Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Alllrighty then! We all know a little bit of Jim Carrey goes a long way, so let's cut to the chase. If you think you'll hate Ace Ventura, you will. No need to test the theory. The unfathomable lot of you who don't know what to expect from this movie can count on reporting for jury duty real soon. For the rest of you, this is vintage Ace with all the trademark gags: Speaker of the Arse, Master of Mugs, the relentlessly goofy gumshoe that cracks so many jokes it's statistically impossible not to laugh at least once. Thankfully, this incarnation goes straight for the younger audience: They've nixed the "mature" subject matter and succumbed to unadulterated juvenile humor, one truly harrowing racoon rescue possibly excepted. Carrey is in his element in this unholy hybrid of Wild Kingdom, The Nutty Professor and Wayne's World. Let's not get too critical--it's not as if Carrey's the only Hollywood celebrity known for speaking out of his butt. At least when Carrey does it, it's intentional.
Fair Game. It's the Beautiful versus the Ugly as Cindy Crawford gets chased by a band of renegade Russian agents with bad skin. Crawford plays a mini-skirted lawyer who is maybe-sort-of about to stumble upon a band of high-tech Russian bank robbers; the robbers, in turn, become inexplicably fixated on blowing her up. William Baldwin plays the good cop trying to protect the girl and kill two dozen bad guys all by himself. The entire plot seems to be an excuse to get Crawford in and out of wet T-shirts, which is certainly more engrossing than watching her "act." Baldwin, by the way, also shows us places his bathing suit normally covers. All this builds to an ending with a complexity that rivals almost any episode of Scooby Doo. Almost.
Get Shorty. After a long, banal summer, Get Shorty hits like a bracing blast of cool fall air, reminding us why we love movies so much. Get Shorty (from Elmore Leonard's 1991 best-seller) follows the trail of Chili Palmer (John Travolta in a great performance), a collector for a Miami loan shark who heads for L.A. in search of a skip and lands smack dab in the middle of the movie biz. He falls in with movie producer/ schlockmeister Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) and Zimm's big star Karen Flores (Rene Russo), who is also the ex-love interest of Hollywood's biggest star, Martin Weir (Danny DeVito). Chili hits Zimm up with an idea for a movie. Zimm likes the idea, but first wants to buy a hot script so he can offer it up to Weir. Zimm is also dodging drug dealers, who have given him money as a ticket into the film business and who are, in turn, ducking their angry Colombian suppliers. Chili dances through this jungle, impressing the phonies and winning the girl as he goes. And when the impatient loan shark hits town to find out what's taking Chili so long, it all comes to a wild (and wildly satisfying) conclusion.
Now and Then. This coming-of-age comedy about a tight-knit circle of friends in small-town America is hardly a female-version of Stand By Me, but it does succeed on its own cinema-lite level, thanks to fresh performances by young guns Gaby Hoffman, Thora Birch (My Girl), Ashleigh Aston Moore and Christina Ricci (Casper). Now and Then follows the nostalgic flashback formula, with a chain-smoking Demi Moore narrating as she hurtles down the highway toward a dreaded reunion in the master-planned suburban setting of her childhood. Thankfully, most of the film winds through the delightful and melodramatic summer of '69, sparing us the agony of watching too many scenes with Demi Moore and Melanie Griffith side by side. While at times Now and Then promisingly touches upon the social upheaval that lurks behind all those perfect suburban lawns and single-family homes, these themes are never developed. Rest assured, this sentimental journey comes with the requisite happy ending, tying up all loose ends with a big, pink bow.
Powder. Writer/director Victor Salva may be a social pariah, but his latest filmic effort certainly proves that talent isn't selective. Mind you, Powder is no groundbreaking cinematic effort; but it is entertaining sci-fi, with the optimistic twist that the highly evolved and intelligent "alien" life form is actually from our own planet. Meanwhile, we less-evolved beings find it impossible not to wonder about the connection between the writer and his creation, considering he had plenty of time to formulate his next screenplay while serving a sentence for child molestation. Promotional copy reads: "Alienated from society, he tries to fit in but only finds intolerance. Despite the cruelty inflicted upon him, Powder's extraordinary compassion helps him to persist, and people begin to understand that their harsh judgment is more a reflection of their own ignorance and fear." You may not want to spend any length of time in Salva's head, but spending a couple of hours with Powder may be slightly more uplifting. While none of the characters seem particularly challenging, Sean Patrick Flanery, Mary Steenburgen and Jeff Goldblum deliver engaging performances. In fact, Powder is so successful at fitting a compelling subject into a tepid screenplay it will undoubtedly earn the dubious achievement of an academy award nomination.
Strange Days. Given the scarcity of original screenplays coming out of the Big Studio establishment, Strange Days deserves due credit. Katherine Bigelow's first noteworthy attempt since Near Dark blows away all other attempts at cyber-cinema we've seen thus far. If you're expecting a lot of high-priced special effects, you'll be disappointed. But creative use of point-of-view camera work and a dark, documentary-style vision of the year 2000--with humvies rolling down Sunset Boulevard and soundbites from the evening news bringing us up to speed on the violence and mayhem in Los Angeles at the end of the millennium--draw us into a believable future in which cop-turned-cyberdrug dealer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) and straight-laced friend Mace (Angela Bassett) fight for survival in a world gone mad with paranoia, deception and murder. Despite some snags in the fabric of believability, Strange Days is entertaining up until the last minute--which is a good 60 seconds of unforgivable drivel.
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