The Movie Report
Volume 42

#166 - 169
November 12, 1998 - December 3, 1998

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

#169 December 3, 1998 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Babe: Pig in the City poster Babe: Pig in the City (G) ** 1/2
I can understand Universal's desire to make a sequel to its 1995 surprise box office and Oscar sensation. I can understand director George Miller's (who served as producer on the original) desire to have the titular perky porker to grow up a bit. But there's something about this film I cannot understand: did this follow-up to a beloved family film really need to be this dark? (And how the hell did it snag a G rating?)

Pig in the City, as its title suggests, brings the sheepherding pig to an unnamed metropolis (inventively designed as an amalgam of New York, Sydney, Paris, San Francisco, among many others) to save the farm after inadvertently causing his beloved master, Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) to suffer a crippling accident. As upsetting as the sight of some heavy machinery falling on the gentle farmer is, it's not quite as upsetting as a ridiculously drawn-out scene of a dog's near-drowning, not to mention an already-crippled dog being thrown from a speeding car, his spirit then briefly seen frolicking in a canine heaven. The children in the audience with which I saw the film were audibly upset, as were some parents, and I cannot blame them.

What nearly redeems the film is the enduring charm of the pig, this time voiced by E.G. Daily (taking over for Christine Cavanaugh); the imaginative production design; and the impressive effects work. As in the original, it is impossible to distinguish the real animals from the animatronic ones to the computer animated ones. And as in the original, everything does work out nicely for the pig, who learns a lesson or two about life. But walking out of this Babe, I--and I am sure many others--feel that Universal should have left well enough alone, heeding the immortal closing words of Farmer Hoggett in the original (repeated in this film): "That'll do, Pig."

Celebrity poster Celebrity (R) **
This fall's entry into the Woody Allen filmography is this scattershot episodic black-and-white comedy, more or less following the opposing life trajectories of a divorced New York couple: downwardly mobile philandering celebrity journalist/aspiring screenwriter Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) and his fast-rising ex, Robin (Judy Davis). In theory, the point of the entire film is to provide insight into the nature of fame and fortune, mostly through Lee's encounters with luminaries such as a supermodel (Charlize Theron), a ditzy starlet (Melanie Griffith), and a wild young movie heartthrob (Leonardo DiCaprio).

However, I didn't see or hear anything particularly insightful except for the line of dialogue, "You can learn a lot about a society by who it chooses to celebrate." And what exactly do we learn about our society from Celebrity? That it is one where just about every celebrity is willing to appear in a Woody Allen film--hence another star-studded ensemble, which also includes Joe Mantegna, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, and Winona Ryder, who displays nice chemistry with Branagh (whose dead-on Allen impression didn't annoy me). Without any clear ideas or a strong story, Celebrity ends up as a showcase of fine character work by stars--a celebration of celebrity that I don't think Allen intended.

Ringmaster poster Ringmaster (R) zero stars
The overexposure of talk show host/referee Jerry Springer continues--and hopefully ends--with this insipid bottom-brow comedy which, according to a closing disclaimer, is not "intended to depict any actual participant in, or aspect of, The Jerry Springer Show, which is broadcast on television." Funny, because the centerpiece of this film is a salacious, fight- and profanity-filled talk show called Jerry, hosted by a guy referred to in the film simply as, yes, "Jerry" (played by Springer, natch). Mercifully, although he is given above-the-title billing, Springer is made a mere supporting player by writer Jon Bernstein and director Neil Abramson; anyone who's seen the "Final Thought" segment of Springer's show knows how well he doesn't hold the screen. Not so mercifully, though, Abramson allots some of Springer's limited screen time for a painful country-western musical number and--yikes--a fleeting but no less ghastly Springer sex scene.

Instead, Abramson and Bernstein cast their focus (using that term very loosely) on two separate groups of people who are tapped to appear on Jerry for different topics, only to end up intertwining. Receiving the most screen time are a mother-daughter pair of trailer park trollops. The daughter (Jaime Pressly), who indiscriminately has (to use the President's euphemism) "inappropriate relationships" with random guests at the hotel she works at, is sleeping with her stepfather (Michael Dudikoff of American Ninja, er, fame). In retaliation, the mother (Molly Hagan) starts having her daughter's fiancé (Ashley Holbrook). Slightly more amusing is the other group, a trio of ghetto stereotype girls (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tangie Ambrose, and Nicki Micheaux) who have all, at one point or another, fallen into the bed of musclebound studmuffin Demond (charismatic Spawn and Tyson star Michael Jai White, who can certainly find better work than this).

