FILM FLAM FLUMMOX
by Michael Dequina
June 28, 2006
The Return of the Pointless Intro Bit
…in time for the big site relaunch…
Richard Donner Returns
When it was announced that Bryan Singer would be tackling the long-in-the-works big screen return of Superman, both film and comic fan alike eagerly anticipated what he would come up with — after all, this is the same filmmaker who was able to make mainstream-accessible, cinematic sense of what is arguably the most complex conventional superhero mythos, that of the X-Men. But those walking into SUPERMAN RETURNS to be uniquely “Bryan Singer’s Superman” will be let down as this is more or less the sequel that 1978 Superman director Richard Donner was never allowed to complete.
This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing, as Donner’s film (and, for the most part, the 1980-81 Donner/Richard Lester hybrid sequel Superman II) treated Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster’s historic creation with the respect due any literary character with such enduring appeal, not with campy condescension just because of its comic book origins. The familiar, lengthy main title sequence scored to the still-stirring John Williams theme announce this film as being firmly in line with those first two films, and so goes the whole of Superman Returns: extremely close to, if not downright aping, the originals. After a five-year absence from earth that began shortly after the events of II, Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) once again comes crashing down to Earth, specifically at his mother’s (Eva Marie Saint) farm in Smallville. Clark soon returns to Metropolis. the offices of the Daily Planet, and, hence, the world of his true love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) — but she is now not only engaged to Perry White’s (Frank Langella) nephew Richard (James Marsden, getting far more screen time here than he did in the sadly Singer-less X-Men: The Last Stand), but she also has a young son (Tristan Lake Leabu).
But those changes sound far more radical on paper than they do in execution, as from beginning to end (there’s even the classic capper of Supes flying above earth), top to bottom, the tone, the style, the look (many of John Barry’s original sets are reflected in Guy Hendrix Dyas’ production design), the feel is Donner through and through. While the attention to consistency is remarkable — writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris pepper the script with a number of detailed references to those first two films — one cannot help but wish that Singer took a more distinctive spin on the material. Knowing how creative and imaginative yet intelligent and respectful he has proven to be in the past with comic book material, it’s a bit dismaying to see him for the most part ape Donner, whose most distinctive strength is his anonymous, workmanlike precision.
That latter description also kind of extends to Routh. He does a completely competent job here, even if it’s quite obvious he probably was cast more for his Christopher Reeve-reminiscent look than anything else. That said, the jury is still out as to if he’ll be a star or any good outside of these films — unlike Singer’s last great find, Hugh Jackman, who in his first scenes in the original 2000 X-Men instantly announced him as a movie star, period, and not merely a star when playing the character. But for now, for the purposes of this re-introduction film, his impeccable Reeve impersonation will do. Bosworth’s Lois is similarly competent though her youthful appearance — even younger than her actual 23 years–makes her somewhat difficult to reconcile with Margot Kidder’s brassier take in the first two films. The one cast member–nay, the one prominent member of the whole team–to bring something fairly freshly his own to the table is Kevin Spacey. While his Lex Luthor does pick up from the madcap vein of Gene Hackman’s original portrayal, he brings some of his own darker edges to the part. For the first time in a major Superman feature, Luthor is both amusingly wacky and a believably sinister threat to the Man of Steel. The Hackman versus Spacey comparison can be summed up thusly: Hackman uses a Kryptonite block, but Spacey wields a Kryptonite shiv.
The film as a whole could have used a little more of that type of ferocious instinct, as in terms of an adventure Returns pulls out its action showstopper very early–too early–with a spectacular jet plane rescue (a sequence that should be especially phenomenal on IMAX 3-D) and then coasts its way toward its fairly low-key whisper of a conclusion. What goes on between is never boring — and how could it be, what with the state-of-the-art effects; lavish set and production design (no mystery where the money in the megabucks budget went here); Spacey’s hamming and sniping with sidekick Parker Posey; and the kick of seeing the Man of Steel simply do his Super-thing using his heat vision, cooling breath, and superhuman strength — but just when you clamor for Supes and Singer to deliver a rush of blockbuster excitement, they instead settle for being merely entertaining. While that is enough to make Superman Returns an agreeable summertime diversion, it cannot help but be a bit of a let down given not so much the studio-manufactured hype (though that does count) but the anticipation by fans over the years.
