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The Movie Report
Archive
Volume 9

#51 - 54
July 25, 1996 - August 14, 1996


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

S U B S C R I B E

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#54 August 14, 1996

M O V I E S
In Brief

A Very Brady Sequel poster A Very Brady Sequel (PG-13) ** 1/2
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The Brady Bunch Movie was one of the most surprising guilty cinematic pleasures of last year; the new sequel offers more of the same camp humor to be derived from the antics of the stuck-in-the-'70s Bradys in the '90s. But, unfortunately, it isn't as funny. In this installment, the Brady household is shaken up by the arrival of Carol's (Shelley Long) presumed-dead first husband (Tim Matheson). But is he the real deal or not? The main reason this sequel doesn't work as well as the original is that the clueless Bradys don't have as much interaction with people from the here and now as they did in the original; mostly they interact with each other. While there are some laughs there, it isn't as funny as the clash of '70s and '90s sensibilities. Also, in spite of what all the advertising would lead you to believe, the bunch actually spend very little time in the promising comic setting of Hawaii. Still, though, there are some great bits here, such as a hilarious subplot about Marcia (Maureen McCormick doppelgänger Christine Taylor) and Greg's (Christopher Daniel Barnes, the voice of Fox TV's Spider-Man) growing attraction to each other; perpetually neurotic Jan's (Jennifer Elise Cox) imaginary boyfriend; father Mike's (Gary Cole) long-winded, non-sensical words of "wisdom" and two infectiously campy musical numbers, in particular one in a plane. Breezy fun, but probably only a safe moviegoing bet for camp connoisseurs, Brady maniacs, and fans of the first film.


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#53 August 9, 1996

M O V I E S

Escape from L.A. poster John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. (R) ** 1/2
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Fifteen years after Escape from New York, director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have reteamed for John Carpenter's Escape from L.A., a much-belated second installment that never bores but doesn't completely satisfy, either.

The film starts off promisingly enough, with a witty expository sequence and swiftly paced setup. Sometime in the early 21st century, the island of Los Angeles has become something of a human waste dump, where all those violating the "moral code" of America set up by the ultra-conservative U.S. President-for-life (Cliff Robertson) have been deported. When the President's daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) steals a mysterious doomsday device and hooks up with outlaw Cuervo Jones (George Corraface, best known as the title character in the flop Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) in L.A., the chief executive elists rugged outlaw Snake Plissken (Russell, who plays Snake with the right balance of seriousness and parody) to infiltrate the island and bring back the device before the deadly virus Plutoxin 7, with which Snake was unknowingly infected, kills him within 10 hours.

Ironically, when he finally lands in L.A., things go downhill. Action scenes are fairly few and far between and not genuinely exciting (the conclusion is especially weak), and while there are flashes of satiric wit throughout the script by Carpenter, Russell, and producer Debra Hill (such as jabs at Disney, plastic surgery fanatics, and L.A. in general), they are, alas, just flashes. Most of the time is devoted to Snake meeting with, one by one, secondary players who aren't so much characters as plot devices. As soon as their dramatic use is up, they're disposed of. For example, a hippie surfer (Peter Fonda), who is introduced early on and reappears later, only seems to be there to give Snake a surfboard--without him, there would be no "surfing down Wilshire Boulevard" scene. What makes this even more disappointing is that some of these supporting players, such as a transsexual (Pam Grier) named Hershe (get it?), are too colorful to be wasted as mere plot points. The script seems to be thought out in terms of set pieces instead of a complete, flowing story; while these bits, such as an amusing basketball sequence, the surfing scene, and a bit with a psycho plastic surgeon (played by the always-entertaining, if always-underused, Bruce Campbell) are interesting, they don't really add much to the primary plot.

