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Truly "Lost" Near the Aisle Seat

by ANDY DURSIN

A new month is here (again!), and lurking about are sure-to-be-several misfires that major studios will be thrusting upon us before the Summer season arrives on Memorial Day weekend, complete with that giant lizard dinosaur in tow--and I'm obviously not referring to either Barney or Baby Bop.

Already we've seen SPECIES II, which is supposed to be awful and opens this Friday, move ahead from its intended June 5th release date to this very week. The reason? Most likely because MGM fears Godzilla, or the movie is awful--or both. The remainder of April has a few sequels, remakes, and the standard fare ready for movie-viewing consumption, and we'll take a brief look at what's to come after we wrap up the past four weeks at multiplexes across the country.

*IN THEATERS ROUND-UP

LOST IN SPACE (*): For anyone who doesn't believe they have the talent to write a theatrical feature, much less direct one, here is the one movie that will give all self-doubters the motivation to go out and try it themselves.

Before we get into every reason why this movie is an utter disaster, never mind a mere disappointment, it's crucial to look at where the roots for the film lie. As a child, I watched re-runs of the semi-classic Irwin Allen TV show for years, and the recent Sci-Fi Channel Marathon renewed my interest in a series that had been long forgotten in my own mind. Just from seeing a pair of episodes this past week, I could easily see--as ridiculous as some of the plots were, and poor the writing often was--just what made the show so popular. The tongue-in-cheek tone, and the likeable characters, smoothed over every cardboard creature and camp guest star performance, and somehow made for an entertaining show that appealed to numerous children of the '60s and juveniles of subsequent generations to this day.

Of course, screenwriter Avika Goldsman--who already should have been banished to the Phantom Zone for his recent scripts for the last two "Batman" films--decided to flush everything that made the original series so successful down the nearest toilet, from its humor to human relationships, in one has to be one of the most insipid screenplays to reach the big-screen this decade. Characters speak to each other in the most unbelievable, unfunny, ridiculous gibberish, and often preach to one another in '90s "sensitive" psychobabble--particularly when it comes to director Stephen Hopkins's oh-so-dysfunctional portrait of the Robinson family. Naturally, this being 1998, dad (William Hurt) doesn't have time for his kids. Daughter Judy (Heather Graham) is a nerdy scientist like her father, younger Penny (Lacey Chabert) is an angst-ridden teen obsessed with her hair, and little Will (Jack Johnson) is a misunderstood genius who's having trouble at school. That leaves Mom (Mimi Rogers) to pick up the pieces of her unhappy domestic life and pack to the planets above to accompany her family on a mission that will save planet Earth, since our fossil feuls have been exhausted. I assume the political mantra of this century has to be "It Takes a Galaxy," right?

Anyhow, if that wasn't bad enough, this LOST IN SPACE truly gets even more lost when the Robinsons end up in an alternate galaxy--or something--after mad scientist Dr.Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman) sabotoges the mission. One completely unexciting episodic adventure after another follows, not the least of which involves ALIENS-styled computer-generated spiders (except they're not scary) and a time portal... or something... where the Robinsons meet a gloomy possible future (except it's not interesting or even logical). Oh, and there's also a cute chamelon-like critter with no significance to the story at all. And then Oldman's "evil twin" mutates into a spider-man before excreting a sac of eggs with baby arachnids that end up eating him. Exuse me, but this movie--as one of my good friends said--sucks.

Goldsman's script is so horrendous in every category that it makes you think everyone at New Line who was involved in green-lighting this project must have been under the influence of something while reading it. Nothing--read not one line--about the story works at all, leaving all of the actors to flounder, embarrasingly at times, with their dialogue. Oldman is totally wasted, Hurt shows why he turned down the lead in "Jurassic Park," Rogers has no chemistry with her leading man at all, while Matt LeBlanc from "Friends" gets to star in his second big-screen turkey in a row (remember "Ed," anyone?). The kids are hard to criticise (except for annoying little Lacey Chabert of TV's "Party of Five"), and indeed, Heather Graham is always easy on the eyes, but none of them help because the material is sub-TV movie level. When you hear Graham, a presumably educated female scientist, suggest that pilot Matt LeBlanc "go play with his joystick," or a wife tell her husband to "stop the pissing contest and leave the male testosterone on the floor," indeed you must wonder what idiot wrote this piece of garbage. A few cameos are turned in by old-cast members at the start (June Lockhart for one, in a gag so ineptly handled that it doesn't take long before you're tipped off that this will be one bumpy ride), but a more interesting script development would have been if this new cast--with its "serious" pretentious screenplay behind them--ended up meeting the crew of the old show--with its campy but far more entertaining style--in an alternate universe. Then you might have had a movie worth seeing, much less paying for.

