FILM / Bad soldier meets a worse actor: Under Siege Andrew Davis (US); Sniper (15) Luis Llosa (US); Romper Stomper (18) Geoffrey Wright (Aus); Leon the Pig Farmer (15) Vadim Jean / Gary Sinyor (UK); Honeymoon in Vegas (12) Andrew Bergman (US)
Friday 26 February 1993
You'd be forgiven for not recognising the type, though - when Jones first boards the mighty battleship he intends to hijack for a fabulous ransom, he's togged out as a grungey rock musician complete with bandanna, shades and tie-dye T-shirt. He's an acid-head gone sour, even humming Jimi Hendrix's send-up of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' when planning a particularly nefarious piece of treason (all of which is a neat way of somehow blaming the mayhem on Sixties excess).
Compared to Jones, and his equally crazed cohort Gary Busey (who triggers off the coup dressed in bizarre drag), Steven Seagal is a bust as the film's hero. His character could have been colourful - a humble cook (like the villains, he's not seen in dress uniform, indeed makes a point of refusing to wear it), who turns out to be a crack ex-SEAL and a dab hand at constructing incendiary devices out of squeezy bottles and sticky-back plastic. He's meant to be a nicer version of Jones's maverick, another disgraced soldier but one who rallies when duty calls. The part's under-written, though - he never gets to cock his snook at authority, and you can be sure that he'll be seen in those sparkling dress whites before the end.
And the 'actor' himself is a strictly charisma-free zone. The most successful modern action stars, Willis and Schwarzenegger, take themselves with a pinch of salt. But Seagal's a superhero of the old school, mirthless and imperturbable, with a permanently corrugated brow. His biggest display of acting bravura (which earned one of the loudest laughs in the movie) was an artfully strangulated gulp at the death of a respected superior. Under Siege is otherwise a Boy's Own flick - there's one solitary female, a topless stripper, just to show that these film-makers are equal-opportunity employers (they might have found a hero with sex-appeal for the other 50 per cent of the audience). It must also be said that the film took dollars 80m-plus in the States and nuked plans for a similar scenario in the Die Hard series. We live among barbarians.
Sniper is an action film of a different feather, a slow-burning affair about two sharpshooters (Tom Berenger and Billy Zane) on a covert mission to eliminate Colombian baddies in the heart of the jungle. Berenger's an old hand with no illusions; Zane's a rookie, an Olympic marksman who has never shot to kill . . . Most of the story is stalk-and-shoot, with much waiting in-between; the film aspires to be a brooding piece about the lonely voyeurism of the hired gun (the director, Luis Llosa, is a cousin of Mario Vargas Llosa and you suspect he harbours similar literary ambitions). But it's spoiled by a routine relationship between what are virtually its only two characters.
Like Llosa, Geoffrey Wright started life as a film critic and reckons that professional envy was partly to blame for the disapproving reception that greeted his maiden film, Romper Stomper: Australian critics gulped hard at this gang movie about the tribal rites of neo-Nazi skinheads. It's a fast, loud, energetic piece whose hand-held camera pulls you right into the heart of their pitched battles with rival Vietnamese youths - there's scant moralising and only glancing attempts to understand their behaviour. This, and the casting of Russell Crowe as the flamboyant, designer-stubbled leader, does draw the viewer at first into the gang's orbit, but Wright unveils them gradually as basket-cases. As a piece of confident, high-octane film-making, it's a notable first feature.
Leon the Pig Farmer earned its debutant directors, Vadim Jean and Gary Sinyor, two prestigious awards, the International Critics' Prize at Venice and Best First Film at Edinburgh. That too is pretty impressive, as is the film- makers' persistence: turned down by the usual cartel of funding bodies, they realised their project on a budget of pounds 160,000 and the benevolence of a cast that includes Janet Suzman, Brian Glover and Connie Booth. Leon (Mark Frankel) is a Jewish everymensch - a nebbish in the unmistakable Woody Allen mould, unsuccessful in his career and in love. The comedy turns on his discovery that he's a product of artificial insemination and, further, that a mix-up at the sperm bank means that his biological dad is not the North London net-curtain king, but a bluff Yorkshire pig farmer.
Culture shock sets in, not just between Jew and goy, but also between Southerner and Northerner, suburbanite and countryman; mutual stereotypes bump up against each other and emerge mostly bloody but unbowed. A sub-plot, which has Frankel crossing a pig and a sheep to produce the world's first kosher pig (alas, we never get sight of this wondrous creature), seems intended as a burlesque parallel to his own mixed heritage, but you're not quite sure what the conclusion is meant to be. It's an uneven but spritely, good-humoured piece with lots of neat throwaway sight gags (and also some dreadfully - dare one say? - hammy performances; perhaps the makers were overawed by their distinguished cast). Let's hope it brings home the bacon for its investors.
Honeymoon in Vegas has Nicolas Cage's private detective (divorce cases a speciality) losing his bride-to-be (Sarah Jessica Parker) to a suave gambler (James Caan) in Las Vegas. Caan gets to whisk Parker away for romance in Hawaii, but no nooky - this is couched as an self-consciously old-fashioned screwball comedy. Meanwhile Cage stews in his own juice, to the point of joining a platoon of sky-diving Elvis impersonators to rejoin his lady- love. The film is marred by lumpen direction and some thin writing - the best screwball comedies have feisty female roles, but here, while the two men are battling to exorcise woman from their past, Parker's character is just a bland cipher. Essential viewing for Elvis fans, however.
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