In spite of its problems, Escape from L.A. is always interesting to look at, thanks to the stunning vision of the future. Carpenter, production designer Lawrence G. Paull, and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe create an L.A. that is at once a grossly exaggerated and eerily credible apocalyptic future. The decision to set the film entirely at night also does wonders for the dark atmosphere. I sense that Angelenos will get more of a kick out of the visuals than anyone else, seeing such L.A. landmarks such as Mann's Chinese Theatre, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the numerous freeways in ruins. And, of course, there are those nifty futuristic gizmos and whatnot, such as a sleek, high-powered submarine and hologram technology.

One can't say that Escape from L.A. bores, but one cannot say that it is especially exciting. It is certainly diverting for the 100 minutes it runs, but once they're up, it is instantly forgettable.


In Brief

Chain Reaction poster Chain Reaction (PG-13) **
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Andrew Davis proved he could make exciting, entertaining action thrillers with Under Siege and, especially, The Fugitive, but his latest is about as dull and run-of-the-mill as they come. A fleshy Keanu Reeves plays a brilliant machinist (!) who finds a way to turn pure hydrogen into energy; when he's framed for murder, he goes on the run with a colleague (newcomer Rachel Weisz, every bit as clueless as Reeves). The film is a thinly veiled reworking of The Fugitive, with FBI agent Fred Ward in place of Tommy Lee Jones and none of that film's intelligent writing and genuine excitement. The chase sequences are competently orchestrated, as are the explosions (the beginning explosion, which levels eight blocks of Chicago, is particularly impressive), and Morgan Freeman does his best as Reeves's enigmatic, cigar-smoking mentor. But in an ever-crowded field of summer actioners, this film fails to distinguish itself as anything special.


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#52 August 1, 1996

M O V I E S

Supercop poster Supercop (Police Story III: Supercop) (R) *** 1/2
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Jackie Chan should have no trouble keeping his new American fans--or gaining new ones--with Miramax/Dimension's wide release of Supercop, enormously entertaining 1992 second sequel (originally released as Police Story III: Supercop) to his 1985 classic Police Story.

Supercop, directed by frequent Chan collaborator Stanley Tong, boasts a sturdier story than Chan's recent American breakthrough, the messily-written Rumble in the Bronx (which was also helmed by Tong). Chan once again plays Hong Kong cop "Kevin" Chan, who this time teams with tough mainland security officer Yang (the incredible HK superstar Michelle Khan, a.k.a. Michelle Yeoh) on an undercover mission to befriend a criminal (Yuen Wah) to take down his drug kingpin brother (Ken Tsang). The title is something of a joke--the mainland forces recruit Kevin because his past extraordinary feats make him out to be a "supercop" however, while he's definitely good at what he does and delivers in the pinch, he's also a cocky goofball. The true "supercop" is the no-nonsense Yang, who could very well be tougher than he is.

Miramax/Dimension has altered a few things in reworking the film for a stateside audience. There's a sharp new opening credit sequence (which rivals Mission: Impossible for best opening of the year) in place of the original's brief flashing of the title, stars, and director; and the film now opens with Chan's entrance, which originally came about five minutes in, after some lengthy exposition. But not all of the changes are for the better: there's (of course) a mostly ineffective English dialogue track (thankfully, though, Chan and Khan do their own dubbing); a new score by Joel McNeely, complete with some out-of-place rap tunes, that doesn't improve on the perfectly adequate original music; and the de rigueur closing outtake reel is scored to an excrutiating Tom Jones cover of that '70s camp gem, "Kung Fu Fighting."

The less successful alterations, though, don't detract from the film's existing charms, which, of course, is explosive action. Chan doesn't engage in as much martial arts as he did in Rumble, and the action here is more in line with Hollywood productions (i.e. more explosions and gunplay). But that is not to say the Supercop does not deliver some knockout sequences, which it definitely does. The most notable set piece is the incredible final 20 minute chase, which involves vans, cars, motorcycles, helicopters, a train, and some unbelievable derring-do from Chan and Khan. Khan is perhaps the real star of the film, engaging in more of the physical stunts than Chan, and matching his moves punch for punch, kick for kick (in fact, Khan and the character of Yang caused such a sensation that she was given her own spinoff starring vehicle: the disappointingly tepid, virtually action-free Supercop 2, a.k.a. Once a Cop, a.k.a. Project S, a.k.a. Police Story III Part 2). She and Chan also make a formidable pair between action scenes; their spirited verbal sparring packs as strong a kick as their martial arts moves.

