Below are some reviews I wrote for either my high school newspaper, the Long Beach Polytechnic High Life or the fanzine Phanzine Star, circa 1992. Some were printed, but most never saw the light of day... until now.
Beverly Hills Cop III (R) - May 1994 BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
Terrorists have taken over a California amusement park, and a lone cop is the only one who can save the day--no, not Die Hard's John McClane, but street-smart Detroit cop Axel Foley, who makes a third trip to L.A. in Beverly Hills Cop III, a fairly entertaining but unimaginative sequel that somewhat successfully balances action and comedy.
Eddie Murphy returns as Foley, whose investigation of a Detroit murder leads him back to Beverly Hills and WonderWorld, a popular Los Angeles theme park, whose manager (Timothy Carhart) just happens to be the murderer.
Unlike 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II, which basically rehashed the original's fish-out-of-water formula, Cop III tries to do something new with the formula, going beyond the obvious culture clash jokes. Die Hard co-screenwriter Steven E. deSouza's script puts more emphasis on the action, but not at the expense of the comedy. When the film isn't making you laugh, it keeps you interested with some well-staged but fairly routine action scenes.
While deSouza's plot isn't exactly groundbreaking for an action vehicle, the film is given some charms through execution. Murphy is relaxed and back in his element, much more funny and engaging than he was in his last effort, 1992's dull The Distinguished Gentleman. He is equally credible in the action scenes as he is tossing off one-liners. The returning Judge Reinhold is amusing as Axel's partner Billy rosewood, and Bronson Pinchot is hilarious reprising his role in the first Cop, the flamboyant Serge, who is now a weapon designer. But not everyone comes off too well; Hector Elizondo and Theresa Randle are merely passable as Axel's straight man partner Jon Flint and potential love interest, respectively; and Carhart and John Saxon are generic, one-dimensinal villains with evil stares. Director John Landis only does a serviceable job putting it all together, but he manages to stage a few entertaining action set pieces and stunts, especially one that has Axel jumping many feet in the air from car to car on a malfunctioning WonderWorld ride.
Cop III is by no means a potential award winner, nor is it the best in the series (the original Cop is still the best) or the most imaginative piece of filmmaking. What it is, however, is a light and enjoyable enough mix of action and comedy, making it perfectly OK summer escapist entertainment.
In this big-budget film version of the classic '60s animated series, Fred Flintstone (John Goodman) is promoted to a high-ranking position at the Slate quarry. Little does he know that he was only promoted to be framed for an embezzlement scheme masterminded by the vice president of the company, Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan).
Not unlike 1990's The Addams Family, The Flintstones is a film that's all dressed up with no place to go. Director Brian Levant, production designer William Sandell, and costume designer Rosanna Norton create a dazzling real-life recreation of Bedrock, from the stone houses, animal skin clothing, and foot powered cars to the elephant showers and lobster lawnmowers. As far as the look of the film goes, it's perfect: wildly inventive and imaginative.
If only some imagination--or, better yet, wit--went into the script, which was written by no less than 32 writers. After seeing the film, I cannot help but ask if the drab screenplay was truly the best 32 writers could come up with. A weak plot--which The Flintstones has--could easily be forgiven if there are a few witty lines and funny scenes, but there are none. Get past the humor in seeing all the things in the cartoon being played out with flesh and blood actors (such as the people pedaling their cars with their feet), and Rosie O'Donnell's dead-on impersonation of Betty Rubble's giggle, all you're left with are a bunch of stale stone puns--"RocDonalds," "Albert Einstone," "Toy Saurus," etc.
The ensemble cast seems perfect on paper, but onscreen the actors never come alive. Goodman seems an ideal Fred, but he isn't given anything funny to do, and he annoyingly slips in and out of his Fred Flintstone voice. Elizabeth Perkins sure looks like Wilma (except in one scene where she inexplicably wears her hair down), but she isn't given much to do, either, as are O'Donnell and Rick Moranis, who plays Barney. MacLachlan and Elizabeth Taylor both overact as Cliff and Fred's mother-in-law Pearl Slaghoople, respectively; and Halle Berry is mere scenery in the flat role of Cliff's seductive secretary Sharon Stone (which, not surprisingly, was originally offered to the actress of the same name).
