BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. In this comedy of concessions, John Cusack plays an aspiring 1920s playwright who must continually compromise his latest work in order to see it produced. Woody Allen's screenplay and direction are smoother than usual, and he's managed to fill the movie with fun performances from several actors who don't normally get the chance to shine--Dianne Weist, Jennifer Tilly and Michael De Luca, to name a few. The laughs are plentiful, and when all is said and done Allen actually manages to throw in some meaningful commentary too. All things considered, he's in great form.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. This Tom Clancy adaptation is the most ambitious yet, shuffling dozens of characters and sub-plots within a complicated story about an Executive-Branch-ordered mini-war against a Columbian drug lord. Philip Noyce's direction is crisp and swift, but for what? For a two-and-a-half hour sermon on the ethical use of covert military operations? Who needs that? Clancy and the screenwriters blow the opportunity to provide a larger understanding of the whole drug-war issue, and what they have left is little more than a pleaser for Clancy's fans. Harrison Ford gives one of his least interesting action-movie performances as uncorruptible CIA agent Jack Ryan.
FORREST GUMP. Tom Hanks jogs into Being There territory with this absorbing, innocent-eyed tour through recent American history. Hanks is endearing as the title character, a simpleton with a heart of gold whose integrity allows him to succeed through decades of adversity. The movie's affirmation of American underdog ideals is probably the key to its popularity, but it's more enjoyable as a cultural sight-and-sound show than as anything meaningful. Director Robert Zemeckis' fantastic integration of state-of-the-art special effects lends itself well to the movie's aura of magical realism, but upon post-movie reflection you may discover that you've succumbed to a cinematically-enhanced placebo effect.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Anne Rice's tale of depressed, codependent vampires who stay depressed and codependent for hundreds of years doesn't exactly get the blood movin'. Directed by The Crying Game's Neil Jordan, with lots of lush sets, cinematography and special effects, the film is a feast for the eyes but malnutrition for the cranium. Brad Pitt does a respectable job with his dark-spirited role, and Tom Cruise--who, not surprisingly, plays a cocky vampire--avoids being too annoying. But without a plot, what have you got? Vampire therapy for the terminally pretentious.
Junior. Arnold Schwarzenegger reteams with Danny DeVito for yet another high-concept comedy involving genetics. The film's one joke--Arnold going through pregnancy--goes a long way thanks to director Ivan Reitman's careful story construction and Emma Thompson's credibility-giving performance as a clumsy cryogenist. Arnold's not too bad, either; he always does much better with comedic tone in films where he is not required to act funny and kill people in the same breath. The movie has "plastic Hollywood product" stamped all over it, but at least it's baby-safe plastic.
THE LAST SEDUCTION. Linda Fiorentino isn't just a femme fatale in this modern noir piece by Red Rock West director John Dahl. She's a superbitch. The story, by local screenwriter Steve Barancik, takes Fiorentino from a bad relationship in New York City to a manipulative one in a small town, where she toys with nice-guy Peter Berg until you're ready to shake him and say, "Wake up!" Dahl's direction is swift and sure, and Fiorentino proves herself every bit Sharon Stone's superior. The movie's only liability is its one-note premise; you want these well-drawn characters to go somewhere other than the usual noir path, and they don't.
THE LION KING. Dig underneath this colorful, well-animated Disney spectacle and you'll find some disturbing messages. The lions' dominance over the other animals supports class hierarchies and nepotism, and the banishment of the ethnic-voiced hyenas to the elephant graveyards supports racial segregation. The movie's "circle of life" message is undermined by a hypocritical rationalization of meat-eating, and the male lion's need to return home to set things straight suggests that the female lions are either too weak or too stupid to do it themselves. Inherent moral messages aside, this is still a weak entry for Disney, with unmemorable music and a predictable storyline. Kids love them cute kitties, though.
THE MASK. In this childish special effects movie, the comedic contortions of Jim Carrey and photorealistic animation of Industrial Light & Magic blend as seamlessly as the crotch in a pair of bike shorts. The story, about a meek bank clerk who gets to live out his fantasies when he discovers a magical mask, is nothing eye-popping; predictably, Carrey seeks out revenge, wealth and sexual omnipotence, and the film scuttles us through the usual complications involving police and mobsters. But who cares about story when Carrey's green, grinning mug is filling the screen? The Mask has just enough cartoonish goings-on to make up for its normal-movie drawbacks. Taken at face value--and there's a lot of face value--it's great fun.
MILK MONEY. The title, a double entendre, refers to the scenario at the beginning of the film, when three pre-pubescent suburban boys save up their milk money in order to pay a prostitute to expose her breasts. The inanity continues when one of the boys decides the prostitute would make a good wife for his widowed father, and begins scheming to set them up. Director Richard Benjamin, Ed Harris (as the dad) and Melanie Griffith (as the ho) work hard to cover up the bad taste of the story with a quality production, but that only makes the movie doubly absurd, like a cheap whore in an extravagantly expensive dress.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. John Hughes, who wrote and produced this remake of the well-known Christmas movie, puts all the elements neatly in place--the twinkly eyed Santa, the excruciatingly cute child, the grumpy adults who need to be converted--and sends them laboriously through the motions. There's no originality or subversiveness here, and Les Mayfield's stiff, plodding direction doesn't help either. Although Richard Attenborough makes a believable Saint Nick, the ridiculous courtroom-drama climax turns him into a walking "symbol of faith," which drains all the joy out of the concept of Santa. Attenborough never gets to say "ho ho ho," and neither will you.
Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino's second outing as director/screenwriter shifts from the tight plotting and characterization of Reservoir Dogs to a sprawling, meandering format that (barely) weaves three urban crime stories together. Tarantino, a talented writer, goes on several banal dialogue binges and then adds his customary unsettling explosions of violence. On a few occasions, the mixture is gritty fun; on more than a few others, it becomes tedious. Interesting performances by John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Maria de Medeiros.
THE RIVER WILD. If Disney re-made Deliverance, this is what they might have come up with: a likable but rarely exciting thriller about a family taken hostage by fugitives during a river-rafting expedition. Meryl Streep makes her action-movie debut playing a tough mama and with the exception of a few embarrassing over-the-top moments, she's a fine choice. So are David Strathairn, as Streep's aloof workaholic husband, and Kevin Bacon, as a gun-weilding bad guy with a shit-eating grin. Too bad such high-grade actors are wasted on a typical fight-the-villains-to-save-the-family-unit story. It's a good-looking River, but rather shallow.
Stargate. In this good-natured science-fiction adventure, James Spader plays a nerdy linguist enlisted to decipher Egyptian runes that will unlock the secrets to an extra-dimensional space portal. The device leads Spader and a military crew headed by Kurt Russell to a planet far, far away, where they find pyramids, multiple moons and an all-too-friendly primitive culture. They also find dog-headed bad guys with lasers, and an evil alien played by the androgynous Jaye Davidson (who couldn't have asked for a cooler role following The Crying Game). As sci-fi yarns go, this is kid stuff--laughable but likable, best seen on a Saturday afternoon.
STAR TREK: GENERATIONS. It's a mixed blessing having the cast of the Next Generation TV show take over the helm of the enterprising Star Trek movie series. Surely it was time for the first cast to move on, but the new crew brings with them the baggage of recent TV familiarity (instead of the camp nostalgia of the originals). None of the characters are as charismatic as their predecessors, and they don't really spruce up their acts for the big screen; you feel like you've paid $7 to see something you could have watched on TV. William Shatner's brief appearance livens up the proceedings, but the slopped-together script, a strained excuse to create a sci-fi metaphor arguing against drugs and escapism, doesn't make his presence pay off. No doubt fans won't mind--for some, just hearing Captain Picard say "Make it so!" in THX sound or seeing Data have emotions is probably worth admission--but the rest of the moviegoing population would be better off staying here on Earth.
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