What is especially notable about Miramax/Dimension's version of Supercop is what they didn't take out--the comedy, which New Line mostly removed from Rumble. While the Americanized Rumble was an entertaining action flick, it didn't really show a lot of the comedic prowess that makes Jackie Chan so special and unique; thankfully, the revised Supercop keeps a great comic scene in which Kevin's girlfriend (played, as in the first two Police Story films, by the stunning Maggie Cheung) thinks he's cheating on her with Yang.

Supercop is a double-barreled blessing for Hong Kong action fans. Number one, it continues the long-overdue stateside success of Jackie Chan; number two, it unleashes the mighty Michelle Khan on an unsuspecting American public. Now, if only John Woo muse Chow Yun-Fat could make his U.S. breakthrough...


V I D E O

Natural Born Killers VHS Natural Born Killers Director's Cut ****
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Oliver Stone's sick, twisted, and brilliant experimental film finally reaches video in its original, never-before-released uncensored form. Three minutes of blood, gore, and assorted mayhem have been restored to the controversial tale of serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), who become media sensations. In addition to the uncut film, which is introduced by Stone himself, there is a second cassette featuring a new making-of feature and a number of deleted scenes, including an amusing and disturbing courtroom scene featuring Ashley Judd as a survivor who makes the fatal mistake of testifying against Mickey and Mallory; a hilarious bit with two bodybuilders who thank the killers for cutting off their legs; a pointless segment with a ranting Denis Leary; an a weak alternate ending in which Mickey and Mallory bite the dust. A great deluxe package. (Vidmark Entertainment)


Not New

Police Story poster Police Story (Jackie Chan's Police Force) ****
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Before you check out Supercop, see the exciting first adventure of Jackie Chan's intrepid cop Chen Chia-Chu (or "Kevin" Chan). This 1985 action comedy has Chan, who also directed, trying to get the goods on a crime boss while protecting the kingpin's moll (Brigitte Lin), which creates trouble with Chan's girlfriend (Maggie Cheung). While some of the gags are dated (such as a lame moonwalk bit), this is primo Jackie--excitement and laughs aplenty, bookended by two incredible action/stunt sequences: the complete destruction of a shanty town and a great finale in a mall, in which Jackie slides down a pole adorned with live lights. Try to steer clear of the horrendously dubbed English language version, titled Jackie Chan's Police Force. (Tai Seng Home Video/Parade Video)


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#51 July 25, 1996

M O V I E S

A Time to Kill poster A Time to Kill (R) *** event pix
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Movies based on John Grisham novels have always left me somewhat disappointed at the end. The previous Grisham films--The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client--all had a suspenseful urgency about them... until the very underwhelming conclusions, which gave new meaning to the word "fizzle." The same, I am happy to report, cannot be said of the ending of the latest Grisham to hit the screen, A Time to Kill, but for all its entertaining, involving virtues, it still is something of a letdown.

After his 10-year-old daughter is brutally raped and nearly killed by two greasy rednecks, black mill worker Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) takes the law into his own hands, killing them and injuring a deputy with M-16 fire at the Canton, Mississippi courthouse. Struggling young lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), agrees to take Carl Lee's case, aiming for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. But with a newly resurgent Canton KKK burning the town; a cocky, calculating DA (Kevin Spacey) prosecuting the case; and an all-white jury that has pretty much made up its mind, there doesn't seem to be much hope for Carl Lee's acquittal... or is there?

