> Volume 3 > Number 22

Volume 3, Number 22

This Week's Reviews:  The Animal, Moulin Rouge, What's The Worst That Could Happen?.

This Week's Omissions:  NONE.

The Animal

(Dir: Luke Greenfield, Starring Rob Schneider, Colleen Haskell, John C. McGinley, Michael Caton, Ed Asner, Guy Torry, Louis Lombardi, Bob Rubin, Pilar Schneider, Scott Wilson, Raymond Ma, and Michael Papajohn)



Rob Schneider continues his attempt to make Adam Sandler seem like the David Niven of comedy -- Schenider's shtick is of the lowest denominator; he's along the lines of Jon Lovitz in using self-abusive and self-mocking acts to make the audience point and laugh. He is definitely not the person to say "we're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you" to because he takes pride in people making fun of him.

That seems to be idea behind Schneider's work in motion pictures. Besides his occasional cameo as the "You can do it!" guy in The Waterboy and Little Nicky, his characters are mainly invented to be kicked by everyone else. His films are like modern Buster Keaton comedies. While he does show the same odd man going beyond expectations, he unfortunately lacks the comedic talents of the great Mr. Keaton.

In The Animal, Schneider gets to play the kicking boy again, and does better with it now than ever before. While the story is still hackneyed and unimpressive, Schnieder actually delivers a few moments that work. Amid director Luke Greenfield's story-driven moments of disinterest, Schnieder hits on a goat, humps a mailbox, and licks the side of his date's face. Usually what he does is not funny, but the pure joy he seems to have in doing it comes to life and actually breathes some life into the lackluster skits. I'm not turning a new leaf on the genre and the regulars, but I can sincerely see something more in Schnieder than a sidekick to friend (and, in this case, producer) Adam Sandler -- given the right script, Schnieder could perhaps give a nice attempt at becoming at least the poor man's Peter Sellers.

Schneider plays Marvin Mange, an overzealous police department file clerk that desperately dreams of following in his late father's shoes as a valiant police officer. But Marvin does not have what it takes -- he has failed the police academy physical endurance test on many occasions and has picked up the nickname of "piss-pants boy" because of one rather saddening day of failure. In the early moments of The Animal, a touring group of school children take over Mange's office space, handcuff him to a cabinet, and spray paint "LOSE" on his shirt before an officer comes in and catches them. That officer, Sgt. Sisk (McGinley), then takes the spray paint and adds the missing "R."

Everything then changes when Marvin is left in the police station during the interdepartmental baseball tournament and takes a call in reference to a robbery. With no one to send there, Marvin takes it upon himself to go and save the day. But on the way, he wrecks the car (well, actually he wrecks it three times) and is unknowingly used in an experiment by a screwy Dr. Wilder (Caton). Wilder believes the only way to save Marvin is to have animals as his transplant donors. Marvin does not have much time and, luckily, Wilder has enough animals to serve as organ donors. Now Marvin is a man of two faces -- one human, one animal -- and has trouble remaining in only one mode.

Thrown into the mix is Colleen Haskell as Marvin's could-be girlfriend, a tree-hugging environmentalist that is turned on to Marvin's more bestial instincts. Haskell is definitely not an actress -- her claim to fame is being the cutest of the castaways in the first season of Survivor two years ago. Haskell deserves some credit -- it's pretty easy to tell that she has nearly no training in the art of acting, but her work is passable. Playing the cute-as-a-button girlfriend, Haskell delivers the same sort of performance that more flashy "actresses" give in the same roles. Haskell in her first attempt does the same caliber work of Bridgette Wilson in Billy Madison (her 3rd film), Arija Bareikis in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (her 6th film), Joey Lauren Adams in Big Daddy (her 13th film), Fairuza Balk in The Waterboy (her 25th film), and Patricia Arquette in Little Nicky (her 30th film).

The Animal is far from a good film, but it is short and simple. That's the only really nice thing about the film besides the likable leads. It does not get in your face, it does not drag on, The Animal just plays and hopes that the audience will laugh. Now, if the material were actually funny, this might have been a great thing.