Technically, this film truly does show what happens when effects are the bottom line in producing a film--when the story and everything about it takes second-stage to the digital wizards at some effects warehouse. Now, I'm a pretty easy viewer to entertain when it comes to genre films, as long as they're well-executed and show a glimpse of imagination (remember, I did like THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE RELIC). But in this movie, nothing works, and the movie's main problem is that it never establishes the Robinsons as human beings, except to throw in a line about "dad not being there" or "I love you, son." Words, however, are just words unless there's meaning truly beneath the surface. There is nothing beneath the surface of LOST IN SPACE except the sound of a cash register ringing up for everyone who was, presumably, well paid to participate in a zombie-fied "blockbuster" that's as bad as anything I saw last year. (PG-13, 130 mins. too long).

WILD THINGS (***): See Denise Richards without her clothes! Watch Neve Campbell join Richards and Matt Dillon in three-way sex! Enjoy Bill Murray's uproarious supporting performance! Guess the outcome of this thriller minutes before it happens! Those sentences could well have been used to sell this enjoyable, trashy thriller from director John McNaughton, since what the film lacks in plot innovation and sophistication it makes up for in offbeat touches (like Murray's appearance as a shady lawyer) and just plain basic T&A. Like a juvenile BODY HEAT (but more like a kinkier, more violent version of the Rob Lowe-Meg Tilly chesnut MASQUERADE), WILD THINGS benefits from atmospheric widescreen cinematography, effective use of its Floridian locales, and solid performances all around--and then, of course, there's Richards, who lets go of her good-girl STARSHIP TROOPERS heroine in more ways than one. Oh, did I mention that Kevin Bacon disrobes as well? I can only guess that it must have been hot on the set making this one, or at least something strange was in the air. (R)

DANGEROUS BEAUTY (***): It's been a while since we've seen an engaging, old-fashioned historical soap opera. Demi Moore tried it and was booed off the screen with THE SCARLET LETTER, and DANGEROUS BEAUTY is currently faring no better financially at the box-office. A shame, really, since this frothy concoction of Venician courtesans boasts sumptuous locales, gorgeous costumes and cinematography, a beautiful score by George Fenton, and the lovely Catherine McCormack (BRAVEHEART) in the lead. Yes, there are romantic liasions throughout this film, which co-stars dashing young lead Rufus Sewell (DARK CITY), Moira Kelly (a fave of mine ever since THE CUTTING EDGE), plus Jacqueline Bisset for a few minutes and Fred Ward (why?). Provided you don't take it too seriously (you aren't supposed to), this is good fun all around, a perfect candidate for the "Guilty Pleasure" Hall of Fame. (R)

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (***): Manic Coen Brothers follow-up to their FARGO triumph has a disjoined plot (to put it mildly), but plenty of their trademark offbeat laughs and a collection of decidedly ecletic performances, from the likes of Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Tuturro, and Sam Elliott. Like most Coen films, it runs hot and cold but the highs outweigh the lows--and if you aren't a fan, you'll probably be in for a long night. For everyone else who enjoys their off-the-wall antics (myself included), add a 1/2-star onto the rating and check it out. (R)

