The Movie Report
Volume 54

#204 - 206
August 13, 1999 - August 27, 1999

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

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#206 August 26, 1999 by Michael Dequina


In Too Deep poster In Too Deep (R) ** 1/2
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The title In Too Deep describes the situation its young undercover cop hero finds himself in, but it also aptly describes the predicament of the film's cast. An uncommon amount of talent appears before the camera, but their abilities are not well-served by this routine urban drama.

Two actors are able to transcend the tired material they are given: the leads, Omar Epps and LL Cool J. Epps plays the cop, rookie Cincinnati police officer Jeff Cole, who loses his sense of self during a deep cover operation designed to bust druglord Dwayne Gittens, a.k.a. "God" (LL Cool J). Epps makes a strong and likable protagonist, and as such his character's flirtings with the dark side makes for some involving drama. However, LL Cool J is the more commanding presence as God, at once cold yet so appealingly charismatic that it is easy to see how people are drawn to him.

But director Michael Rymer and writers Michael Henry Brown and Paul Aaron don't give their equally able supporting players much to work with, largely due to the formulaic paces of their story. Stanley Tucci has the token commanding officer role, and his meatiest scene is the old reliable one where he tells the increasingly out-of-control Cole that he is off the case. (Of course, Cole eventually worms his way back onto it.) Nia Long is wasted in the most thankless role of Cole's love interest, who, as par for the course in films such as these, tells Cole that she can't be with him as long as he's on his case. And Pam Grier, whose memorable turn in Jackie Brown apparently wasn't the career-ressurrector it should have been, lends her steely presence and is required to do little else as a veteran cop.

In Too Deep isn't necessarily a bad film, just an average one, and therein lies the big problem. With the amount of talent at their disposal, the filmmakers should have been more motivated to come up with something a bit more inspired and distinctive. Instead, they simply settled for the routine--something that the cast shouldn't have to settle for.

The Muse poster The Muse (PG-13) ** 1/2
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"I've hit the wall," proclaims Albert Brooks's character toward the beginning of The Muse, and one may feel the same about the writer-director-star after seeing his latest, which ends in a most lackluster fashion. But before the film hits that creative obstruction, Brooks is able to get in a number of jabs at Hollywood, and elicits some nice performances from his cast--that is, once he settles into a comfortable comedic rhythm, which he takes his sweet time to establish.

That rhythm is established with the arrival of the title character, played--in her neverending quest for respectability--by Sharon Stone, who does fare well in this, her first major comic role. Her mysterious Sarah Little claims to be a bonafide daughter of Zeus, bearing the divine gift of inspiration. Boasting a long and illustrious list of satisfied customers--including James Cameron, Rob Reiner, and, in the film's best comic performance, Martin Scorsese--it takes fairly little to convince jobless veteran screenwriter Steven Phillips (Brooks) to employ her services.

Stone obviously has fun sending up her high-maintenance diva image as Sarah, whose gifts come at a steep price; Steven must pay for all of her ridiculous extravagances, such as a deluxe suite at a four-star hotel to late night gourmet snacking food. The laughs arise from these situations are as soft as can be expected, and while there are a few pieces of dialogue where Brooks's famously caustic wit shines through (particularly in Steven's scenes with pompous Hollywood industry types), the film's sense of humor is characterized by a certain gentleness. This makes for pleasantly witty, smile-worthy viewing, but not necessarily gut-busting hilarity, such as the prominent subplot where Sarah inspires Steven's wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) to start up her own business while Steven himself remains bereft of story ideas.

And that's what ultimately happens to Brooks and writing collaborator Monica Johnson. Hard answers about Sarah inevitably must come, and when they do, The Muse's low-fi energy begins to wane. That did not necessarily have to be the case, however, if the explanations propelled the story into a new direction. Instead, though, Brooks and Johnson paint themselves into a corner that they obviously had no idea how to get out of, resorting to a twist ending that is as unsatisfying as it is contrived. Appropriately enough, it seems that Brooks and Johnson needed a muse of their own to really make this film work.

