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
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.
*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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.