10-7-97: Summer ’97 Movie Reviews

Summer Movie Reviews

Andy’s Aisle Seat



Finally, the Fall season is in full gear. Not only do we all get a slew of all-important Fall TV premieres (oh joy for the most part) this week, but also some highly anticipated fall movies on the horizon that begin to roll out on Friday. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL has been getting extremely positive word-of-mouth from critics, and that opens Friday–along with the “I’ve seen the trailer so often that it’s not funny anymore” comedy IN & OUT with Kevin Kline.

These flicks look promising, particularly the noir-tinged CONFIDENTIAL, but I’m really looking forward to September 26th–when THE EDGE with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin gets released, along with the George Clooney/Nicole Kidman popcorn muncher THE PEACEMAKER.


Sorry, I must correct myself: there are no “Must-See TV” premieres until next week, when E/R unveils its live episode to the East Coast (and hopefully Anthony Edwards scrubs in and flubs a line at the same time). Scanning the Satelitte listing shows few notable flicks, but SOMEWHERE IN TIME is always worth a look, for its lush John Barry score, gorgeous Mackinac Island locations, and Jane Seymour in some nice gowns. It airs Fri., Sept.19th at 8pm EST on Encore.


**** = A must see. Outstanding. (And there are few of those around right now).
*** = Good. Recommended, entertaining…worth the price of admission more or less.
** = Fair-to-middling. Could be worth a look if you like the director/star/composer.
* = Either amusingly bad (as in unintentionally funny) or just plain boring bad.

THE GAME (***): David Fincher is perhaps the only director who could have effectivelydirected this picture without making it seem too predictable. After all, in a movie coming from the man who brought you SEVEN, you simply expect the bizarre and creepy to come at you throughout. If you haven’t seen this film, don’t worry–I’m not going to give away the ending–but I will tell you that it’s not nearly as much of a downer as its predecessor. Michael Douglas is superb as always as a businessman who ends upbeing enrolled in a game from his brother (Sean Penn, in the sibling role that Jodie Foster was originally slated to play) that is definitely on the weird side. I will not divulge any more details, except to say that–regardless of what its ending is and what it COULD have been–it is a highly improbable, logically-impaired plot that will either leave you breathless or with a high “yhea, right” quotient. Good thing Douglas is there to lead you through an intriguing thriller that–given its premise–probably couldn’t pay off anymore satisfyingly than it does. Worth seeing once, however, just for the ride. [R, 128 mins.]

EXCESS BAGGAGE (*): I’m all for Alicia Silverstone, the American flag and hot apple pie. But this movie is one of the worst films I have EVER paid to see– and that surpasses some fairly select company. An astonishingly awful, unfunny, unromantic, lackadasical “road movie” that pairs lovely but whiney Alicia (all too obviously trying to play against her CLUELESS type) with Benicio Del Toro, most likely 15 years her elder and appearing like he’s old enough to be her grandfather. Alicia smokes, drinks, swears, and wears the same outfit from start to finish–not the sort of thing that young 12 year-old girls should be seeing, nor any Alicia fan who thought having the star produce her own movies would be a good thing. Believe me, it’s not, and this troubled production–directed by Marco Brambilla like he was filming SEVEN–is a total fiasco, often laughably incomprehensible, with Christopher Walken showing up to cash a check. [PG-13]

KULL THE CONQUEROR (*1/2): Marginally better than the above, if that means anything, this sweaty, ’80s style fantasy picture is pretty stale stuff. Kevin Sorbo gets to flex his muscles on a dusty old script written by Charles Edward Pogue around that ancient time when Arnold was still playing Conan. Someone should have demanded a rewrite for Sorbo, who is athletic and built,but also more articulate than your basic barbarian. Alas, he has more dialogue in one episode of HERCULES than he does throughout this inane would-be epic, which wastes the considerable female presence of villainess Tia Carrere and heroine Karina Lombard, who both look great in scantily-clad outfits. Sad to say, this barely watchable adventure isn’t bad enough to be unintentionally funny; it’s actually a fairly adequate script underwhelmingly played and directed on the big-screen. You can wait for the tape on this one, or better yet just turn on HERC or XENA and get better entertainment for free. And please, NOBODY write me about the Metallica-tinged guitars, which is so sickening that I can’t go on any longer. [PG-13]