Universal Soldier: The Return poster Universal Soldier: The Return (R) no stars
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When one goes to a Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie, one doesn't expect certain things they would from a typical film--for example, decent acting, a strong storyline, interesting characters. True to Van Damme form, Universal Soldier: The Return boasts none of these qualities. The problem is, neither does it possess the one thing for which one would watch a Van Damme vehicle in the first place: excitement.

The Return is, as can be gleaned by its title, the third sequel (the Van Damme-less numbers 2 and 3 went straight to cable) to the Muscles from Brussels's 1992 sci-fi thriller, created by overpaid überhacks Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. That film was far from a masterpiece--in fact, it was quite bad--but it did have its share of diverting moments, not to mention a casting gimmick that proved to be the film's biggest drawing card: pit against Van Damme as the baddie was another lower-tier action star, Dolph Lundgren.

With Lundgren's character having been fed into a wood chipper at the end of the first film, there really is no novelty left for The Return. All that remains are the formica acting and still-below-average English skills of Van Damme and the plot concept of having dead soldiers reanimated into invincible supersoldiers. The nothing plotline cooked up by The Return's "writers" (I won't dignify their "work" by mentioning their names) has the computer in charge of a new advanced brand of UniSols, SETH (eventually played in human form by Michael Jai White, a charismatic actor who at one point seemed to have a promising career), going berserk and hence making his UniSols go on a killing spree. The only one who can stop them of course, is Van Damme's Luc Deveraux, one of the original UniSols.

There is plenty of mayhem in The Return; the film begins with an extended jetski/boat chase, and numerous fights and shootouts follow. Sounds interesting, and, if anything all the wild goings-on keep the viewer awake. But since they are so conventionally, matter-of-factly shot and staged by director Mic Rodgers, none of it was particularly exciting; one generic set piece comes after another, ultimately blurring into one unmemorable whole by the end of the film.

Perhaps Rodgers thought the mere presence of Van Damme would compensate, or that of one of his co-stars--Bill Goldberg, of World Championship Wrestling fame, who plays the evil Romeo. While not at the level of Lundgren's casting in the original, seeing Goldberg on the big screen does hold some curious interest. At least, that is, until it becomes painfully (if unsurprisingly) evident that Goldberg can't act a lick, and his one showcase scene, where he rips off his shirt for no apparent reason and dispatches some foes using some wrestling maneuvers, just makes his presence in the film even more ludicrous.

Van Damme has expressed his interest in making a break from the hard action scene and going into more classy thriller territory, la The Thomas Crown Affair. It's a ridiculous idea, but from Van Damme's standpoint, it's understandable. With the complete failure of Universal Soldier: The Return, it's obvious that the action route is keeping him stranded in his career cul-de-sac, and he'd be stupid not to look for an alternate way out.

In Brief

A Dog of Flanders poster A Dog of Flanders (PG) ***
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Contrary to what the title would lead one to believe, this is not one of those sunny family animal movies. In fact, it is the rather dark tale (based on the classic children's novella) of the titular canine's owner, a poor boy named Nello (played at different ages by Jesse James and Jeremy James Kissner), who sees his passion and talent for art as a way to improve his station in life in early 19th Century Belgium. In an age where the "family film" label mostly plastered onto exclusively kid-skewing feature-length commercials for merchandise, it is refreshing to see a film such as this, which indeed holds appeal for the entire age spectrum: kids will be caught up in Nello's dream and plight, not to mention ooh and ah over the dog; and parents will appreciate the fine performances, director/co-screenwriter Kevin Brodie's attention to period detail, and his intelligent and largely unflinching approach to the material. Notice the word "largely"--Brodie cannot resist the urge to pretty up the original story's downbeat ending, and the film suffers for it. Even so, the film is one that families will enjoy discovering and experiencing together.