What ensues is tons of "too hot for TV" tawdriness that, ironically, enough, is not compulsively watchable as Springer's two Too Hot for TV! videos--nor nowhere nearly as funny. Part of the reason is that we are acutely aware that all the outrageousness is staged; regardless of whether or not any of Springer's TV guests' tussles are rehearsed, those fights do feature nonprofessionals inflicting real harm on each other--which is part of the show's sadistic guilty pleasure factor. But the main reason is the amateurish sloppiness of the entire movie, from the acting to the countless glitches in logic and continuity. (For example, Springer's character's last name, according to the credits, is "Farrelly," but in one autograph-signing scene, he signs his last name as "Springer.") Stay home and watch the genuine article instead.

Still Crazy poster Still Crazy (R) **
Every year, at least one studio stages a one-week Academy qualifying engagement for a film that clearly has no prayer at snagging any nominations, let alone any awards. This year's most blatant example is this British comedy, which is certainly pleasant enough to watch but completely forgettable. After the misfire of The Juror, The Josephine Baker Story and What's Love Got to Do with It director Brian Gibson returns to his musical roots--with considerably less success--for this formulaic tale about the reunion of (fictional) '70s rockers Strange Fruit (played by Stephen Rea, Jimmy Nail, Bill Nighy, and Timothy Spall). Naturally, the personality conflicts that led to the band's first breakup, namely that between Nail's soulful guitarist/backup singer and Nighy's vain lead singer, endanger the reunion's success and long-term prospects, but, as is the case of the recent crop of Full Monty-ish feel-good Brit comedies, everything gets nicely tied up in the end. There are a few nice turns, especially by Nail and Juliet Aubrey (as the band's assistant), but most of the humor provided by scripters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais is less funny than plain silly, such as Nighy's stuck-in-the-glam-era stage antics and a running gag that has Spall constantly evading debt collectors. In short, Still Crazy is simply an average timekiller.

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#168 November 24, 1998 by Michael Dequina


Home Fries poster Home Fries (PG-13) **
Being fairly tired of the assembly-line product foisted upon us by the Hollywood studios, I'm generally all in support of something offbeat. But it's one thing to be offbeat, and another thing entirely to be off-pitch. The quirky dark comedy Home Fries, I'm afraid, falls under the latter category.

Don't be fooled by Warner Bros.'s misleading marketing campaign, which sells this strange film as a light-as-a-feather romance. At the center of Home Fries is Henry Lever (Chris Ellis), whose upright dead body is found in the middle of a field. Henry, who had a heart ailment, was quite literally scared to death by his two National Guard helicopter pilot stepsons Dorian (Luke Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey), who chase him down with a chopper as a favor to their unhappy mother (Catherine O'Hara). Since it all happened in the middle of nowhere, there are no witnesses--at least by eye. Possibly overhearing everything, thanks to some crossed radio signals, is Sally (Drew Barrymore), a very pregnant young woman who works the drive-thru at a local burger joint. And, as it always conveniently happens in the movies, the father of Sally's baby is the late Henry.

To get close to Sally and find out what she may or may not know, Dorian takes a job at Burger-Matic himself. But he gets more than he bargained for, slowly but surely falling for her. Home Fries could have worked if writer Vince Gilligan and director Dean Parisot kept things simple and left the film at that. But real-life loves Wilson and the always-engaging Barrymore aren't given much breathing room to build an on-screen rapport; they're all but drowned out by all the strange goings-on that compete for attention. Lurking in the background and occasionally stepping up to center stage is the conniving Mrs. Lever, who has a Machiavellian grasp on Angus, who will do anything he can to make his mother happy--even kill. Gilligan obviously intended this subplot to give the film an unconventional, dark edge, but it is largely unfunny, too broadly played, and too much of what springs from it feels out of place. Does there really need to be a go-for-broke copter-car chase climax?

While I applaud the filmmakers' ambitions in creating something different, I cannot help but feel that Home Fries would have been better if it were more conventional. Ironically, despite all the quirkiness being bandied about, it is the film's most conventional aspect--the romance--that remotely holds any interest. Everything else, as offbeat as it is, is simply a bore.

