L'Homme Du Train (12a)
Just Married (12a)
National Security (12a)
Friday 21 March 2003
Patrice Leconte tells the story of a strange meeting in his film L'Homme du Train. An enigmatic drifter (Johnny Hallyday) arrives at a quiet French provincial town, where a genial retired schoolteacher (Jean Rochefort) invites him to stay at his rambling old house. Gradually these two old geezeurs establish a rapport as they ponder the possibility of swapping souls with one another: so Rochefort gets a cool haircut and becomes a little less inhibited, while Hallyday takes to sporting pipe and slippers. Pascal Estève's music first illustrates their differences – a Ry Cooder-ish guitar twang for Hallyday, a Schubert sonata for Rochefort – then, as their lives become entangled, blends the two styles into one.
Leconte doesn't exactly flout realism but he does like to toy with it (see also his La Fille sur le Pont ). At times we seem to be watching a twilight mood piece; at others the quirky progress of an unlikely friendship. Perhaps best to regard it as a celebration of two great Gallic physiognomies: Hallyday's like a half-starved wolf, Rochefort's a study in ruined Quixotic grandeur. Even when Claude Kotz's screenplay offers little to fasten onto, this pair of old troupers occupy the screen with a wonderfully relaxed confidence, and Hallyday, "the French Elvis", even makes sport with his reputation. "Are you musical?" Rochefort asks him. "I had a harmonica once," he deadpans. I'm not sure there's a great deal to it, and what there is feels mostly baffling, but its civilised air of intrigue pulls you along.
I never thought Bruce Beresford could ever top his Japanese PoW movie Paradise Road for stomach-heaving schmaltz, but his family melodrama, Evelyn, runs it very close. Pierce Brosnan stars as Desmond Doyle, a feckless house painter in 1950s Dublin who is left to cope with three young children when his wife walks out on him. Irish law steps in and demands his daughter, Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur), be packed off to a convent and his two sons to a monastery, while Desmond takes to stewing his sorrows in booze and singing (not very well) in pubs for a few extra bob. In short, we are deep in the land of OT – Oirish Twaddle – where the pipes trill plaintively, the fiddles weep in sympathy, and no opportunity is missed to milk pathos from the soulful looks of cute moppet Evelyn and her daft but loveable Da. Once Desmond has enlisted the services of two top lawyers (Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn) and a retired old souse (Alan Bates, mumming away), everything is set up for a climactic custody battle against the might of the Irish judiciary, with Julianna Margulies providing a cursory love interest in the background. Pure moonshine, even if it is based on a true story.
In Just Married, Sarah (Brittany Murphy) and Tom (Ashton Kutcher) brush aside the objections of her snooty family to tie the knot and take off to Europe for their honeymoon, where newlywed bliss swiftly begins to curdle. First they get thrown out of their hotel after short-circuiting the electricity supply with a sex toy, then they crash their rental car. Finally, installed in a fancy hotel in Venice, their commitment is tested by the disruptive machinations of Sarah's creep of an ex. The two leads perform gamely enough, but the knockabout scenes are mighty laboured and the script, by Sam Harper, makes no discernible attempt at freshness. I laughed once, when Sarah, confessing a past infidelity, guiltily explains how the mood had got romantic and the champagne had flowed. Tom, exasperated by this line of reminiscence, cuts in: "Please try not to break into song." Not much to show for 97 minutes, but it's something.
Actually, it's one more laugh than National Security achieves, and this has a genuinely funny guy, Steve Zahn, as its star. Unfortunately his co-star is Martin Lawrence, who seems to think that playing a boorish, dishonest, lecherous, racist oaf is a fair impersonation of radical black consciousness. It isn't, and I wish somebody would sue him for defamation. Having landed ex-cop Zahn in prison for six months on a false harassment charge – there's a tasteless allusion to the Rodney King beating – Lawrence then teams up with his victim to help foil a smuggling operation masterminded by Eric Roberts (here an absurd peroxide-haired thug). Can you believe there are movie producers who still think it worthwhile ripping off Beverly Hills Cop? Zahn conveys at least a goofy amiability, but any chance of comic potential is killed stone dead by Lawrence's grotesque mugging and bumptious self-importance.
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