Dudley Do-Right poster Inspector Gadget poster Dudley Do-Right (PG) zero stars
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Inspector Gadget (PG) zero star
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When will Hollywood learn that successful animated concepts just don't cut it when translated to flesh-and blood life? That is most certainly the case with Dudley Do-Right--or, should I say, Deadly Do-Wrong. After the inexplicable box office success of the horrible George of the Jungle, it must've seemed like a good idea to have George star Brendan Fraser tackle another Jay Ward cartoon character, the bumbling Canadian mountie and sworn enemy of the dastardly Snidley Whiplash (Alfred Molina). But if there's any justice in the world, the fluke financial success of George will not be duplicated, for this excrutiatingly unfunny test of patience is even worse than that awful film. Writer-director Hugh Wilson's (who last teamed with Fraser earlier this year in Blast from the Past) idea of comedy is having Dudley wear a moose head and get repeatedly hit by his cabin's loose floorboards. If you're with Wilson and are sent rolling on the floor by those gags, by all means, go to the film. Everyone else would be wise to just watch the new Fractured Fairy Tale animated short that precedes the film... when the film hits video.

The other live-action cartoon adaptation of the summer, Inspector Gadget, is indeed better, but only in the sense of what a severe migraine is to a heavy blow to the head: not as damaging, but still painful as all hell. Matthew Broderick plays the cop outfitted with various mechanical gizmos to defeat the evil Claw (Rupert Everett, cashing a paycheck) in this effects-laden, fast-paced film. The problem, though, is that the film is simply too fast-paced--a loud, hyperactively acted, directed, and edited exercise in sensory overkill that calls out for a lethal dose of Ritalin. That none of the 80 or so minutes in the film isn't slightly funny doesn't help--it just makes you reach for more Excedrin.

Stiff Upper Lips poster Stiff Upper Lips **
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The upper lips aren't the only things that are stiff in this broad British comedy--so are most of the jokes. Which is a shame, considering that director/co-writer Gary Sinyor has chosen a target ripe for parody: stuffy British costume dramas, in particular the oeuvre of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. One's familiarity with Merchant Ivory films undoubtedly factors in to the degree of one's enjoyment of this story of an upper crust miss (Georgina Cates) who shuns her intended (Robert Portal) in favor of a hunky peasant servant (Sean Pertwee). But even if you do know the likes of A Room with a View and A Passage to India backward and forward, most of the gags come off as forced and simply silly, even if some of the performers (in particular Cates and Sir Peter Ustinov) are particularly game.

The 13th Warrior poster The 13th Warrior (R) * 1/2
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The pre-release buzz I had heard on John McTiernan's long-on-the-shelf (well over a year) adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead was "fog, horses, swordfights." And indeed, this violent adventure film has more than its share of fog, horses, and swordfights. But one would think that someone would have been wise to add, say, a story or interesting characters. The film is all about an Arab (Antonio Banderas) who joins twelve Norse warriors (hence the title) in their battle against some savage, maneating creatures. That, in a sentence, is the entire story, not counting some murky early exposition (a lot of which is dispensed in a voice-over narration delivered by a heavily-accented Banderas) that ultimately proves to serve no dramatic purpose whatsoever. Aside from Banderas's character, all of the warriors blend into one blonde, nondescript whole, and the action is so chaotically staged that it is hard to keep track of who is killed and how many warriors survive with each battle. Not that it matters a whole lot, since none of the characters engage in the most superficial sense; Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score exhibits more personality than any of the actors--or anything else in the film, for that matter.


Forbidden Sins VHS Forbidden Sins (R) zero stars
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The tantalizing synopsis on the box of this erotic thriller reads, "From the courtroom to the bedroom, no one does it like sexy Shannon Tweed"--and for that we can be grateful, for who knew that direct-to-video soft core could be so boring. This ripoff of Jagged Edge casts the former Playboy playmate as a lawyer defending a millionaire (Corbin Timbrook) accused of murdering a stripper. Anyone who has seen a Joe Eszterhas-scripted mystery will be able to solve the so-called mystery from the outset. Of course, plot isn't what people rent this type of picture for--it's the sex and nudity, and there is plenty of that for the raincoat crowd; however, they may be disappointed that the star of the hour, Tweed, only has one money scene. (Helpful hint to those people: it occurs late in the picture, so get your fast-forward buttons ready.). (Columbia TriStar Home Video)

