Despite the big guns, street talk and Mafia themes, Mike Newell’s crime drama Donnie Brasco (B) is essentially a love story at heart. Al Pacino plays a mobster and Johnny Depp an FBI agent who infiltrates the 1970’s Mafia, but the betrayal to the friendship that ensues has echoes of infidelity. It’s great to watch Pacino and Depp act together and the latter act without eccentric makeup. It’s an original relationship movie amidst lots of great action.
Director John Singleton comes of age with the historical Rosewood (B+) which addresses the way hate breeds throughout generations. Ving Rhames and Jon Voight give affecting performances.
In the battle of ‘90’s volcano movies, Roger Donaldson, a craftsmanlike director who doesn’t veer too much from centrist entertainment, has made the best of the batch: Dante’s Peak (B). Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton provide enough human interest that when the blast of excitement happens, you still have some skin in the game about who survives.
Wes Craven’s Scream 2 (B-) tries to one-up its tongue-in-cheek predecessor by satirizing sequels, often with great success. But the film-within-a-film and the story-within-a-story conceits may sometimes make this a little too meta for its own good. Still it is twisty, thrilling and united the original cast with enough surprises that it stands on its own with more of the brand of fun fans of the franchise will come to expect.
Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi outer space creature feature send-up Starship Troopers (B) is both an exciting tale of fresh-faced young people fighting galactic aliens and a parody of such films. It works best if you simply succumb to the silliness. There are no acting standouts in this one, just wall-to-wall action. It’s well-filmed pulp and exactly what a B-movie should be.
This is the way the universe ends. It’s a far-fetched frontier where the tenets of good filmmaking hyperwarp into an otherworld of haywire folly. Transcending earth, wind, fire, ice and more, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (F) exists in a sphere of stupidity reserved only for the rarest of films. Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman are poorly used, and Chris Tucker is so thoroughly grating that I wish in space no one could hear him act. Not just a bad sci-fi flick, it’s also a bad absurdist comedy. In general, for a bad time, take the Fifth.
Caroline Thompson’s family drama Buddy (C-) chronicles the tale of an ecentric woman (Rene Russo) and her live-in animal companions. There may be a gorilla in her midst, but the story has a few missing links, to say the least. The telling of this true tale seems more like a chore than an opportunity for entertainment. Elaborate animatronics from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop can’t seem to animate the belle of the ball of the wild at the film’s hollow center.
In a season when Meg Ryan went grunge, Madonna struck a family-friendly pose and everyone on Friends tried to branch into movie stardom, it’s a bit refreshing to watch Seinfeld star Michael Richards playing to his strengths as a man who has to pose as an attorney to defend a buddy. Jonathan Lynn’s Trial & Error (B-) provides a vehicle for TV’s “Kramer” to showcase screwball courtroom comedy opposite Jeff Daniels and Charlize Theron. Lynn directed My Cousin Vinny, so it’s standard fare in that vein.