A Time to Kill is not exactly the most groundbreaking of films, nor does it exactly move--it clocks in at nearly two and half hours, roughly a third of the time devoted to pre-trial exposition. But for what it is, it works; director Joel Schumacher coaxes fine performances from all involved and wrings ample dramatic tension from the tale, not to mention a strong emotional urgency. However, what makes the film somewhat disappointing is that the filmmakers obviously wanted it to be something more--and came up short. Akiva Goldsman's fairly predictable script tries hard to be provocative, bringing up hot-button race issues in the "New South." The problem is that there isn't much of a balance between the races. The white perspective dominates, the only full-blooded black character being Carl Lee; the rest of the blacks, including, sadly, the rest of Carl Lee's family, are anonymous. In fact, the most interesting character in the movie is Carl Lee, played with a riveting, quiet intensity by Jackson, who should win another Oscar nod next spring. While the talented, likable McConaughey delivers on all his pre-release hype, Jake as written cannot help but be bland in comparison to the tortured, vengeful Carl Lee; no amount of marital, financial, and other problems make him nearly as complex and painfully human as the defendant.

Nor is Jake as interesting as some of the other supporting players. Spacey is perfect in the rather one-dimensional role of the slimy DA, as is Oliver Platt as Jake's quirky divorce lawyer friend. Despite receiving top billing and a very prominent position in the advertising, Sandra Bullock gets very little screen time as Boston law student Ellen Roark, who helps Jake on the case. But the always-charming Bullock makes every moment count, putting a fiery spin on her trademark perk, making Ellen a fun, brash flirt. She and McConaughey are electric together (making one wish he was cast instead of Jason Patric in Speed 2), which is much more than you can say for him and Ashley Judd, who plays his wife. Judd is a fine actress and does a respectable job in her limited role here, but she and McConaughey don't have enough rapport to make a convincing couple.

A Time to Kill is the best Grisham to hit the screen yet--involving, very well-acted, and moving. It is a good film, but one can't help but think once it's over that it could have been a great one.


Trainspotting poster Trainspotting (R) *** 1/2
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While ID4 ate up all of the mainstream press the months leading up to its release, the independent film community was all abuzz over Trainspotting, which had gone on to be the second-highest grossing British production of all time (behind Four Weddings and a Funeral). Danny Boyle's heroin drama has finally washed up on U.S. shores, and this sometimes surreal, always harrowing film truly is unlike anything anyone has ever seen in recent years.

This brisk, darkly humorous, 95-minute ride follows one Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor of Boyle's Shallow Grave), an aimless Scottish youth who, with his buddies--the dimwitted Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sean Connery-obsessed con artist Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller)--choose not to "choose life," opting instead for the empty but pleasurable life of heroin addiction. The film follows Mark and the gang as they quit and get hooked again, have disastrous flings with women, have a couple of sick--but hilarious--mishaps with feces, and get in trouble with their violent, hard-drinking (but not drug-using) friend Begbie (Robert Carlyle).

Trainspotting, based on Irvine Welsh's controversial novel of the same name, has been accused of glamorizing heroin, and it does... to a point. While Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, through the use of a voiceover delivered by Mark, never deny the pleasure in shooting heroin, the visual cues speak for themselves: everyone lives in filthy, cramped apartments on the brink of collapse; everyone appears unclean and is prone to passing out and defacating on oneself. The more surreal moments, which Boyle uses to capture the addict's state of mind, may hold some appeal and serve as convincing pro-heroin propaganda for the most impressionable viewer, but, as a whole, Boyle and Hodge don't smooth over all of the rough edges--witness the manic, bizarre, but unsettling withdrawal scene that occurs about halfway.

If Trainspotting has a major flaw, it is in the area of character development. McGregor is a likable actor, and he thus makes Mark sympathetic to the audience, but Mark remained somewhat of a mystery. Sure, he tosses off a couple of good one-liners and enjoys heroin, but I wasn't so sure what motivated him, save for that abstract concept of "not choosing life." This becomes especially bothersome come halfway through the film, when his personality and look on life takes a dramatic turn; it is apparently brought on by a comment made by his teenage sometimes-lover (Kelly Macdonald), but I'm not completely convinced that was all that motivated it.