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#205 August 19, 1999 by Michael Dequina


Teaching Mrs. Tingle poster Teaching Mrs. Tingle (PG-13) ***
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Once upon a time, there was a 10th grade English class run by one Mr. Jerry Stover, a teacher who was a pain to (with a few exceptions) all of his students but made an extra effort to continually tear down one student in particular. This usually strong English student found all of his best efforts met with indifference at best, outright derision at worst by Stover, who often seized every opportunity to humiliate the student in front of the whole class. When called on to do an oral report on a reading assignment, the student only got about two words in before Stover criticized his barely-begun report and asked him to sit down. But that was nothing compared to what came at the end of the school year, when the student's year-ending speech project--which was capped off with a spirited song number that was wholeheartedly embraced and warmly praised by his classmates--was verbally torn to shreds by Stover in front of everyone. That public attack was just a warm-up for a comment Stover made during a subsequent private meeting with the student: "I don't like you."

As you can guess, the student in question was yours truly, and while it did take some added effort--and, I'd like to think, guilt on Stover's part--to get an A in that class, I didn't have to resort to anything resembling the over-the-top antics presented in hot scribe Kevin Williamson's directorial debut, Teaching Mrs. Tingle. My own experiences undoubtedly contributed to my enjoyment of this admittedly junky but wickedly watchable revenge fantasy. I immediately identified with the film's protagonist, solid A student Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes), who, in an early scene, presents a much-worked-on project in her history class, only to have her presentation abruptly cut short by vicious barbs hurled by the class's instructor, Mrs. Eve Tingle (Helen Mirren). This scene (and the entire film, for that matter) has been criticized for being grossly exaggerated, and indeed it is, to biting comic effect. But there is a ring of truth--not just for me personally, who knows it is possible for teachers to have unfounded personal grudges against students; but I'm sure for many other people who have had similar, if not overly so, trying experiences with hardass teachers.

Williamson sends all basis in reality out the window, however, when the film's main story kicks into gear. After Mrs. Tingle falsely accuses Leigh Ann of cheating, she and her friends Luke Churner (Barry Watson) and Jo Lynn Jordan (Marisa Coughlan) confront Mrs. Tingle at her home. One thing leads to another, and soon Mrs. Tingle is tied to her bed, held prisoner by the three students, who try to reason with her--and teach her an overdue lesson or two. The stage is set for a tense and witty psychological battle between the teens and Tingle, who is as adept at manipulative mind games as she is mean.

For a first-time director, Williamson shows great skill working with actors. While Watson is fairly bland as the hunky bad boy, he does share palpable chemistry with the other core three, who make good impressions. Holmes is an instantly likable screen presence, and her calm and poise grounds the film in some level of reality and plays well off of newcomer Coughlan, who has the showier role as the kooky aspiring actress Jo Lynn. The showiest role of them all, of course, is the title character, and Serious Actress Mirren sinks her teeth and then some into this change-of-pace part. Her venomous performance has been criticized as being one-dimensional, but the point of the part is to be an over-the-top, love-to-hate villain, and does she ever succeed at that.

That said, one does wish there were more of an explanation of Tingle's wicked ways, or at least a clearer one for her malice toward Leigh Ann; it is implied that she is jealous of her ability and bright prospects, but the implication is a bit too vaguely made and not altogether confirmed. (After all, Mrs. Tingle does have one bright pet student.) Tingle was the first script Williamson ever wrote, and it is indeed the least polished of his heretofore produced works, and his inexperience in the director's chair doesn't serve the more awkward moments well. There are a couple of scenes that establish Leigh Ann's warm relationship with her mother (Lesley Ann Warren) that are not only ridiculously saccharine, but feel completely out of place in what is otherwise a gleefully heartless film. A bit more in line with the tone is Jo Lynn's hyper reenactment of scenes from The Exorcist, and while it is good for a chuckle, the scene is a showstopper of the worst kind, a dead halt in the action; it is also a rather obligatory movie reference, a device worked well--and served a recognizable purpose--in Williamson's Scream films but adds nothing in this context.