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Moulin Rouge

(Dir: Baz Luhrmann, Starring Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Richard Roxburgh, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, Jacek Koman, Matthew Whittet, Kerry Walker, Caroline O'Connor, David Wenham, Christine Anu, and Garry McDonald)



With a splash of Gene Kelly, a touch of Vincente Minnelli, and a dash of Busby Burkley, Baz Luhrmann creates his amalgamated vision of the Moulin Rouge circa 1899 -- a time when the bohemians were the know-alls of art, spreading the Montmarte district with their beliefs in truth, beauty, freedom, and love.

Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann's third film, is the most colorful and audacious film of the year. Its take-no-prisoners approach to the movie musical will turn off some, excite others. And, amidst all the grandeur, all the decadence, Luhrmann has infused a love story so that his bright, energetic musical numbers can be balanced by dark tragedy. All this in just 126 minutes -- Moulin Rouge is the postmodernist's musical, a rock opera that does not rock, but instead enthralls.

I will be the first person to decry Luhrmann's last film, the equally audacious but less filling Romeo + Juliet revision from 1996. In that film, Luhrmann continued to show the promise that was found in his debut, 1992's Strictly Ballroom, but lost his mounting as the Shakespearean basis began to take over his touches. When that film ended, I thought that we would still see something great from the director as long as it was not something veering so close to pretentiousness.

But Moulin Rouge blows any post-Juliet expectations out of the water. Luhrmann this time takes pride in the pretense found in his film and flashes it in front of the audience like a bright neon bulb. Luhrmann has grown as a director; he is no longer someone that can frame a nice shot, but instead someone that really make a movie. While his touches are definitely noticeable, they sufficiently refrain from overshadowing the story that is going on amongst his flare.

When I finished up Moulin Rouge, I had a weird feeling -- the story this time around by Luhrmann and regular cowriter Craig Pearce is almost Shakespearean in itself. No, it is not an exact revisit to the Bard's style, but the melodrama, misunderstandings, and passion seem to have a definite foundation in the earlier writing of William Shakespeare: the romance reads like Venus and Adonis, the drama like Romeo and Juliet.

I, of course, would not be surprised if this were completely intentional -- not only are Luhrmann and Pearce fresh off of their Romeo + Juliet, but the film is also somewhat built on pilfered material. Of the 14 or 15 songs in the film, only one, a love balled called "Come What May," is original. Everything else is either revised older music for the situations of the screen (Elton John's "Your Song," Madonna's "Like a Virgin") or has been spliced with other older songs to make a giddy collection of modern tunes (one part of the film combines Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with Patti Labelle's "Lady Marmalade"). Even the opening shot of the film has a definite feel like Federico Fellini directed it -- Moulin Rouge is a monument to show 100 years of pop culture in an age-old story structure. Luhrmann has pilfered everything he could think of and, in turn, has created his own vision through others creations. Now, whether this is deserving of credit or not is in the eye of the beholder.

The story proper to Moulin Rouge is about Christian (McGregor), an English writer that moves to Paris in hopes of vicariously taking in the bohemian artistic movement through his Montmarte apartment. And everything seems abnormally subdued in his home (subdued, that is, for the area) until a pack of bohemian actors literally fall into his life. Through some unsteady beams and heavy Narcoleptic Argentinean, Christian's roof falls through and he is introduced to his neighbor from above, Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo). Immediately, Christian is brought into the bohemian world that Lautrec holds so dear. Next thing he knows, he has been pushed into the Moulin Rouge cabaret to meet Satine (Kidman), the most famous and loveliest of the hall's dancers.

Through a mix-up, Christian turns up in Satine's giant elephant bedroom and is immediately seduce by her -- she thinks that he is the Duke of Worcester (Roxburgh), a man she must seduce to get his money to fund the Moulin Rouge's next business venture under then owner Charles Zidler (Broadbent). Christian is almost immediately smitten to the courtesan, but she only returns the love in the belief that he is rich and disposable. Then, after the cat is out of the bag, his real identity is learned, and a few songs have been sung, she starts to have feelings for him -- so much that she can barely stand creating the façade of love for the Duke during his advances. He is now producing a play at the Moulin Rouge, one that is to be written by Christian, and star Satine -- a situation that allows the two lovers to see each other regularly.

