Film: The New Romantics of Hollywood
Friday 05 June 1998
Frank Coraci (12)
Betsan Morris Evans (18)
Morgan J Freeman (15)
Gregg Araki (18)
Jon Avnet (15)
The Replacement Killers Antoine Fuqua (18)
The suspicion that a growing number of Hollywood films are conceived with their soundtrack albums in mind is confirmed by , a romantic comedy set in 1985 for no other reason than as a pretext for some easy laughs at the expense of such dubious British exports as Kajagoogoo, the Thompson Twins and Musical Youth. Saturday Night Live comedian Adam Sandler plays Robbie, the singer whose flair for cheering up other people's weddings (his opening-credits version of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Around (Like a Record)" is a particular treat) doesn't extend to his own marital plans. Jilted at the altar by his rock-chick bride, Robbie is coaxed out of his depression when Julia, the new waitress at the reception hall where he works, enlists his expertise in arranging her own impending wedding. But since Julia's intended is an obnoxious bond dealer called Glenn, who loves Miami Vice and drives a DeLorean, we know it's not going to last. And since Julia is played by Drew Barrymore, the only member of the cast who hasn't been inflicted with a terrible Eighties wardrobe and hairstyle, we can be equally confident that she and Robbie will be walking down the aisle by the final fade.
There's not much more to it than that, really, but the end result is surprisingly winning. Sandler, whose previous vehicles Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore made Jim Carrey look sophisticated, has transformed himself from boisterous dummkopf into an unexpectedly engaging romantic lead - like a slightly cooler version of Ross from Friends. (And he's no mean bar mitzvah singer, either.) Also coming into her own is Drew Barrymore, who, after years of unwarranted celebrity, finally gets a leading role that makes the most of her puppyish charm. And the humour, for all its obviousness, has the odd flash of bizarre inspiration - such as the sight of indie idol Steve Buscemi singing Spandau Ballet.
There's a nice moment towards the end of the British thriller Dad Savage when Bob (Joe McFadden) is fleeing through the woods at night. In the past few hours he has tortured an old school friend, been fired at with a pump-action shotgun and made off with the life savings of a ruthless gangster. But suddenly he stops and calls over to his accomplice Vic (Marc Warren) in wonder; he's nearly trodden on a very rare type of grass snake. Setting a tough crime thriller in the English countryside is a bold move, and for the most part Dad Savage pulls it off. First-time director Betsan Morris Evans turns the flat expanses of Norfolk into a lawless no-man's- land where Bob, Vic and H (Kevin McKidd) make the fatal mistake of messing with the local crime boss, tulip-growing country-music fan Dad Savage (Patrick Stewart). Morris Evans also gets a clutch of vivid performances from her young cast: Warren comes on like a young, blond Malcolm McDowell, while McKidd, despite the fact that he spends most of the film unconscious, has a brooding presence which suggests that he may yet prove the most enduring of the bratpack thrown up by Trainspotting. Unfortunately, however, what should have been a nasty, brutish and short tale of betrayal is tricked out with a pointlessly baffling Usual Suspects-inspired structure, unfolding in a stream of deceptive flashbacks from various points of view - including, unless I lost the plot entirely, that of the unconscious McKidd.
Though it arrives garlanded in awards from the indie mecca of Sundance, Hurricane Streets has the same basic problem as Dad Savage: it succeeds in conjuring up an original milieu and populating it with credible characters, only to fudge what should have been the easy part, the story. At the heart of the film is a poignant performance from Brendan Sexton III, who first made an impression in a previous Sundance favourite, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Frantically pedalling the streets of New York on his chopper bike, to the sound of a mournful cover version of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", he plays Marcus, a streetwise 15-year-old asthmatic who combines a lucrative career as a shoplifter with an almost parental concern for the welfare of the other members of his gang. But unfortunately, as much for the first-time writer/ director Morgan J Freeman as for his downtrodden characters, the familiar lure of drugs and guns proves too powerful.
"We all know deep down in our souls that our generation is going to witness the end of everything." So says Dark Smith (James Duval) at the end of a long day among the assorted young crazies - bulimics and born-again Christians, soap stars and sado-masochists - who populate Nowhere, writer/director Gregg Araki's hallucinatory vision of Los Angeles. It's hardly an original message, especially since Araki said pretty much the same in his last two films. Visually, however, Araki has made progress: shot in hyper-real, Day-glo colours, Nowhere looks a dream, an acid-fuelled collision of Derek Jarman and Jean-Luc Godard (the latter, in particular, would have relished the party scene in which a man is beaten to death with a can of Campbell's tomato soup).
Nowhere may be deliberately, almost aggressively meaningless, but at least its chaotic energy provides an antidote to the lumbering lethargy of the week's studio offerings. Richard Gere must have let his pro-Tibetan sympathies blind him to the shortcomings of Red Corner, a clunking conspiracy thriller about an American TV executive framed for murder in Peking. Its account of the brutal workings of China's legal system is apparently based on research, but that's no excuse for the cliched depiction of ruthless party cadres and some achingly repetitive courtroom scenes. The precious little imagination displayed by director Jon Avnet (Up Close and Personal) and writer Robert King is expended on coming up with reasons why Gere and his demure defence lawyer shouldn't ever be suspected of fancying each other.
The same anxiety about inter-racial romance cripples The Replacement Killers, the film designed as the launchpad for the American career of the Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat. He's teamed here with Mira Sorvino in the improbable tale of a conscience-stricken Chinese hitman and the glamorous forger whose help he needs in order to escape the country. But director, Antoine Fuqua refrains from developing the slightest spark between them, even as they take on the mob's "replacement killers". More disappointing is the film's second-hand style: widely hyped as a pop-promo visionary, Fuqua turns out to be a poor man's Tony Scott, right down to the naff, orange-tinted skies.
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