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Mini Reviews (June 2002)

School Ties, Circumstances Unknown, Pale Saints, Tuff Turf, The Android Affair, Requiem for Murder, Death in Brunswick

School Ties (June 20/02)

If memory serves, the ad campaign for School Ties centered around the fact that Brendan Fraser was a Jewish student at a decidedly non-Jewish boarding school. But, watching the film now without the images of that trailer in my mind, the film is about so much more than that (though that does become a pivotal plot point towards the end). As the movie opens, David Greene (Fraser) finds himself being courted by an elite New England school - due primarily to his stellar football skills. He (obviously) accepts and is soon getting used to the idea of being surrounded by so many rich kids (he comes from the wrong side of the tracks, you see). Though there is a bit of animosity between David and the boy who used to be the star quarterback (Matt Damon, in one of his first roles), David's quirky sensibilities soon win him the respect of his fellow students. He also finds himself falling for a beautiful co-ed (Amy Locane), who just happens to be dating that increasingly bitter former quarterback. Everything seems fine and dandy, until his Jewish identity is revealed. Now, Damon has a good reason for hating Fraser and Fraser quickly discovers that the tolerance for a Jew in an elite '50s prep school is quite low. There's nothing particularly daring or even original about School Ties, but the movie still works due mostly to some fine performances and a well-paced script. Fraser, in particular, demonstrates why he's capable of working on films that doesn't feature a computer-generated mummy. And Damon, in what must have been his big break, exudes exactly the sort of smarmy charm you'd expect from such a character - while Ben Affleck is relegated to dancing around topless in one scene and stuck with no more than five lines of dialogue.

out of

Circumstances Unknown (June 23/02)

Well, as far as schlocky Judd Nelson thrillers go, Circumstances Unknown could've been worse. Nelson stars as a deeply troubled jeweler with a predilection for drowning people (a feat he accomplishes by holding their head underwater; now, maybe it's just me, but couldn't one easily just swim down and away to save themselves?), and - in a murder that winds up having nothing to do with the rest of the movie - he even kills a woman who bought a ring from him. Years ago, he was part of a quartet of friends, which he promptly destroyed by killing one of the four. Now, one of his friends is happily married with a young son - a lifestyle that Nelson becomes insanely jealous of due to his unhappy childhood. So, not surprisingly, he drowns said friend and attempts to ingratiate himself into the lives of the grieving widow and son. With a plot as busy as this one, it's hard to really become bored, but the movie is just so idiotic you'll find yourself rolling your eyes every few minutes. Nelson's got the whole creepy psycho persona thing down cold at this point, but still, Circumstances Unknown never becomes anything more than a routine straight-to-video thriller.

out of

Pale Saints (June 24/02)

Wow. It really doesn't get much worse than this. Pale Saints is the umpteenth flick to be "inspired" by the success of Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I'm still not entirely sure what the movie was about, but Sean Patrick Flanery stars as some sort of a criminal who's always wearing a suit and is in trouble with an ominous mob type with a hook for a hand (played by Maury Chakin). Lots of stuff happens that makes little to no sense, while assorted well-known Canadian actors are trotted out (Chakin, Saul Rubinek, Gordon Pinsent). The director's shot the movie in the most over-the-top fashion possible, constantly utilizing unnecessary zooms and camera pyrotechnics. There is exactly one effective sequence in the entire movie - a forced game of Russian roulette between Flanery and Rubinek - but the rest just sucks. Pale Saints is easily the complete and utter nadir of all those Tarantino ripoffs (and I'm including the terrible For a Few Lousy Dollars in that category).

out of

Tuff Turf (June 24/02)

Speaking of terrible genre movies, Tuff Turf is about as bad as it gets when it comes to cheesy '80s teen flicks. The usually reliable James Spader stars as the new kid at a rough school who quickly makes a lot of enemies when he starts pursuing the girlfriend of a gang leader. The movie's not really about much more than that, and yet it manages to lurch along for close to two hours. The whole thing's worth watching, though, just to witness Spader croon a lame '80s rock ballad to said girl... while playing the piano!

out of

The Android Affair (June 25/02)

In an undetermined future, doctors hone their skills by working on lifelike androids. Harley Jane Kozak is an up-and-coming cardiac specialist who's been assigned the most sophisticated android, with the intent of curing a heart defect no other surgeon has been able to. But she finds herself falling in love with the incredibly human 'droid (played by Griffin Dunne). The Android Affair is based on a short story by Isaac Asimov and proves yet again that short stories rarely translate well to full-length features. And though it runs much longer than it needs to, Kozak's transformation from studious doctor to happy-go-lucky robot lover seems artificial and forced. The most glaring problem, though, is the fact that these androids - whose sole purpose appears to act as guinea pigs - have been given emotions, which causes them to act rebellious. But the movie might just be worth a look if only to witness the truly laughable wig they've stuck on Saul Rubinek. If you ever wondered what Rubinek would've looked like had he been a member of Poison, wonder no more...

out of

Requiem for Murder (June 29/02)

Requiem for Murder represents Molly Ringwald's latest schlocky straight-to-video effort. It's a shame, really, that she's been seemingly ostracized from mainstream flicks, since she still has a lot of the charisma and likability that made her famous. Ringwald stars a late-night host on a classical music station who quickly discovers that the same nameless individual who's been sending her flowers is also murdering anyone who ever gave her trouble (a competitor, a woman who drove into her car, etc). We're given a lot of suspects to choose from (the meek engineer with a crush on Ringwald, a bitter co-host upset that Ringwald won't date him, even Chris Mulkey shows up as a prominent music teacher with a violent streak), but in the end, the movie introduces a character in the last ten minutes and he turns out to be the killer. That was particularly lame, considering I had spent most of the running time trying to figure out who was behind the murders. Still, the movie's paced well and Ringwald's as charming as ever, so the flick may be worth a look if you ever wondered what she would look like as a brunette (answer: weird).

out of

Death in Brunswick (June 30/02)

In Death in Brunswick, Sam Neill plays a down-on-his-luck slob who's just been hired as a cook at a sleazy dive, but soon finds himself embroiled in murder and mayhem. He's also fallen in love with a 19-year-old waitress, which angers the tough-guy bouncer of the joint because he's had designs on the woman for quite some time. The movie pretty much coasts along on Neill's ample talent and charisma, and on that level, it essentially works. But it becomes bogged down in needless subplots, and takes about 20-minutes too long to end. For Neill fans only.

out of

© David Nusair