Aisle Seat Pre-Summer Movie Mania
A Round-Up of Late Spring Movies, the usual DVD capsules, and other
By Andy Dursin
Every year the unofficial "Summer Movie Season" seems to start earlier
and earlier. It used to be the Wednesday of Memorial Day weekend when we'd
be greeted with the first big blockbuster of the summer film season. Now,
it's the first weekend of May -- which is all fine and good, but does anyone
think Hollywood has enough GOOD movies to sustain itself through to Labor
THE MUMMY RETURNS launches the summer's slate of new films this
Friday. It promises to offer more of the same thrills that audiences loved
a couple of years ago, with the addition of wrestler "The Rock" (don't
you think he could have used his real name on the credits, at least?),
more special effects, an increased role for sexy Mummy-lady Patricia Velasquez,
and Alan Silvestri handling the scoring chores. I'm not expecting much
here, but if it offers as much entertainment as the original, I'll be satisfied.
We'll preview the rest of the summer season in the next few weeks. However,
I will say that this summer's slate seems infinitely more intriguing than
the one we were faced with a year ago. On paper, there seems to be some
PEARL HARBOR (May 25) might be tremendous if director Michael
Bay can hold a shot longer than five seconds without making a cut. PLANET
OF THE APES (July 27) promises to be a must-view, with Tim Burton and
Danny Elfman offering their take on a series we all know and (some) love.
A.I. (June 29), Steven Spielberg's highly-shrouded-in-secrecy sci-fi
adventure, may just be the most amazing of the lot. JURASSIC PARK III
(July 18) could be terrific if director Joe Johnston focuses on action
and special effects. If nothing else, at least it benefits from not being
saddled with the inane dialogue of David Koepp from its predecessors (though
it does have a script that was being written after filming began!).
Angelina Jolie might be completely nuts, but that doesn't mean I'm not
willing to pay to see her play shapely heroine Lara Croft in TOMB RAIDER.
Ivan Reitman's sci-fi spoof EVOLUTION looks like it might do for
"The X-Files" what "Ghostbusters" did for the horror genre. Even the thought
of another goofy John Travolta performance doesn't deter me from SWORD
FISH, which looks like it might be a step up from the typical summer
action-thriller. Heck, even comedy sequels AMERICAN PIE 2 (who knows?)
and SCARY MOVIE 2 (it couldn't be much worse) seem somewhat appealing
after a year ago.
Even a .250 batting average on these films would be more than satisfying
after 2000's slate of bombs. And that said, this spring wasn't a total
wash at the cinema, either. Here's a run-down on what's been entertaining
the masses over the last few weeks at the multiplex, along with some quick
DVD reviews of recent releases.
BRIDGET JONES' DIARY (***1/2): I haven't always warmed to the
glut of British romantic comedies that have been imported over since "Four
Weddings and a Funeral," but this fast-paced and funny adaptation of the
Helen Fielding best-seller won me over -- mainly due, surprisingly, to
Renee Zellweger's performance as a harried London working girl who finds
herself torn between obnoxious boss Hugh Grant and quiet lawyer Colin Firth.
The performances are on-target and the movie comfortably alternates between
riotous comedy and subdued romance, with a song soundtrack (punctuated
by Patrick Doyle's original score) that, for once, didn't annoy the heck
out of me. It's fluff, but given the kind of year we've had at the movies
to date, it's one of the few titles I can heartily recommend out there.
DRIVEN (**1/2): Sylvester Stallone and Renny Harlin's dip into
the world of Formula One racing has predictably not won over critics, but
for a no-brain spring slice of ridiculous escapist fare, DRIVEN works surprisingly
well. Several of Harlin's action set pieces are adeptly edited and the
entire movie is briskly paced, allowing you to enjoy the sometimes hilarious
dialogue of Sly's script without growing weary of it (particularly those
scenes involving Sly's ex, Gina Gershon), as well as the varied performances
by the cast. Sly is relaxed as the elder racer brought into train the hot
rookie (bland Kip Pardue of "Remember the Titans"), while Burt Reynolds,
in his latest "comeback," goes over-the-top as his former mentor. You also
get supermodel Estella Warren faring OK as the sexy young dish who finds
herself in the middle of a love triangle; former rising teen star Robert
Sean Leonard as Pardue's brother; and a bevy of mediocre special effects
(indeed, some uneasy CGI work nearly puts a fatal damper on an otherwise
effectively-edited wet racetrack sequence). Still, Harlin keeps it moving,
steering a formulaic script through to its super-happy ending in his typically
colorful style. (PG-13)
ALONG CAME A SPIDER (**1/2): Morgan Freeman reprises his Alex
Cross role from "Kiss the Girls" in a moderately enjoyable thriller that
was, according to numerous reports, heavily doctored in post- production.