Miramax seems to be touting Trainspotting as the next Pulp Fiction, but I don't think it'll catch on here as it did overseas. While it is a fine example of efficient, resourceful filmmaking, with the sharp writing and dark humor that characterized Pulp, it is not as easily accessible, at least not for an American audience. All of the actors have thick Scottish accents and speak in the local slang, which will be largely inscrutable to Yankee ears, and I'm not so sure the bulk of America is ready to embrace an admittedly odd film about the glories of heroin addiction. What it will attract is a loyal--and sizable--cult following.


V I D E O

Babe poster Babe (G) ***
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OK, I've never been one to like animal movies, let alone talking animal movies. So, despite all the acclaim and Oscar nominations this sheepherding pig flick received, I was kind of reluctant to see it. In the end, though, I was glad I took the chance--this is a sweet, surprisingly moving little fable about a cute little pig who wants to be a sheepdog. Inventive effects, a clever script, and a great, nearly silent, performance by James Cromwell (as the farmer) make for a nice family entertainment. However, while it is a cutesy, fun film, it isn't exactly what I myself would consider Oscar material. (MCA/Universal Home Video)


Dead Presidents poster Dead Presidents (R) ***
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The Hughes Brothers followed up their excellent debut, 1993's searing Menace II Society, with this ambitious, uneven, but nonetheless entertaining urban drama. Menace's Larenz Tate plays a bitter Vietnam vet whose desperation turns him to staging an armored car heist--with predictably disastrous results. While this is the central plot thread of the picture, it only makes up one-third of what is essentially a trio of set pieces of varied genres: coming-of-age film, Vietnam War film, and heist film. The three pieces don't exactly gel into a seamless whole, and the abrupt ending falls flat, but the excellent performances by Tate, Rose Jackson (as his wife), and Keith David (as his mentor), a great soundtrack, and the Hughes's technical virtuosity make it worth a look. (Hollywood Pictures Home Video)


Father of the Bride Part II poster Father of the Bride Part II (PG) ** 1/2 event pix
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Steve Martin returns as the father of the title, ready to live out the rest of his life in relaxation until both his daughter (Kimberly Williams) and wife (Diane Keaton) wind up pregnant at the same time. Like the original film, it is charming, light, and certainly easy to watch. However, there really isn't much going on (a subplot involving selling the family house doesn't amount to anything), and the whole film feels more than a little superfluous, more of a sequel for sequel's sake than a justified continuation of the story. Martin Short once again has a choice moment or two as flamboyant gay party coordinator/decorator Franck, but he is fit into the story rather awkwardly. Not bad, but this was one sequel that didn't need to be made. (Touchstone Home Video)


Sudden Death poster Sudden Death (R) **
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The umpteenth Die Hard clone pits fire marshal Jean-Claude Van Damme against terrorists at a hockey game--the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals, to be exact. But the wooden-as-ever Van Damme is no Bruce Willis, unfunny main bad guy Powers Boothe is no Alan Rickman, and uninspired director Peter Hyams is no John McTiernan. Things blow up, Van Damme beats up a few people and speaks broken English, the bad guy gets his. In short, just another Van Damme film, a reasonably diverting entertainment for a couple of hours, easily forgotten within a second of seeing it. At least it's better than the last Van Damme-Hyams collaboration, the dull, laughable Timecop. (MCA/Universal Home Video)


Not New

Shallow Grave poster Shallow Grave (R) ****
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Before you check out Trainspotting, see director Danny Boyle's thrilling 1994 debut film about a trio of chummy Scotland flatmates (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and Trainspotting's Ewan McGregor) who, after the fourth roomie turns up dead, decide to keep his money-filled suitcase and dispose the body themselves. What ensues is a twisty, suspenseful ride, full of blood and black comedy. Nasty, mean-spirited, and heartless--perfect qualities for a thriller. (PolyGram Video)


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