Film Clips

ARMAGEDDON. Sorry to give it away, but the world doesn't end in Armageddon. Instead, it's saved from a menacing asteroid by a wild bunch of oil drillers who have the good old American know-how it takes to drill a big hole in space rock so they can put some nuclear weapons in there. The special effects in this flick are great; everything blows up all the time, and it's also very loud. (This is what $140 million looks like, friends.) Other than that, Armageddon doesn't have a plot so much as it has a series of chains that attach to the audience, then jerk them. Director Michael Bay seems to be approaching Alfred Hitchcock's dream of manipulating the audiences' reactions at every moment, and it's hard not to resent this, at least once the movie is over. But while it's going on, it's actually sort of fun to be jerked. --Richter

Film Clips DÉJÀ VU. Director Henry Jaglom skates down the border between profundity and hokum in this exploration of true love versus compromise. Stephen Dillane and Victoria Foyt (Jaglom's watery-eyed, appealingly emotive wife, who co-wrote the screenplay with him) star as a Brit and a Los Angelean who seem to be natural soulmates, cosmically fated to be together, and all that jazz. Too bad they're already entrenched in long-term relationships. Though Jaglom's loose, cinema-verité style is very much in evidence, he tries hard to make every step of the romance follow a logical, understandable progression, which gets to be a problem--he keeps using a nail gun on the kinds of details where a thumbtack would suffice. (At a key point, Dillane and Foyt actually exclaim to each other, "You're married!," "You have a fiancée!," "You're married!," "You have a fiancee!," revealing an embarrassingly wide rift between cinema-verité and realism.) Then there's the mystical "surprise" ending, which plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone, as directed by Fabio. Jaglom may be an old friend of Orson Welles (in fact, Déjà Vu appears to be based on a memorable line of dialogue from Citizen Kane), but an auteur he's not. On the plus side, it's refreshing how the two jilted characters are rendered so sympathetically (unlike in Sleepless in Seattle and similar films), and the charmingly well-aged Vanessa Redgrave livens up her every scene as a veteran free spirit. --Woodruff

JANE AUSTEN'S MAFIA! This latest venture from writer/director Jim Abrahams, one of those responsible for bringing us Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun (1988), fails to achieve the level of satire present in these past successes. This film probably makes sense if you're 9 years old, when the mere presence of bodily functions and breasts actually provided some kind of cultural commentary. Otherwise, Mafia! is but a lame parody consisting largely of uncritical references to Casino, Showgirls, and Forrest Gump, among others. A plot was difficult to discern through the dizzying haze of flatulence, but it seemed to follow a father (the late Lloyd Bridges) and son (Jay Mohr) through their involvement with the mob, boobies, and pull-my-finger jokes. The ending is surprisingly abrupt, but certainly the alternative (a second puke montage?) is far worse.--Higgins

LETHAL WEAPON 4. The idealized masculinity initially presented in the first Lethal Weapon is finally called into question in the fourth installment in the series. This makes for an overall engaging action film, especially as the genre tends most often to present clichéd, unsympathetic, hypermasculine fighting machines. The former polarization of the nihilistic Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) collapses into the middle, resulting in numerous references to the aging bodies of the characters (and, by extension, the actors) and their inability to live up to former expectations of themselves. This reconfiguration of masculinity is perhaps an attempt to update a series which began over a decade ago, though it still offers a rather narrow definition of manhood. The story itself is standard cop-chase-villain fare, largely an excuse to showcase the fine-tuned banter of Riggs and Murtaugh. Rene Russo and Joe Pesci return in supporting roles; and though the addition of Chris Rock is an obvious attempt to attract younger viewers, he's nevertheless enjoyable as Murtaugh's son-in-law. The generic convention of foreign adversaries is forced and outright offensive at times, as the jokes often poke fun at the ethnicity of the Chinese bad guys (to wit, the tired "flied lice" dig). Though we can expect to find such stereotypes in other incarnations of the genre, it appears that this film closes the book on the series as the lethal weapon of the title, Riggs, concludes his inner struggle by becoming a family man. --Higgins

THE OPPOSITE OF SEX. Forget about wholesome sincerity in writer/director Don Roos' tale of unrequited love among gays and schoolteachers. Sarcastic self-cancellation rules, as the story's narrator, Christina Ricci, sourly criticizes all the storytelling conventions that come with the depressing territory. The result is a funny, energetic movie with a severe case of multiple-personality disorder. The travails of the spurned Martin Donovan form a fast-moving but not terribly compelling plot that provides Roos plenty of material for the bitchy Ricci (a manipulative catalyst throughout the story) to verbally trample. The movie's inability to keep its heart in one place might become annoying if it weren't for Roos' great lines of dialogue, most of which he gives to Lisa Kudrow, playing Donovan's cynical best friend. Kudrow's gift for sharp comic delivery ensures that the picture remains the opposite of dull throughout. --Woodruff