(That may explain why the ending comes across as incredibly basic; according
to a friend of mine, the scenes without Freeman were entirely re-filmed,
with only his shots remaining from the original finale!) Up until the end,
director Lee Tamahouri spins an intriguing kidnapping tale with nutcase
Michael Wincott abducting the daughter of a U.S. senator (a wasted Michael
Moriarty). Jerry Goldsmith's by-the- numbers but effective score and the
widescreen lensing give the movie a glossy sheen, but the big problem is
bland co-star Monica Potter, whose distinct lack of charisma on-screen
and Julia Roberts imitation wear thin -- fast. Together with Freeman's
already-stoic character, there's no emotional pull to the movie, even though
it consistently keeps you watching. (R)
SPY KIDS (***): How can you not like a movie with Alan Cumming
playing a Willy Wonka for the multimedia generation, Teri Hatcher as a
bald villainess, a mix of music by the varied likes of Danny Elfman and
Los Lobos, and director Robert Rodriguez perfecting his always-flamboyant
visual style in a clean, PG-rated James Bond movie for kids? This charming,
goofy, off-the-wall adventure -- a major box- office hit in the U.S. --
is both familiar and fresh, thanks to colorful cinematography and a dash
of imagination on Rodriguez's part, two things commonly NOT found in most
children's pictures these days. Even the special effects work looks like
a glossy comic-book come to life, with the teen kids of two spies (Banderas,
Carla Gugino) improbably rescuing their folks from a mad genius off the
coast of South America. Kids will love the shenanigans, while adults, after
watching this production, will wonder why Rodriguez had been wasting his
time on lame Quentin Tarantino projects. (PG)
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (**): Following on the footsteps of the
convoluted (and boring) Sean Connery-Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle "The Russia
House," it wouldn't have taken much for this John Boorman adaptation of
John LeCarre's offbeat spy novel to improve on previous cinematic offerings
of the author's work. Unfortunately, Pierce Brosnan's abrasive "anti-Bond"
performance and Geoffrey Rush's at-times over-the-top characterization
of a would-be expert in espionage make it hard to care about what happens
in this overlong spy drama-edy, which manages a few smiles (along with
some heavy-handed jabs at both the American government and military) but
rambles on forever without really getting its act together. Jamie Lee Curtis
and Brendan Gleeson turn in solid supporting work, and the locations provide
ample atmosphere, but Boorman struggles to find a balance between the drama
and humor, and the script is almost as messy as the "Russia House" turkey
that languished in theaters over a decade ago. (R)
New Releases on DVD
MEN OF HONOR (***, Fox, $29.98): There's something to be said
for old-fashioned movie biographies. They may be simple, they may be melodramatic,
they may produce completely fictional characters and situations in order
to enhance the real-life dramas they intend to re-create, but often times,
they work. It's a formula, to be sure, but "Men of Honor" is additional
proof that, sometimes, the tried-and-true standard approach yields effective
Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays real-life African-American sailor Carl Brashear,
who ultimately became the first black U.S. navy diver. His story is filled
with underdog elements, disgusting examples of being discriminated against,
tragic circumstances (such as losing his leg in an accident at-sea during
the late '60s), and countless obstacles he needed to overcome à which is
why his life, despite being doctored cinematically with the addition of
a fictional training officer with a drinking problem (Robert DeNiro, in
a solid performance nevertheless), makes for a corny but highly entertaining
Director George Tillman, Jr. ("Soul Food") takes time developing the
characters, allowing Gooding and DeNiro the opportunity to create solid
roles that rank as some of the finest, recent work for both actors. Scott
Marshall Smith's script relies on many of the standard Hollywood bio-pic
trappings, including the unnecessary addition of a female element (i.e.
Charlize Theron's role as DeNiro's frustrated wife) and a climactic "show
down" with snide Naval bureaucrats that's completely melodramatic, but
most of the dialogue is genuine and the film is graced with solid support
on both the casting and technical side. Anthony B. Richmond's widescreen
lensing is excellent, Mark Isham's music swells appropriately with emotion,
and the supporting cast (including Hal Holbrook, David Keith, Michael Rapaport,
Powers Booth, and Aunjanue Ellis) is top-notch.
Fox's DVD looks great (2.35:1) and sounds even better, with a powerful
Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The DVD also offers ample supplements, including
a wealth of deleted scenes (with a ridiculous alternate ending that was
wisely excised), a terrific commentary track with the director and Gooding
among others, a fascinating featurette on the real-life Brashear, an additional
look into the production, the usual compliment of trailers, TV spots, and
even a Brian McKnight music video.
It's a first-class disc for a solid, decidedly "old school" and fully
BEDAZZLED (**1/2, Fox, $29.98): Harold Ramis' updating of the
Peter Cook-Dudley Moore late '60s comedy plugs Elizabeth Hurley in as Old
Scratch and Brendan Fraser as a goofy nerd who sells his soul for the right
to be with co-worker Frances O'Connor.
There's chemistry between the stars but the laughs are only scattershot
in the Larry Gelbart-Peter Tolan-Ramis script, which gets sidetracked by
Richard Edlund's effects and an uneven pace. Still, it's not bad for a
rental, or for Hurley or Fraser fans.
Shot in widescreen, Fox's DVD is a must for its letterboxed transfer
(2.35:1) and potent Dolby Digital soundtrack. Separate commentary tracks
are selectable from either director Ramis or Hurley and producer Trevor
Albert, while featurettes on the production, costume design, and a still
gallery are also on- hand. There's also a deleted scene for the movie's
over-the-top basketball sequence, which was seen in the trailers but deleted
from the finished film.
