> Volume 4 > Number 13

Volume 4, Number 13

This Week's Reviews:  Death to Smoochy, Panic Room.

This Week's Omissions:  Beijing Bicycle, Clockstoppers, Last Orders, The Rookie.

Capsule Reviews:  Showtime, Resident Evil.

Danny DeVito

Edward Norton
Robin Williams
Catherine Keener
Danny De Vito
Jon Stewart
Harvey Fierstein
Pam Ferris
Michael Rispoli
Vincent Schiavelli




The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Halvorson, 1999

15 Minutes
Herzfeld, 2001

Lucky Numbers
Ephron, 2000

Rock Star
Herek, 2001

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
Weisman, 2001

Death to Smoochy


Adam Resnick's screenplay to Death to Smoochy yearns desperately to seem like a lost script from Paddy Chayefsky but instead comes off like something from Patty Duke. Oh, there's wit to spare in this far-from-innocuous satire, but it is so lucid and winsome that the audience feels mistreated by its pile driver storytelling.

Danny De Vito, the virtuoso actor-come-director, likes darker comedies and, though terribly inept, Death to Smoochy is dark. But without any real meat on the bones, the film delivers only a few puttering giggles in its turgid attempt to seem more ironic than it actually is.

Taking aim on the children's television business, Death to Smoochy begins with enough garishness to make Bob Fosse blush. The opening introduces the television series of Rainbow Randolph (Williams), a creepy host who sings "friends come in all sizes" as well as the fact that Rainbow Randolph merchandise comes in all sizes too. His world seems as bright as Pee Wee Herman and his playhouse, with small children swarming around his throne on all of children's television, is complete with midgets. But all comes crumbling down after the FBI catch him accepting bribes to allow certain children on the air, which convinces Kidnet, the channel he works for, that it's time to pull the plug on Rainbow Randolph.

Kidnet vice president of development Nora Wells (Keener) goes on a search for a new star of kiddie television who will be inoffensive enough to never get the network in the same pickle as the Rainbow Randolph problem. Wells' search leads her to Sheldon Mopes (Norton), who has turned his rhinoceros character Smoochy into a regular entertainer at the Coney Island free methadone clinic.

Wells couldn't care less about the wants and needs of Mopes, who struggles to make sure that everything in the show has an honest moral and calls for healthy living, her only concern is whether or not he can make her money. And indeed he does -- fickle children happily buy into the Smoochy show, throwing Rainbow Randolph to the side. This only further infuriates Randolph, who becomes intent on killing his replacement in hopes returning to his old timeslot.

In the midst of all this, Resnick throws in a corrupt talent agent (De Vito), a corrupt network president (Stewart), a corrupt Irish restaurateur (Ferris), a corrupt charity leader (Fierstein), and a corrupted former children's show host (Schiavelli). So many character vying for not only Mopes' attention, but also the audience's becomes taxing in the film's 109 minutes. Only Ferris, whose restaurant is a cover for her mob rallies, delivers a memorable performance.

De Vito has done this shtick before with 1984's The Ratings Game and with more success. Like that film and Throw Mama from the Train, De Vito's resolve to relegate as much screen time to the lingering destitution of his characters makes Death to Smoochy a rather uncomfortable film to watch at times. This is not a terribly offensive work -- which it would not mind being -- but instead one that never really serves any true purpose and wastes the time of everyone involved. I liked his two dramatic directorial films, Hoffa and The War of the Roses, but De Vito's satirical comedian shows little teeth when he's mainly going for laughs. Even the songs, which are meant to be funny because of their absurdity, pale in comparison to "Floop's Song" from Spy Kids, of all things.

Probably the biggest problems other than the script lie in the actors, almost all of whom are highly talented but really fail to show anything other than clichés. A rabid Williams and a subdued Norton turn the two into contradictory action figures, leaving only Keener standing with some semblance of respectability out of the main cast. Even De Vito as an actor, who should know he can go further, seems to be pulling his punches. Yeah, these are all action figures, but even the pompous sales pitch by Rainbow Randolph couldn't convince the audience that Death to Smoochy is more than a dull parody.

David Fincher

Jodie Foster
Kristen Stewart
Forest Whitaker
Jared Leto
Dwight Yoakam
Patrick Bauchau
Ian Buchanan
Ann Magnuson




Donnie Darko
Kelly, 2001

Fight Club
Fincher, 1999

Lost Souls
Kaminski, 2000

The Others
Amenábar, 2001

Rear Window
Hitchcock, 1954

Panic Room


When the latest dizzying motion picture from pop auteur David Fincher comes to an end, the audience has been through a thrilling roller coaster marked with suspense and apprehension. He has made a career out of these films -- Se7en and The Game, especially, though his dark palette was certainly part of the more genial Fight Club -- and Fincher's latest, Panic Room, feels like the work of an individual who has walked down this road more than once. Though not really a true-to-the-form action filmmaker, Fincher has shown more growth as a populist entertainer than one might expect after his disturbing trilogy of Alien 3, Se7en, and The Game.

Both David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh have grown in relative encouragement from the masses in recent years because they have each honed the craft of meticulous storytelling through extraordinary visuals. These are designers in craft, narrators in art; walking into a film from either of these men promises to feature mind boggling visuals with stories that the audience can still sink their teeth into.

