Film Clips

BASEKETBALL. South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone have teamed up with Naked Gun creator David Zucker for another exercise in gag-a-minute filmmaking. While the requisite boobie and pee-pee jokes are very much in evidence, Parker and Stone breathe new life into the enterprise with their subversively cloying brand of comedic acting. Like Zucker, they'll do anything for a laugh, even if that means French-kissing each other or nakedly standing around wearing the kinds of prosthetic devices that would make Mark Wahlberg cry. Their willingness to humiliate themselves makes everyone else's humiliation a lot more forgivable. The premise, too, is fresh: Instead of yet another by-the-numbers genre parody, the movie invents a new sport that's so absurd, non-sports fans may enjoy it more than aficionados. Though the film doesn't exactly reinvent the lowbrow comedy, it's cute enough to place it a cut above its recent competitors. With cameo appearances by Bob Costas, Robert Stack, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Jackson and Jenny McCarthy. --Woodruff

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

EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY. Here's a welcome revision: a Cinderella that kicks butt. Sure, Drew Barrymore's character is neglected and mistreated, but she's no helpless little waif: In a pinch, she won't hesitate to deck her wicked stepsister (Megan Dodds) or throw the prince (Dougray Scott) over her shoulders and carry him away from danger. These sorts of touches, smartly handled by director Andy Tennant, make Ever After a delight--even for those of us who never thought we could thoroughly enjoy a Cinderella movie. I'm not sure how Tennant got it out of her, but Barrymore's performance is winningly effective, and surprisingly well-rounded. A political idealist with passion to spare, she earns the prince's respect until he realizes he needs to earn hers in return. Better still is Anjelica Huston, who plays the bitchy stepmother with a trace of complexity--you get the sense she's evil because it hurts to be nice, and you keep watching her face for signs of pain. Everything else about the movie turns out a shade more entertainingly than you'd expect, from the fate of the chubby stepsister (played by Heavenly Creatures' Kate Lansbury) to the whimsical way Leonardo Da Vinci is integrated into the story. Rock on, Cinderella. --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 MASK OF ZORRO. An action-adventure movie in the classic mold, The Mask of Zorro aims for the kind of grand, sweeping cinematics that lead to elaborate sword fights, robust dance scenes and 100-percent computer-enhancement-free stuntwork. It's meant to be an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, and it succeeds in a generic, unchallenging way. If you're looking for nuance or extra bite, sorry, wrong movie. Antonio Banderas, a man so sexy that even Southern Baptist truck drivers with extra Y chromosomes admit to considering him "hot," plays an eager Zorro-in-training; while Anthony Hopkins, an actor so well-respected that people fall over themselves with praise even when he turns in hackwork (as he does here), plays a vengeful, veteran Zorro. Hopkins teaches Banderas the ropes--or the whips, actually--while Catherine Zeta-Jones pretties up the screen with her Spanish cat eyes and huge Cheshire cat grin. Meow. For summer entertainment that's mindless without being mind-numbing, you could do a lot worse. --Woodruff

THE NEGOTIATOR. Less gunplay! More wordplay! At least, that's the intention behind this talkative action picture starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Jackson plays a hostage negotiator who, framed after his buddy discovers a police embezzlement ring, takes his own hostages in hopes they'll buy him time to prove his innocence. Spacey plays a negotiator from another district, chosen by Jackson because he's unlikely to be corrupt. Needless to say, there's a lot of negotiating going on, and at times the theme is pushed so hard that the film feels strained; the uncleverly clever climax, in particular, begs for a rewrite. The law-enforcement clichés pile up, too, and director F. Gary Gray doles them out with no sense of irony--we're even subjected to close-ups of Jackson's badge. But Jackson and Spacey can brighten up the dimmest of screenplays, and they're well-supported by some of the bit players--especially a comic-relieving criminal played by Paul Giamatti, who looks like Rob Schneider after a holiday eating binge. The late J.T. Walsh supplies his trademark sad-eyed villainy, which leads to some very uncomfortable moments when art imitates death. --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

THE PARENT TRAP. This summer, the high-profile kids' movies are putting the high-profile adults' movies to shame. First we get a Cinderella who could beat the crap out of Godzilla; now we get a set of twins so cute they could blow up the meteors in both Deep Impact and Armageddon just by curtseying at them. This remake of the 1961 Disney movie stars the freckle-faced Lindsay Lohan as both twins, and the technology of this screen trick has officially reached a point where you can't tell there's any trick at all. The twins, one from London and the other from Napa Valley, meet at summer camp and realize their parents (Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid, both exactly as attractive and pleasant as they need to be) divorced and split them up long ago. They conspire to switch places and become Cupids, identical Cupids, so their parents--who also happen to be filthy rich--will get back together. Forget about thinking toys and talking animals; this is a child's fantasy. Other than the clunky opening scenes, which explain the premise in about 14 different ways, The Parent Trap is handled with impeccable wit, timing and sweetness by director Nancy Meyers. --Woodruff

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Currently in re-release, this 1975 Peter Weir-directed film is set in turn-of-the-century Australia and examines the repressiveness of socially constructed ideals of womanhood and female sexuality. The narrative centers around the disappearance of a group of students and an instructor from an outing arranged by their refining school. The entire movie is beautifully shot, and of particular note are the sequences of the women being drawn to Hanging Rock; these are slow-paced and employ superimpositions that parallel the natural beauty of the women with that of the rock formations. The scenes also provide the audience with an understanding of the need to discard the forced structures of daily life, while the characters left behind view the event as an unexplainable tragedy. Though set in a distant place and time, Picnic, like most of Weir's films (The Truman Show, Fearless, Gallipoli), raises issues of importance for contemporary viewers and the society in which we live.--Higgins

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

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

SNAKE EYES. How is it that a director so masterful at the techniques of manipulation can be so obtuse about connecting to his audience? At the start, Brian DePalma's use of moving camera is brilliant--he sets up an elaborate assassination plot in what seems like only one or two rapidly tracking shots through a boxing arena. Then, as protagonist Nicolas Cage (in a wild but well-focused performance) unravels the case, DePalma shifts into Rashomon mode, depicting the same scenes repeatedly from a variety of perspectives--including those of several video surveillance cameras. It's wonderful, but DePalma and screenwriter David Koepp reveal the mystery midway through, giving way to a poorly established character study; a limp series of cat-and-mouse scenes involving a beautiful and hopelessly nearsighted witness; and a brutal, stupid finale. What were they thinking? The whole movie could have been just mystery-thickening tracking shots and it would have been great. Snake Eyes is still a visual feast, but you might want to throw it up afterwards.

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