In Brief

Enemy of the State poster Enemy of the State (R) *** 1/2
Anyone who thinks that the key to Will Smith's big-screen success lies solely on his attitude and charisma will be proven wrong once and for all by his work in Tony Scott's smart, stylish thriller. Aside from a handful of wry wisecracks delivered in the early going, Smith's Robert Clayton Dean is a straight arrow, a labor attorney who is hunted down by some shady government types after coming into possession of a videotape of a congressman's (Jason Robards) murder. Dean has trouble evading his pursuers--and their high-tech surveillance equipment--until an equally shady former NSA agent (Gene Hackman) arrives on the scene to offer some reluctant help.

As amusing as Hackman and his riff on his character in The Conversation is, it is with his first appearance (which doesn't come until about an hour in, if not more) that Enemy of the State's tightly coiled tension begins to unravel somewhat; there is much more suspense when Dean, a common man with no combat skills or the like, is called on to evade government professionals solely on his wits. But on the whole, David Marconi's script is solid, intelligently bringing up realistic issues regarding privacy while serving the slam-bang thrills required of any Jerry Bruckheimer production. Pulling the entire enterprise together is Scott, who uses his large bag of dazzling visual tricks in good service to the plot; and Smith. He paints a vivid portrait of paranoia and fear, and his natural presence and rapport with the audience is invaluable in creating a likable character.

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#167 November 20, 1998 by Michael Dequina


A Bug's Life poster A Bug's Life (G) *** 1/2
With the release of Disney and Pixar's A Bug's Life, the first head-to-head Disney-DreamWorks animation battle has officially taken place. The winner? Well, there isn't one--it's a draw. While their respective studios continue their war of words and massive publicity, Bugs and Antz, it turns out, can peacefully co-exist, each carving out their own delightful, distinctive niche in the computer-animated insect milieu.

The similarities between Bugs and Antz begin and end with the facts that they are completely computer animated, center on ant colonies, and that the two main characters are a worker ant (here named Flik, voiced by Dave Foley) and an ant princess (Atta, voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Ne'er-do-well Flik is ordered by the Princess to find warrior insects to help his colony in their ongoing conflict with a gang of grasshoppers led by the maniacal Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Flik finds a willing group in the praying mantis Manny (Jonathan Harris); his moth wife, Gypsy (Madeline Kahn); male ladybug Francis (Denis Leary); walking stick Slim (David Hyde Pierce); caterpillar Heimlich (Joe Ranft); black widow spider Rosie (Bonnie Hunt); rhino beetle Dim (Brad Garrett); and pillbugs Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane). But as warrior-like as these bugs may appear, they are actually gentle circus performers desperate for a gig after being fired by flea circus owner P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger). Realizing his error, Flik nonetheless tries to make a counteroffensive against the grasshoppers work, lest he let down the colony once again.

The script for A Bug's Life, credited to co-director Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery, and Bob Shaw (from a story by Stanton, Ranft, and co-director John Lasseter), lacks the sharp, satirical, sociopolitical subtext of Antz. For that matter, neither is the story as hilarious and smart as that of the previous Disney/Pixar collaboration, Toy Story. In telling a simpler story, Bugs holds more kid and general family appeal, but that does not mean that there isn't enough witty dialogue, funny situations, and entertaining characters to amuse the adults in the crowd. (In fact, the film's best gag, which comes during the end credits, is clearly aimed at adults; I wouldn't dream of giving it away, but I will say that, with any luck, it should kill a lazy trend in recent film.) The most memorable characters are distinguished by terrific voice performances: Spacey completely inhabits the menacing Hopper with malicious glee; Louis-Dreyfus is nicely neurotic as Atta; and Ranft fits Heimlich with a hilarious, almost effeminate German accent. As a whole, though, the ensemble here won't make you forget the work of the more stellar cast of Antz; Foley does an adequate job voicing Flik, but, not surprisingly, he doesn't hold down the center of the movie as well as Woody Allen in the other film.

Where A Bug's Life is clearly superior to Antz is in the visual department. The art by the Pixar crew is stunningly detailed, from the gritty walls of the ant colony tunnels to, most impressively, the insects themselves, namely the amazingly lifelike grasshoppers. Lasseter and Stanton also employ more ambitious camera work than their DreamWorks counterparts, especially during an exciting aerial chase sequence set during a rainstorm. PDI did a terrific job with the animation on Antz, but A Bug's Life shows that Pixar is still the king of feature computer animation.

