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Volume 2, Number 39

This Week's Reviews:  Meet the Parents, Remember the Titans.

This Week's Omissions:  Alice et Martin, Steal This Movie!, The Tao of Steve.



Meet the Parents

(Dir: Jay Roach, Starring Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Nicole DeHuff, Jon Abrahams, James Rebhorn, Phyllis George, Owen Wilson, and Thomas McCarthy)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

As much as some us like to disagree, when Robert DeNiro tries comedy, he can succeed like his dramatic efforts.  Meet the Parents has not even opened yet, but I've already read countless early reviews that lambaste the actor for trying a lighter side.  Yes, DeNiro has not done anything truly dramatic in 5 years, but that is no real reason to discount him when he tries comedy.

Of the five comedies that DeNiro starred in the 1990's, he produced only one bad comedy (Mad Dog and Glory) and one financial success (Analyze This).  So the lesson is not that DeNiro creates bad comedies, but that he creates unprofitable comedies deserving respect (Wag the Dog).

Somehow I doubt that this will be the fate of Meet the Parents, which continues in the long-suffering There's Something About Mary string using DeNiro as the supporting straight man.  Yes, the film is very marketable with its time-tested genre and creative personae, but it has something that places it above many of the other high-grossing gross-out films like Me, Myself & Irene and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: the film is consistently funny.

The film follows Greg (Stiller), a man with two things in life: a girlfriend that's mutually in love with him and a horrible last name.  Ok, so the name could be worse (i.e. the change of one letter), but it is still pretty bad (and worthy of being saved for the theatre's laugh value).

In hopes of receiving her father's permission to marry his daughter Pam (Polo), Greg heads out to Pam's parents house for her sister's wedding.   Jack and Dina Byrnes (DeNiro and Danner) seem to be normal parents, what with the quaint house in what seems range from the Hamptons to regular suburbia.  But there's one catch to Greg's plan: not only is Jack a little over-protective as Pam had reported, but he is also a former CIA spy.  That's right, now only does Greg get the automatic scrutiny that a future son-in-law is expected to get from simple external looks, but also as gets the once-over reserved for a foreign terrorist.

There have been many films about meeting those doting soon-to-be-in-laws, most notably in the 1970's classic Annie Hall.  So much of Meet the Parents is built around that scene in the Woody Allen film with modern variations that Allen might as well have been given partial story credit.

And this is not to say that Meet the parents could stand beside Annie Hall for a moment.  There was much more sweetness to Annie Hall, something that this film lacks despite trying for.  But for laugh value, the high brow Manhattan sensibility of a Woody Allen script usually delivers less (though more enjoyable) laughs than something that seems to be from the Farrelly brothers.

Jay Roach took this film from a screenplay by James Herzfeld and John Hamburg and makes it into a comic tour de force.  I know that there has long been a feeling that straight-and-nimble comedy directors are fitted into a form that has been created by the genre to make all films look alike, but that is not the case with Jay Roach.  The savvy look to both Austin Powers films has given him enough practice to entice the audience with a filming that brings just as much support to the comedy as the cast.

And what a cast it is.  Not only does Robert DeNiro stand out in one of his finest comedic works (let's face it, even when playing his stereotypical hardass, DeNiro still surpasses many of his audience intimidating peers), but so does Ben Stiller, giving yet another show in comical prowess.  The man has done everything from the verbose vanguard (Zero Effect, Your Friends & Neighbors) to the gross guffaws (There's Something About Mary, Mystery Men) to , while still taking time to touch the edge of his star potential (can we say Cable Guy?).  I think that Stiller is one of the most underappreciated actors of this generation.  And I've only had two chances to see him do demanding drama (Permanent Midnight, Black and White).

There is also a delightful performance from Blythe Danner, whose down-to-earth mother is so endearing that you almost want to claim her as your own.  When most people think of Blythe Danner, they automatically connect her with her famous daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow.  But they are really forgetting just how incredible an actress she really is.  Just take a look at her performances in Woody Allen's Another Woman and Alice -- she really is amazing.

This is not to say that the entire cast is great enough to hold to the three champions here (though, I could easily fight that there are six champions here -- how can I ever discount James Rebhorn, Phyllis George, or Owen Wilson?).   I do not really see much comic potential in young Jon Abrahams as Pam's younger brother.  Though he has a tendency to choose good films (he was last seen in Scary Movie -- he was the poorman's Skeet "the poorman's Johnny Depp" Ulrich), his performances are usually one of the worst parts about the films (and his character is such a terrific play on Christopher Walken's Annie Hall character that one can only imagine what an actor like Jason Schwartzman could do with it).

Then there's Teri Polo, who has the looks for a star but not the acting teeth.  Her performance secludes her character to a ditzy one-dimensional type.  At one point, DeNiro asks that there be no sexual advances under his roof -- so she pushes Ben Stiller to making-out... in his study.  By the last moments of the film, I could not handle her as the girlfriend of Ben Stiller, there's literally no chemistry there.