Moulin Rouge could easily be divided into two stories: one that is happy, one that is sad. During the first act, I was surprised at how flamboyant the film was -- one song number in the elephant is especially memorable for how ostentatious it is. But then, as the film's second and third acts set in, I was astonished that it had changed gears into a tragedy with occasional happy interludes. The future of the couple is told in the opening lines of the film, but it still does not set in what a bumpy road would be in front of them amidst the early glitz.

I truly respect Moulin Rouge for what it tries to do and feel even happier with the fact that it succeeds. Using anachronistic music can be upsetting while watching a movie -- this was especially true in the opening scene of A Knight's Tale to Queen's "We Will Rock You" -- but Moulin Rouge pulls this off without a glitch. The songs seem like merely another storytelling device in Luhrmann's arsenal. The first time we hear the beats of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it may seem incredibly weird, but by the time Jim Broadbent belts out another Queen song, "The Show Must Go On," the device seems more advantageous than off-putting.

Anyone that would disagree as to whether or not this can work need only watch the scene in which Luhrmann turns Sting and the Police's "Roxanne" into a tango and supplements it with music sung by Jacek Korman, Jose Feliciano, and Ewan McGregor. This five-minute sequence is pure magic: not only does it execute a great song in a different setting, but it even has a kindred relationship with the film. "Roxanne," like the story unfolding before us, is about a man falling in love with a prostitute and pleading for her to only be with him. As Korman tangos to this music and McGregor intones his emotions through a song, the audience is allowed to feel everything both visually and aurally.

Luckily, Kidman, Broadbent, and McGregor can sing as well as they can act. Though Kidman's vocals are a little shaky with her Marilyn Monroe replication in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," she shows much more when she goes with "One Day I'll Fly Away" and does even better when singing with the even more impressive McGregor.

McGregor gives what could be his best performance of his career, and Kidman does something as remarkable as her work in To Die For and Eyes Wide Shut. And, keeping in tone with the comical side of the story, Jim Broadbent reworks his William S. Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy with a little Joel Grey in Cabaret thrown in for good measure. These three make every one of their scenes come alive, whether they are singing or speaking their lines. The other major players hold their own -- Roxburgh especially -- without taking the spotlight away from the star-crossed lovers. While none of them become particularly memorable, at least they refrain from being too in-your-face while not getting lost in all the style Luhrmann is simultaneous throwing at the audience.

Moulin Rouge is definitely not for all tastes. I have heard some people refer to it as the next Titanic, a film that young females will latch onto and make a huge hit. This is not in any way the future I see for Moulin Rouge. It will be misunderstood and hated by most audiences. It's been years since a hit movie musical, and Moulin Rouge, with all its glam and glitz, is too vanguard to fill the void.


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What's the Worst That Could Happen?

(Dir: Sam Weisman, Starring Martin Lawrence, Danny DeVito, John Leguizamo, Carmen Ejogo, Nora Dunn, Gelnne Headly, Bernie Mac, Larry Miller, Riachard Schiff, William Fichtner, Ana Gasteyer, Todd Poudrier, and Siobhan Fallon)



A thief gets a taste of his own medicine in the early moments of What's the Worst That Could Happen? and the audience then pays for it through the next hour and a half. Not only is Sam Weisman's film hurt by having the worst title of the year, it's a pretty bad movie to boot.

Martin Lawrence plays Kevin Caffrey, a thief that lives for the finer things. He is actually based on Donald E. Westlake's John Dortmunder character who was previously brought to the screen in The Hot Rock by Robert Redford. Caffrey, like Dortmunder, is determined to get what he wants -- whether it is paintings, oddities, or women. In the opening scene, Caffrey goes into an auction, sees a woman crying, learns that she is the owner of a painting up for sale, and then steals it from the winning bidder. It should come as no surprise that, after giving her the painting, he wakes up the following morning in her bed. But this is not a one-night stand -- this woman, Amber Bellhaven (Ejogo), has done something to Kevin, he now feels like a new man.