And, by default, so is Disney, and, with its broader demographic appeal, A Bug's Life should handily outpace Antz's impressive box office grosses. But DreamWorks has already established itself as a worthy contender in the animation field, and the Mouse should watch out when the big SKG fires its next assault, next month's hotly anticipated epic The Prince of Egypt.

A Simple Plan poster Very Bad Things poster A Simple Plan (R) ****
Very Bad Things (R) ****
A Simple Plan and Very Bad Things are films of two opposing genres--drama and comedy--but both are actually so similar that their titles could very well be interchangeable. Both are about botched secret schemes that lead to downward spirals of transgression; both are bound to leave audiences unsettled--and both are among the most memorable films of the year.

Although his filmmaking career has spanned twenty years, Sam Raimi has always remained on the fringes of Hollywood, scoring no big box office hits but amassing a fiercely devoted cult following and with his trademark brand of dark humor (more often than not tinged with gore) and wildly kinetic camera work. More than a few Raimi cultists weaned on the likes of his Evil Dead trilogy will undoubtedly cry "sellout" after seeing A Simple Plan, which neither looks nor feels like a traditional Raimi film. Instead, it looks and feels like a simply "traditional" film: no flashy camera work, no excessive violence, no macabre humor.

Thematically, on the other hand, this adaptation of Scott B. Smith's bestselling novel is exactly what one would expect from the auteur. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play Midwestern brothers Hank and Jacob Mitchell, who, with friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), discover a downed plane containing a dead body and a bag full of money--$4.4 million, to be exact. Their plan, as the title states, is simple: split the money between them, but only after the plane is discovered and it is determined that the authorities are not tracing the cash.

As they say, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," and that's exactly what happens. As jealousy, greed, and suspicion enter the picture, a tense and ever-twisting turn of events follows, in which the most innocent characters reveal their more sinister tendencies--and vice versa. This theme of the ever-shifting tides of evil within people is a perfect fit for the dark sensibilities of Raimi, and he made a wise decision in keeping his showy visual tendencies in check. Any of Raimi's usual visual theatrics would have detracted from Smith's tightly-wound script, and his restrained approach intensifies the suspense of the story.

Adding to the complexity and power of the story are the actors, whose multidimensional performances create complex characters the audience sometimes hates yet maintains a certain empathy for. Thornton is likely to receive the most attention for his heartwrenching turn as the sad sack Jacob, who may be slow-witted but is nobody's fool. Equally as impressive though certain to be overlooked in Thornton's shadow is Paxton's subtle, slow burn as the often-conflicted Hank. Bridget Fonda's role as Hank's wife Sarah seems simple at the start, but as the character gradually takes on sharper edges, so does Fonda's performance. The film's richness of character lends its conclusion a poignant and haunting impact.

As badly as the characters in A Simple Plan behave, nothing they do comes off quite as reprehensible as the deeds perpetrated by the characters inhabiting Very Bad Things, the audacious writing/directing debut of actor Peter Berg. Stuffed with scenes of stylishly shot splatter, this film is as violent as any that has been released as this or any year--and it's all played for laughs (coincidentally, much like Raimi's earlier work). That shameless, eager-to-shock energy, with a crafty script and a flawless ensemble cast to match, make this beyond-black comedy a very good thing indeed.

A few days before his wedding to Laura Garrity (Cameron Diaz), Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) heads to Las Vegas for a big bachelor blowout with his buddies: self-improvement-obsessed realtor Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), quiet auto mechanic Charles Moore (Leland Orser), straightlaced family man Adam Berkow (Daniel Stern), and Adam's boorish younger brother Michael (Jeremy Piven). Mix these five men, gallons of booze, pounds of cocaine and marijuana, and a stripper into a hotel room and something bad is bound to happen--and it does. A rather grisly "complication" during sex with Michael leaves the stripper dead, and the ever-cunning Boyd comes up with, yes, a simple plan to correct, as he calls it, the "105-pound problem"--bury her body in the desert.

