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Mini Reviews (October, November 2006)

Date Movie, My Favorite Wife, Submerged, She's the Man, Iris, Seeing Other People, Secrets of Mary Magdalene, Dot The I

Date Movie (October 1/06)

The continued existence of the parody film is baffling, given that the majority of them stopped being funny sometime in late '80s - though the unwarranted success of the Scary Movie series has undoubtedly played a large part in their continued existence. Were it not for the presence of Scary Movie 2 - as terrible and slipshod a film as one could ever imagine - Date Movie would certainly rank as the nadir of this comedy subgenre. Screenwriters Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have infused the proceedings with a whole host of references and gags derived from such contemporary romantic comedies as Pretty Woman, Meet the Parents, and Hitch, but the pair soon prove themselves entirely inept and inexplicably manage to drain anything even resembling hilarity out of every aspect of the production. There's absolutely nothing here that's funny; the filmmakers, seemingly aware of this, attempt to compensate by piling on one pop-culture reference after another, but such antics serve only to infuse the film with an unmistakable air of desperation. In the end, were it not for star Alyson Hannigan's ample charisma, there's little doubt that Date Movie would fare a lot worse than it ultimately does.

out of

My Favorite Wife (November 5/06)

Despite the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud moments (most courtesy of star Cary Grant), My Favorite Wife remains a flat and generally forgettable entry within the screwball genre. The expectedly wacky premise revolves around Grant's Nick Arden as he attempts to choose between his two wives, Ellen (Irene Dunne) and Bianca (Gail Patrick), following the former's unexpected appearance on the day of his wedding to the latter (Ellen had apparently been thought dead after being lost at sea for several years). Saddled with an unusually slow pace and distinctly uneven structure, My Favorite Wife benefits heavily from Grant's charismatic presence (as well as supporting player Randolph Scott, cast as a smug competitor for Ellen's affections) - although, admittedly, there's only so much Grant can do to salvage the film's inherently flawed premise (which requires Nick's old wife to behave terribly towards his new one). Dunne's uncomfortably broad performance doesn't help matters, while director Garson Kanin infuses the film with over-the-top flourishes designed to emphasize the comedic elements within the script (including - but certainly not limited to - wacky sound effects).

out of

Submerged (November 9/06)

Submerged marks a huge step backwards for erstwhile action star Steven Seagal, whose past few direct-to-video efforts (including Today You Die and Black Dawn) were actually kind of decent - albeit in a lowered-expectations sort of way. But Submerged - with its needlessly cluttered, flat-out nonsensical screenplay and uncomfortably flashy visual style - strikes all the wrong notes right from the get-go, to the extent that one can't help but wonder just which demographic the film was trying to reach (certainly not Seagal's remaining fans, who'll be turned off by the lack of hand-to-hand combat). The ridiculously convoluted plot plot revolves around a group of tough-as-nails mercenaries (led by Seagal) and their efforts to take down a mad scientist who's been busy transforming soldiers into mindless assassins. That's the abbreviated version; Paul de Souza and Anthony Hickox's script tosses in everything but the proverbial sink, with the end result a film that's more of a baffling ordeal than anything else. And because there are almost a dozen central characters, it's virtually impossible to genuinely care about any of these people - despite the presence of charismatic folks like Seagal and Vinnie Jones among the film's cast. The bottom line is that Submerged is just relentlessly dull, devoid of anything even resembling competence - although, admittedly, there is one semi-decent scene in which Jones caps off an incredibly savage beating by casually shooting his hapless foe in the chest.

out of

She's the Man (November 10/06)

She's the Man stars Amanda Bynes as Viola Hastings, a hardcore tomboy who - after learning that her all-girls soccer team is being shut down - transfers to a different school and adopts the identity of her twin brother (wackiness, of course, ensues). It's a sure-fire premise that's handled surprisingly well by director Andy Fickman and his team of writers (Ewan Leslie, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith), and although She's the Man has clearly been geared towards teenaged girls, there are certainly more than enough elements within the film to warrant a mild recommendation among older viewers - with David Cross' hilarious turn as Viola's quirky principal the most obvious example of this (ie his refers to his baldness as "mother nature's vindictive fury"). The supporting cast is likewise surprisingly effective, and while Bynes does possess a certain amount of charisma, her predilection for going over-the-top early and often is lamentable (though there's no denying that her broad presence does suit the larger-than-life material). The overlong running time - compounded by a seemingly endless third-act soccer game - ultimately prevents She's the Man from becoming much more than a mildly diverting time-waster, yet there's little doubt that the film fares a whole lot better than one might've imagined (no small feat given the obnoxious and instantly-dated opening credits).

