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Mini Reviews (February 2003)

The First Turn-On, Chicago Cab, Seven Girlfriends, My Five Wives, Rated X, The Toxic Avenger, National Lampoon's Van Wilder

The First Turn-On (February 10/03)

Typically schlocky Troma affair involving a group of campers and a counselor who get trapped inside a cave, and proceed to share stories of their respective first times with one another - culminating in an all-out orgy. The First Turn-On is incredibly cheesy, but it's also surprisingly enjoyable and quite funny. This is the kind of movie the Zuckers would make if they were into raunchy r-rated sleazefests, with the jokes coming a mile a minute and the character development kept to a bare minimum. Also of note is the very first film appearance of Vincent D'Onofrio, playing a dim-witted camper (he would go on to play Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket just a few years later).

out of

Chicago Cab (February 15/03)

Chicago Cab is based on a play, and that's certainly no surprise. The film follows a nameless cab driver (played by Paul Dillon) as he drives around Chicago picking up a variety of different folks. Like that HBO series Taxicab Confessions, he listens to them rant and rave - and that's about it. But the surprising thing about Chicago Cab is the fact that a lot of well-known stars hop into Dillon's cab. John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore... It's an impressive group, but since none of them get more than three or four minutes, it's pretty much pointless. And the majority of Dillon's conversations are dull, since they're of the small talk variety (Cusack's cameo is particularly frustrating, since he acts all mysterious and then vanishes - without any explanation for why he was behaving so oddly). Finally, towards the end, there's an intriguing exchange between Dillon and a black passenger involving their feelings on death - but it's too little, too late.

out of

Seven Girlfriends (February 16/03)

In Seven Girlfriends, Tim Daly plays a guy who's never had any luck with women. But when the supposed love of his life dies in a bizarre scarf mishap, he decides to finally work out why he's never had a lasting relationship. En route to her funeral, he stops in at the homes of all his former girlfriends and grills them on why their love went sour. Seven Girlfriends is an oh-so-slight but surprisingly entertaining little movie, buoyed by Daly's seemingly effortless charm. The titular girlfriends are played by a variety of familiar faces, including Mimi Rogers and Melrose Place's Laura Leighton, and though the temptation must've been there, none of them are played as stereotypically as one might expect. It's a cute movie that's worth checking out if only because opportunities to see Daly play a leading man are awfully scarce after Year of the Comet.

out of

My Five Wives (February 21/03)

How's this for a concept: Rodney Dangerfield stars as a successful land developer who buys an old estate in Amish Country, but doesn't realize that he's also buying the three wives of the late owner (the other two wives come later). My Fives Wives is exactly as silly as you might expect, with Dangerfield making cheesy wisecracks and bad puns at every opportunity (example: after two of his wives provide a diversion by lifting their tops, he remarks "nice booby traps!") But it's never entirely boring, mostly due to the exceedingly eclectic supporting cast (Andrew Dice Clay plays the bad guy, Molly Shannon shows up as a self-help guru, etc) - still it's unlikely the film will win over non-Dangerfield fans.

out of

Rated X (February 21/03)

Rated X follows the Mitchell brothers through their rise and fall in the porn industry, from their low-key beginnings as adult filmmakers to their eventual dominance of the industry (for a while, anyway). The biggest problem with the film is the fact that Boogie Nights covered similar terrain, but much more effectively. Emilio Estevez directs (and stars as one of the brothers), and he's clearly been influenced by Paul Thomas Anderson's sense of style (not to mention Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, etc). But he hasn't got a fraction of the skill as those filmmakers, and winds up using camera tricks to tell us exactly what the characters are feeling at the moment (example: towards the end, when things begin to go horribly wrong for the brothers, Estevez starts in with off-kilter angles, out-of-focus shots, and a variety of other cliched "innovations"). Not helping matters is the fact that this just isn't an interesting story, with the Mitchell brothers making for truly unsympathetic protagonists. They're just so sleazy it's impossible to care what happens to them, and the motivation for a murder that comes late in the picture is laughable (at best). Having said that, Estevez and real-life brother Charlie Sheen are surprisingly effective as the purveyors of porn (going so far as to shave their heads) - but still, their first collaboration, Men at Work, is much better than this (which is really saying something).

out of

The Toxic Avenger (February 22/03)

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect out of The Toxic Avenger. Though I'd already seen one Troma flick (The First Turn-On), I didn't know if this film would be just as goofy and off-the-wall - or if it was going to be a more serious gore extravaganza. And while The Toxic Avenger does contain a good deal of disgustingly bloody moments, it's just as wacky as The First Turn-On (and even contains a joke that was in that film). The film's hero is a nerdy, put-upon janitor who's not too bright and a target for local bullies. After falling into a tub of toxic waste, he finds himself changing into something different - something stronger and courageous. He becomes the Toxic Avenger, and begins to rid Tromaville of the unwanted element (and even starts a relationship with a blind girl). The Toxic Avenger is an incredibly bizarre flick, combining silly jokes with outrageous gore, but it works. The infectious good-natured vibe is certainly catchy, and it's hard not to laugh at some of these odd little moments.

out of

National Lampoon's Van Wilder (February 23/03)

National Lampoon's Van Wilder is yet another comedy that isn't all that funny. It's packed with hundreds of so-called jokes, but few of them are able to elicit anything other than groans. Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is the big man on campus at his college, having been attending for seven years (and no, he's not going for his doctorate). But things start to go wrong after he raises the ire of a well-connected frat guy by hitting on his girlfriend (Tara Reid), and in between vicious pranks against said frat guy, Van Wilder comes to the realization that maybe it's time for him to graduate. The film belongs to that dying comedy sub-genre, the gross-out flick. And this one takes things particularly far, forcing characters to eat dog semen. That'd all be fine, if any of this stuff was in the least bit funny - which it isn't. Reynolds is charming enough to hopefully survive this mess, but Reid just looks completely out of place here (wearing about a pound of make-up and speaking her lines with a sultry whisper, she seems to be auditioning for a Joe Eszterhas flick). Still, I will admit to having chuckled at an Erik Estrada cameo and the whole thing isn't as painfully boring as, say, American Pie - so you really could do worse.

out of

© David Nusair