Mini Reviews (January 2003)
Lush, Playing Mona Lisa, I Spit On Your Grave, Abducted, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, Tomboy, American Psycho 2
Lush (January 5/03)
Admittedly, I was curious about Lush mostly because of Campbell Scott. I've always liked him as an actor, but my esteem for him rose considerably after viewing his amazing performance in Roger Dodger. He's got the central role in Lush, alongside another great but underappreciated actor named Jared Harris, but the two are completely wasted due mostly to Mark Gibson's astoundingly inept screenplay. This is the sort of film where it's obvious from the word go that it's been directed by the same person who wrote it. Every imaginable indulgence is here, from the nonsensical storyline to the distracting use of camera tricks. Scott stars as Lionel, a drunk who's just been released from prison. He hooks up with W. Firmin Carter (Harris), a wacky New Orleans lawyer who starts each day by pretending to kill himself. The two become fast friends, and Lionel drinks way more than he should, so when Carter disappears, Lionel becomes the prime suspect (he can't offer up an alibi, because his short term memory's shot due to the excessive drinking). It sounds like a relatively simple idea for a movie, right? Gibson takes that simplicity, and turns the movie into something David Lynch would have trouble deciphering. By the time the last half hour rolls around (and believe me, it takes a long time for that to happen), the film has abandoned any pretense of being coherent and becomes an all-out mess of confusion. Scott and Harris are left with little to do except look confused, and Lush winds up being one of the worst films to star such talented actors in a long while.
Playing Mona Lisa (January 6/03)
Playing Mona Lisa is yet another romantic comedy filled to the brim with quirky characters and unbelievable situations, but unlike the majority of similar films, this one works due mostly to Alicia Witt's winning lead performance. Witt stars as a relatively happy young woman who's training to become a pianist along with her boyfriend, a fellow musician. But she starts to question her life when she's dumped and loses an important audition - all in the space of a day. The way the movie unfolded, with the sitcom-ish approach to the various situations (especially when Witt's family and friend's show up at her house to cheer her up), did not bode well for the remainder. But as we spend more time with these characters, we really do want to see them overcome obstacles to succeed in the end. This is due in no small part to Witt's completely captivating performance, as she manages to turn a character that could've easily been a walking cliche into someone we care about. Harvey Fierstein, as a gay teacher, is just as good, with the arc his character goes through surprisingly touching. The movie's never going to be credited with re-inventing the wheel, but considering how many similarly themed films fail at this, Playing Mona Lisa is certainly worth a look.
I Spit On Your Grave (January 19/03)
I Spit On Your Grave has inexplicably amassed a cult following in the years since its release. It's hard to imagine what exactly fans of the film find so entertaining about it: the prolonged rape of the central character? The ridiculous way her pursuers are portrayed? Or perhaps the eventual revenge she has on them, which is incredibly brutal (but also incredibly deserved)? The movie is just too gritty to ever be enjoyable, but I suppose that's the point. There's nothing Hollywoodized or sugar-coated here; the rape seems to transpire in real-time, and the aftermath doesn't offer up any easy narrative solutions (she could've just gone to the police, but instead decides to have her own revenge). Not helping matters is the stereotypical portrayal of the hillbilly rapists, who hoot and holler as though they were at a monster truck rally. But even they're not as cliched and cheesy as the dim-witted tag-along who takes part after being goaded into it by the three others. This is a character that's thankfully gone out of style, but popped up in most similar '70s-era exploitation horror flicks. The film is interesting in the sense that it's incredibly extreme and in no way would get made today, but aside from that bit of time-capsule trivia, I Spit On Your Grave is mostly dull and ridiculously over-the-top.
no stars out of
This incredibly cheesy "thriller" focuses on a college student who, while taking one of her usual runs in the middle of the forest (a fairly desolate forest, too), is kidnapped by a deranged mountain man. Though she has plenty of opportunities to escape (the psycho hands her a rifle at one point, for crying out loud!), her actions are dictated by a beyond-lame script that forces her to remain with the loopy kidnapper and his hilariously gentle father for much longer than anyone would reasonably expect her to. With a premise like that, the film might have stood a chance at being mildly entertaining had it not become as absurd as it eventually does. And don't be fooled by the variety of other critics that claim the film's worth checking out for the chase sequences; there's nothing here that hasn't been done better in other movies.
no stars out of
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (January 26/03)
There should've been some kind of a warning in the promotional materials for The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course warning potential viewers that the movie is essentially a big-screen version of Steve Irwin's popular show. But the interesting thing is, it's that aspect of the film that proves to be the most enjoyable part. Also included is a pointless subplot involving the search for a missing top-secret satellite piece (which just happens to have been swallowed by the very crocodile Steve and his wife are on the lookout for). The "documentary" footage is kept separate from the rest of the film by a reduced ratio, which is kind of silly but doesn't become as distracting as it could have. But what makes the adventure aspect of the film so unnecessary is the terrible acting among the CIA agents sent to find the piece and the abundance of spy cliches that keep cropping up. Though the stuff with Irwin was no doubt carefully rehearsed, there's a certain amount of energy to his performance that keeps the film afloat - and also makes the sequences without him seem dull by comparison.
There were a lot of silly sex comedies in the '80s, but Tomboy surely marks the nadir of the genre. The story has something to do with a boyish girl (a tomboy, if you will) who shuns the male gender with the force of a lesbian, but finally lets down her guard when she meets a totally dreamy racecar driver. Aside from a really catchy theme song, there's not much worth mentioning about Tomboy - though star Betsy Russell does possess a certain amount of charisma. It's too bad her big break had to come in the form of this horribly misguided "comedy."
no stars out of
American Psycho 2 (January 28/03)
Boy, it takes some kind of effort to top the suckiness of the first film. Mila Kunis stars as a perky co-ed who just happened to kill uber-killer Patrick Bateman six years ago, and - after discovering she has a fair amount of competition for a coveted position as a teacher's assistant - begins knocking off fellow classmates. There are a lot of problems with American Psycho 2, but the most glaring one is Kunis' performance. She strikes all the wrong notes as this character, and seems to be trying awfully hard to shed her That 70's Show image. William Shatner, as a pompous professor, is the sole bright spot - as he was in last year's Showtime - while virtually every recognizable Canadian actor pops up at some point (I was rolling my eyes at the umpteenth Canuck cameo, and was dumbfounded when yet another one showed up seconds later). Add to that the worst cast of extras I've ever seen (American Psycho 2 must set some kind of a record for background players looking directly into the camera), and you've got a recipe for a truly horrible little flick.