To borrow an obvious metaphor that has been used--and will surely continue to be used--by detractors of the film, Williamson does, in fact, need to be taught a few more lessons on film direction. But with Teaching Mrs. Tingle, it is evident that Williamson does possess some natural filmmaking ability, and he has already found a distinct voice--something that many more established filmmakers have yet to discover.

In Brief

Life Is Beautiful poster Life Is Beautiful (PG-13) ***
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...or, the film formerly known as La Vita Bella. Back to add a few more dollars in Miramax's till is Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning Italian-language Holocaust comedy, but in a radically different form--dubbed in English. It sounds like blasphemy, but this shameless attempt to expand the film's audience beyond subtitle-readers works better than it has any reason to be. One major reason for that is the vocal performance of Jonathan Nichols, who actually sounds like he could be Benigni after a battery of English lessons; more importantly, though, he has Benigni's comic rhythms down well enough that all the jokes lose little, if anything, in translation. Not surprisingly, the rest of the voice cast isn't so effective; pity poor Giorgio Cantarini, whose effortlessly charming turn as Benigni's son is made into a typical American cloying child performance by one of those stridently cutesy kiddie voices. The main reason why this version works, though, is what made the original version a **** film: Benigni's funny, emotional, and sensitively handled story of an Italian Jew's noble effort to hide the reality of concentration camp life from his unsuspecting son. Regardless of the spoken language, the original's sweetness and poignance comes through.

Lucie Aubrac poster Lucie Aubrac (R) ***
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The shortcoming of Claude Berri's fact-based, WWII-set French drama is underlined by the title. Although the film is named for Lucie Aubrac (Carole Bouquet), the brave, headstrong woman who tries to free her imprisoned resistance fighter husband Raymond (Daniel Auteuil) by outwitting the Nazis, the film is less about her character than it is her husband's ordeal and her scheme. While this does make for engrossing drama, and the acting is uniformly solid, one cannot help but feel the film would have been more gripping if more was learned about the titular heroine beyond her cunning and resourcefulness.

Mickey Blue Eyes poster Mickey Blue Eyes (PG-13) ** 1/2
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The second time is not the charm for either Hugh Grant or Warner Bros., the former trying another romantic comedy for the summer, the latter trying another mob-themed comedy of the year. Grant's British refinement and corresponding self-effacing manner is put to good use as Michael Felgate, a New York auction house manager who hastily proposes marriage to his schoolteacher girlfriend Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn) without knowing that her father Frank (James Caan) is a mob boss.

Some good laughs are to be had as Michael finds himself increasingly drawn into Frank's shady family business; it's a hoot to watch the prissy Michael try to act the tough guy. The problem is that the film is at its core not a fish-out-of-water comedy, but a romantic one, and the love story is ill-served by all directly involved: director Kelly Makin, scripters Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn, and Grant and Tripplehorn, who look nice together but don't exactly generate the necessary warmth and sparks.

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#204 August 13, 1999 by Michael Dequina


Bowfinger poster Bowfinger (PG-13) ***
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Universal's ad campaign for Bowfinger would lead one to believe that the film rides solely on one (admittedly inspired) gimmick: Unable to land action superstar Kit Ramsey to headline his no-budget extravaganza, aspiring movie producer-director Bobby Bowfinger instead casts a geeky lookalike. However, that's only a small fraction of what's on writer-star Steve Martin's savvy satirical mind, which takes stinging potshots on a wide variety of targets under the Hollywood sun in one efficiently funny package.

It takes a while for Bobby (Martin) to get so desperate as to hire a dead ringer for Kit (Eddie Murphy), but his initial scheme is just as, if not more, pathetic. Knowing that the key to making his sci-fi cheapie Chubby Rain a success would be the involvement of the elusive and self-centered Kit, he shoots his unwitting "star" in secret, assembling a performance out of footage shot while he is in public places (such as restaurants and parking sructures) and reacting to his "co-stars," who approach him out of the blue. The reaction usually elicited is one of confusion and fear--which, as it happens, are the primary emotions of his "character," who is supposed to be witness to an alien invasion.

