Barely bobbing above the surface...
Friday 03 October 1997
If you're going to ask an audience to believe that Harvey Keitel could pass for a righteous, upstanding judge, then you may as well make him a judge who merrily conspires to slice up the corpse of a heart-attack victim while you're at it. Let's not do things by half now.
Keitel has a lot of fun with his role in Head Above Water, but though he's not an actor that you could accuse of excessive shyness, his frolics aren't especially engaging. The glee resides in his eyes; it isn't directed out at us. His character has married a young ex-hellraiser (Cameron Diaz) whose rehabilitation has been precarious enough for him to urge her "No sedatives!" as he departs from their remote island home on a fishing trip. But it's Keitel who turns out to be the oblivion addict. While he's away, Diaz's ex-boyfriend (Billy Zane) shows up, flirts a bit, then refuses to leave in the morning. Typical one-night stand behaviour. Only he's not being stubborn. He's being dead.
When Keitel returns, it takes only a few swigs from a nearby bottle to tip him into drunken maniac mode. You can see that he relishes the chance to play gaga. For an audience, it proves less satisfying. Despite what the screenwriter Theresa Marie might think, the consumption of a glass of brandy can be a factor in someone's behaviour, but it can't entirely replace motivation.
Although the director Tim Wilson imposes no distinguishing visual style on Head Above Water, there are signs that he has higher aspirations.
In the sudden shifts of tone, and the sparse locations, there are hints of Cul-de-Sac; the doomed marriage of the central characters, a young spark and an older, eccentric stiff, like Francoise Dorleac and Donald Pleasance in Polanski's film, confirms this. The only memorable moment in Head Above Water is the final sequence of cartoon carnage, featuring a runaway chainsaw and death-by-gazebo. It's got to be a first.
Jackie Chan's First Strike (12) Directed by: Stanley Tong. Starring: Jackie Chan, Chen Chun Wu
Who would have guessed that twinkling eyes and a goofy smile could be the key to the longevity of the modern action hero? I don't think Jackie Chan could get away with half the nonsense he puts on screen if he didn't look like your favourite teddy bear. Of course, the fact that he can defeat armies of ruthless killers and kickbox in stilts is a plus. But you already know he can pull off the stunts. It's the bits in between that really try your patience. The jokes. I use the word in its loosest sense. Here's Jackie in a fluffy seal-shaped hat. Jackie in comedy underpants. Jackie edging along a window-ledge and bursting into a woman's bathroom and - oh, finish the sentence yourself.
Don't let these low points, or even some gracious dubbing, put you off his latest film. Jackie Chan's First Strike does not, as the title might suggest, feature our hero venturing on to the picket line. Instead, it hinges on an antiquated espionage plot which can be summed up with a single line of dialogue from the film: "We need your help to retrieve the nuclear warhead stolen a few days ago". Criticising Jackie Chan films for their infantile humour and baggy screenplays would be like berating Tarkovsky for the lack of custard-pie fights in Solaris.
Naturally, the fight scenes are executed with equal measures of knowing absurdity and steely precision. And what Chan can do with a step-ladder, wielding it like an oversized pair of tweezers, is nobody's business.
Booty Call (18)
Directed by: Jeff Pollack. Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson.
Two horny black devils, Bunz (Jamie Foxx) and Rushon (Tommy Davidson) take a pair of sceptical young women (Vivica A Fox, Tamala Jones) out to dinner, hoping to charm them into bed.
But their efforts deteriorate into a long evening of coitus interruptus. And that's it. You might think that the makers of Booty Call would encounter difficulty dreaming up jokes as crude as that premise. You'd be wrong. A dog steals Rushon's last condom. Bunz and Rushon are mistaken for lovers, both men, over-eager in their pursuit of safe sex, wrap themselves in cling film.
There are a few things worth holding out for. Art Malik's uncredited cameo as a trigger happy shop-keeper is one, if only for curiosity value. The brassy young comedian Jamie Foxx pulses with vitality, and his delivery sparkles. You might never forget the sight and sound of him making love whilst impersonating prominent figures in black politics, from Martin Luther King to Jesse Jackson. Presumably Bernie Grant resides on the cutting- room floor.
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