BAD BOYS. Does the world really need another Lethal Weapon-type movie? Testosterone-brained producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer think it does. So they've harnessed their glands to make this amazingly mindless and uncreative prick flick starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Machine guns fire (but never hit the heroes), cars explode, bad guys come back to life at the last minute, nothing anyone does makes any sense, and everybody says "fuck" at least 47 times. And it's long. All in all, an excruciating piece of work.
BYE BYE LOVE. As three divorced fathers, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser and Randy Quaid stumble their way through this McMovie about custody exchanges and mid-life romantic grief. Quaid's pissed-off character is the only one with any appeal, but that doesn't amount to much, not even during the film's centerpiece: an uninventive blind-date scene with Janeane Garofalo. Serious themes are verbalized to the point of embarrassment, comic sequences are ridiculously constructed, and the movie vanquishes all dignity with its insistent return to McDonald's (which obviously funded the picture).
Circle Of Friends. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy back. Nothing new here, right? Absolutely. But for simple romantic pleasure, you can't beat this film's bright green Irish setting and the winning performance of Minnie Driver in the female lead. Driver's character may not have a Barbie Doll physique, but her intelligent, sensitive personality leaves no question why the best-looking guy on campus (Chris O'Donnell) falls for her. This is a cute, lightweight, and amiably sexual movie with a lot of heart to make up for its lack of originality.
DOLORES CLAIBORNE. In what you might call a female version of Stephen King's The Shawshank Redemption, Kathy Bates stars as a long-enduring widow who is suspected of having killed her husband many years ago. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays her edgy daughter who returns home when Bates is implicated in another death. The mystery that follows is less a mystery than the unearthing of a pain-filled domestic past. Directed in a pungent Gothic style by Taylor Hackford, the movie rises high above the exploitative nature of its material thanks to stunning imagery, emotionally stark sequences and Bates' solid performance.
LEGENDS OF THE FALL. It looks, sounds, and feels like an epic drama of the highest order, but as the credits roll you sit there and wonder: What does it add up to? And that's when you realize that this long-winded tale of brothers who survive Montana ranch life, World War I and prohibition-era corruption together doesn't have much in the way of a point. Most of the plot happens as a consequence of all three men (Henry Thomas, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn) falling in love with the same woman (Julia Ormond), who is apparently the only woman in all of Montana. Is the point, then, that men in remote locales should try to get out more? If so, Pitt takes this advice a little too seriously during the film's middle section, in which the stringy-haired wildman travels to Papua New Guinea to hunt and run around without a shirt on. Wait a minute--that's the point. Case solved.
LOSING ISAIAH. Don't be dissuaded by the fact that this tale of a custody battle between a black birth mother and a white adoptive mother looks like a typical TV-movie-of-the-week. It's not. A wise, elliptical script and extraordinarily skilled, heartfelt acting allow this picture to achieve what for so many is impossible: pure, fully effective dramatization of a topical issue. You're there, and you feel the wrenching pain of separation between parents and children. Halle Berry deserves deep respect for her portrayal of a reformed crack addict fighting her way through her guilt and loss, while Jessica Lange's performance as a loving, struggling mother is nothing short of heroic.
THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE. Nigel Hawthorne has received great praise for his performance as King George III, who was believed insane when a nervous-system disorder briefly wreaked havoc on his temper. Hawthorne deserves the accolades: he travels from regal to rabid and back with believability as well as comic flair. But the movie itself is far from a fascinating piece of drama, and holds little interest unless you're British or find yourself enraptured by historical trivia about British royalty.
MURIEL'S WEDDING. This Australian comedy, like Strictly Ballroom and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert before it, seems like its fashions came from another planet. The story of Muriel--an overweight ugly duckling who must overcome bitchy friends, a pompous father and her own misguided dreams of marriage in order to become a swan--would be perfunctory if it weren't for the style it was told in. How can you resist a film dominated by gaudy colors, ABBA songs, and an unnatural emphasis on Muriel's facial contortions while frowning and smiling.