G.I. JANE (***1/2): Ridley Scott returns with this entertaining, stylish service yarn, with Demi Moore appropriately cast as a tough gal trying to be our first femme Navy SEAL. Great cinematography, plenty of good lines, and fine performances all around (especially by Viggo Mortensen as the sargeant in charge of Demi’s troop) make this a popcorn-munching good time at the movies, and a heck of a lot better than you might think it is. [R]

MIMIC (***): The direction of Guillermo Del Toro is the saving grace in this creature-feature, which boasts Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam as scientists tracking down some rather large insects that are able to copy (err, mimic) humans. Great effects by Rob Bottin and CGI shots make for an entertaining time, especially if you like this sort of thing, but somehow or other, the human story gets lost in the shuffle. A lot of the character development seems to have been left on the cutting room floor, especially the relationship between Sorvino and Northam, which should have been key to the story as concocted by Matthew Robbins and the director. (That Sorvino and Northam both appear uncomfortable in their roles, never mind having no chemistry together, doesn’t help matters much). Still, if you have a yen for this sort of thing, check it out, but wait for video otherwise. [R]

EVENT HORIZON (*1/2): A big budget is all you need to have some laughs at the expense of a dumb, dumb script–a primarily British-made production that manages to rip off ALIEN, ALIENS, THE SHINING, HELLRAISER, LIFEFORCE, 2010 and about a thousand other genre movies, all while keeping an absurdly straight face. This story about a lost ship and a gateway to hell is something you’ve seen before, but rarely with such unlikeable characters and totally gross, unpleasant images. When Sam Neill turns into a Pinhead-type at the end (and techno music appears on the soundtrack), you’ll be running for the exits…unless you want some unintentional yucks, which this non-“Event” provides by the truckload. [R]

COPLAND (***1/2): Sylvester Stallone finally turns in a terrific, character-driven performance in this taut, intriguing police corruption thriller. And he1s backed by a stellar supporting cast; Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta co-star, with the latter turning in a particularly fine performance. James Mangold, who wrote and directed the picture, does a good job balancing the various subplots in the film; at times, it seems as if COP LAND was once substantially longer, but the editing is crisp and makes sense as is. While the film doesn’t “reinvent” the the genre, it’s still highly recommended as intelligent summer fare, and certainly is worth a look for Sly’s first noteable performance in nearly 20 years. [102 mins.,R]

AIR FORCE ONE (***): Harrison Ford doesn’t exactly do anything here we haven’t seen before, but as an entry into the belated DIE HARD/CLIFFHANGER action genre, this piece of entertaining fluff works well enough. Wolfgang Petersen, who directed classics like DAS BOAT and the Clint Eastwood thriller IN THE LINE OF THE FIRE, does a good job not getting involved with traditional Hollywood political sentiment, as terrorist Gary Oldman (an often sympathetic bad guy) takes over A.F.O. in order to get an imprisoned Russian military general (DAS BOAT’s Jurgen Prochnow in an unbilled role) out from behind bars. The set-pieces are nothing overly spectacular or original (the film’s concluding piece is right out of CLIFFHANGER), but as a formulaic programmer, you could do a lot worse–call it a good popcorn movie. With Glenn Close as the first lady, FARGO’s William H.Macy as a military officer, Dean Stockwell as the Chief of Staff, and a bevy of computer-generated effects. Effective though derivative musical score from Jerry Goldsmith. [125 mins., R]

EARLY SUMMER FILMS Movies at the Bargain theaters, soon to be at a Video Store Near You

CONTACT (***): Jodie Foster movies typically demand your attention, and CONTACT is no exception. The latest from director Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE, FORREST GUMP), this thoughtful science-fiction fantasy has some wonderful sequences and is never boring, but somehow or other it never really connects. Foster plays a scientist who receives radio signals from outer-space, and ultimately becomes involved with what could possibly be humankind’s first contact with interplanatary beings. The special effects sequences–particularly Foster’s climactic journey–are truly fantastic, and the film’s ultimate message is satisfying. That said, there’s still just a lack of dramatic tension that permeates through the entire film; Robert Zemeckis spends too much time on touchy-feely, Gump-ian emotions (especially in flashbacks depicting Foster’s childhood), while some potentially exciting twists and turns in the story are given short-shrift. That said, CONTACT is still worth seeing, and Foster is again outstanding; Matthew McConaughey is equally praiseworthy as a religious consultant to the White House. PLEASE NOTE! This movie contains more gratutious, distracting cameos by CNN anchors that any film ever made. Leave the theater for a soft-drink while Leon Harris or Lyndon Soles comes on for the umpeenth time. [2hrs. 30 mins., PG].