Predictably, this rash decision just leads to more trouble. What isn't so predictable, however, is the severity of the troubling situations Berg puts his characters in. These developments will undoubtedly offend some, but most people would be laughing too hard to be offended. An obvious comparison would be to the Farrelly Brothers' surprise sensation There's Something About Mary, but the brands of humor are distinctly different; whereas the Farrellys dabbled in "gross-out" bodily function humor, Berg's violent variety of comedy can best be described as "shock" humor. But however different their specific sensibilities are, the Farrellys and Berg share the same go-for-broke attitude when it comes to generating laughs, going so far as to seem to dare the audience not to laugh. "Shock" gags would not mean anything if they didn't organically emerge from the story, and like Mary, the very bad things of the title are firmly rooted in the script.

But there's more to Berg's assured writing than his ability to jolt the audience into laughter; there are also some juicy roles, and each cast member tackles their respective job with aplomb. The characters truly take shape, and the actors achieve liftoff, after the stripper incident, when everyone experiences different types of emotional fallout. The fact that Kyle's increasing anxiety can be palpably felt while not exactly seen is a tribute to Favreau's firm grasp of the character, who tries to maintain a veneer of composure throughout. Adam becomes mad with paranoia, leading to some effectively hammy hysterics by Stern. Nicely playing off of him is Piven, whose all-attitude Michael undergoes the most dramatic arc in the film. Slater's often irksome Nicholson-channelling works like a charm for Boyd. As his self-improvement philosophy becomes increasingly, shall we say, dark, Slater's devilish Jack-like grin and swagger could not be more perfect; it's his best performance since True Romance. As the wedding date nears and the tension mounts, the chirpy Laura seems less like herself--or is that more?--and Diaz obviously has a blast. Even a relatively peripheral player like Adam's wife Lois (Jeanne Tripplehorn) takes on greater depth as things get more and more horrifying; only Orser's barely-heard Moore remains an enigma, but I believe that was the point. Berg falls a little short at the end; his ultimate resolution doesn't quite live up to the raucous build up, but it closes the film with an appropriately acidic sting.

Meet Joe Black poster Meet Joe Black (PG-13) ***
Most meetings last just a couple of seconds. A hello, a handshake, and you have officially met someone. In the case of Joe Black, the meeting is stretched over three hours, and while it is an enjoyable and sometimes touching entertainment, the same effect could have been achieved in half the time.

That's exactly what director Mitchell Leisen did in 1934's 79-minute Death Takes a Holiday, upon which Martin Brest's film is based. Despite the presence of the Grim Reaper himself, Joe Black is a simple and frothy fantasy that does not deserve such an epic length. Death, who has arrived on earth to take an aging business tycoon (Anthony Hopkins) by the name of Bill Parrish (Get it? Parrish?) into the great beyond, decides to take a holiday in the land of the living in the body of a recently deceased young man (Brad Pitt). Death gets more than he bargained for when he falls in love with Bill's unhappy youngest daughter Susan (Claire Forlani).

An drab corporate intrigue subplot contributes to the bloated running time, as does the tediously drawn out finale, which strings together a number of potential endings of diminishing effectiveness; had the film ended fifteen minutes earlier, it would have been better for it. Nonetheless, the length does not completely dilute the involving core of the story, whose effectiveness can be credited to the ever-impressive Hopkins and the luminous Forlani, whose heartfelt performance is as stunning as her appearance. Not surprisingly, the weak link in the lead trio of actors is Pitt, whose portrayal of Death comes off as a cleaned-up version of his blank stoner character in True Romance.

Thursday poster Thursday zero stars
In a recent article for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert commented, "It's pretty hard to offend me, but a film named Thursday crossed the line at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Watching it, I felt outrage. I saw a movie so reprehensible I couldn't rationalize it using the standard critical language about style, genre or irony. The people associated with it should be ashamed of themselves."

I echo Ebert's sentiments, but from a different angle. There is a lot of violence, sex, and various other forms of bad behavior on display in first time writer-director Skip Woods's low-budget thriller. But the graphic nature of Thursday is not what upset me; it was the content behind the mayhem--or, rather, the lack thereof. There's absolutely no substance to Woods's script beyond the setup: a "reformed" ex-drug dealer (Thomas Jane) who has his quiet Houston household violently thrown upside down after his still-in-the-biz ex-partner (Aaron Eckhart, who should have known better) arrives for a stay. What follows are random, plotless acts of violence and nastiness, such as various bloody shooting deaths; grisly body disposals; and, most notoriously, an Amazonian femme fatale (Paulina Porizkova) wearing a jacket reading "CUNT" who openly masturbates and later rapes the main character. This criticism may sound hypocritical from someone who completely bought into the sick sensibility of Very Bad Things, but there writer-director Peter Berg had an actual story to work with, and the borderline offensive shocks naturally emerged from that narrative. Woods, on the other hand, hails from the school of film that believes that shock value in and of itself equals hipness. In actuality, it only equates to pathetic desperation.