The Flintstones clocks in at a lean 92 minutes, but they were probably the most unsatisfying and tedious 92 minutes I've spent in a movie theatre. Contrary to what the filmmakers would like you to believe, it's the biggest non-event of the summer.
Intersection (R) - January 1994 BUY THE:Poster!
A car speeding at 80 mph crashes into a stalled van and an oncoming truck. The car isn't the only thing that crashes in Intersection, an uninvolving, disastrous romantic drama that fails to live up to its potential.
In this remake of the 1970 French film Les Choses de la Vie (The Things of Life), Vincent Eastman (Richard Gere) is at an emotional intersection: he is torn between his loyal wife and business partner of 16 years, Sally (Sharon Stone); and his mistress, perky magazine columnist Olivia Marshak (Lolita Davidovich). His relationships with both women are explored as his life flashes before his eyes during a potentially fatal car accident.
Intersection has an interesting premise--but the film never goes beyond being just that, a basic premise, a skeleton of a movie. The screenplay by David Rayfiel and Marshall Brickman is seriously lacking in the essential elements of a "relationship" film: interesting, developed characters and emotionally involving relationships. The audience couldn't care less whom Vincent chooses (Sally is cold; Olivia is shallow), let alone about Vincent himself; you hate him for being so fickle. Out of the three, only Sally elicits some sympathy, but that's only because she comes off as the vicitm in this mess. Also, the audience is supposed to believe that Vincent has genuine romantic feelings for Olivia, but as written in the screenplay, their relationship is so flatly developed that seems solely based on empty lust.
The main gimmick of flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks used by Rayfiel, Brickman, and director Mark Rydell hurts more than helps. Although it is easy to follow where each flash begins and ends, once you realize it's a flashback, you have to figure out at what point in time it takes place, which isn't always easy to do, and usually not worth the effort.
The actors in Intersection fare somewhat better, but they are ultimately hampered by their boring characters. Gere gives a barely adequate performance, but despite his best efforts, his appeal isn't enough to make Vincent likable. Playing against type and keeping all of her clothes on, Stone excels in two heavy dramatic scenes, but she is given little else to do. Newcomer Jenny Morrison isn't bad as Vincent and Sally's 13-year-old daughter, but her character fails to make any lasting impression. By far the weak link in the cast is Davidovich, whose poor showing can't be blamed on the screenwriters. The character of Olivia is written as a brilliant writer, but as played by the shrill Davidovich, she is one-dimensional, annoying, and of questionable intelligence.
The most frustrating thing about Intersection is how good it could have been, an idea reinforced by the film's interesting conclusion. But had the filmmakers made an effort to make this "emotional" drama the slightest bit involving, the ending wouldn't have been just interesting; it--and the entire film--would have been incredibly moving.
Jimmy Hollywood (R) - March 1994 BUY THE:Poster!
A deep character study. An offbeat comedy. A hard-hitting drama with a serious social message. A biting satire of law enforcement and the media. A description of four different films? No; all of these describe the ambitious but uneven Jimmy Hollywood, an odd comic drama from writer-director Barry Levinson.
Joe Pesci stars as struggling Hollywood actor Jimmy Alto, who, with his friend William (Christian Slater), videotapes a car radio thief in the act, ties him up, and leaves him--with the videotape and a note signed "S.O.S."--on the steps of the police department. Believing this to be the work of a new vigilante organization, the police form a task force against "S.O.S." Impressed with all the media attention his deed has received, Jimmy decides to continue catching criminals with William under the name "S.O.S.", for he believes he has found the role of his life.
If anything, Jimmy Hollywood is original: its plot is not easily summed up, and the film itself defies description; it is an unusual piece of work that spans a number of genres: drama, comedy, social commentary, satire, character study. However, Levinson isn't able to blend these ingredients into a fluid whole. Each scene focuses on only one of these elements; for example, serious scenes in which Jimmy voices his concern over the deterioration of Hollywood are often followed by lightweight comedic scenes, resulting in a jarring contrast. Some films have succeeded in seamlessly mixing genres (Ghost, for example), but this one feels so disjointed that it seems to suffer an identity crisis.
