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.
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.
DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO. Quentin Tarantino fans, don't unite: this painfully unhip attempt at a hip Las Vegas farce doesn't use Tarantino, or any of its other cast members, to humorous effect. Working from what may be one of the worst screenplays ever given national distribution (written, interestingly enough, as part of a Sundance workshop), the filmmakers strive for a dusty tongue-in-cheek attitude reminiscent of Repo Man or Raising Arizona. But the movie takes itself so un-seriously that the lack of characters worth caring about renders the picture seriously boring. Tarantino's five-minute cameo in Sleep With Me contains more life, and laughs, than this entire movie.
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.
FRENCH KISS. Meg Ryan's shtick as a naive, pouty, perky romantic lead has officially worn out its welcome. In what amounts to When Pierre Met Sally, Ryan and co-star Kevin Kline undergo a long friendship/courtship while Ryan sneaks around France plotting to win back her fiance (Timothy Hutton), who has fallen for a Parisian barbie-doll type. Kline rises to the occasion as an impotent, heavily accented jewel thief, but for once, Ryan's wide-eyed mannerisms fail her. Wet-duck-fuzz hair aside, Ryan is beginning to look like the Doris Day of the '90s. The slapstick script, which includes scenes of our heroine vomiting due to lactose intolerance and toppling backwards over a dessert cart, doesn't help.
Heavenly Creatures. Peter Jackson, the writer-director responsible for the sweetest zombie movie ever made, Dead Alive, chose as his next film this campy docudrama. Set in 1954 New Zealand, the picture follows the fantasy-world descent of two adolescent girls who so lost touch with reality that they irrationally decided to kill one girl's mother. Jackson directs with playful gusto, but no coherent point of view to match; he seems perfectly happy to marvel at this pair of youthful psychotics and leave it at that. All in all, the movie could use a little more Jane Campion and a little less Terry Gilliam.
KISS OF DEATH. Loosely translated, the title might as well read "sex and violence," which is about all this David Caruso vehicle has to offer. It certainly doesn't have anything worthwhile going on in its story, a feeble blend of the usual cops-and-mobsters elements. And Caruso's performance, with his television-trained tics and eyebrow raising, is sadly limited. The whole enterprise looks and feels an awful lot like a TV program, and you'll probably walk out miffed you paid cash for what is essentially an episode of NYPD Blue with a more lenient censor. Nicolas Cage and Samuel Jackson also star, in roles so unimaginative that each is given a colorful physical ailment (asthma and a broken tear duct, respectively) to make them more interesting. It doesn't work.
PANTHER. Nobody can say that Mario Van Peebles lacks energy. His docudrama about the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party is aswirl with camera movement, Oliver Stone-esque editing, blustering rhetoric and non-stop gunplay. What Mario Van Peebles does lack is restraint, and that's a big problem. Not only does it become increasingly exhausting to try to keep up with who's who among the complicated network of key Panthers, but the facts are stretched to such extremes you leave the theater wondering if anything presented was true. The film ends by explaining that the FBI introduced cheap drugs into black neighborhoods in order to discourage black activism, and that's the reason drugs have so corroded our society.
Rob Roy. Pass the Scot tissue--here's yet another highland film bent on glorifying men with heavy accents, long hair and big morals. Liam Neeson plays the honorable title character with his usual hard-to-resist charm; and Tim Roth, as the jaded, fearsome and strangely effeminate villain, is the perfect antithesis to the hero. But the movie lingers over its themes with dull reverence, never mustering up enough cinematic oomph to add meat to its message. Something is amiss when a movie about primal purity adopts the pacing of a tea party.
Strawberry And Chocolate. In this unlikely tale of friendship, two men--one communist, one counterrevolutionary, one straight, one gay, one chocolate-chowing, one strawberry-slurping--work past hidden agendas and emerge with a rare love and appreciation for each other. With elements of both Kiss of the Spider Woman and Threesome, this is one of the best, most balanced gays-and-straights pictures around, thanks to beautiful, three-dimensional performances by Vladimir Cruz and Jorge Perugorria.
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.
Village of the Damned. Based on the British 1960 chiller of the same name, this John Carpenter picture follows what happens when several women in a quaint northern town mysteriously and simultaneously become pregnant. Their offspring: eight white-haired geniuses with telepathic powers and a collective mean streak. Though the material needed to be better updated to justify a remake (as it stands, it looks like a cheesy episode of X-Files), Carpenter directs with his usual immense skill, and the campy selection of players--Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill--give surprisingly engaging performances.
While You Were Sleeping. This romantic comedy provides Sandra Bullock, last seen as the bus driver in Speed, the chance to capitalize on all her best (and most obvious) qualities: her boisterous laugh, her uncertain smile, her shy sex appeal. Bullock plays a lonely subway-booth clerk whose dreams of finding Mr. Right are realized after she pretends to be a comatose man's fiancee (so if you want to get technical about it, the film should really be titled While You Were Comatose). Bill Pullman, as the eventual suitor, is Bullock's appealing mirror image: they're the model of coupled cuteness. Unfortunately, this cuteness is infectious, turning into a disease that spreads over the whole movie until even the loathsome and tacky characters start acting cuddly. It's a bit much.
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