While the shooting-on-the-sly premise is funny--particularly Murphy's work as the oblivious and bewildered Kit--Bowfinger really takes off with the introduction of the softspoken Jiff (also played by Murphy), who is hired as a Kit substitute when the real deal goes on a retreat to replenish his rapidly diminishing sanity. Much like how the film is given new life, Murphy is similarly energized in the character of Jiff. He has always been at his best when he tosses his vanity aside and disappears completely into a role, as he did so memorably in The Nutty Professor, and he similarly wrings laughs and elicits a fair amount of sympathy as the good-natured, if slow of mind, Jiff.

Low-budget guerilla filmmaking and egotistical stars are Martin and director Frank Oz's main targets in the film, but they nimbly use their supporting players to attack other Tinseltown staples. Daisy (Heather Graham) is both the wide-eyed innocent who thinks a bus ticket from Ohio is also an instant one to stardom as well as the predatory young actress on the make. On the other end of the spectrum is Carol (Christine Baranski), an aging stage diva who itches for a taste of recaptured glory. Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.) is your typically greasy studio exec, and Chubby Rain's script happens to be written not by a career screenwriter but an accountant (Adam Alexi-Malle) with big-time Hollywood aspirations. There's also a thinly-veiled knock on Scientology. With such a wide range of targets, Martin and Oz give all their peripheral players their moments to shine, with the one notable exception being Jamie Kennedy, whose natural live-wire instincts (see the Scream films) are unfortunately held in check in the limited background role of Dave, the studio gofer who "borrows" the equipment to film Mr. Bowfinger's opus.

Bowfinger does take its time to build a head of steam, but in an age where movies often begin well before precipitously falling apart, the fact that it is a film that actually gets better as it goes along makes it something of a rarity. Also rare is the enjoyment in finding a seemingly no-brainer comedy that reveals itself to not only have a brain, but a sharp one at that.

In Brief

Brokedown Palace poster Brokedown Palace (PG-13) * 1/2
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The perky print ads for this gravely earnest drama suggest a cosmetics campaign and, ironically enough, end up painting a more accurate picture of what the film is really like--and, hence, what is so wrong with it. After high school graduation, best friends Alice Marano (Claire Danes) and Darlene Davis (Kate Beckinsale) decide to take a clandestine trip to Thailand, where they meet an affable Australian stranger (Daniel Lapaine) who, after charming them both, frames them for a drug deal. Suddenly both of our heroines are each serving a 33-year sentence in the "Brokedown Palace," and their only hope is an oily American lawyer (Bill Pullman) with a practice in Bangkok.

Brokedown Palace shares the basic Americans-in-dirty-foreign-prison setting with 1978's Midnight Express and last year's Return to Paradise, but that's where the similarities end. The "Brokedown Palace" certainly is brokedown, but, compared to most prisons, it is somewhat of a palace. What horrors do our normally pampered teens face? An involuntary haircut (Alice even admits that she's had worse) and a bitchy, troublemaking inmate who stuffs fish heads in Alice's bedroll and coaxes her into touching some (literally) forbidden fruit. The rest of the time, the prison resembles nothing more than an unusually strict and exceptionally unsanitary day camp. As a result, all drama and suspense is diminished, and then vanquished completely by Jonathan Kaplan's glossy direction (the song soundtrack actually would sound at home in a fragrance commercial) and David Arata's formulaic and unconvincing screenplay.

Detroit Rock City poster Detroit Rock City (R) * 1/2
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At the heart of Detroit Rock City is the music of KISS, and apparently director Adam Rifkin thought everything else in this teen comedy be amped up accordingly. But what works for rocking and rolling all night (and partying every day) doesn't necessarily hold true for movies. Just about everything is way over-the-top in this tale of four headbanging highschoolers (Edward Furlong, Sam Huntington, Giuseppe Andrews, and James DeBello) who make one turbulent journey from Cleveland to Detroit for a KISS concert in 1978: the obnoxious characters, the overcooked performances (though Lin Shaye is a hammy hoot at Huntington's ultraconservative, KISS-hating mother), and Rifkin's hyperactive camera. The air of excess aside, the question remains: is the the movie funny? No.

