Mini Reviews (June 2001)
The Red Letters, Blue Velvet, A Good Baby, Kansas, Passion of Mind, Saving Grace, Simply Irresistible, The Eternal, Sacrifice, Twist of Fate, The Trigger Effect
The Red Letters (June 3/01)
Peter Coyote stars as Dennis Burke, a professor recently fired for sexually harassing a student (which he swears he's innocent of) who lands a new job teaching at a different college. He quickly finds that a student (played by Fairuza Balk) has her eye on him, and he works to deflect her man-hungry advances. Meanwhile, he's begun a relationship with a convict (Nastassja Kinski) at the local state pen (via snail mail) and discovers he's becoming infatuated with her. The plot complicates itself when his best friend (a scene-stealing Jeremy Piven) becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to free the convict. The Red Letters is entertaining enough (mostly; it's about 15 minutes too long), but the film never quite amounts to anything. Coyote is playing the central character, but you'd never know it from the way he's constantly relegated to the background to make room for various double-crossings and meandering subplots. Like Fatal Attraction, the film initially seems to be about a woman scorned, but that aspect is soon done away with. The movie finally turns into a routine "I'm innocent but now I've got to prove it to suspicious police officers" type of deal, with Dennis implicated in the untimely release of Kinski's character from prison. It's generally entertaining, though, and especially enjoyable is Paul Gleason essentially reprising his Breakfast Club role (except this time he's a Dean instead of a Principal). He even admonishes Coyote at one point and calls him "mister"! Ah, good times.
Kyle MacLachlan stars in David Lynch's bizarre look at what lies beneath a small town's pleasant facade. Isabella Rossellini co-stars as an enigmatic lounge singer who, as MacLachlan's Jeffrey Beaumont soon discovers, is at the whim of a mad kidnapper who has snatched her husband and son. Said mad kidnapper is played by Dennis Hopper, in a performance that makes Al Pacino at his screaming worst look subtle. Most of the story follows Rossellini and MacLachlan's burgeoning relationship as they attempt to thwart Hopper's devious plan, but really, plot has nothing to do with what Lynch has set out to do. He wants to immerse the viewer in a world so completely alien from their own (one would hope, anyway), that after watching it, you're meant to re-examine your placid little life. But it's just not interesting. Weird for weird's sake isn't enough; there has to be something more. And even if it was just weird yet entertaining, that'd be fine. But Blue Velvet is downright boring most of the time. Since these characters are so out there (and so fake, one could argue), it's impossible to identify with anyone. Blue Velvet is the sort of movie that film professors probably love and spend hours deconstructing. But for the average viewer, the movie just never manages to make much of an impact.
A Good Baby
A Good Baby is a bizarre little movie. It's not really about anything, but is played so seriously by the actors that I've got to wonder if I missed something. The film opens with traveling salesman Truman Lester (David Strathairn) and his pregnant girlfriend in a car. Cut to some time later, and local loner Raymond Toker (Henry Thomas) is strolling along in the backwoods minding his own business, when he stumbles upon an abandoned baby. Nearby is the dead body of the woman from the first scene, so Thomas comes to the conclusion the baby has no family. He begins wandering around, trying to locate someone that'll take the baby. And that's pretty much it. The remainder of the film follows Raymond as he wanders from one area of the bayou to the next. Strathairn's character re-appears later and tries to retrieve his baby (and pushes the film towards an incredibly out of place action-oriented finale). The only thing A Good Baby has going for it are the gorgeous shots of the backwoods area Raymond wanders through. It almost makes you want to visit, until you remember Deliverance.
As Kansas opens, Wade Corey (Andrew McCarthy) is jumping onto a moving train. His car broke down, and apparently he figured the fastest way to get where he was going is to illegally hop aboard a train (never mind that he could have rented a car or god forbid, gotten his own car fixed). He meets Doyle Kennedy (Matt Dillon), who just happens to be riding in the same car he hops into. The two stop in a small Kansas town and quickly rob a bank. But here's the thing: Doyle doesn't tell Wade they're going to rob a bank until they're actually in the bank. Wade inexplicably goes along with the scheme, and - after making a successful escape - saves the Mayor's daughter from drowning. He doesn't come forward as a hero, though, because he just robbed a bank. The movie just gets sillier as it progresses, as Wade somehow winds up working on a farm and falling in love with the farmer's daughter. Meanwhile, Doyle is taking various odd jobs, including working as a carny (!), and trying to track down Wade, who got away with their money. Kansas is a complete mess. From McCarthy's character - whose motivation changes every two minutes - to the lackluster script, the film is a complete dead zone from which there is no escape.
no stars out of
Passion of Mind
Starring Demi Moore, Passion of Mind follows her as she lives two lives; one in New York and the other in France. When she's asleep in France, she's awake in New York (and vice versa). Not much happens for the first hour and a half. We see her two lives, and we see her fall in love with two very different men (William Fichtner in New York and Stellan Skarsgard in France). And that's about it. There's no real plot here, except for the semi-mystery surrounding Moore's apparent ability to move her conscious from one country to another on a nightly basis. This is more of a drama, following her attempt - as these two woman - to allow herself to trust and love these men. All the performances are good, and the script is engaging enough without being pretentious (can you imagine how pompous a story like this could have been?), but really, there is too little happening here to sustain such a long movie. And the gimmick is never really dealt with - except occasional trips to two different therapists - until the end, in a denouement that still has me scratching my head. But I suppose the film is worth watching if only for the performances of Skarsgard and Fichtner. As the two men in Moore's life (lives?), they bring a lot of charisma and tenderness - so much so, that when it is inevitably time to say goodbye to one of them, the movie suffers along with Moore's character.
The thing with a movie like Saving Grace - that is to say a comedy based more on human foibles and less on outrageous pee-pee jokes - is that it's incredibly subjective. With a movie like American Pie or Austin Powers, it's easy enough to see what was supposed to be funny, even if it's not. But with Saving Grace, unless you see it with an audience, you could go the entire movie and not even realize it was supposed to be a comedy. Brenda Blethyn stars as a recently widowed woman that soon discovers her late husband amassed quite a few debts in his lifetime. Cash-strapped, she agrees to grow marijuana with her gardener (played by The Drew Carey Show's Craig Ferguson) and much (so-called) hilarity ensues. But while I didn't find much of the movie funny (except for one hilarious bit that finds Blethyn impersonating - badly - a Chinese woman to get out of a phone call), Saving Grace is charming enough and entertaining enough for me to recommend it. The performances are all fantastic, especially Ferguson. If you only know him from Drew Carey - as I did - you'd be well advised to check him out here. He plays an actual character (not just a caricature, as he does on the show) and demonstrates an effective range. Approach Saving Grace as more of a light-hearted look at a small village and you'll probably enjoy it more than if you're expecting a raucous comedy.
If you can find a movie cheesier and cornier than Simply Irresistible, I'd really be surprised. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as a fledgling chef that, one day, hooks up with a magical crab (yes, you read that right) and immediately begins cooking great food. And - oh, yeah - her emotions at the time of preparation begin to appear in anyone who eats her food. Sean Patrick Flanery stars as her love interest, a successful young businessman who runs a big department store chain. If my description doesn't tell you everything you need to know about this movie, I don't know what to tell you. Simply Irresistible is mildly entertaining, I suppose, and it's well acted, but really, who thought this was a good premise for a movie? I mean, a magical crab? And by the time Gellar and Flanery hook up, it feels like a cheat because would they have ever met if it weren't for that mystical crustacean? But I will say this: Any movie featuring a crab wearing a tuxedo (complete with a top hat!) can't be all that bad.