SHRIEK IF YOU KNOW WHAT I DID LAST SUMMER (**1/2, Trimark, $19.98):
Relegated to USA cable after "Scary Movie" proved to be last year's big
horror spoof, this low-budget satire is actually funnier, less raunchy,
and far more movie-parody savvy than the Wayans brothers' tiresome farce.
What this agreeably lightweight and sometimes hysterical comedy lacks
in star power (Tiffani- Amber Thiessen, Tom Arnold, and Coolio topline
the ensemble) it makes up for in sheer laughs, the best of which lampoon
the obvious targets ("Scream," "I Know What You Did*") and numerous pop
culture references (Mentos commercials in particular). Writers Sue Bailey
and Joe Nelms provide numerous spoofs and director John Blanchard keeps
the action moving -- enough so that it's surprising no studios opted to
pick up this little sleeper for the big screen.
Trimark's DVD offers a 1.85 transfer and standard 2.0 stereo soundtrack,
plus a trailer. Certainly worth catching if you're in the mood.
LITTLE NICKY (**, New Line, $19.98): Adam Sandler goes to hell,
and most of his comedy travels with him in this completely over-produced
comedy spectacle that gets its biggest laughs from having Henry "The Fonz"
Winkler attacked by a swarm of bees in Central Park. The rest of the "plot"
has Sandler, as the Son of Satan, venturing to Earth to stop his brothers
from taking over the planet.
Some of Sandler's past vehicles have worked just fine, but this completely
uneven outing makes "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" seem like AFI all-time
comedy classics by comparison. The pacing and story seem to have been assembled
in the editing room (as evidenced by the bounty of deleted scenes on New
Line's DVD), leaving viewers with only a very high patience for Sandler's
obnoxious accent to sit through the rest of this mess. If you must see
it (and I'm sorry you lost the bet), look for cameos by Rob Schneider,
Reese Witherspoon, and Quentin Tarantino, plus another unholy satanic-genre
performance from Patricia Arquette.
New Line's DVD looks good and sounds fine (1.85, 5.1) and offers commentary
tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes, and other special features for the
die-hard fan of the comedian.
LUCKY NUMBERS (*1/2, Paramount, $24.98): John Travolta had a
rough 2000, as proved by the gross of "Battlefield: Earth" and "Lucky Numbers,"
a title (which had been changed several times prior to release) that certainly
didn't reflect its box-office figures.
Nora Ephron's disappointment assembles a talented cast (Travolta, Tim
Roth, Ed O'Neill, Bill Pullman, plus Lisa Kudrow) and a promising premise
-- a TV weatherman and his lottery-worker girlfriend conspire to fix the
lottery -- but strikes out due to an erratic Adam Resnick script that yields
dismal results. The pacing is leaden for a farce and the dark tone of the
movie seems quite at odds with the comic potential of its plot.
Nevertheless, Paramount's DVD looks solid in its 1.85 transfer, offers
a capable 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, along with cast interviews and
a commentary track from the director.
THE CREW (**, Touchstone, $29.98): Filmmaker Michael Dinner had
a run of offbeat comedies in the '80s, including the underrated gem "Heaven
Help Us," a 1985 parochial school comedy with Donald Sutherland, John Heard,
and future teen stars Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson.
After a lengthy lay-off, Dinner returned to the screen with this hit-or-miss
spoof of "GoodFellas," with Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya
and Seymour Cassel as four retired gangsters who decide to make one last
big score while living in a south Florida retirement community. The movie
starts off well (with numerous, dead-on parodies of Scorsese's film), but
the joke wears thin after a while, and pretty much falls apart totally
in the final twenty minutes. Still, Dreyfuss is amiable and the cast generates
an enormous amount of goodwill that will sustain the 90-minute running
time for most fans of the actors.
Touchstone's DVD features a 1.85 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack,
some behind-the-scenes material, and a theatrical trailer.
INVENTING THE ABBOTTS (***, Fox, $24.98): As glossy teen soap
operas go, this overlooked 1997 Ron Howard production -- set in the '50s
and based on a novel by Sue Miller -- fits the bill for its heated melodrama
and attractive young cast.
Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup play brothers drawn to a trio of wealthy
sisters (Liv Tyler, Jennifer Connelly, and Joanna Going) in a small Midwestern
town. The typical "wrong side of the tracks" cliches, scandalous sexual
activity, and parental concerns you typically find in any movie of this
type abound here (not surprising with adults Will Patton and Kathy Baker
around), but director Pat O'Connor knows how to craft an involving drama,
and screenwriter Ken Hixon does a more effective job creating well-developed
characters than you might expect. Phoenix, Crudup, and Tyler also do a
nice job in their roles.
Fox's DVD boasts a crisp 1.85 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack (easily besting
the laser-rot prone LD release), featuring one of Michael Kamen's most
agreeable recent scores. A theatrical trailer and featurette round out
a nice package for a most entertaining guilty pleasure.
NEXT WEEK... THE MUMMY RETURNS! Plus, your comments,
which can be easily emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week and we'll catch you then!