September 9-15, 2004
New Movie Shorts
Bright Young Things
Everything is a bore for the characters in Stephen Fry's ensemble comedy, based on Evelyn Waugh's satiric novel Vile Bodies. Whether they're gambling away their money on horses or snorting coke off of an aristocrat's antique table, the bright young things of 1930s London live in a La-la Land of blase privilege. At first, Fry's film seems as flighty and meandering as his coked-out subjects. But just as the droll fun begins to truly grow tedious it's particularly painful to watch Dan Ackroyd and Stockard Channing's talents wasted on minor, poorly written characters the socialites are confronted with reality, and Fry deftly flips the script from silly to poignant. Elisa Ludwig (Ritz Five; Ritz 16)
Bereft of logic, suspense or reason for being, this latest based-on-a-Larry-Cohen-story movie (not so very unlike the Cohen-scripted Phone Booth) begins as Jason Statham smashes through Kim Basinger's glass back door. He and his nasty crew haul her back to a hideaway, where she taps the wires of a smashed telephone (being an L.A. high school science teacher, she possesses such useful knowledge) and randomly calls hapless Chris Evans. Energized when he hears Statham make her scream in terror (the voyeuristic angles here are grim), Evans swings into a series of increasingly incoherent and unbelievable action scenes. After one failed effort to involve the police (his cell phone conveniently cuts out as he climbs a couple of stairways), he near-misses the chances to save her child and her husband from the bad guys, steals a security vehicle and a Porsche, and gets himself on the local news for his "crime spree." Meanwhile, desk sergeant William H. Macy has inklings that something's screwy here. Evans works hard at his action-careening and earnest fretting, Macy frowns with his usual grace, and Basinger is simply awful, uninspired and unconvincing throughout. --Cindy Fuchs (AMC Orleans; Bridge; UA Grant; UA Riverview)
Even if you haven't seen Nine Queens, its Argentinean forbear, you've seen Criminal before. Queens itself seemed like warmed-over, cross-culturalized David Mamet, so it's only fair that first-time writer-directors return the favor by being so derivative it makes Nine Queens seem fresh. The plot is of the everybody-uses-everybody sort, with the betrayals stacked like poker chips and the plot doing a loose-hipped hula. Though Mamet shredded the genre with The Spanish Prisoner, Criminal proceeds as if we believe a word the characters are saying, but it's impossible to be surprised when you know every word might be a lie. Diego Luna and John C. Reilly, who might has well have skipped the shoot and sent outtakes from Hard Eight, play a pair of con artists who connect by chance and plot the score of a lifetime, which has to be carried out with no time, little planning and lots of cash up front. The only reason you can't see the final twist coming is because it defies all logic either a new high in screenwriting, or a new low. --Sam Adams (Ritz Five; Ritz 16)
THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT
If it's Friday, this must be another anti-Republican documentary. The story of how Bill Clinton's marital infidelity became the subject of a $30-million-plus federal investigation whose alleged subject, let's not forget, was a midsized land deal needs no embellishment, but apparently no one told directors Nickolas Parry and Harry Thomason that. Adapting the book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, Thomason and Parry employ a raft of lowbrow techniques cheesy synthesizer music, tabloid-TV white-outs, shamelessly corny stock footage to demean Clinton's accusers, apparently because it's easier than understanding what might have driven them. (Thomason has obviously made too many convention movies; slurring Clinton's Arkansas enemies with stock footage of porch-dancing hicks won't go down too well outside the circle of the faithful.) The movie's strongest section by far, as even the push-button duo seems aware, is the lengthy interview with Susan McDougal, who served an 18-month jail term for refusing to testify against Clinton. Undeniably sympathetic, if barely cross-examined, McDougal fills in the gaps left by her late husband and the Clintons, neither of whom are interviewed. For all its faults, Hunting is a compelling portrait of a Republican Party grown increasingly bold in its quest for power, drawing a line from the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 through the Clinton impeachment, 2000 presidential election and recent cases of blatant gerrymandering in Texas. As such, it's contiguous with, if not exactly complementary to, Bush's Brain, the portrait of Karl Rove that opens next week. Collect 'em all. --S.A. (Ritz at the Bourse; Ritz 16)
RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE
(Not reviewed.) A haiku:
Hmm. Dawn of the Dead.
28 Days and now this?
Zombies, please stay dead!
(AMC Orleans; Bridge; Bryn Mawr; UA 69th St.; UA Cheltenham; UA Grant; UA Main St.; UA Riverview)