin, one expects this to be one of those foreign arthouse nudies; while that expectation isn't met, Benoit Jacquot's film offers a more lasting reward: an intelligent examination of sexuality and relationships. Isabelle Huppert plays a bored exec who meets and establishes an arrangement with a bisexual bartender (Vincent Martinez): he gets a place to stay while she gets a lover. Such a plan cannot remain ideal for long, and some rather predictable turns of the plot incites jealousy and betrayal. While one can easily foresee things turning sour, less expected is the emotional and psychological validity of how it plays out, a fact owed a large part to the convincing performances of Huppert and Martinez. (Columbia TriStar Home Video, DVD also available)

Time Served VHS Time Served (R) zero stars
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Not content with confining themselves to just one titty-lating exploitation genre, director Glen Pitre and his crew of writers (no less than three) have decided to combine two types of traditional T&A showcases: the women's prison movie and the stripper movie. This should be a recipe of trashy fun; however, this shockingly dull film is just garbage. The plot, of course, is irrelevant: it's the usual rigamarole about a woman going to prison for a crime she didn't commit; the added twist is that the prison has a shady work-release program with a local strip club. What movies like this are really about are laughably bad acting and acres of bare flesh. However, there isn't any campy hambone acting on display here (though the performances are not good by any stretch), and with a semi-star in the lead (Dynasty alumna Catherine Oxenberg), the nudity quotient isn't nearly as excessive as it would've been had a struggling would-be starlet been cast instead. Thus, quick cutaways when the full cavity searches kick into high gear, strangely abbreviated and demure striptease sequences, and the shocking absence of that prison movie hallmark, the shower room brawl. Maybe the filmmakers were hoping to bring their film some sense of "class," but, by definition, films like Time Served simply shouldn't have any. (Trimark Home Video)

Virtual Sexuality poster Virtual Sexuality (R) * 1/2
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Who says light comedies aren't educational? I happened to learn three things from this teen-targeted film from the UK. First, Brits are a lot more open to male nudity than American; this film has frequent male full-frontal assaults while there isn't a single flash of a bare breast (though buxom Baby Spice lookalike Natasha Bell serves up plenty of cleavage). Second, the casting of older actors as teen characters are even more ridiculously unconvincing than in the US; all the high schoolers in this film look like they're pushing 30 (at least). Third--and most importantly--apparently the British can make teen comedies as idiotic as those from the States. The story has a desperate-for-deflowering teen (the easily likable Laura Fraser, a long way from Titus) unwittingly bringing the image of her ideal man (Rupert Penry-Jones) to flesh-and-blood life through the use of a high-tech contraption at an electronics convention. Much mayhem ensues; many male members are bared; but the film still manages to be unfunny and, most of all, generally uninteresting. (Columbia TriStar Home Video, DVD also available)

Wicked Ways DVD Wicked Ways (R) zero stars
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Michael Rooker plays a man who leads a double life, complete with two wives--one (Lisa Zane) a stable woman with whom he has children, the other (Rebecca DeMornay) a small-town gal with psychopathic tendencies. I'm not exactly sure what writer-director Ron Senkowski was trying to go for: a straightforward thriller or an over-the-top send-up of one; the plot itself is treated fairly seriously while there are a lot of campy touches obviously meant to be humorous (such as the DeMornay character's obsession with a TV soap). Whatever his intent, he never notified his cast, leaving them to go with their instinctive whim. Rooker is dully earnest throughout; on the other end, DeMornay's wildly exaggerated turn is pure parody. Little wonder, then, that the film never catches fire as a thriller and is never funny enough to make it as a comedy. (A-Pix Entertainment, DVD also available)

Made for Network TV

Escape from Mars VHS Escape from Mars (PG) **
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This made-for-UPN cheapie doesn't being promisingly and then collapse spectacularly like Brian DePalma's big-screen Mission to Mars; rather, it simply maintains a quickly-established air of mediocrity. The year is 2015, and earthlings stage their first manned mission to Mars; needless to say, numerous crises erupt en route to and on the Red Planet, and our intrepid crew must put aside personal differences to overcome them together. In other words, it's a 90-minute afterschool special with a "cool" sci-fi wash. Christine Elise and Peter Outerbridge head the cast. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

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