out of

Iris (November 13/06)

Intriguing yet thoroughly depressing, Iris stars Judi Dench as prolific author Iris Murdoch and the film details her efforts to cope with the increasingly pronounced symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Director Richard Eyre - who co-wrote the film's screenplay with Charles Wood - also offers up a series of flashbacks in which Kate Winslet portrays the author as a vibrant, fiercely independent young woman, making the Dench-era sequences all-the-more heartbreaking. Iris is generally more of a showcase for several undeniably superb performances than anything else, and the film consequently possesses a plotless vibe that sporadically comes off as oppressive (ie Iris isn't necessarily an enjoyable piece of work, though it's certainly interesting). Both Dench and Winslet are compelling enough to ensure the viewer's continued interest, however, and it's clear that the film remains worthwhile due largely to their efforts.

out of

Seeing Other People (November 14/06)

Between them, scripters Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes have written for shows like The Simpsons, The Naked Truth, and The Larry Sanders Show. It's consequently not terribly surprising that Seeing Other People generally possesses the feel and tone of a typical sitcom, albeit a sitcom with several distinctly R-rated quirks. Jay Mohr and Julianne Nicholson star as Ed and Alice, a soon-to-be-married couple who run into problems after Alice becomes obsessed with the idea of sowing her wild oats before she settles down. With a supporting cast that includes Lauren Graham, Andy Richter, and Josh Charles, Seeing Other People moves at a brisk clip and certainly has a lot of keen insights into contemporary relationships - though there's no denying that the overtly whimsical vibe is occasionally more of a distraction than anything else (the low-rent, shot-on-digital visual style only exacerbates the film's problems, as does the inclusion of a bizarre subplot revolving around Richter's relationship with a newly-divorced mother). That being said, Mohr and Nicholson are awfully good here - with the latter particularly effective as a woman who just can't seem to decide what she wants.

out of

Secrets of Mary Magdalene (November 17/06)

Based on the non-fiction book by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, Secrets of Mary Magdalene has clearly been designed to cash in on the success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code - as evidenced by the film's emphasis on precisely the same sort of Biblical elements Brown focused on in his novel (ie Mary Magdalene's true identity). And while there are a few interesting tidbits spread throughout the film's mercifully brief running time - Mary was, for example, not a prostitute and actually an amalgam of three different women - there's little doubt that viewers with an active interest in this stuff will find much more here to embrace than neophytes. The dry and academic tone is matched by the film's bland structure, and although the filmmakers attempt to spice things up with the inclusion of several re-enactments, the bottom line is that Secrets of Mary Magdalene will surely come off as meaningless to the majority of viewers.

out of

Dot The I (November 25/06)

There's little doubt that Dot The I benefits greatly from the inclusion of a thoroughly unpredictable third-act twist, as the film is - up to that point - an egregiously slow-paced and utterly conventional romance. The story revolves around a love triangle that forms after an engaged young woman named Carmen (Natalia Verbeke) kisses a random stranger (Gael Garcia Bernal's Kit Winter) at her bachelorette party, and consequently finds herself consumed with thoughts of her steamy smooch - a move that ultimately threatens her relationship with fiancee Barnaby (James D'Arcy). It's a fairly overwrought premise that's admittedly handled well by filmmaker Matthew Parkhill, who infuses the proceedings with sporadic instances of style and generally does an effective job of keeping things interesting even through some of his screenplay's more cliched moments. But the viewer is never entirely given a reason to care about any of this; though the performances are quite strong, there's nothing here we've not seen countless times before (overlooking, of course, the aforementioned twist). And although Parkhill works just a little too hard to throw in another unexpected plot turn in the film's closing minutes, Dot The I is probably worth a look if only for the amusement of trying to guess just where the story is going.

out of

© David Nusair