Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Those saddened by the recent loss of Benny Hill will be pleased to learn the tradition of breast-based humor still lives on with Mel Brooks. And may keep living on and on, though eternal life would surely be hell if Mel Brooks were in charge of the entertainment. This standard story of an undead foreigner sucking the life force out of stacked young women features no less than a lousy joke-a-minute. And basically, they're all the same joke. Every now and then something mildly funny happens, but it's not worth all the cringing that goes on in between. Leslie Neilsen, after doing the same act for the last zillion movies, finally admits the truth: he's dead.
FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART II. A squeaky-clean peek at the stress of fatherhood, with Steve Martin doing double-duty as the expectant father and the expectant grandfather. Something about Steve Martin is just so damn likable; even watching him run through idiotic gags barely worthy of a sitcom is mildly pleasant. Still, his performance here is awfully safe. In fact, everything about this movie reeks of safety and suburbia, from the family's nice middle-class house to the nice middle-class plot. Father of the Bride Part II is a remake of the 1951 film Father's Little Dividend, and retains traces of a stereotyped, 1950s' kind of birth anxiety. Remember when fathers fainted in the waiting room? Haven't we grown up just a little bit since then?
Grumpier Old Men. Walter Matthau is the boy and Sophia Loren is the girl in this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl comedy that will disabuse you of the notion that age lends finesse and wisdom to love. Jack Lemmon and Ann Margret play Matthau's next door neighbors who weather a few romantic storms of their own. Between misunderstandings, the men go fishing and bungle the wedding plans of their respective progeny. Yes, they're grumpy; yes, they're old; yes, it's as corny as Kansas in August. There are a few funny moments, and Burgess Meredith is delightful as the Dirty Old Man, but the greatest part of the whole movie are the out-takes that run beneath the closing credits. If only the script were as funny as Matthau is when he's forgetting his lines.
Heat. Somewhere inside this three-hour, overblown cops-and-robbers epic there's a good movie hiding, but Michael Mann, the guy who brought us Miami Vice, just couldn't keep it simple. The action portions of the movie are tense, exciting and often beautifully shot in desolate industrial landscapes as Robert DeNiro, playing a thief, tries to outwit Al Pacino as the cop. The personal-relationships parts of the movie, on the other hand, are boring and trite. The characters slink around shiny LA hotspots talking like they've been reading a lot of airport fiction and chasing it down with self-help books. Pacino is annoyingly over-the-top as Lieutenant Hanna, though the lousy script doesn't really make naturalistic acting a possibility here. DeNiro is better as the thief McCauley, engineering nifty Mission Impossible-style heists and turning in a performance eerily reminiscent of the one he gave earlier this year in Casino.
Jumanji. Need a break from ambiguity and complexity? Is the meaninglessness of existence getting you down? Then shell out some cash and retreat to Jumanji, a special effects-jammed cross between an adventure movie and a haunted house thriller. Robin Williams stars as a man who's been trapped inside a magical board game for most of his life. When a couple of kids set him free, they're obliged by the rules to finish playing. It's a conservationist's dream: The game spews out endangered species like water from a garden hose. The special effects are cool, but the computer-generated animals aren't nearly as endearing as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Most of the animals don't interact with the human characters much--they just run around. And you know that talent Robin Williams has for being weirdly funny and manic? He doesn't use it here.
Sabrina. Everyone is filthy rich and everything is beautiful in this light, breezy remake of the 1954 Billy Wilder film. Through a combination of sets remarkably true to the original and an updated, expanded plot, the new Sabrina achieves that sparkly Hollywood feeling that's so thoroughly enjoyable and deliciously empty. Though those who remember Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart from 1954 may have some trouble accepting Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford this time around, they do surprising well negotiating their way through a plot that involves a young girl falling in love with a man old enough to be her father. The weirdness of this only heightens the guilty pleasures of a silken ride through pure Hollywood Fantasyland.
TOM & HUCK. Any living girl under fourteen can tell you Jonathan Taylor Thomas (JTT to his fans) is the hot boy in the universe, and he's just dreamy as Tom Sawyer in this lively interpretation of Twain's classic. He and Huck Finn (Brad Renfro) run around the 19th century with blown-dried hair, perfect teeth and immunization scars, eating pies off of windowsills and chasing treasure maps. There are no peaks to this movie but no valleys either: It's a nice, solid kid's adventure story. Best of all, Renfro and JTT are totally cute and non-threatening, though Renfro is a couple of inches taller and can't completely suppress all signs of puberty. The story stresses the meaning and importance of friendship between the boys, and sometimes, I swear to God, it looks like they're going to kiss. They don't though.
Waiting to Exhale. The story of four African-American women looking for Mr. Right and finding, for the most part, Mr. Already Married. This movie starts out with some gleeful, man-bashing humor, then tapers out into sentimental overkill. Though the story is ostensibly about women learning to feel complete by themselves, the movie is actually obsessed with men, man-hunting, looking pretty for men, and how great it is to have a man around, if you're a woman. Angela Bassett gets stuck playing a completely unsympathetic character, while Whitney Huston is saddled with the role of the boring good girl. Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon are quite good though, and this movie gets extra bonus points for portraying affluent, African-American women in Arizona.
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