Mini Reviews (May 2002)
If I Die Before I Wake, Dead Funny, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, Kill the Man, The Happy Face Murders, Along for the Ride
If I Die Before I Wake
Wow. I didn't think tough little movies like this even got made any more. If I Die Before I Wake details a home invasion and the one person that manages to outwit the ruthless robbers at every turn. The film opens with the burglars breaking in and never looks back. And at a running time of around 80 minutes, it's perfectly paced - allowing for zero opportunity to get bored. Like some of those old school horror flicks - like Last House on the Left - this movie never falls prey to sentiment or cheesy one-liners (well, okay, there is one one-liner, but it works). The three criminals - lead by I Know What You Did Last Summer's Muse Watson - are plain old evil, and proceed to completely rip apart this family. The teenage girl (played by Stephanie Jones), the only one the invaders didn't notice upon entering the home, is left to her own devices and slowly manages to fight back. Though it has an ending that's perhaps a shade too uplifting, the film itself is incredibly dark - with family members thrown through the ringer of abuse and rape. But the whole thing would have been entirely ineffectual if it weren't for Watson and Jones' stellar performances, with the latter particularly strong here.
Dead Funny casts Elizabeth Pena as a slightly insane woman who comes home to find her boyfriend (Andrew McCarthy) impaled by his own sword (yes, that's right - sword). Through flashbacks, we witness the progression of their tumultuous relationship through good times and bad. There's not much to say about this, really; the movie doesn't go anywhere and doesn't contain a single likeable or compelling character. The structure of the flick is haphazard at best, lurching from one time period to another with complete disregard for how it affects the movie's flow. And the fact that Pena keeps seeing some sort of an apparition of McCarthy certainly doesn't help matters. By the time we find out what really happened to McCarthy's character, it's impossible to care. Now, if Pena had pretended that McCarthy was still alive in order to fool her friends, that might have been worth watching...
The Man Who Captured Eichmann
The Man Who Captured Eichmann is one of those movies that's well made all around, but it's just so average. Robert Duvall stars as the nefarious Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who's created a new life for himself - complete with adoring grandkids - somewhere in South America. His movements are being tracked by members of the Jewish military, who are plotting to kidnap the man and bring him to justice. That's the first half hour of the flick; the remainder is essentially a filmed play, with Eichmann spilling his secrets to one of his captors (played by Arliss Howard). The Man Who Captured Eichmann boasts a couple of really strong lead performances, with Duvall bringing a human touch to a role that unquestionably needed it. But the movie never really becomes anything more than a stagy showcase for some fine acting - but on that level, it works.
Kill the Man
Starring Luke Wilson, Kill the Man is an exceedingly silly little comedy about a pair of copy shop owners who decide to take on the large chain store across the street (it's called King Co... Get it?) Most of the jokes in Kill the Man are of the over-the-top variety, with few coming close to provoking laughter. But the easy-going vibe is sort of infectious and the performances are semi-decent, so the movie may be worth a look if you're in the mood for this sort of thing. But really, it's just too stupid and plotless to be wholeheartedly effective (ie check out the far superior Office Space if you're in the mood for an anti-establishment comedy).
The Happy Face Murders
Based on a true story, The Happy Face Murders follows a Matlock-watching old lady as she pieces together the elements of a murder and sets up her live-in boyfriend as the killer. For some odd reason, though, she eventually recants her story and admits that she is in fact the murderer. Ann-Margaret stars as the crazy old woman, while Marg Helgenberger plays the lead detective on the case (which proves to be a model for her eventual character on the hit show, CSI). The tone of The Happy Face Murders is surprisingly light, with most of the events played for laughs. But it doesn't really work. It's a pretty stupid premise to begin with (I know, I know, it's a true-life story), and a more somber tone certainly would have helped give it some gravity. But it's basically entertaining enough, and Helgenberger provides enough charm to make it worth a look.
Along for the Ride
So, this is what Patrick Swayze has been reduced to - playing opposite Melanie Griffith in what has to be her worst performance to date. Griffith stars as a mentally unbalanced woman who decides to hook up with her old lover, a fledgling television writer (played by Swayze). The two embark on a pointless and irritating road trip to seek out the child she gave up for adoption over a decade ago. The slow pace of the film is exacerbated by that truly awful performance by Griffith, who appears to be basing her character on the misguided belief that acting like an obnoxious buffoon equals insanity. Her unwarranted verbal assault on Swayze's current wife, surprisingly well played by Penelope Ann Miller, serves only to remind us of how much we hate this character. Swayze is good, but then, Griffith's performance makes Madonna look like a classically trained thespian. Avoid it.