Dangerous Minds. Michelle Pfeiffer stars in this mostly effective drama about an unorthodox inner-city high school teacher who wins the attention (and affection) of a classroom full of hard-to-reach minority students. The material, though clumsily constructed, has social relevance to spare, and the filmmakers' commitment to a bare-bones plot is honorable. The uneasy mix of realism and Hollywood slickness does create some embarrassing notes, but Pfeiffer's charm overrides most such difficulties--with her soft-toned, tough-loving demeanor, she's a perfect educational love object.
How to Make an American Quilt. Winona Ryder gets seven lessons in love when she spends a summer listening to the romantic histories of all the women in her grandmother's quilting bee. We're talking flashback-o-rama, with the majority of the stories taking bittersweet turns in which the women's husbands either leave them, cheat on them or die. This uninspiring "quilt" of mini-narratives is somehow supposed to help Ryder choose between a hunky Don Juan type (Jonathon Schaech) and a regular-guy carpenter (Dermot Mulroney). Though the appearance of so many fine actresses has its benefits, the movie's lessons about life are mere bromides, and they're made all the sappier by Ryder's talentless presence and weak narration. (Why does Ryder always choose scripts that require her to narrate?) American Quilt features Maya Angelou, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Samantha Mathis and Alfre Woodard.
Jade. Joe Eszterhas ought to win a special award, because he's responsible for two of the worst films this year. At least Showgirls has campy laughs, extravagant choreography and soft-core nudity on its side. What does Jade have? Ornate set design, an extended (and very boring) car chase and an incomprehensible murder-mystery plot, for starters. Directed unpleasantly by William Friedkin, it's kind of like Basic Instinct without the sex. David Caruso does his NYPD Blue shtick--again--as an investigator trying to uncover the identity of Jade, a prostitute-turned-psychologist played by Linda Fiorentino. The role is supposed to showcase the cold, ruthless sexuality Fiorentino displayed so engagingly in The Last Seduction, but the actress is lost in this dispiriting mess. Let's hope she finds something better soon.
Mortal Kombat. There's nothing like 90 minutes of karate matches and techno music to make you feel stupid. This expensive and admittedly well-made advertisement for the Mortal Kombat video game doesn't have enough thrills to keep the simplistic comic-book story interesting, and you're left wondering why so many video games center around competitive brutality in the first place. The film is actually rather harmless, though, and good for a laugh or two, so if you're into fight choreography it might be worth a look. Just be warned: No one who sits through the film will be able to get the cheesy title song out of his head for at least a week.
The Scarlet Letter. When the opening credits state the film is "freely adapted" from the novel, they aren't kidding. The filmmakers have taken an American literature classic and turned it into a plainly idiotic bodice-ripper that pits small-town intolerance against Hester Prynne's fiercely independent feminist sexuality. This is the second film of the year in which a woman's love is signaled by a little bird that leads the way (the other is How to Make an American Quilt). The bird leads Prynne (Demi Moore, as superficial as ever) into the arms of Gary Oldman, a minister who swims naked so as to expose his buttocks to God and anybody else who might be watching. You can bet that when the time comes for nooses to be tied around the lovers' necks, a bunch of Indians will pop out to save the day. Maybe this movie's creators should be forced to wear a big letter "A" around Hollywood--for the sin of asinine adaptation.
Showgirls. With this heavily hyped NC-17 travesty, Robocop-director Paul Verhoeven has created a new type of robo-erotica where robocharacters have robosex in the roboscummiest areas of that robocity they call Las Vegas. Roboscreenwriter Joe Eszterhas fills his inane, behind-the-scenes roboexposé with gobs of crude robosub-plots and robodialogue, creating plenty of excuses for roboactress Elizabeth Berkely and others to bare their robobreasts and robopelvises with increasing regularity. If you're a robot, you'll no doubt be turned on. (All others stay away.)
Unstrung Heroes. Diane Keaton directed this quirky nostalgic tale about a young boy whose troubles dealing with the death of his mother (Andi Macdowell) are exacerbated by the cold, scientific mentality of his father (John Turturro). Ironically, the boy finds emotional release by staying with his two crazy uncles, played by Maury Chaykin and Michael Richards (a.k.a. Seinfeld's Kramer). The result is a low-key, subtly magical-realist film with a welcome European flavor. The film works very well in its modest terms, though viewers should be warned that the picture is as much a weepie as it is a comedy.
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth