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Wakin' Up in Reno (April 30/03)

Wakin' Up in Reno is one of those movies that's essentially entertaining, but unmemorable to the point that it'll be completely forgotten minutes after it's over.

The story concerns two couples - Candy (Charlize Theron) and Roy (Patrick Swayze), and Lonnie Earl (Billy Bob Thornton) and Darlene (Natasha Richardson) - that decide to take a vacation together by driving down to Reno, Nevada. We learn almost immediately that Lonnie Earl and Candy have been having an affair, which you just know the other two are going to discover at some point.

Wakin' Up in Reno is so silly and so pointless that it's hard to imagine what these four stars saw in the script (well, presumably Swayze was thrilled to even be considered for a non straight-to-video schlockfest). Writers Brent Briscoe and Mark Fauser infuse the screenplay with a variety of cliches and the whole thing just has an air of sitcomness about it. It's not to surprising to learn, then, that the two were staff writers on the short-lived John Ritter show, Hearts Afire - which, not coincidentally, co-starred Thornton. This probably explains his presence in the film, but still, he is so far above this material it's ridiculous.

But that doesn't stop him from giving yet another transfixing performance. As sleazy car salesman Lonnie Early, Thornton ensures that the film is always somewhat watchable - even if it's predictable to the point of absurdity. Swayze is just as effective playing Roy, a well-meaning dolt. Swayze clearly hasn't lost the charisma that made him a star in the '80s, and he's at his best when he's playing simpletons like Roy. If he could just keep away from lame suspense flicks like Letters to a Killer, he might just be able to jump-start his career. Theron and Richardson aren't given much to do, though Richardson (a Brit) is quite convincing as a Southerner.

Director Jordan Brady thankfully keeps the pace brisk, and there's a lot of colorful scenery to be had - but still, this is the sort of thing that works best when it's made for TBS (and stars Jack Wagner).

out of