FACE/OFF (****): Every movie should be like this one. Take an intriguing premise, two tremendous actors, a fistful of standout action sequences, and one of the most talented directors around–then combine them with a smart screenplay that’s as clever with its character-interplay as it is with ingenious, breathtaking action scenes. Nicolas Cage proves he can play Superman with his awesome performance, outdueling John Travolta’s solid but not as demanding work as the bad guy in the good guy’s body. (In contrast, Cage has the harder scenes, illustrating the hero’s dilemma in living with the villian’s identity). Joan Allen is superb as the hero’s wife, with terrific supporting performances making this the one (and only)summer movie worth sitting through again. Call it the Best Movie of ’97 so far, and here’s hoping it gets some respect at Oscar time; kudos to Mike Werb and Michael Collorary for their sharp script, and John Woo (of course) for amazing direction.And a fine score by John Powell (replacing Mark Isham at the last minute) adds to the entertainment. [R]

THE FIFTH ELEMENT (***1/2): Bruce Willis is a cab-driver in the 21st century in French director Luc Besson’s eye-popping, imaginative sci-fi fantasy that’s, simply put, a lot of fun. The storyline is jumbled but makes enough sense so that you can focus on Besson1s gorgeous visuals, lavish production design, and innovative effects work; the look and feel of this future world are a wonder to behold, a fully realized comic-book come to life. And yet, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is not a rehashed BLADE RUNNER clone; this movie works on its own terms, and never takes itself too seriously. (In fact, watch the scene where priest Ian Holm calls Willis’s character–Corbin Dallas–Mr.WILLIS by mistake!). Thoroughly entertaining, this is sheer eye-candy, and makes you wish other sci-fi films were just as imaginative. [127 mins., PG-13]

MEN IN BLACK (**1/2): I was all geared up for this movie. Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, big-eyed aliens and a funny script should have equalled the ’90s version of GHOSTBUSTERS for the X-FILES generation. Unfortunately, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s movie is a watered-down flick with some good ideas and a few laughs, but also a complete absence of character development and dramatic tension–the sort of thing this movie needed to succeed. Sure, Will’s interrogation sequence was funny enough, but it was a disappointing trip from then on. A bigger non-event than last summer’s ID4, which at least had enough crowd-pleasing moments to offset its brainless script. MIB is a bigger disappointment since whoever had the movie clearly HAD brains, but didn’t know how to package this story as a cohesive whole–and come up with characters who we actually care about. [PG-13]

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (**): A lazy and thoroughly disappointing, uninspired sequel from Steven Spielberg, perhaps the director’s most lackadasical, unsatisfying movie to date. Jeff Goldblum, the predeceeding film’s sole acting standout, here looks lost–literallly and figuratively–as he mopes around in the jungle, trying to handle no less than a handful of subplots poorly constructed by screenwriter David Koepp. It takes forever to finally get to the island where dinosaurs still live free, and the movie begins to improve marginally once hunter Pete Postelthwaite appears as this movie’s equivalent of Robert Shaw’s Quint. Unfortunately, Spielberg and Koepp drop the ball after they axe Postelthwaite’s subplot and send Goldblum and girlfriend Julianne Moore to San Deigo where a T-Rex does such amazing things as run under gas stations and cause traffic accidents. There’s no sense of wonder or even the technical innovations that made the original JURASSIC PARK a flawed but massively entertaining piece of popular cinema. THE LOST WORLD is a definite bummer all around, not helped out by amazingly awful cinematography from Janusz Kaminski (a suggestion for the Goldblum-Attenborough scene at the opening: pull the damned blinds next time!). John Williams does contribute another great score–alas, it’s the best thing about this sequel. [PG-13]


TRIAL AND ERROR (***1/2): An underrated gem with Michael Richards and Jeff Daniels, a romantic comedy with some big laughs courtesy of director Jonathan Lynn (MY COUSIN VINNY). This film tanked in theaters, but everyone I’ve talked to loved it…be sure to see it on video later this Autumn. [PG-13]

BREAKDOWN (***1/2): Kurt Russell, a smart plot, and plenty of suspense make this a BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK for the 90s. Gripping action from writer-director Jonathan Mostow, a name to watch for the future. On video in October [R]