The Films of Andrew Fleming
Bad Dreams (July 8/16)
Bad Dreams casts Jennifer Rubin as Cynthia, the sole survivor of a suicide cult who, after waking up from a 13-year-long coma, is sent into group therapy to prepare her for life in the real world - with complications ensuing as Cynthia's fellow patients begin dying at an alarming rate. (It doesn't help, certainly, that Cynthia finds herself experiencing visions of her former cult leader.) It's clear virtually from the word go that Bad Dreams has been "inspired" by the Nightmare on Elm Street series, as the movie plays like a blatant clone of, especially, the third installment (ie both movies involve a ragtag assortment of unbalanced characters and, obviously, an emphasis on creepy, ominous dreams). The familiar atmosphere is far from the most troublesome element within the proceedings; rather, it's the total lack of compelling, three-dimensional characters that secures Bad Dreams' downfall. Screenwriters Andrew Fleming and Steven E. de Souza (!) prove hopelessly unable to offer up even a single sympathetic figure, and it is, as such, impossible to work up a rooting interest in the rapidly-dwindling protagonists' success. The sporadic emphasis on gory bursts of brutality does help alleviate the otherwise interminable atmosphere (as does the left turn taken by the narrative near the picture's end), and yet Bad Dreams is, for the most part, a fairly disastrous trainwreck of a thriller that'll test the patience of even the most ardent horror fan.
The In-Laws (May 21/03)
In a lot of ways, The In-Laws, which details the chaos that ensues after podiatrist Jerry Peyser meets his daughter's future father-in-law (Michael Douglas' CIA agent Steve Tobias), is a close cinematic cousin to Meet the Parents - both in its themes and in its execution. The most distinct similarity is the clash between two very different families, with the CIA element present in both films. And like Meet the Parents, The In-Laws isn't exactly a laugh-out-loud riot; the term "slow build" is especially appropriate here. But the film always remains entertaining, mostly due to Brooks' performance - which is essentially one long reaction shot. Brooks' specialty has always been the long-suffering type, and he puts that skill to almost perfect use here. It becomes clear, right from the opening scenes, that Peyser is the ideal Albert Brooks character - he's a neurotic, rigid sort that enjoys predictability - and, as expected, most of the comedy emerges from situations Peyser is absolutely uncomfortable in. But there's something missing from The In-Laws. There's a certain lack of energy that prevents the film from becoming more than just an enjoyable time-waster. Though the movie is peppered with expensive-looking stunts (including a parachute ride between Tobias and Peyser from the top of a very tall building), they're not terribly exciting. But they're worth sitting through if only because of David Suchet's hilarious turn as an effeminate villain with a crush on Peyser. The main storyline, involving the wedding of Tobias' son Mark (Ryan Reynolds) and Peyser's daughter Melissa (Lindsay Sloane), is substantially less interesting than all the fish-out-water stuff involving Brooks. Still, the affable nature of the various performers and a bizarre cameo by KC and the Sunshine Band ensures that the whole thing is entertaining throughout. The In-Laws is certainly a must for fans of Brooks, as the chance to see him in an all-out comedy is becoming more and more rare nowadays. But those looking for hilarity along the lines of his own films like Lost in America and Defending Your Life will surely be disappointed.
While there's little doubt that Nancy Drew has been geared primarily towards adolescent girls, the film never quite becomes the interminable piece of work that one might've expected - something that's due primarily to Andrew Fleming's bubbly (if styleless) directorial choices and Emma Roberts' star-making performance. The story follows ace teen detective Nancy Drew (Roberts) as she leaves her hometown of River Heights for sunny Los Angeles, where - as expected - she stumbles into a decades-old murder mystery. Screenwriters Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen effectively update Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew character for an entirely new generation, with their only real misstep the ongoing references to Nancy's ill-received efforts to blend into contemporary society (including a curious subplot in which Nancy is shunned by her high school peers because of her meticulous personality). The relatively brisk pace - coupled with the inclusion of several genuinely surprising twists - ensures that the film never entirely overstays its welcome, and it's certainly difficult not to be won over by a supporting cast that includes (among others) Tate Donovan, Rachael Leigh Cook, and a surprise appearance by a major Hollywood star. And while Nancy Drew will never be mistaken for anything other than fluffy escapism, one could surely do much worse as far as movies of this ilk go.
Buoyed by Steve Coogan's unapologetically go-for-broke performance, Hamlet 2 ultimately manages to overcome its rampantly inconsistent sensibilities to establish itself as a charming (and sporadically hilarious) comedy/musical. Coogan stars as Dana Marschz, a hopelessly optimistic struggling actor whose inability to find more than a hemorrhoid commercial leads him to accept a job as a drama teacher at an Arizona-based high school. There, Dana must rally his ragtag students after learning his department is in danger of being shut down over a lack of funds - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around his efforts at raising money by putting together a self-penned sequel to Hamlet. While it's hard to deny that Hamlet 2, with its emphasis on a character who seems to exist in his own little world, owes more than a little to Napoleon Dynamite, there's little doubt that the film ultimately fares slightly better than that 2004 sleeper - as director Andrew Fleming has effectively populated the proceedings with a myriad of compellingly oddball figures (including Elisabeth Shue as Elisabeth Shue and Catherine Keener as Dana's long-suffering partner). It's hard to deny, however, that the stop-and-start pace inevitably results in a wildly uneven midsection, with Coogan's admittedly engrossing work only able to carry the movie so far. The third-act transformation from indie comedy to flat-out musical proves instrumental in re-capturing one's interest, and while some of these songs are more successful than others (ie it's impossible to walk out of the film without humming "Rock Me Sexy Jesus"), Hamlet 2 possesses a cult-classic-in-waiting feel that effectively cements its place as an amiable piece of work.
The Wedding Guest