Mini Reviews (April 2002)
Bring it On, Joe Dirt, Pitch, Psycho Cop 2, Wet Hot American Summer, Psycho Beach Party, Let the Devil Wear Black, Major League
Bring it On (April 7/02)
Boy, I would have never thought a movie about cheerleaders could be so enjoyable. Kirsten Dunst stars as a bubbly head cheerleader who's shocked to discover that all of her cheers have been pilfered from an inner city cheerleading squad. Now, she's got to come up with an entirely new cheer for the cheerleading finals (don't tell me; if I say the word "cheer" one more time, you're going to scream). Fast-paced and full of energy, Bring it On doesn't really give you a chance to get bored. It's just fun - something a lot of movies have tried and failed at (Dunst's own Get Over It is a good example of this). Populated with a cast of tremendously appealing actors - from Dunst to Eliza Dushku to Jesse Bradford - the movie coasts along on a surprisingly clever script and sure-handed direction. The only sour note was the evil cheerleader from the inner city school. Her mean-spirited attitude was unnecessary and really stood out like a sore thumb (she's sort of a Wicked Witch of the West for a new generation), and her eventual acceptance of Dunst and co. seemed forced. But this is an otherwise easy-going flick - similar in a lot of ways to the equally colorful and fluffy Legally Blonde - that even the most cynical cinephiles would be hard-pressed to hate.
The most impressive thing about Joe Dirt is the fact that it snagged a PG-13 rating, considering it's packed with gross-out jokes and sexual references. Starring David Spade in the title role, the film occurs mostly in flashback with Joe telling his story to a talk radio host (played by Dennis Miller, letting off his usual why-the-hell-am-I-here vibe) and trying to locate his long-lost parents. The film plays out as a series of wacky hijinks, as Joe wanders from one bizarre situation to the next - the only problem is, none of it is funny. It's entertaining enough, sure, but when it comes to a movie starring David Spade, you expect a laugh or two (at the very least).
Pitch, a so-called documentary, follows two would-be screenwriters as they attempt to sell their lousy idea for a movie (a godfather type goes into the hospital for a hernia operation, and instead receives a sex-change. Laughs to ensue). Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice are the two filmmakers, who (as Roger Ebert so kindly points out) are essentially using the documentary format to get noticed; whether or not they actually sell The Dawn - the object of their pitch - is secondary. Though the movie is basically entertaining (especially so when they accost various celebrities like Eric Stoltz and Matt Dillon), it's just not interesting enough. It doesn't help that Hotz and Rice are incredibly obnoxious - these are certainly not the sort of people we want to root for. But for aspiring Hollywood types, this might just dissuade you from pursuing such a career path.
Psycho Cop 2
If ever there was a redundant sequel... Though I've not seen the original Psycho Cop, I can't imagine it really cried out for a followup. The premise is simple: A crazed, devil-worshipping police officer crashes an illegal bachelor party and starts offing the various revelers. It's an okay idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, the acting is uniformly awful - starting with the psycho cop himself. The actor playing him - who looks like a demented version of Patrick Warburton - grins a lot and says cheesy things like "you have the right to remain dead," all the while never once appearing sinister or even creepy. But maybe that was the point. Anyway, the whole thing has an ultra-low budget feel about it, though "Riff Coogan" (who is actually noted b-movie director Adam Rifkin) brings a decent amount of style to the preceedings. Word of warning, though: I unwittingly watched a hacked-to-heck version of this, taped off Showtime. The cuts were incredibly obvious, and I wound up missing most of the gore. And if a movie like this is missing the gore, what's the point?
Wet Hot American Summer
That whooshing sound you hear is the majority of the jokes in Wet Hot American Summer sailing right over my head. Though it purports to be a parody of '80s summer camp comedies like Meatballs, the film is just as silly as most of those but with a twist - a good portion of the jokes make no sense whatsoever. Take, for example, a sequence in which a man on a motorcycle chases another man on foot. The motorcyclist cannot catch up to the running man, and in fact, when a small box appears in the middle of the road, the motorcycle-driving man gives up the chase. This sequence was obviously meant to be funny (and is probably a parody of something), but I just didn't get it. The same was true with about 90% of the other jokes in the film. It's not a complete wash, though. Law and Order: SVU's Chris Meloni is hilarious as a disgruntled Vietnam vet with some awfully bizarre peccadilloes, and Frasier's David Hyde Pierce is equally effective as a temperamental physicist.
Psycho Beach Party
Speaking of jokes sailing over my head... Psycho Beach Party, like the aforementioned Wet Hot American Summer, is a parody movie - this time of beach party flicks and slasher movies - but with jokes that are so out there and so bizarre, that only the most fervent followers of the original film will get them. Lauren Ambrose stars as a young woman with multiple personalities, the most common of which is an aggressive Bette Davis type named Anne Bowman. The "psycho" part of the title comes into play when various revelers are murdered, coincidentally (or not) whenever Ambrose's character happens to be around. It's all enjoyable enough, but it's played so broadly that it loses whatever impact it might have had. Though perhaps the over-the-top nature of the performances and the screenplay was exactly the point. I have no idea. But Ambrose is surprisingly good in this role, so much so that it's easy enough to hope that she gets the opportunity to shine in more coherent vehicles.
Let the Devil Wear Black
Representing another dip in the Shakespeare well, Let the Devil Wear Black takes Hamlet and updates it... to much better effect than Ethan Hawke's more literal attempt two years ago. The movie's set in present day Los Angeles, and the dialogue is all new, but it's easy enough to spot the comparisons to the Bard's most famous play. A young man is tortured by the sudden death of his father, and slowly begins to suspect his uncle may have had something to do with it. The fact that his dad keeps popping up as an apparition certainly cements his suspicions. The majority of the film follows his adventures through the seedier areas of L.A., while running into various weirdoes inspired by Hamlet (though I'm still trying to figure out who the fat taco vendor was supposed to represent...) Let the Devil Wear Black is an interesting take on an old story, but it never really becomes anything more than a curiosity. The pace isn't exactly brisk, but the acting is good (I'll pretty much watch anything that features Mary Louise Parker) and the somber mood keeps the film watchable.
Funny how movies that seemed awesome when you were a kid play completely different once you get older. Case in point: Major League. My memory of this flick, vague as it is, was of an extremely positive nature. I could've sworn that the flick was a laugh-a-minute riot, with a bunch of wacky yet lovable characters. And while that last part is still true, the former is not. The story, at this point, is pretty familiar: a group of ragtag baseball players are assembled to form the new lineup for the Cleveland Indians, with their sole purpose to lose and lose hard so the new owner can move the team to Miami. The cast is festooned with familiar faces - including Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernson, and Charlie Sheen - and it's hard to find fault with any of their performances. No, the problem here is that it's just not funny enough. The scarce laughs are courtesy of Bob Uecker as announcer Harry Doyle (in a role he would reprise for the two sequels), whose often bizarre remarks are certainly a highlight. Major League isn't bad or anything, but it's not quite the comedy classic I remembered it being.