*COMING UP THIS MONTH

SPECIES II (R): Roger Donaldson's engagingly pulpy 1995 sci-fi thriller was a shamelessly entertaining tease, featuring alien Natasha Henstridge running around L.A. trying to mate, with a group of higher-billed actors in it for the money trying to catch her. Three years later comes this sequel; after several failed "acting" roles, Henstridge is back, along with surviving co-stars Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger, in a plot involving a NASA expedition to Mars that somehow drags back a variation on H.R. Giger's creature design (through the personage of one of the mission's astronauts). Plenty of sex and gore should follow, even though the sequel has bad word-of-mouth (as in a release date moved ahead 2 months to get away from GODZILLA) and ancient director Peter Medak behind the camera (anyone remember the old George C.Scott ghost story THE CHANGELING?). It remains to be seen if this movie deserves to be seen. ANDY'S 1-10 MUST-SEE INDEX RATING: 5

THE ODD COUPLE II (PG-13): As if we haven't had enough Grumpy old people movies, Lemmon & Matthau are back together (surprise!), but at least this is an official sequel written by Neil Simon himself. If there's nothing else out there, and you're a fan, this could produce some diverting laughs. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

MAJOR LEAGUE: BACK TO THE MINORS (PG-13): April is shaping up to be Sequel City, and here comes the third go-around for this amiable baseball franchise, which started back in 1989 with David S.Ward's superior, salty original installment, followed belatedly in 1994 by a mediocre sequel spotlighting Charlie Sheen (and a PG rating to appeal to young Mighty Ducks fans everywhere). Here we are again, though this time filmmaker Ward is nowhere to be found, and Corbin Bernsen is the only major hold-over from the original film (along with Bob Uecker, of course). Scott Bakula co-stars, Robert Folk scores (at least it's a step up from Michel Colombier), and if--for some reason--your only options are this and watching GREASE again, maybe it will surprise. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 4

TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY (PG-13): Jane March as Jane? OK, I can see that one. But STARSHIP TROOPERS' lockjawed pretty-boy, Casper von Dien, as Lord Greystoke? Yhea, right. This looks like a primarily German-made, live-action Tarzan flick which stresses action over everything else, so expect something more along the lines of Johnny Wisemuller escapades than Hugh Hudson's lavish but only so-so "thinking man's" GREYSTOKE costume epic. If that's the case, and we discount the Bo Derek '81 version, that would make this the first "genuine" Tarzan action-adventure since Ron Ely and Mike Henry donned the lion cloth back in the late '60s. Sure, I'll check it out. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

CITY OF ANGELS (PG-13): Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan in a poetic love story from CASPER director Brad Silberling. Tell me which one of those three things DOESN'T belong? Dennis Franz, in a break from his tough-guy persona, co-stars in this tale of an angel falling in love with a human. If it's the only date movie out there, some people will watch. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

MY GIANT (PG): Billy Crystal hasn't made a decent movie in years, so why would this lame-looking vehicle about a 7'7 giant coming to Hollywood be any different? And talk about other forms of desperation--Steven Seagal has a cameo. There was a time, many moons ago, when that might have meant a little something. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 2

ANDY'S SOAP BOX (A SPECIAL PLEA TO FSM READERS)

One of the many things I am interested in are TV versions of various movies that contain extra footage. Sure, we're talking about the SUPERMAN films, JAWS, STAR TREK II, etc., and I'm currently looking for some ancient network airings of THE DEEP, KING KONG, LOOKER, etc. that were broadcast ages ago with additional footage. If anyone has access to these tapes and would be willing to TRADE (this is not a monetary thing here) with me for some cool things I have, drop me an email, ok? (Sorry to use this forum as an opportunity to sound off on a personal tangent, but hey, give me a break just once!). I can be reached at dursina@worldnet.att.net. Thanks!

ERRATA AND NEXT TIME ON "THE AISLE SEAT"...

A few grammatical errors in my last column (U.S. MARSHALS with one "l," WILD THINGS was not "Dangerous Things") were pointed out by several readers before I had the opportunity to fix them, so my apologies to everyone out there. I'll try and do a Video Round-Up for you sometime in the near future, as you'll be seeing more columns as more interesting films (or just plain more movies) begin to arrive in theaters and the summer season draws near! Excelsior for now!

See additional Aisle Seat columns at Andy's section of our fine web site.


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