OUT OF SIGHT. In the hierarchy of adaptations based on Elmore Leonard books, this one ranks up there with Get Shorty. The direction (by Steven Soderbergh, of Sex, Lies and Videotape fame) expresses the Leonard style perfectly, nudging humor out of naturalistic dialogue and displaying a whimsically carefree attitude about matters of life and death without letting all the steam out of the story. George Clooney, as a bank robber, and Jennifer Lopez, as his police pursuer, make an extremely good-looking couple; and their two verbal tennis matches (one in a car's trunk, the other in a hotel) are the film's sexual-spark-filled highlights. The smoothly developing romantic mood begins in sunny Miami and ends in snowy nighttime Detroit, so even if you see Out of Sight during the middle of the day you might walk out expecting a cool, dark sky. A standout supporting cast includes Albert Brooks, Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Get Shorty alumnus Dennis Farina, and a couple of uncredited surprises. --Woodruff

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Don't let the earnest, tony previews fool you: This is a terrifying and brutally violent movie. Most horror movies don't have a fraction of the gore, and anyone who takes children needs to have his head examined. Naturally, since this is Steven Spielberg in Oscar mode, it's gore with a higher purpose: to render the you-are-there reality of World War II, a historical turning point that most of us do indeed take for granted. That it does. The plot follows the reluctant efforts of a captain (Tom Hanks, doing a respectable job although I still have a hard time taking him seriously) and his small crew (played by a who's-who list of indy-film actors) to find a young soldier for P.R. purposes. It's an unlikely premise, but it allows for a tour through several common locations and situations during the 1944 campaign to liberate France. The opening scene, which depicts the troublesome Omaha Beach landing during the invasion of Normandy, is a stunner: sharp editing, swift hand-held shots, and gruesome attention to detail make it one of the most arresting war scenes ever filmed. Over and over, Spielberg dumps the shock and fear of death in your lap. The movie's furious "war is hell" action lets up for occasional character development and ambiguous incidents, which only make the returns to mayhem that much rougher. Saving Private Ryan's primary fault is that it's so much more jarring than it is moving; the film comes considerably closer to experience than to dramatic art. For some, this imbalance will probably be too much. If you have no desire to understand how it might actually feel to be in combat, you're advised to skip it. --Woodruff

SMALL SOLDIERS. Director Joe Dante and a team of five writers have given the Child's Play concept a military spin: Now instead of an evil spirit inside a plastic moppet, a super-destructive munitions chip has been mistakenly installed in the latest line of military action figures. The result is a bunch of wisecracking, pop-culture-quoting commandos who proceed to tear up part of a suburban neighborhood. Their mission: to destroy a similarly intelligent set of pacifist dolls, the leader of whose whiskered face literally implies "underdog." The movie contains loads of talent, including the late Phil Hartman and vocalizations by the primary leads from both The Dirty Dozen and This Is Spinal Tap. Copious special effects blend seamlessly with the live action, and the ideas are overflowing--the creators have even thrown in the kitchen sink (complete with garbage disposal). But unlike Dante's similar Gremlins movies, the anarchy becomes too chaotic for its own good. The satiric sensibility has no focus, and the human characters have less personality than the dolls. Though there are clever minds behind the screenplay, the hypocrisy is overwhelming: a mind-numbingly violent criticism of military figures? Which, by the way, are for sale at your local toy store? Talk about self-contradiction. Twelve-year-old boys will love it; everyone else can expect a headache. --Woodruff

SMOKE SIGNALS. A modest film that nonetheless tackles big themes, Smoke Signals is a quirky, inventive road movie that bills itself as the first feature film written and directed by Native Americans. It's the story of two friends, Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams), who live on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation and have known each other all their lives. When Victor's father dies, the boys take to the highway to go collect his ashes (in Phoenix, which is a little hamlet in the middle of the desert in this movie), and end up finding out something about themselves. The plot is familiar, but the inventive script by poet Sherman Alexie raises it above the standard boy-into-man story; there are even occasional flashes of beauty. --Richter

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. The brothers Farrelly, known for their gross but weirdly compelling comedies (Dumb and Dumber; Kingpin) have tried to show a little taste in their latest romantic comedy. The result is cute and evokes the occasional giggle, but this movie just isn't as funny as their previous ventures. Cameron Diaz plays Mary, an all-around nice girl who somehow attracts more than her fair share of psychos. Ben Stiller plays Ted, the modest nice guy who's been in love with her since high school, when he once walked her home. Matt Dillon, Lee Evans, and Chris Elliott are among her numerous lovers/tormentors. Adorable musical interludes from Jonathan Richman help give this movie pep, but how funny is it really to watch a woman being stalked? --Richter

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