But really, what can you expect?  If I were an actor or actress, I would surely be intimidated by acting beside Robert DeNiro.  Then again, Charles Grodin could pull it off.


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Remember the Titans

(Dir: Boaz Yakin, Starring Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Ryan Hurst, Wood Harris, Hayden Panettiere, Donald Faison, Kip Purdue, Earl C. Poitier, Ethan Suplee, Alan Bosley, Craig Kirkwood, Preston Brant, Neal Ghant, Ryan Gosling, David Jefferson, Burgess Jenkins, Stuart Greer, Nicole Ari Parker, Kate Bosworth, Brett Rice, and John Michael Weatherly)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

In 1971, Alexandria, Virginia, became an racially integrated school district.  Despite all the problems that one might expect would ensue from mixing a southern white high school with a black high school, they came together and fought hard, the integrated football team becoming champions both on and off the field.

That is the quickie approach to looking at Remember the Titans, the latest in Denzel Washington's self-righteous oeuvre.  But Remember the Titans is merely half the film it could have been.  Instead of telling me about something that I was admittedly interested in (i.e. learning the dynamics of a community opening to race relations that do not involve the Ku Klux Klan), I get a sappy approach of a two-week summer training camp.

That's right, this film, which is built around the idea of harmony and understanding, completely steps over the rough parts in hopes of grabbing the audience with blatant crowd pleasing moments (swell that music Trevor Rabin).  I seriously doubt that the entire group of football players would win over to each other (save one, that is) during the course of a training camp.  There's time tested hate and disrespect for each other, there's the fears of favoritism thanks to a white friendly community and a black coach.  But does that stop the Titans?  Hell, no -- they are as easily integrated salt in water.

Denzel Washington plays that messiah of the football field -- a man that can bring victory to a team and bring differing people together.   I don't mean to be completely callous here, but is there ever going to be an end to this non-stop fire-storm of "Hail Denzel!" films.  This man must think that he is the greatest gift to mankind by now.  I would love to see him do something like Glory or He Got Game now, but doubt it will happen any time soon.

I'm still not bought by Will Patton.  His down-home acting style always makes me think of a high school teacher playing Dr. Gibbs in a production of Our Town, full of yearning to perform despite an inability.   Once he drops out of the grasp of Jerry Bruckheimer (who produced Patton in this, as well as Armageddon and Gone in Sixty Seconds), there might be a fine actor to appear.  Then again, I digress, I just remembered his villain in The Postman.

Most of the young actors in this film made me cringe.   Think of all the complaints from people over twenty-something actors playing high school characters -- well, the white team captain here (played by Ryan Hurst) looks like he bucking the middle of his third decade.  And on top of that, he, like most of his co-stars, can't act.

But public enemy number one is Hayden Panettiere, the little girl playing Patton's tom-boy daughter.  This nine-year-old version of Rhea Perlman had me scraping the sides of my seat with every line she spoke.  She is almost as annoying as the Pepsi girl that has ruined the opening mements of any film viewed in a Regal Cinemas theatre.  I know that people dislike critics going against small children, but when they are bad, I cannot help but point it out.

The only thing in this film that is really notable besides Washington (as grandstanding as it may have been, Washington does deliver another fine performance) is the direction and cinematography from Boaz Yakin and Phillippe Rousselot, respectively.  This is merely the third film from Yakin, and his learning experience has brought him to a nice point.  He does his best with what he has been given, creating some sequences that flow far better than the dialogue thanks to his framing of the scene.

I was surprised by the laid back approach that he created.  Most other Bruckheimer films become hard to follow by the 783rd editing cut within the first fifteen minutes of the film -- here, it's almost as if editor Michael Tronick has caught on that a fast-pace does not always make things work better.   Evidently he too saw Any Given Sunday.

By the end of the film, it felt like a Palestinian film, in which the Palestinians and the Israelites come together for a song and dance.   Please, tell me that there is more to this (true) story than what the filmmakers have thrown out at me.

And let's not even get into the fact that it tries to touch upon the community opening to a gay player too.  Five'll get you ten, that he is soon a welcomed member of the town.  I'm not saying that I wanted to see a film that ran red with racism and homophobia, but I really must ask there be some true-to-life feeling to this story.  People often battle films on the matter that they are not historically accurate -- that's not what I'm trying to hit at here.  It's not that I found the film to be too far from the truth (I cannot say that I know the complete truth of the story), but that it tells it in such a way that it is too unbelievable.

This film is built around a life-like setting.  If something like this happened in a Cronenberg or Lynch film, I would not be as disturbed, because they do not masquerade their films as truthful enlightenment like Remember the Titans strives to be.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2000, Cinema-Scene.com

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