Volume 4, Number 39
This Week's Reviews: The Tuxedo, Mostly Martha.
This Week's Omissions: Secret Ballot, Sweet Home Alabama.
Capsule Reviews: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Stealing Harvard.
Rush Hour 2
BY: DAVID PERRY
The marvel of Jackie Chan's work hasn't been on exhibition in some time. This is not to say that Chan has been out of work -- on the contrary, he has actually found a following in the American action audience. But even when he's been hucking it up with Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films, Chan's physical prowess has remained untapped. There is some of his fancy footwork in those films, but they all lack the eye-popping achievements that they were. For the Brett Ratner films, Chan is treated like a sideshow; in his own Hong Kong classics he is the ringleader.
I knew little of the Jackie Chan oeuvre when he made his big American premier with Rumble in the Bronx. Watching the films of the time -- Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, The Legend of Drunken Master -- were a great treat even if they were just older Chinese productions that had been dubbed. It was exciting to see the heir apparent of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton in those films.
And then the American studios got their fingers in the productions, taking away the assurance of Chan's acting while speaking Mandarin and replacing it with his sketchy English in the form of a joke. When they finally added the wisecracking sidekick -- an addition that was only found in Twin Dragons among his previous releases -- the formula had been ruined. Good writing and a terrific rapport between Chan and Owen Wilson kept Shanghai Noon from failing, but the Chris Tucker team-up that has brought two Rush Hour films has created the only thing less funny than Tucker and Charlie Sheen in Money Trouble.
The Tuxedo remains in this mold, taking away some Chan's vitality (party, I'm sure, caused by Chan's increasing age) and adding that annoying sidekick in the form of Jennifer Love Hewitt. It's the type of movie that has become increasingly (and frustratingly) familiar for fans of anything foreign: the Americanization is almost never at the same level.
The story follows Jimmy Tong (Chan), a mild-mannered cab driver brought into the private residence of millionaire Clark Devlin (Isaacs) to be his chauffeur. At first the job seems rather rigid (as Jimmy attempts to fulfill the rule that he never talks to Devlin), then enjoyable (as the two find some form of a bond), and finally catastrophic (as Jimmy attempts to take the place of his hospitalized employer).
But Devlin has a small secret: he is a super-spy along the lines of James Bond. And that tuxedo that he tells Jimmy to wear? Well, that would be a multimillion-dollar super-weapon that can turn awkward Jimmy into the debonair and lethal Devlin.
Scientist, spy, and all-around attractive woman Del Blaine (Hewitt) has been brought in to help Devlin. Not knowing what he really looks like, she is willing to believe Jimmy's impersonation in the face of the bizarre actions he can do thanks to the tuxedo. Thus they begin their search for Diedrich Banning (Coster), a bottled water magnate who intends to spoil the earth's water so that consumers will have no choice but to buy his product (after everyone else, of course, dies of the dehydration caused by the contaminated water).
The script has never been a strong asset to any of Chan's films, but they are at least enough to set the stage for the antics that are expected from him. Unfortunately, the exposition in The Tuxedo seems to take more time than the action and, considering that it's simply establishing a hackneyed story, proves to be a waste of time.
Jennifer Love Hewitt does her best to find the right footing for her character but never really discovers it. Instead of being voluptuous yet coy, as she did so well in Heartbreakers, Hewitt is just dumbfounded. Her most telling moments come when she's spouting off scientific information like Denise Richards at a Jorges Luis Borges book reading.
But the lackluster companion is par for the course when
dealing with Jackie Chan films these days. On good days, he can still pull out all the
stops to give the audience exactly what made him an icon for Hong Kong action; on bad
days, he seems to be as lost by the counterpart's mistakes as the audience is. And, in the
end, only one thing remains constant: Rumble in the Bronx was a classic.
