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.
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.
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.
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.
THE SUM OF US. In this Australian odd-couple comedy, a widower and his adult gay son struggle to coexist peaceably in the same house. The twist is that they get along fine; it's everyone else who can't handle their relationship. Though talky and dramatically limp, the performances are good-natured, and the film's example of harmony between homo- and heterosexuals is far more effective than that seen in other pictures (like Philadelphia).
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.
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.
BILL OF RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL. The festival returns to the UA Gallagher Theater for its third year, with a 2 p.m. screening of 1995's Murder In The First on Sunday, April 30. The final screening will be Paths of Glory (1957), directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, on May 7. All screenings are free, and are followed by discussions exploring the underlying individual rights expressed in the films. Moderator for the April 23 show is Charles E. Ares, former dean of the UA Law College. Call 621-3102 for information.
UA STUDENT FILMS. Future Spielbergs and Coppolas premiere their works from beginning and intermediate 16mm production classes in this free screening at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway. Call 795-7777 for information.
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