It’s only fitting that, in my first column at the newly rechristened Quick Stop, that I would review an Adam Sandler picture, as my second Movie Poop Shoot column featured a review of Mr. Deeds. Four years may have passed since then, but as CLICK shows nothing has much changed at all in the Happy Madison camp–and for those like myself who are immune to the Sandler Kool-Aid, that’s not necessarily a good thing.In fact, many of the same problems I had with Deeds are actually brought into sharper relief in Click, which finds Sandler’s workaholic family man coming into possession of a remote control that is universal in the most literal sense: the device allows him to pause, rewind, fast forward, even picture-in-picture his life. This paves the way for the expected juvenalia along the lines of what is shown in the advertising — slow-mo’ing the bountiful, bouncing breasts on a comely jogger; pausing to move a rude kid’s catching arm so he could get hit in the face with a ball — as well as unrelated, grotesque crudeness such as his family dog’s incessant urge to hump an oversized plush duck toy. As is what has become the Sandler norm, such crudeness co-exists with schmaltz, as his put-upon wife (a wasted Kate Beckinsale, spending most of the film wearing sleepwear short-shorts) and his parents (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner) constantly nag him about the importance of family over work.
And so one braces oneself for the inevitable sap-soaked conclusion, but no amount of preparation can steel one enough for the rather flabbergasting turn the film takes in its final third. Director Frank Coraci’s “movie” (as the credits pointedly state, as opposed to “film”) ventures far beyond the expected touchy-feely hugs-’n-healing into a mass of old age makeup and balls-out, would-be Oscar clip emoting by the erstwhile Waterboy himself. I doubt even the most devout Sandler devotees would call him a terribly rangy actor, and the maudlin muck of the final stretch would be a challenge to sell with a seasoned dramatic actor, let alone someone who has never possessed any sort of emotional pulse on screen like Sandler. While I’ve never been a fan of his particular brand of humor, if the alternative is suffering through him struggle mightily to convey angst over lost moments with his dad is, bring on the “comical” outbursts of violence, tiresome “You can do it!” callbacks, and Rob Schneider cameos.
Waist Deep in Pretension
To director/co-writer Vondie Curtis Hall’s credit, he wastes no time throwing reformed con O2 (Tyrese Gibson) WAIST DEEP (sorry, couldn’t resist) into a precarious situation: his young son (H. Hunter Hall, the director’s son, inheriting none of his father’s–or, for that matter, mother Kasi Lemmons’–acting talent) is taken from him in a big, energetically staged daylight street chase/shootout. The stage is thus set for a gritty, hard action thriller with a capable lead (given that Wesley Snipes has now been consigned to direct-to-video oblivion, there’s an open door for Gibson) and a sexy, spunky female cohort (Meagan Good’s Coco, who joins O2 on a bank robbing spree to pay off the kidnappers)–and whenever Hall shifts into action gear with various fights and chases, the movie is an engaging, if not terribly original, watch.
However, Hall seems less concerned with the action beats than a rather heavy-handed anti-violence message, which first manifests as some already less-than-subtle background news references to Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cracking down on crime but eventually build to some sledgehammer speeches and rally scenes. Every now and again the message comes through effectively: the juxtaposition of O2’s slacker cousin (Larenz Tate, who really deserves another crack at a lead role) being beaten at the same site as one of these rallies, the unaware crowd busy listening to a speech to notice; and a scene in which O2 and Coco lay bare the tragedy and pain in their pasts makes a much more effective and memorable anti-violence statement than any of the blatant dialogue speechifying. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and the frustration grows as the whole “escape from the hood for a better and safer life” theme takes more and more precedence over the admittedly formulaic but far more effectively done action aspects (the resolution with the main bad guy, played in surprisingly limited screen time by The Game, is so abrupt as if to be a mere afterthought)–but even the good will generated by those elements and the appealing turns by Gibson and Good is all but wiped away by a wholly expected but no less cheeseball coda.