Italian for Beginners
The Son's Room
BY: DAVID PERRY
Food as an aphrodisiac has never quite seemed as relaxed as it does in Mostly Martha. The master chefs who clutter the place with their latest entrees make cooking a $100 plate seem as easy as tying shoes. Too bad they seem to make sparking a relationship into a quantum physics equation.
But the relationship drama is not from the love affair between chefs Martha (Gedeck) and Mario (Castellitto), but between relatives Martha and Lina (Foerste).
Martha is both the center of the film and the center of the German culinary society. She is called the second best chef in Hamburg by her employer, though it's not rare for the customers at her restaurant to question her abilities.
When Martha's sister suddenly dies in an accident, Martha must take care of her niece Lina until a permanent home can be found. Since Lina's father ran off to Italy before she was born, the two must hope that he'll return their letter and come raise Lina. In the meantime, Martha must learn the problems found in raising a rebellious young girl. At first the kid won't eat, then she won't go to school. Lina, simply put, hates the idea of living with anyone other than her mother.
There is hope when Martha gets a coworker at the restaurant in the form of Italian chef Mario. Not only is Mario able to find the occasional mistakes in Martha's dishes but he can also help to get into the get into Lina's good side. Soon the girl is eating healthily and doing exactly what Martha asks. The only problem now is that her late night visits to Mario and Martha's kitchen has made school tardiness a regular problem.
Mostly Martha is not an incredibly deep film, but its subtle, light-hearted tone makes for an entertaining little film. Normally I refer to these films as "enjoyable distractions" from the overblown Hollywood films and the unseen art films, but Mostly Martha deserves more attention if only because it has more heart than nearly anything else that has come out in films this year. It's a heartwarming movie that never becomes too sentimental -- a rarity in movies these days. In fact, the only part of the film that seems overtly pressing against the film's best interests is its score by David Darling, Keith Jarrett, and Arvo Pärt who evidently found a missing track from the Tootsie score.
Director and writer Sandra Nettelbeck shows compassion for all her characters. Each one is realistically dealt with and never prone to theatrics. These are people who could very well live next door to those of us watching. At least, if you happen to live next to the best damn soufflé maker in your town.
Martina Gedeck is not a well known actress in the states, partly because her films rarely get a release around here (from a scan over her filmography, I was only able to recognize her small role in Maybe, Maybe Not) but she deserves to be. The genuine way she realizes Martha is an understated achievement. Considering that this movie is completely built around her character, the fact that the movie never approaches tedium is thanks in great amounts to Gedeck's work.
And, like the task forced on so many actors taking
characters with unusual occupations, Gedeck sells the idea that she is a master cook.
Every dish she makes leaves the audience salivating for it. Finally, here's a film that
can compete with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover as the ultimate
|Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
(Dir: Wych Kaosayananda, Starring Antonio Banderas, Lucy Lui, Gregg Henry, Ray Park, Talisa Soto, Miguel Sandoval, Terry Chen, Roger R. Cross, and Aidan Drummond)
BY: DAVID PERRY
It's not rare for me to call film incomprehensible, but not
since Pootie Tang have I thought a film more clearly deserved such a reference
than Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. The promotional material states that the film was
directed by Kaos, which clearly exemplifies the immodest world it resides in. Pompous to
no ends, the movie seems to be screaming for McG to direct its sequel and, despite Charlie's
Angels being somewhat entertaining, that's not a good thing.
(Dir: Bruce McCulloch, Starring Jason Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, Megan Mullally, Richard Jenkins, Tammy Blanchard, John C. McGinley, Seymour Cassel, and Chris Penn)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Since Tom Green is still unfunny it would be a waste of
review space to mention the pain that he brings in Stealing Harvard. However, the
real problem is that the entire film is just as annoying and laughless as Tom Green's
antics. Megan Mullally, Richard Jenkins, John C. McGinley, Dennis Farina, and Jason Lee
deserve so much better, though I can always imagine that they accepted their roles due to
the director (Kids in the Hall alum Bruce McCulloch) instead of the script.
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|BUY THIS FILM'S