Leila poster Leila *** 1/2
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This subtle and thought-provoking drama from Iran tells the modern-day story of the title character (Leila Hatami), a young newlywed who forces her very loving husband Reza (Ali Mosaffa) to take another wife after she learns she cannot bear children. The decision, however, is not so much hers as it is that of her manipulative and selfish mother-in-law (Jamileh Sheikhi), who plants seeds of doubt in Leila regarding Reza's love and loyalty; and that of society in general.

Dariush Mehrjui's film may end on a (forced) bittersweet note, but it is overall a film of great sadness, the tragedy of a love torn apart by each partner's overeagerness to please the other. While the relationship between Leila and Reza is the film's focus, the film belongs to Leila, beautifully played with great understatement by Hatami. Her despair and desperation dominates the film, and the audience feels it quite intimately--due not only to Hatami's extraordinary work but that of Mehrjui, who wisely never strays from Leila's point of view, enabling the viewer to experience her uncertainty and resulting confusion.


Blood Guts Bullets & Octane poster Blood Guts Bullets & Octane ** 1/2
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The plot cooked up by first-time writer-director Joe Carnahan is standard for no-budget indie efforts: a 1963 Pontiac LeMans that figures in a rash of murders finds its way onto the lot of two struggling used car salesmen (Carnahan and Dan Leis), who decide to use the car to get more money from the shady individuals who asked them to hold it. So Carnahan ups the ante by coaxing very convincing performances from his cast and employing an enthralling hyperkinetic visual style--one that completely belies the film's paltry $7300 (!) budget. However, no amount of slick style and visual invention can make up for a contrived and unsatisfying wrap-up. Even so, Carnahan is a name worth watching. (Universal Studios Home Video)

Fly Boy VHS Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season poster Fly Boy (PG) **
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Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season (PG) ***
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Fly Boy is the family-friendly story of 10-year-old Ray (Miko Hughes), who attempts to make his WWII pilot grandfather's (James Karen) wish of one last flight come true. The film is indeed harmless, but with its hambone performances and director Richard Stanley's uninspired script, that doesn't mean the film is any good.

Far more rewarding for the family is Shiloh Season, the sequel to the 1997 theatrical flop/video hit Shiloh. Where the first film was about how young Marty (Zachary Browne, taking over from the original's Blake Heron) saved the titular beagle from his abusive owner Judd (Scott Wilson), this one is about saving Judd from his own mean, destructive nature. It's a nice theme, and sometimes the film is so nice that it comes dangerously close to becoming bland milquetoast. But the endearing characters and likable performances make all the wholesome life lessons easy to swallow. (Fly Boy: A-Pix Entertainment; Shiloh Season: Warner Home Video)

The Shooter VHS The Shooter *
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Former American Ninja Michael Dudikoff trades in martial arts for a pistol and cowboy garb in this western, where he plays a mysterious gunslinger who becomes a target for revenge--and dishes out some of his own as well. Director Fred Olen Ray's film isn't the laughable tripe it would seem to be, but it is perhaps something worse--an unexciting bore. Andrew Stevens, Valerie Wildman, and country crooner Randy Travis also star. (Artisan Home Entertainment)

Wishmaster 2 VHS Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (R) no stars
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Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse than the original Wishmaster--whose only notable feature was gathering no less than the portrayers of Freddy, Jason, and Candyman in one film, all under a "Wes Craven Presents" banner--here comes this absolutely dreadful straight-to-cable sequel. The evil, glorified genie named Djinn (Andrew Divoff, still wearing that ridiculously overdone "evil" grin) grants more wishes, causes more deaths, collects more souls, all in an attempt to merge this world with his; you've seen it all before--or, hopefully, you haven't (and won't). Goth girl Holly Fields and priest Paul Johansson are those fighting on the side of good. (Artisan Home Entertainment; DVD also available)

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