No matter how many effects director Mick Jackson pours on in Volcano (D), he can’t disguise the fact that there aren’t any characters to care about as disaster looms. These vapid characters include those played by Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche. The lava can’t come quickly enough.
Every groovy costume, character and quirk in director Jay Roach’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (C-) suggests the film will be a smashing fun-fest. But regardless of the kitschy freeze frames, the spiraling flowers and the lace-lined crushed velvet suits, the film often strikes an empty pose. Mike Myers plays the zany leading character in this 007 spoof. It’s a flighty romp that seems more suited for a Saturday Night Live segment than a feature film.
David Lynch’s Lost Highway (C-) is a film noir with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette that loses its way with some plotting hokum about characters that possibly move out of each other’s souls. It’s a jarring, disconnecting ride that starts with promise and goes off the rails.
For writer/director Kevin Smith, making movies seems a lot simpler than therapy. A pioneer of no/low budget films with his Clerks debut, he is creating a cottage industry out of working on his own hang-ups, insecurities and doubts on the big screen. It’s as if he says, “let’s have a dialogue” to his inner selves, and out pops a talky movie from his percolating psycho-mind. In Chasing Amy (A-), Smith further explores how one’s skewed outlook of the world alters one’s own relationships as a central character (Ben Affleck) determines if he can successful date and “convert” a woman who is a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams). Funny friendship dialogue between Affleck and Jason Lee is a highlight; Adams is somewhat successful in embodying her part (it could be better written). Peppered with whip-smart wit and irrational human obsessions, it’s a mature look at human connections from a filmmaker who sometimes refuses to grow up.
Betty Thomas’ film about and starring controversial radio personality Howard Stern, Private Parts (B-) turns out to be more genial than genital. Instead of showcasing the sex-obsessed shock jock, the film portrays Stern as a doting husband. It’s sometimes sweet but not necessarily what fans may have expected. Still there’s plenty of funny stuff and gross gags here too.
Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones (B-) tells a love story set in Chicago’s sexy art district as Larenz Tate and Nia Long discover the pacing, rhythm and rhyme of romance to the beat of a modern beat poetry community. This slice of life pulses with power and opportunity; and even when it doesn’t land just right, it’s great to see a story told in this milieu with talented actors strutting their stuff.
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.