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.
Director John McTiernan serves up a straight-down-the-middle sentimental actioner and pleases no one in the summer flop Last Action Hero (C-) in which a young movie fan enters the screen, reverse Purple Rose of Cairo style, to pal around with Arnold Swarzenegger on some lame product placement laden adventures. A muddled tone, an uncertain target audience, flat action sequences, poor special effects and an absolute void of dramatic structure and human chemistry are but some of the hazards in the way between the movie and your entertainment. There are two pretty thrilling stunt sequences, but it’s hard to stay too thrilled when the cloying duo of protagonists is mugging and plugging.
In a world on the brink, movies often provide the ultimate escape. In Matinee (B-), director Joe Dante explores a weekend during the Cold War Crisis in which a movie mogul (John Goodman) debuts his latest exploitation flick and accompanying in-theater stunts in a way that plays out in real-life adventures with young lovers, paranoid citizens and fascinated fans. A bit of a riff on the War of the Worlds radio play controversy, Matinee spools with a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, relatively unsure of its own target audience (film buffs? nostalgia nuts?) It’s not quite universal enough to be a shared experience, not quite funny enough to draw in the comedy fans. Goodman is nonetheless fantastic as the impresario, hawking an Atomo-Vision gimmick with the sales bravado of Willy Wonka meets Willy Loman. And Dante, of Gremlins and Innerspace fame, is perfect for this material and brings out his usual cast of cameos and in-jokes.
Murphy Brown only scratched the surface. The cultural elite of the Hollywood left-wing has achieved its most fulfilling revenge through actor Tim Robbins’ auspicious directorial debut, Bob Roberts (B+), a scathing parody of ultra-conservatism. This is a gloriously partisan film of deep-rooted anger at the likes of Rush Limbaugh using a quasi-documentary format to chronicle a fictional Pennsylvania senatorial campaign’s meteoric ascension co-opting folk music and other traditionally progressive techniques for GOP ascension. Robbins is excellent in the showy (and musical) title role with strong support from Gore Vidal as the liberal candidate he is determined to unseat. This is much better work than the thematically similar Warren Beatty film Bulworth.
Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (B+) is a marvelous confection about four exterminators of ghastly spirits (droll Bill Murray, goofy Dan Akroyd, uber-serious Harold Ramis and straight man Ernie Hudson) who must save New York from a Pandora’s box of supernatural creatures run amok. Sigourney Weaver is a treat as a possessed love interest, playing giddily opposite Bill Murray’s clowning. Despite the overindulgence in silly special effects, the acting ensemble makes this piece work by playing it super-serious. The biggest laughs are in the reaction shots: Of course that’s a skyscraper sized marshmallow man! And why wouldn’t there be demonic animals running in the street? Leading man Murray is a superb match for this material with his dry wit a ribald rapier to the funky fleet week of ghosts on the loose. Reitman corrals his grinning brigade into hilarious territory as the ‘busters take on haunted New York!