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#166 November 12, 1998 by Michael Dequina


The Rugrats Movie poster I'll Be Home for Christmas poster The Rugrats Movie (G) ***
I'll Be Home for Christmas (PG) * 1/2
November not only marks the unofficial start of the holiday season, it also signals the arrival of the first of a flock of films fashioned for families. Leading the opening wave are two films coming from less-than-distinguished cinematic pedigrees: a non-Disney animated feature, The Rugrats Movie; and a live-action comedy from the Mouse, I'll Be Home for Christmas. While Paramount is able to buck the generally lackluster non-Walt animation trend with the fun Rugrats, the Mouse strikes out once again in the flesh-and-blood arena with a most uninviting Home.

My experience with Nickelodeon's smash cartoon series Rugrats has been confined to just an episode or two caught during breaks from channel surfing. But as limited as my familiarity with the show is, I have seen enough of it to know that it's not something strictly for the tykes, despite of its title's implication. While clearly targeted at the preschool demographic, the adventures of diaper-clad Tommy Pickles (voice of E.G. Daily) and his friends Chuckie Finster (Christine Cavanaugh) and twin siblings Phillip and Lillian Deville (both voiced by Kath Soucie) show mature flashes of wit, and that smartness extends to the film. Only adults will appreciate such wry touches as a hospital sign tracking the arrivals of newborns like flights at an airport, references to The Fugitive and A Cry in the Dark, and the children's numerous instances of malapropism (e.g. "custardy" for "custody").

The majority of the film, on the other hand, is equally accessible and amusing to grown-ups and wee ones alike. As can be expected, there is only a sliver of a story in David N. Weiss and J. David Stem's script. At center of the plot is the arrival of a new child in the Pickles household, Dylan a.k.a. "Dil" (Tara Charendoff), who, much to Tommy's chagrin, immediately dominates all the attention of their parents Didi (Melanie Chartoff) and Stu (Jack Riley). But Tommy must learn to live with and love Dil when they, Chuckie, Phillip, and Lillian find themselves lost in the forest, thanks to a runaway toy wagon. Not too far behind is Tommy's bratty cousin Angelica (Cheryl Chase), determined to reclaim her beloved Cynthia doll, which Dil has taken with him.

The adventures that ensue in the forest setting, ranging from some wild river rafting to an encounter with circus monkeys, are sure to keep the children enthralled (the kids at the screening I attended were noticeably silent) and amuse the adults. Part of the appeal for the older set is the distinctive art style, which is rough and simple yet remarkably expressive. Wisely, directors Norton Virgien and Igor Kovalyov resist the urge to punch up the visuals with gratuitous computer animation--at least, for the most part: a boulder, clouds, and Dil's head-trippy arrival into the world are the instances of CGI, and they are brief and effective. The directors' big misstep, though, was bowing to Disney animation tradition and grafting on a few musical numbers to the film, which feel like they're, well, grafted on, with the exception of one inspired number where Angelica breaks out into a modified version of Blondie's "One Way or Another," sung in reference to her missing Cynthia. Production numbers aside, The Rugrats Movie is essentially just a big-screen episode of the series, and that's more than enough to satisfy any audience.

While Disney has a rich tradition in animated family entertainment, but its track record in live-action film is, to put it mildly, less than stellar. The wan I'll Be Home for Christmas will do nothing to change that. This piece of warmed-over sitcom-level schmaltz casts Tiger Beat pinup du jour Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a cocky prep school student who goes on a cross-country road trip to make it home in time for Christmas. Sounds harmless enough, but then there's the gimmick: JTT is stuck in a Santa Claus outfit, and along the way he learns the true meaning of Christmas. As lame and predictable as the story is, the key problem is Taylor Thomas himself. His character is supposed to undergo a gradual attitude change as the film progresses, but he plays the character as such a smug bastard the whole way through that one senses no change, nor does one care if he changes. Less than halfway through I'll Be Home..., I wanted to go home myself.

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