Mini Reviews (July 2002)
Video Voyeur, American Outlaws, The Alternate, Acceptable Risk, Trapped, Trapped in Space
Video Voyeur (July 4/02)
So, this is what Angie Harmon left Law and Order for? Video Voyeur is a strictly by-the-numbers docudrama about the woman who helped change the laws regarding video voyeurism (apparently, it wasn't a crime to just look as long as you didn't listen). As the film opens, Harmon and her family (which includes one-time '80s heartthrob Dale Midkiff) are moving into a new house in a really nice neighborhood. They're being assisted by an awfully friendly neighbor (played by Jamie Sheridan), who's constantly offering the use of his pool and hot tub. Everything seems fine and dandy, until Harmon tires of Sheridan's ceaseless intrusions and decides that he's up to no good. She was right, it turns out, Sheridan had been taping (and watching) Harmon and family via hidden cameras all over the house. Though she initially doesn't want to involve the police (she'd be too embarassed, you see), the cops are finally called in and reveal that there's not much they can do. Making things worse are the Stepfordesque neighbors who believe that what Sheridan did wasn't so bad and why is Harmon trying to ruin his life? Video Voyeur is incredibly obvious on every level, but remains oddly watchable mostly due to Harmon's astoundingly earnest performance. She plays this woman as though she's got the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it certainly doesn't help that absolutely nobody sympathizes with her situation (initially, anyway). But the movie is so over-the-top and one-sided (Harmon=good, everyone else=bad) that it's hard to ever really take it seriously. And they never explained how it was that Sheridan could hear what Harmon was saying in her house (which is part of what made her initially suspicious), since they eventually made it clear that he wasn't recording sound. Weird.
Everything about American Outlaws is mediocre. It's watchable all right, but instantly forgettable. Colin Farrell stars as Jesse James, and as the movie opens, he and his buddies are coming back home after fighting in the Civil War. But they soon find out that more trouble is waiting for them, as an evil tycoon needs their land to complete his cross-country railroad. So, James and his band of outlaws decide that the easiest way to impede the development of this construction is to rob the banks where said tycoon keeps his cash. An evil henchman is close on their tail, though, and the boys are finding that their newfound celebrity is making it harder and harder to keep a low profile. American Outlaws isn't bad, really - it's essentially entertaining and the performances are good - but it's just so plain and dull that it never quite makes any kind of impact. However, Timothy Dalton (as that crazed henchman) is quite entertaining, especially since the many screenwriters have decided he should have some sort of bizarre respect for the outlaws. There's a sequence in which he and his minions attempt to strongarm the boys into selling their homes, but are met with several cocked guns. Dalton practically turns to the camera and says, "well played." That just might make the whole movie worth watching.
Cheesy straight-to-video action flicks don't really get much worse than this. Eric Roberts (that should have been a clue) and Bryan Genesse star as elite agents performing an exercise involving the kidnapping of the President, except Genesse decides to take the prez for real and demand a lot of money. Now, like Bruce Willis before him, it's up to Roberts to maneuver through the large building and stop Genesse. The Alternate might have worked had it been around 20 minutes long, but at a running time of about an hour and a half, it just doesn't have enough plot to sustain it. Unlike, say, Die Hard, The Alternate has only action sequences going for it (forget stuff like decent characters, witty dialogue or even attractive production values) and they're not all that special. There's finally some good hand-to-hand combat stuff between Roberts and Genesse at the very end, but everything that comes before that essentially sucks. There are unexpected cameo appearances by Ice-T and Michael Madsen, but even they can't do anything with this material. And I realize the movie was shot on a ridiculously low budget, but couldn't they afford a few more extras to play the President's entourage? He's surrounded by less than five people, which lead me to wonder whether he was the President of the country or just a small bakery. Finally, was this movie supposed to be called The Replacement? The movie ends with the President demanding to know Roberts' name, and he says simply, "I'm the replacement." Huh?
It's awfully hard not to enjoy some of TBS' original movies. They're oftentimes cheesy, but they also tend to feature forgotten actors and a enjoyably trashy storylines. But Acceptable Risk just doesn't work. Chad Lowe stars as a frustrated scientist who keeps inventing cures to various diseases, but winds up losing the patent to other companies. But he strikes gold after moving into a new house, which just happens to contain crazy spores in the basement that have brain regenerating powers. This being a cheesy thriller, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Lowe tests the spores on himself and discovers some nasty side effects. Lowe goes waaaaaaay over-the-top after ingesting (what he perceives to be) a miracle drug, accusing his wife of having an affair and generally just getting really, really inappropriately angry. Sean Patrick Flanery pops up as a sleazy cohort of Lowe's, and he too winds up taking the drug and acting out his baser instincts (one of which is killing a helpless old lady). The most ridiculous sequence comes when Lowe ends up racing with Flanery, even though he's driving a beat-up old Buick and Flanery's driving a Corvette. Flanery just can't shake Lowe, and this ridiculous sight is pretty much indicative of the rest of the flick.
Trapped is sort of an updated Towering Inferno, but William McNamara is no Paul Newman. A large group of strangers wind up trapped above the 30th floor after a Vegas hotel goes aflame due to an arsonists handiwork. McNamara stars as the intrepid reporter who just happens to have a camera on him, and thusly spends the rest of the movie filming everything rather than, you know, helping. The rest of the possible victims include the hotel's engineer (Meat Loaf), who was conveniently working on a ride that would send passengers from the top of the hotel to the very bottom, and the self-involved owner of the casino (Parker Stevenson) and his rebellious daughter. Trapped doesn't really work, especially since we know exactly how these folks are going to get out of the burning building (c'mon, would it even be possible not to realize that Meat Loaf's ride is going to work its way back into the plot?) and the characters are straight out of a how-to-create-a-disaster-movie handbook. And for a flick with this many characters, remarkably few of them wind up charred corpses.
Trapped in Space
Now here's a much better movie with the word "trapped" in the title. Set in an unspecified future, the film takes place entirely aboard a cargo freighter in space (why is it all sci-fi movies have to feature a cargo ship?) Anyway, the movie opens with a collision between the ship and an asteroid, and the cowardly captain abandons his crew and takes off in the only escape pod. The asteroid managed to puncture the oxygen reserves, and the six crew members soon discover that there's only going to be enough air to get three people home. There's also a dog thrown into the mix, but you just know ol' Sparky isn't going to get too far. The crew is made up of various cliches, but unlike the above film, it works here mostly due to some unexpectedly nice acting. Leading the cast is Melrose Place alum Jack Wagner as the ship's engineer, while Craig Wasson (looking more and more like Bill Maher as time progresses) plays the sarcastic jerk who eventually snaps and starts hunting the survivors. Trapped in Space is remarkably entertaining despite the obvious low budget, and features some genuinely suspenseful moments. Wagner proves to be just as charismatic as he was on Melrose Place, and his initial acceptance of his own death is played for laughs (he has himself a virtual luau, complete with three bamboo skirted babes and cheesy music) but eventually comes to accept the fact that he's got to stop Wasson. Trapped in Space proves that with a decent premise and some good writing, you don't need a huge budget to tell an effective story (example: this film is just as entertaining as the recent Spielberg extravaganza Minority Report, if not more so since it's shorter).