Alison Elliot and Jared Harris play a couple of alcoholics that decide to take a trip to Ireland and cleanse themselves spiritually (going to Ireland to stop drinking is perhaps the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but I digress). So, they head to this gigantic mansion (it's more of a castle, really) owned by her aunt and some spooky stuff starts to go down. For one thing, there's a dead body in the cellar that looks identical to Elliot. And, of course, it's revived by Christopher Walken. The Eternal is a pretty boring little flick, unless you're interested in this sort of stuff. It's almost as if strange stuff happens just for the sake of being strange. Example: Why does the corpse look the same as Elliot? And then there's the ludicrous final act, which finds the two Elliots wandering around the gigantic mansion, alternately tricking and scaring the various people within (though I do find it hard to believe that her husband would be tricked by this walking corpse for even a second). The Eternal is just silly and not the least bit scary.
Sacrifice is a mildly entertaining serial killer thriller that is, unfortunately, weighed down with useless subplots. Michael Madsen stars as a convict that finds out a serial killer has murdered his daughter. He quickly breaks out of prison (during a transfer, so it's not completely unbelievable) and gets to work finding the "sick son-of-a-bitch" that did it. He eventually hooks up with Jamie Lunar and the two work together (and get romantically involved). Sacrifice is pretty silly, but it's basically watchable - mostly due to Madsen. Here's a guy who's undoubtedly resigned himself to the fact that he'll never be a big star, and instead spends his time accepting roles in exceedingly quirky films like this. But what keeps Sacrifice from being a whole lot better is the manner by which it keeps shifting to various subplots, in order to make up for the fact that (I guess) the writer didn't have enough to say about this serial killer. For one thing, there's a couple of cops (one of them is played by Bokeem Woodbine) on Madsen's tail ('cause he's an escaped con, you see). These scenes are a complete waste of time and have nothing to do with the central story. It doesn't even make sense that Madsen had to be an escaped con. And while I didn't guess exactly who the killer was (only because you don't actually meet him/her until about 15 before the movie ends), it's pretty obvious what field the killer works in right from the get-go. No, this isn't Se7en. But if you're a Madsen fan, you'll probably (somewhat) enjoy this.
Twist of Fate
Twist of Fate, as the title implies, has a lot of twists - but that's about it. Madchen Amick stars as a district attorney with an axe to grind; when she was in law school, her roommate was murdered and the man who did it never got away. Now, someone is similarly killing law students and it turns out it's Chris Mulkey (gee, wonder if there's a connection between these murders and the earlier one...) Amick prosecutes the case but Mulkey gets off. And that's when the twists begin to emerge. I would really be reluctant to recommend this if it weren't for a few nifty plot twists, because the film is otherwise fairly bad. It's badly acted (Amick's pretty good, but Mulkey is completely out of his league as a Hannibal Lecter-esque villain), badly written and it just looks all-around cheap. But like I said the twist that occurs around the halfway point is a good one, and the movie may be worth seeing just for that. But all the twists that come afterwards are entirely predictable (basically, you know what happens after the first twist, because the rest is essentially common sense). And what's with the complete lack of violence or swearing? This movie, with the exception of content, could've easily been rated PG, which, for a straight-to-video movie, should be entirely verboten. For Amick completists only (is there even such a thing?).
The Trigger Effect
How would you react if the power went out? You probably wouldn't panic. But what if it stayed out, and the phones didn't work either? A little bit worried? Now, imagine that even your radio doesn't work, so it's completely impossible to find out what's going on. Take that frightening scenario and you have The Trigger Effect. Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue star as Matthew and Annie, a happily married couple that find themselves in the midst of said scenario. Little things like medication for their sick baby become huge obstacles, with the added burden of having to deal with their ne'er-do-well high school friend (played by Dermot Mulroney). Written and directed by David Koepp (the acclaimed screenwriter responsible for such big budget extravaganzas as Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible), The Trigger Effect is more of an examination of how easily the walls of society can break down rather than an action movie or thriller. Koepp is more interested in how these seemingly normal people will react to such extraordinary events. And while the film is a little bit uneven (with some sequences going on much longer than they need to), The Trigger Effect is regardless a fascinating and terse look at the breakdown of common decency during a time of crisis.