If Jimmy Hollywood has to be categorized, it would best be labeled a character study, but a failed one at that. Despite the best efforts of Pesci, I didn't feel that I got to know the character of Jimmy very well. Does he go after criminals out of a sincere concern for his community or out of a selfish need for attention and publicity? Levinson's screenplay never makes his motivation clear. Just when you're led to think one way, a scene makes you think another. But at least Jimmy makes some kind of impression; the other two main characters barely register. The dimwitted William is little more than a plot device masquerading as a character--he's there to videotape the crimes; that's all. Slater's one-note, slack-jawed portrayal doesn't help, either. Acclaimed Spanish actress Victoria Abril makes an impressive American debut as Jimmy's girlfriend Lorraine, but she can't disguise the fact that her character's only function is to be the moral conscience of the film, telling Jimmy what he should and should not do.
To Levinson's credit, the film ends with a fitfully ironic twist and a fabulous epilogue. As far as his directing goes, he still proves to be an interesting visual stylist. He maintains the film's unromanticized view of Hollywood through the raw visuals, and the film is well-edited. But after seeing his last effort, the quirky but ultimately forgettable flop Toys, and the mixed bag that is Jimmy Hollywood, I can't help but feel that Levinson, director of such greats as Rain Man and Bugsy, has lost his way. Hopefully this winter's Disclosure, an adaptation of the latest Michael Crichton bestseller starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, will put him back on track.
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (PG-13) - March 1994 BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
A mad bomber threatens to destroy Hollywood's biggest night, and the only man who can stop him is--Frank Drebin?! Yes, the lovable yet dimwitted Sgt. Drebin, Detective Lieutenant Police Squad, returns for a third dose of hilarious, unrestrained silliness in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
The film's threadbare plot has Police Squad enlisting the aid of the now-retired Drebin (Leslie Nielsen)--who is now househusband to his new bride, Jane (Priscilla Presley)--to thwart the evil plans of escaped bomber Rocco (Fred Ward), who threatens to blow up the Academy Awards ceremony.
Of course, plot is unimportant in Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker movies; their success depends upon the effectiveness of the gag-a-second formula that Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker created in 1980's uproarious Airplane! and later duplicated in Top Secret!, the two Hot Shots! films, and the Police Squad! television series, which spawned the Naked Gun films. Although it is the first Naked Gun installment not directed by David Zucker, the film does not feel like a ZAZ ripoff such as the unfunny Airplane! II: The Sequel, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, or Fatal Instinct for one reason: it makes you laugh. Director Peter Segal and screenwriters Pat Proft, David Zucker, and Robert LoCash do keep the gags coming at rapid succession, and, for the most part, they work. However, unlike in the previous two installments, when the gags fall flat, they fall hard, especially one tired groaner that is probably the thousandth takeoff of Rodney King's "Can't we all just get along?" and a misguided Thelma & Louise sendup. Interestingly enough, 33 1/3 does not rely too heavily on background sight gags, the cornerstone of the ZAZ formula, but its greater dependence on verbal humor does not harm the film one bit, adding (perish the thought!) a more intellectual dimension to the film, albeit nothing so sophisticated as to alienate the ZAZ purists (for example, Frank says, "I like my sex the way I play basketball--one on one and with as little dribbling as possible."). The screenwriters and director make up for the first hour's few missteps with a hysterical finale, a timely and on-target parody of the Oscar ceremony.
As always, Nielsen is perfectly deadpan; he plays the bumbling Drebin so well that it's easy to forget he's acting. Returning co-stars Presley, George Kennedy (as Capt. Ed Hocken), and O.J. Simpson (as fellow cop Nordberg) generate laughs simply by not trying too hard. Ward makes a more believable villain than The Naked Gun 2 1/2's Robert Goulet and shows a comedic talent that he normally doesn't display. And former Playboy Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith, playing the token cheesecake role of nurse Tanya, manages to make a favorable impression with what little she is given to do.
Naked Gun 33 1/3 doesn't hit enough manic highs to outdo The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, but its bring-down-the-house finale alone is funnier than the enjoyable but underwhelming The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. Let's hope it truly isn't The Final Insult.