At the Video Store
Before a personal return to form in Waist Deep, Tyrese Gibson was last seen awkwardly filling the part of a tough-as-nails Navy training officer making the academy a living hell for one determined upstart (James Franco, who had an awful January between this and Tristan & Isolde) in ANNAPOLIS (Touchstone Home Entertainment). But then his unconvincing performance is but one of things that go awry in the first of director Justin Lin’s twin 2006 catastrophes (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Driftbeing the other), a corny and contrived boxing movie in military dress. The disc includes commentary by Lin, deleted scenes, and some behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Vin Diesel’s god-awful hairpiece is the most amusing thing about the fact-based bore FIND ME GUILTY (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), which misses the boat as far as the real story worth telling: not that an obnoxious mafia thug (Diesel, hamming it up with a ridiculously overwrought accent) defends himself in a criminal trial but that said trial ultimately becomes the longest in U.S. history. With the accent and (unfortunate) wig, this was obviously meant to be the vehicle to prove Diesel’s chops once and for all, but director Sidney Lumet does him nor the overlong film any favors by too often resorting to desperate courtroom yuk-yuk hijinks; this My Goombah Vinny is nowhere in the league of My Cousin Vinny. The DVD includes trailers and a “Conversations with Sidney Lumet” featurette.
While I was one of the few reviewers to find redeeming qualities in Darren Grant’s screen version of Tyler Perry’s play Diary of Mad Black Woman, the same cannot be said of the adaptation of MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), which now finds the screenwriter-star-multimillionaire also behind the camera and showing that his true directorial calling is on the live stage, not in film. Try as they might, Blair Underwood and talented new faces Rochelle Aytes and Lisa Arindell Anderson (as a pair of sisters with man trouble) cannot sell Perry’s messy plotting and meandering direction, bringing into sharp relief the rather admirable job Grant pulled off in giving the previous film a certain sense of focus and emotional and narrative coherence. The special edition DVD, available in separate full screen and widescreen versions, features commentary by Perry, deleted scenes, and numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Imagine your most routine, autopilot Hollywood rom-com and substitute the male character with another woman, and you get IMAGINE ME & YOU (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). Appealing turns by Piper Perabo and Lena Headey as the sapphic love interests and Matthew Goode (when will this guy get a decent Hollywood role?) as Perabo’s unsuspecting hubby deserve better than writer-director Ol Parker’s painfully predictable paces; all that’s missing from the contrived stuck-in-a-traffic-jam finale is the dreaded slow clap. The disc includes commentary by Parker, deleted scenes, and a Q&A with Parker and the cast.
That said, that film is far easier to sit through than the inexplicable smash FAILURE TO LAUNCH (Paramount Home Entertainment), which features Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker at their most charmless as, respectively, a womanizer who still lives with his parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) and the woman hired to get him to move out. If the running gag that has McConaughey constantly attacked by animals because his lifestyle is “against nature” isn’t enough to make one wince, the traumatizing sight of a pasty, flabby Bradshaw in the buff most certainly is. The DVD, available in separate full screen and widescreen versions, includes a number of making-of/behind-the-scenes documentary featurettes.
Writer-director Kurt Wimmer more or less disowned the PG-13 theatrical cut of his sci-fi actioner ULTRAVIOLET (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), but it’s difficult to imagine any amount of added action and violence making this visually striking but emptyheaded tale of a futuristic “blood war” any more coherent–or lines such as “Oh, it’s on!” any less laughable. The unrated, extended director’s cut edition (the theatrical version is available in a separate release) includes commentary by star Milla Jovovich–but, tellingly, still nothing from Wimmer–and a making-of featurette.
…more reviews, including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. As always, for additional reviews and more, check out (the soon-to-be-updated) TheMovieReport.com .
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