OUTBREAK. Wolfgang Peterson, hot off of directing In the Line of Fire, that elaborate star vehicle featuring Clint Eastwood, directs this even more elaborate star vehicle featuring Dustin Hoffman. This time, the threat is that a fatal African virus, not John Malkovich's method acting, will grow out of control. Hoffman plays a feisty Center for Disease Control official whose determination to stop the virus from destroying a small town is further fueled by concern that his ex-wife, Rene Russo, might be the next victim. (A dead town is bad news, but the idea of Russo's beautiful face covered with zits is unthinkable.) The movie does build a strong level of suspense around its Andromeda Strain-esque story, but the ending, which has Hoffman zipping around the globe in a helicopter while searching for a cure, is straight out of cartoonville. Also out of cartoonville is Donald Sutherland, playing a military baddie who at one point can be seen displaying projections of how long it will take the virus to overrun America. Haven't we seen him do that before?
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. Sam Raimi, best known for the Evil Dead series, directs this surrealistically action-packed Western (based entirely on a gunfight contest) as if he'd taken the title to heart and slowing down would kill him. Every sequence spills over with visual punchlines, obnoxiously funny zoom-in shots and ferocious one-liners. It's almost too much movie for itself, and protagonist Sharon Stone can't anchor the picture the way it needs; her Clint Eastwood-style sullenness lacks substance. But the gallery of supporting actors, which includes Lance Henriksen, Leonard DiCaprio, Gene Hackman (doing a twisted take on his evil sheriff role from Unforgiven), fill the movie with so much wanton charisma that Stone's performance as the "straight man" actually starts working after a while. It's a weird picture where A-movie and B-movie qualities are blended at such a high velocity that you start to lose track of which is which.
RED. Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kielowski received a Best Director nomination for this crimson-hued meditation about how much our lives are determined by chance encounters and coincidence. It's easy to see what he was nominated for--his imagery, which includes everything from a visual explanation of the routes taken in a long-distance phone connection to a woman's face appearing to melt as a large cloth billboard is dismantled, is sumptuous and inspired. But the story, in which a lonely young woman (Irene Jacob) talks out the film's themes with a jaded ex-judge and full-time cordless-phone voyeur (Jean-Louis Trintgnant), lacks forward momentum. The movie has resonance, but it's the resonance of a first-rate visual experiment, not a full-bodied drama.
TANK GIRL. Lori Petty stars as the title character, an irreverent, punky, loner heroine who is every bit as tough as she is fashion-conscious. She's so defiant that when villain Malcolm McDowell tries to subdue her by putting her in a straitjacket and locking her up in a freezer, she asks, "How am I supposed to play with myself in here?" But with the exception of a scene involving Ice-T as a kangaroo man, Petty's innuendo-filled one-liners are about all the picture has going for it. Otherwise, most of director Rachel Talalay's attempts at cult comic-book whimsy are crushed by the overall sloppiness of the production. Movies are supposed to be carefully constructed, like architecture; this one feels like it was pushed together with a bulldozer.
TOMMY BOY. Just what we needed: another road-trip buddy movie in which the two main characters, finding themselves in the lane of on-coming traffic, turn to each other and scream. And yet, it would be unfair not to mention that for all the film's idiocy, Saturday Night Live underdogs Chris Farley and David Spade almost make this hackneyed odd-couple story seem fresh (especially Farley, with his good-natured overweight exuberance). The movie has oddly effective subtextual casting, too: cinematic outcasts Bo Derek and Rob Lowe play the baddies, and SNL veteran Dan Aykroyd lends support as a big-mouthed bigwig.
CULTURE JAM. Screenings associated with this week-long event promoting multicultural understanding include the following: Malcolm X; at 7 p.m. Friday, April 14, in Coronado Hall; and 7 p.m. screenings of Geronimo on April 13, and Schindler's List on April 14, both in the Apache-Santa Cruz basement. All screenings are free and open to the public. Call 621-0764 for information.
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