Panic Room, a perfectly foreboding title, comes well equipped with the tools of the Fincher oeuvre. When the camera swoops through coffee pots, down three stories, and into a keyhole, the Houdini laughing at the audience's exasperated reactions is David Fincher. When the film derives itself into what seems like a story arch that cannot be fulfilled lest the movie lose its believability, that man proving that it can be done is David Fincher. When the audience is left sitting in the dark, reading names in the credits and thinking of all the fine work that was involved to make such a fine film, the most accentuated name there is -- everybody, say it with me -- David Fincher.

The film begins with Twin Peaks alum Ian Buchanan laying out endless exposition in a tight and concise opening sequence as a real estate agent. He's selling a brownstone in the upper west side of Manhattan to a young divorcée. She is Meg Altman (Foster), the wife of wealthy pharmaceuticals magnate Stephen Altman, who's willing to pay for a new home for Meg and their daughter Sarah (Stewart) as part of the separation arrangements after he cheated on her.

The house is magnificent -- the opulence is practically written on the welcome mat. Inside, they find three stories of bedrooms, baths, and dens. However, the cornerstone of this domicile's architecture is a so-called "panic room" which the previous owner had added as a safety precaution in the event of a burglary. A sort-of "castle keep" he calls it, but it merely gives Meg the creeps and further pushes her claustrophobia when looking in it.

Needless to say, she buys the home and begins to move in. On their first night, though, a miscalculation amongst some robbers means that Meg and Sarah are in the home when it is broken into for a few million dollars left behind by the previous tenant. The two women, of course, hurry into the panic room, only to find that what the robbers want is somewhere in there.

Much of the film is dependent upon the way David Fincher and screenwriter David Koepp build the tension by slowly unveiling the information. Throughout the movie, characters act in reference to different problems or objects, which mean nothing at first but turn out to have an importance (albeit as an occasional contrivance) later. The three robbers -- the man with the plan Junior (Leto), the man with the expertise Burnham (Whitaker), and the man with the gun Raoul (Yoakam) -- each have various skins to lose as the audience continues to watch their plight, or at least how they work the plight of Meg and Sarah.

The role of Meg was initially given to Nicole Kidman, but an injury from Moulin Rouge caused her to drop the role, effectively giving it to Ms. Foster. Although I like Ms. Kidman, her acting style would probably not have fit, especially considering the picture-perfect work turned in by Jodie Foster. Playing a highly introverted, seclusionary woman in the early scenes helps to accentuate the change that occurs with her natural fierceness as her child is put in danger. Meg Altman is not the domestic Clarice Starling, but she at least seems to come from the same personality profile.

Giving equally terrific work is composer Howard Shore, whose score to the film helps to remind people why he has long deserved an Academy Award before his win last week for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. This is an impressive work of symphonic pleasure heightening the emotions -- both the drama and the action -- within the story frame.

But, regardless of the fine work from Koepp, Shore, and Foster, this is a predominately visual film. Certainly, the fact that the others have a chance to shine is partly thanks to Fincher's ability to catapult nearly everything he is working on. Cinematographers Darius Kondji and Conrad W. Hall (son of Conrad L. Hall), editors Jim Haygood and Angus Wall, production designer Arthur Max, and visual effects artist Kevin Tod Haug all help to make the visual wonderland many of them had previously crafted on Fincher's previous films. And what a splendid world they create, making a house for the setting which is as perfectly secluded as the raft in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat and the cabin in Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead.

Throughout, the Fincher stamp of approval seems evident, extending from the long, visual effects-laden shots to the clothing and hair on the characters' heads. David Fincher is one of the few filmmakers who could be accused of having a young actress don lengthy bangs to ensure a perfect mise-en-scène for a slow-motion sequence as her locks whip across her brow.

Ultimately, Panic Room is a genre film, but what a genre film it is. Though not of the same level of some of Fincher's previous works, it does pack a bang and keeps the audience on its feet throughout. Yes, he may be akin to Steven Soderbergh in today's film world, but Panic Room, a nearly flawless single-setting thriller, escalates David Fincher at least in the vicinity of 1954 Alfred Hitchcock territory.

Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for Showtime and Resident Evil (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre).  Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."

Resident Evil

(Dir: Paul Anderson, Starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Pasquale Aleardi, and Michaela Dicker)



Using a video game as a starting point, Paul Anderson continues in his reign as Hollywood's most stylishly incoherent filmmaker -- a title he has battled hard for against Michael Bay. Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez deliver incomprehensible performances as one drop-kicks robotic dogs and the other uses every other line to simply say "bitch." Resident Evil simply reminds everyone that there's a huge difference between filmmakers Paul Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, regardless of whether or not the former has added the initials "W.S." The only highlight is Marco Beltrami's haunting opening theme.


(Dir: Tom Dey, Starring Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Pedro Damián, Mos Def, and William Shatner)



Laughless ensemble comedy Showtime pits Robert De Niro with Eddie Murphy and proves that some pairings should never of happened. Like Jeff Goldblum (Holy Man) and Michael Rapaport (Metro), and unlike Mike Myers (Shrek) and Steve Martin (Bowfinger), the rapport between Murphy and his costar makes the comedian seem forced and particularly annoying. A long and unfunny William Shatner cameo as himself also proves tedious.




Reviews by:
David Perry