As the main characters mounting a theatrical spectacular in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (A) toast to a world without compromise, deep inside they know they will have to sell out for a sellout performance. Allen’s showstopping exploration of art, deals and the art of the deal is a comedic bonbon with John Cusask in the lead, Dianne Wiest as a grand diva, Chazz Palminteri as a gangster producer and Jennifer Tilly as a sublimely untalented gangster moll and wannabe singer. The mounting verbal, sight and character gags that emerge as opening night for a doomed show coalesce seal the deal for the film’s appeal. And Allen has rarely made a film this striking in its visuals, with vivid pop colors, art deco posters, glitzy marquees and gorgeous iconography of the Great White Way providing a rich palette.
Director Michael Bay could have projected the coming attractions trailer over and over for the full running time of the full-length duration of Bad Boys (F) with the same result. The film is nothing more than a calculated marketing ploy pairing two popular TV stars – Will Smith (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and Martin Lawrence (Martin) – as buddy cops with car chases and product plugs. The dialogue ranges from “Hey baybee” to “go girl” and misses all chances to leverage the chemistry between two talented actors.
Director Nora Ephron helms her first certified bomb with Mixed Nuts (D) which registers something south of North, east of Ishtar and beyond Heaven’s Gate. This holiday clunker starring Steve Martin is a hodgepodge of throwaway jokes and witless situations involving fruitcakes, touch-tone phone options for the suicide hotline and a Yuletide cross-dresser. This loose adaptation of the French Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure may spark a ban on imports.
You know the sensation: the feeling you get after gulping a slush drink too fast. The rush to your frozen noggin is unbearable for one brief, piercing moment. Then it stops. It’s a revelation, relief or rejuvenation. Writer/director Clerks (A) is like that instant of peace when you regain your equilibrium and once again feel ready to take on the world. It’s a delightful slacker comedy about a day in the life of two friends who work in an adjoining video shop and convenience store. Through a farcical display of raunchy, raucous dialogue, the film captures the wacky world of life on minimum wage. The wisdom of these foul mouthed philosophers should give solace to anyone who has ever contained fury at a customer or secretly desired to break the rules. Smith employs a non-linear approach with quick camera jerks and slow promenades over the absurdist landscape to fashion a monochrome masterpiece. Despite the snark, there’s a certain sweetness to the central duo’s friendship and a perverse charm to their assortment of strange friends and customers. This is strictly for folks who don’t mind a little residual cheese puff dust on their hands.
Moviemaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. could have been the next Orson Welles. Both men hit their stride at an early age and possessed unswerving obsession for the films they created. There’s just one thing Ed Wood lacked: talent. Wood, infamous for dreck such as Plan 9 From Outer Space is biographically redeemed in director Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (B+). As portrayed by Johnny Depp, the title character plays out his passions and peccadilloes against a quaint black and white stock ensemble dramedy. Martin Landau is genius as legendary film star Bela Lugosi, who adds heft to the proceedings. The movie magic of rubber squids, aluminum foil robots and zombie body doubles creates a pleasant phantasmagoria that’s right at home in Burton’s oeuvre.
Mike Binder’s Blankman (F) is a superhero spoof that just sits there like a bad chunk of Kryptonite. Damon Wayans, whose transition to the big screen from In Living Color has not quite soared, plays an inner-city superhero, and that conceit is intended to be funny in and of itself. This film has the power to move viewers to not a single laugh in a single bound.
In Chuck Russell’s The Mask (B), comic actor Jim Carrey literally saves face from a few tepid film vehicles in a manic series of misadventures when a man puts on a mysterious green visage that has a life of its own. Cameron Diaz is great as the blond bombshell, and Max the puppy nearly steals the show in this mischievous good time. There’s actually a bit of subtext about man’s duality and very nice production design in this clever comedy.
Approaching new opportunities with eternal optimism, The American Character has triumphed over incredible odds through a pastiche of history; and as presented by director Robert Zemeckis in his latest film, he is indeed Forrest Gump (A-), a simple bystander to history played by Tom Hanks who becomes a symbol for the struggle and sentiment of the past several decades of U.S. life. Spliced Zelig-like into archival footage of history and in fictional interactions with Gary Sinese, Robin Wright, Sally Field and others, our protagonist is alternately moving and misunderstood. It’s an epic, and you just have to give in to the stuff that’s poured on sweet. Folks are bound to find something to relate to in this fable of how a dude no one thought might amount to much went on to be a part of such a rich fabric.
If Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence weren’t laughably bad on their own terms, Carl Reiner’s Fatal Instinct (F) attempts to spoof this mini-genre and finds itself going commando in the laughs department. The presence of Sean Young, one of my least favorite performers, helps further sink an enterprise that seems to have been conceived by a bunch of third-graders.
Though too complex at first, Ron Underwood’s Heart and Souls (B) generates a compelling story about completing unresolved lives. Robert Downney Jr. and Alfre Woodard are standouts in this feel-good comedy sleeper.
Steve Barron’s Coneheads (D+), based on Saturday Night Live characters, is forgettable junk food for the mind, with a handful of funny gags. Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain don’t especially look especially engaged in their opportunity to reprise their roles as these aliens on suburban safari. Ironically, the humor isn’t pointed enough to carry the story.
Writer/director Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (B+) is a hopelessly romantic look at how destiny shapes the loves of our lives. It’s quite an experiment to have your leads spend most of the film’s running time considering a fateful cross-country meet-up; and after lots of charming conversations, cajoling by friends and nostalgic soundtrack tunes, the “moment” is put into motion. Even with limited screen time together, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are irresistible in this charming mix of poignancy and laughs.