The Aisle Seat in the New Year
By Andy Dursin
1998 roared in like a lion for the big guns in Hollywood, thanks to
the sterling performances of TITANIC and TOMORROW NEVER DIES, with James
Cameron's much-discussed epic finally proving itself as a titanic box-office
draw, playing to sell-out crowds across North America since opening day.
The other surprise financially was MOUSE HUNT, the Dreamworks comedy, which
opened to little fanfare but has since gained momentum during kids' holiday
vacation days. SCREAM 2 and AS GOOD AS IT GETS also faired well, though
Warner Bros. saw its last-ditch attempt at releasing a solid 1997 fiscal
performer go by the wayside with the dismal performance of THE POSTMAN,
Kevin Costner's THE OMEGA MAN meets WATERWORLD by way of DANCES WITH WOLVES
clone. (Check out the review below.) Other big box-office bombs--MR.MAGOO,
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (though it did better than THE POSTMAN, if
that's any consolation), and HOME ALONE 3. The jury's still out on JACKIE
BROWN, even though it's clear the Tarantino phenomenon seems to be over
in the U.S. (as it has been for quite some time, ever since FOUR ROOMS
and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN polluted theaters everywhere).
Since every January offers a casual release schedule dominated by movies
shelved from the preceding year, it's no surprise that January of 1998
will do the same. Look for the premiere of several movies that were gathering
dust on studio shelves for the better part of '97, including HARD RAIN
with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater, which at one point was called
THE FLOOD and due out virtually an entire year ago. Other delayed efforts
include the sci-fi actioner DEEP RISING with Treat Williams (the "mutated
creature lives on a sunken cruise ship" flick), and the Denzel Washington
serial killer entry FALLEN. Both of those films may have undergone additional
shooting in the past few months to either augment special effects or fix
low-scoring plot developments (FALLEN in particular was said to have one
of the bleakest endings since SEVEN, if that's any surprise, so perhaps
that has been remedied a bit).
Your best bet is to check out films which debuted in limited release
during the month of December, and only now are opening nationwide. WAG
THE DOG, the acclaimed Dustin Hoffman-Robert DeNiro political satire (directed
by Barry Levinson and co-scripted by David Mamet), goes into nationwide
release this Friday, while GOOD WILL HUNTING also opens on additional screens.
Check out either of those, or catch one of this past month's superior efforts
(TITANIC, AMISTAD), if you haven't already--and as always, beware of any
NEW movie opening in January!
THE POSTMAN (*1/2):I admit it. I've already done my penace for the new
year, and that was to sit through another bloated three-hour Kevin Costner
epic. Oh brother, there hasn't been this much vanity on-screen since "Bruno"
Willis mugged his way through HUDSON HAWK several years ago.
One of those films where your "suspension of disbelief" is
raised every, oh, two minutes or so, THE POSTMAN stars Costner as--hey,
what a shock--a drifter in a post apocalyptic world who brings together
all the rag-tag "good people" of this shattered land by pretending
to be a postal delivery worker for the Restored United States of America.
Along the way, Costner meets up with vindictive Will Patton (who wants
to train him for use in his army), former Mod Squad gal Peggy Lipton (who
still finds the means to dye her hair in the wasteland), and gorgeous newcomer
Olivia Williams, whose lovely smile and shapely bod provide the lone excitement
in this deadly dull mess. Alas, she fails to generate any chemistry with
Kevin, who turns in an at-times embarrasing, inconsistent performance ranking
with some of his poorest work to date.
There isn't especially wrong with the plot of THE POSTMAN, aside from
its poorly established "what happened to civilization?" introduction
and continuously baffling plot holes (Namely, who has electricity? Why
do people living in pleasant Oregon locations and waterfront homes have
to wear Sherwood Forest-style clothing? Why do the villains have all the
ammunition, and how does Costner come across the guns? Where is the new
"mail" generating from, and how far does the Postman's scheme
stretch? And, best of all, why does Costner take a ride on a cable-car
lift during the waterfall sequence on a rope that stretches beyond any
marginal credibility this movie ever establishes?). Despite those relatively
small complaints, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the plot itself
that was so bad, it's the execution that was lacking. Costner's direction
is so lethargic, so lifeless, that one particular sequence that should
have been emotional and poignant--Costner and Williams spending a winter
trapped in a mountain cabin--instead came across as something akin to a
poor Junior High School presentation of "O Pioneers!" (Sample
dialogue exchange from Costner to Williams: "Hey, you're weird!")
Visually the movie is quite solid, but dramatically the movie has no emotional
pull whatsoever, with nearly every scene feeling like it could have been
relegated to the cutting room floor. On plus side, there are some big unintentional
laughs generated here (most significantly the demise of a bad guy hunting
Costner during the opening half-hour), though most of the picture is simply
a confused, idiotic debachle in every department.
Indeed, so little happens in the three hours of this action-less "spectacle"
that a handful of couples at the show I attended walked out at various
points during the film's final third, never to return. Who could blame
them, since Costner spends forever lingering on self-indulgent vanity shots
of himself standing tall, talking about the American dream, all to the
equally phony strains of James Newton Howard's score. If you do go to the
film, however, I urge you to stay through to the end--the concluding sequence,
featuring an unbilled Mary Stuart Masterson gushing about her old man,
is so unbearably bad that all I could think of was how much it resembled
a schmaltzy Campbell's Soup commercial, topped off by a closing shot as
laughable as any recent moment in "so bad it's good" cinematic
history. (R, 179 mins).
Send your comments: Andy Dursin