All the World's a Stage

Forget Iraq. See a movie instead.

I reviewed movies for the morning paper for a while. What this means is that I saw nearly every film that showed between April 1997 and August 1999, with a four-month hiatus in the winter of '98-'99. Movie reviewing beat waitressing most days--I admit that. But it was a job, and I wasn't really a movie person to begin with. By the time I quit/was fired (it's a little obscure), I never wanted to sit through another one.

I still don't see many movies, but recently I got out and caught a film I truly loved, Undisputed. (We also saw Signs not long ago, which was pretty good except for a couple of theological problems you could drive a mothership through.) Back to Undisputed--ooh, love that title: This crackerjack prison boxing flick--mouth watering yet?--fields Ving Rhames (!) and Wesley Snipes (!!!) as the main bill. It's got a smart, unsentimental script, great guy-movie director Walter Hill (Wild Bill) running the show and a streamlined, tried-and-true plot that surges ahead on character and pure adrenaline through a prison refreshingly free of shivs, drugs and homosexual rapes--none of which you really need on a Friday night. (Anyone who says it's a sanitized Oz, by the way, is saying the obvious and needs to get a life.) It also has one of the funniest, most foul-mouthed soliloquies ever put on film--delivered by Peter Falk, no less.

In short, Undisputed is totally great. What's more, if everyone went out and saw it, I think we could just skip the going-to-war-with-Iraq thing. Attacking Saddam Hussein seems to be mostly about getting our collective aggressions out as a nation, and you've got to believe there are better ways to do that.

Oh right, Dick Cheney says there's more to it. Well, there's plausibility for you: That sneer, that heart, that portfolio. Doesn't Cheney's former employer, Haliburton, supply all the Pentagon's daily needs on a cost-plus basis? Could it be he and his friends would make a profit out of a war in the Middle East? Might they want to hurry up and launch a major one before they lose the White House in '04? (Tanked economy equals no re-election, fellas.) Is Iraq just the most likely venue? This man cannot hide his contempt for us even as he's conning us, which I for one find offensive in an elected official.

Besides, I keep flashing back to South Park: The Movie (a weirdly terrific musical that I would have never gone to voluntarily, and one that you should not rent if you have any taste whatsoever). Among many other twisted delights, South Park poses the unforgettable musical question, "Who's more evil, Satan or Saddam Hussein?" (Guess the answer.)

So the man is bad, evil, satanic, out to get us. Fine. Couldn't some trained killer just assassinate him and leave everyone else alone? War's expensive, ugly, terrible, unpredictable--in a celluloid sense, way more Saving Private Ryan than Independence Day. Even on CNN, it's desperately low on special effects and high on carnage.

In Undisputed, Snipes' character doesn't say much, but one thing he does say is "Everyone loves a fighter." It's true. We do. Aggression is hard-wired into us, and it's not just a guy thing: I walked out into the lobby actually breathing hard, feeling that I'd gotten my ya-yas out for some time to come.

Lately, in one context or another, I've been running into men in their 50s who've started talking about Vietnam--I think it has to do with September 11. What do you say when someone you've known for years starts telling you about when he was killing people? When his friend got his legs shot off? The Gulf War guys, the guys who're still in Afghanistan--what's the damage going to be? What will our boys see and suffer in Iraq? Who will die just because we're restless and troubled and ready for a fight?

OK, I'm worried, and my stupid alternative proposal is that for just $8.50 a head we all go see Snipes and Rhames plow into each other, thereby experiencing enough vicarious release of aggression to do us for a while. Nobody would have to die, or even get brain damage, since the boxing in Undisputed, while thrilling, is of course staged.

Actually, it's thrilling because it's staged. You don't want to see a real man put out his eyes because he killed his father and married his mother; you want to see Oedipus Rex. I wouldn't watch a real boxing match, and I don't want to watch another war, either. Even on TV.