DISCLOSURE. Audience harassment. Michael Crichton's screenplay is a teasing office drama that pretends to have something worthwhile to say about sexual harassment. But Crichton's goal, and that of slick director Barry Levinson, is simply to titillate us, first with a hot "No means no" sex scene and then, in the movie's second half, with a paranoid corporate conspiracy. Michael Douglas once again stars, unconvincingly, as a victimized everyman while Demi Moore leaps brazenly into a role obviously designed to make audiences shout "Get the bitch!" even louder than they did in Fatal Attraction. As if that weren't bad enough, the movie's climax is set in virtual reality, where an angelic Kurt Cobain look-alike helps Douglas find his way through the film's plot holes. At least nobody can say Michael Crichton's movies aren't interesting.
DROP ZONE. If you expect this skydiving action movie to be the hard-driving alternative to the campy Terminal Velocity, you're in for a disappointment. Wesley Snipes and Gary Busey (as the villain) are still trapped in some sort of Flop Zone that seems based on a quest to recreate the cat-and-mouse tension of Die Hard without the benefit of well-constructed action sequences. Though packed with great stuntwork and stunning images of glow-in-the-dark skydivers leaping out of planes at night, director John Badham isn't up to the nitty-gritty task of building suspense, and his attempts to add humor only accentuate this failing.
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.
THE JUNGLE BOOK. Disney delivers the goods for this live-action take on the Rudyard Kipling book, which means that the Tarzan-ish tale is filled with lovely animals, impressive sets, a heroic heroine and loathsome villains. Kids may get a charge out of the story, especially with the likable, alert Jason Scott Lee in the good-hearted wildman role. But adults wary of predictability may leave the theaters with the same bland reaction provoked by the recent remake of The Three Musketeers. Disney has a way of making movies that are at once perfect and devoid of any cinematic personality.
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.
Little Women. Louisa May Alcott's story of sisterhood, liberation and love gets a competent, reverent Hollywood treatment from Australian director Gillian Armstrong, but the casting is all wrong. Since when is Winona Ryder capable of carrying a movie? Starring as the multidimensional Jo March, Ryder robs the movie of its professionalism and renders trivial skilled performances by the other Little Women in the cast: Trini Alvarado (playing the sweet, marriage-bound sister), Claire Danes (who makes sickliness look like a virtue), Kirsten Dunst (as the fiery young'un) and Susan Sarandon (as the ever-consoling mom). Ryder has been OK in other films, but in pictures like this you can tell she's trying to act. You shouldn't be able to tell.
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.
Nell. Jodie Foster transforms into Foster Gump for this ridiculous tale of a backwoods "wild child" who must face the inevitability of dealing with civilization. The movie is a showcase of Everything You Ever Wanted to See Foster Do But Couldn't Imagine She'd Ever Lower Herself To Do: run giggling through the forest, screech in spasmodic fear, cuddle up and coo next to Liam Neeson, dance jubilantly in circles with her shirt pulled up, and look in the mirror while voguing and talking like E.T. Luckily, when Foster isn't stretching credulity, she and costar Neeson actually manage to draw a few moving moments out of the self-important script.
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.
READY TO WEAR. Robert Altman revises the cross-stitched plotting technique he used in Short Cuts for this satire on the international fashion industry. Authentic Parisian settings, interviews with real designers and the commemorative inclusion of Italian actors Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee and Sophia Loren can't save the movie from its aimless one-joke premise. If ever there was a case of one naked Emperor pointing out the nakedness of another, this is it. Julia Roberts fans will want to note, however, that Altman extracts what is easily Roberts' finest performance in a sub-plot that pits her against Tim Robbins for a spark-filled weekend romance in a hotel room.
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.
The Santa Clause. At first, this Tim Allen holiday star vehicle appears to be going nowhere fast, with Allen making sarcastic anti-Christmas wisecracks to a son too cutesy to make a good comic foil. But after Allen causes the death of Santa (yes, this actually happens) and is forced to become him, the movie picks up some charm. Allen doesn't relate well to the movie camera when he's playing a character similar to himself, but covered in furry white facial hair and cloaked in a roly-poly Santa belly, he manages to elevate the movie's shrewd patchwork plot to something fun enough to sit through.
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.
VANYA ON 42ND STREET. Actor-playwright Wallace Shawn and experimental theatre director Andre Gregory made a modest but indelible mark on the film world over a decade ago when they created the fine My Dinner With Andre, a picture based entirely on a conversation. The movie lived in your mind, and Vanya on 42nd Street, which consists of a handful of actors running through the Chekov play Uncle Vanya while dressed in only street clothes, is no different. Based on a long-standing Gregory tradition that has been bringing the same actors together year after year to perform the play, the film's focus is solely on the text and on the actors' ability to make it live. Shawn, a truly unique actor, plays the title role, and his excellent accompaniment includes Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, Larry Pine and George Gaynes.
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