The Brothers McMullen. Like El Mariachi, here's another mini-budget indy film more notable for its creator's success story than for the movie itself. Writer-director Edward Burns made the picture for about 20 grand, yet he somehow managed to achieve the quality level of a million-plus commercial feature. Too bad the sappy story, which follows the doubt-riddled romantic lives of three Irish-Catholic brothers, hits so many transparent notes; you get the sense the film is trying to be knowing and insightful when much of what it's saying has been recycled from last year's men's-liberation books. What keeps the movie afloat are its fresh lead performances, especially Mike McGlone as the guilt-ridden nice guy and Burns himself as the cynical stud.
The Prophecy. Working from a kooky Biblical fantasy reminiscent of The Omen or The Rapture, the story imagines the angel Gabriel as an avaricious sort who wants to wage war in heaven and take over that big throne in the sky. Gabriel is, of course, played by Christopher Walken, who chews up the scenery like a dog in a beef jerky factory. Down on earth, Gabriel has some business to attend to, but not if detective Elias Koteas, schoolteacher Virginia Madsen and Eric Stoltz (as the angel Simon) can help it. The movie hints at a buildup that never comes, and fails to entertain in all the big, important ways. However, author-director Gergory Widen does very well with all the wry, evil bits; perhaps somebody should hire him to do script polishes on the next Stallone, Van Damme and Steven Seagal features.
Kids. Claims that Larry Clark's grim, documentary-style film is an important social wake-up call have some merit, as Kids comes closer than any other recent film to describing the empty lives of urban teens. But it's equally tempting to dismiss the film as exploitation: a series of sensational images with few organizing principles to elevate the material above mere voyeurism. Devoid of well-articulated themes or a strong narrative, the picture often comes across as less a moral statement than an aesthetic one. It's a series of staged photo-ops where the director seems every bit as fascinated by his subject as repelled--the vapid world he inhabits is a landscape fit to be photographed for its decadent beauty.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR Riding on the coattails (or flowing gown, as it were) of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this Americanized transvestite road movie proves that a little drag queen goes a long way and a lot of drag queen is just a drag. Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo deliver a few sassy one-liners, but the script otherwise doesn't give them much to do besides talk their way through a handful of insipid moral lessons in an all-too-phony small town, and their lack of character-acting ability overrides their camp appeal. Stockard Channing co-stars as a moody, contemplative housewife; somebody forgot to tell her she was in a comedy.
National Lampoon's Senior Trip. The words "National Lampoon" on any film are a bad sign, and this movie seems designed to prove it. Working from an anachronistic, chaos-driven formula that stereotypes all teens as idiotic partiers and all adults as buffoons, the movie shoots only for the lowest gags, and actually makes Animal House (which at least had a few characters you could care about) seem sophisticated by comparison. A cast of has-beens and soon-to-be-has-beens star, including Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong), and Kevin McDonald (of Kids in the Hall).
Clockers. Spike Lee's adaptation of Richard Price's intricate novel follows a young park-bench drug dealer (Mekhi Phifer) who may or may not have been the gunman in a murder. In spite of his overemphasis on style, Lee successfully juggles a number of characters whose lives affect each others' like chess pieces in a microcosmic Brooklyn neighborhood, including the wire-pulling dealer who runs the show (Delroy Lindo) and a friendly homicide cop played (very engagingly) by Harvey Keitel. Because the story is more a societal character study than a mystery, don't expect the oomph of Do the Right Thing; the film deals in texture and dialogue, not bright action. And while it's a cut above most other movies in drug-related black cinema, unfortunately the content doesn't reach much deeper.
The Usual Suspects. An interesting first film from director Bryan Singer, this combination caper film/mystery overburdens itself with plot while letting its ensemble cast of charismatic career criminals--Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, and Benicio Del Toro--go to waste after a potent start. As mysteries go, this one's payoff feels inadequate, but the movie is notable for the amount of energy it puts into its ongoing exposition of details. And thanks to a couple of strong key perfomances, the film's central idea stays with you: that of a huge, fearsome mind intelligent enough to manipulate all the other characters with precision and octopus-like simultaneity.
Something To Talk About. From the screenwriter who gave us Thelma & Louise comes this insightful yet directionless tale of a Southern wife (Julia Roberts) who has to re-think her life when she learns her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been having several affairs. Crisp direction by Lasse Hallestrom, warmly vibrant cinematography and a handful of fun performances (by Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Duvall and Gene Rowlands) keep the film enjoyable long after the story has lost sight of a point. And Roberts is surprisingly good--after years of limited performances in dumb roles, she really seems to be blossoming.
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