Of course, they do not arrange to get married, but a courtship ensues and he then receives her father's prized ring. The ring, a gaudy little trinket studded with diamonds, marks something else to Kevin, he sees it as a memory of the day he became a new man. This does not bode well for his business, he begins to steal less and less in his hopes to continue to shine in Amber's somewhat unsullied mind.

But after continuous pushing from his Uncle Jack (Mac) and best friend Berger (Leguizamo), Kevin decides to do an easy robbery -- something that will have a huge payoff without any real danger. As fate would have it, a recent filing for business bankruptcy has meant that billionaire Max Fairbanks (DeVito) cannot set foot in one of his vacation homes. Kevin and Berger enter the place under the belief that no one is home, but, in fact, Max has broken the law and decided to sneak his mistress into the place for a small tryst. Max catches Kevin and the police come to take away the thief. But, before he is carted away, Max decides to have a little fun with the scenario and tells the police that the ring on Kevin's finger -- the one Amber gave him -- is another stolen possession. Whom are the police going to believe?

The film then spirals into various situations that have Kevin trying to get back the ring and Max enjoying his spoil of war. Director Weisman and screenwriter Matthew Chapman (who is making his first attempt into comedy after writing the horrendous Color of Night) take their twelve major characters, give them stereotypes to personify, place them in improbable scenes, and sit back and watch. What should happen is magic, but what does happen is boring. What's the Worst That Could Happen? is plagued by countless comedic scenes that are, simply put, unfunny. It has such a nice little idea to jump off of -- the robbing of the robber -- but never does anything of interest with it. It's almost as if they read the tired script and hired Martin Lawrence in hopes that he could do something with it.

And Lawrence is certainly not the key to making this film work. In fact, he is one of the film's worst parts. I really do not mind Martin's shtick, it just seems that it has evolved too much into the current state. This film, like Big Mama's House, never really shows Lawrence as the smooth funnyman that he can be, much like Eddie Murphy in his earlier roles. Now it's almost to the point where his sole device to gain laughs is to do something off-kilter and hope that hilarity ensues. But, unfortunately, rarely do the laughs follow behind him.

On the other hand, I did seem to get something from Danny DeVito. While this is admittedly a tired role for the actor, he still has the charm to pull it off. Even when the material is bad, DeVito does something to get a smile out of the audience, much like what Steve Martin had to do in Weisman's last monstrosity The Out-of-Towners. DeVito is smug and ridiculous -- has been for years -- but he still pulls it off in roles that show these same characteristics. No, it's nothing to compare to his work in Get Shorty or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or L.A. Confidential, but at least he can bring some nice laughs along the lines of his somewhat identical Ruthless People character.

However, amid all the talented people playing the ten other major characters, DeVito is merely one of only two that work. Richard Schiff goes through nearly the entire film without making a joke as DeVito's lawyer and saves face because of it. He gives an air of respectability to scenes that are, at times, outrageously insipid. Unfortunately, that cannot be said for names like Glenne Headly as Max's secretary, Larry Miller as Max's security guard, and Willaim Fichtner as an abnormally flamboyant detective -- none of the other supporting players have anything going for them. And Fichtner is just plain frightening. Coming off of his horrible work as a depressed southern father in Pearl Harbor, Fichtner needs something to bring up his R.Q. (Respectability Quotient), but this is definitely not what's going to do it.

Donald E. Westlake has said before that he does not like the movies that come from his novels. I always thought that this statement was a little unfortunate -- some really good films have come from his published works including The Hot Rock, Payback, Point Blank, and The Grifters. What's the Worst That Could Happen? is now the second film that can make me agree with Westlake -- this film, like 1996's Two Much, is a bad film from beginning to end. The real problem is that you can feel that there was something there back when Westlake wrote the original novel (which I have not read) and Weisman and Matthew Chapman have made the worst of it.


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Reviews by:
David Perry