> Volume 5 > Number 15

Volume 5, Number 15

This Week's Reviews:  The Guru, The Italian Job.

This Week's Omissions:  Bend It Like Beckham, House of 1000 Corpses, The Safety of Objects.

Capsule Reviews:  Anger Management, Boat Trip, Willard.

Daisy von Scherler Mayer

Jimi Mistry
Heather Graham
Marisa Tomei
Dash Mihok
Emil Marwa
Raahul Singh

Release: 31 Jan. 03

The Guru


I've always been mystified by the love people -- especially women -- have for Grease. I mean, the conclusion of the film is that when two different types of people meet and fall in love, it is the obligation of one of them to change for the relationship to truly work. Don't get me wrong, I like the songs, but the moral of the story seems awfully askew.

A different moral can be attributed to The Guru, a film that otherwise openly clefts directly from Grease (though, thankfully, not Grease 2). It begins with a young Indian boy, Ramu, walking out of the Bollywood musical he's bored with to sneak into the theatre plaing Grease next door. His life is forever changed: regardless of the traditions he's expected to keep, he wants to be John Travolta.

Now in his twenties, Ramu (Mistry) decides to follow his dream and leave his home (where he gives old ladies Macarena lessons) for the welcoming arms of the Hollywood film industry. There are welcoming arms, but not quite the one's he wanted. Instead of seeing an executive from Paramount or Universal or Disney, Ramu finds his first acting job (he had previously toiled away at one of those Indian restaurants checkering midtown Manhattan) in a porn film as the exotic lover for porn star Sharonna (Graham).

This, of course, if not the type of acting he wants to do and thus he quickly parts ways with the company in hopes of perhaps getting that all-important interview with a real producer. But a bond has already been created between Ramu and Sharonna, who sees him as a confidant for all the problems she faces during her engagement with a straight-laced firefighter (Mihok). In their chaste meetings, Sharonna helps Ramu find the better path by filling him with little words of wisdom that seem ridiculous but evidently work (in one case, she chants lyrics to Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" to achieve some form of transcendence).

The next American woman to enter Ramu's life is a spoiled socialite named Lexi (Tomei) who begins using him as a sexual guru when her efforts to afford everything extends to him. In many ways a high priced hustler, Ramu begins a business out of the help he's giving Lexi since all her society friends want the same sex advice he has to offer. Needing the money and enjoying the attention, Ramu is more than happy to oblige even though his mantras come straight from what Sharonna had just told him.

What keeps this film and its movement of Ramu from chastity and virtue to sexpert extraordinaire different from Olivia Newton John donning the biker outfit in Grease is that there is something unwavering between the film's central lovers, Ramu and Sharonna. Though they come together and remain together out of mistakes and lies, they find their own level of transcendence in the convening of their two minds, despite the cross-cultural clichés they are occasionally meant to impart (in their defense, though, these two seem Frederick-Wiseman-realistic compared to some of the other characters that roam the screen). The occasional moment of charm that warms the audience up during the film's mostly flaccid 91 minutes comes from director Daisy von Scherler Mayer's enjoyment of the blending of Hollywood ethos with Bollywood ethos (at one moment, she even places her characters into a Bollywood production during a dream sequence).

I do accept the motivation of The Guru, but I never felt like it met its potential. The first half of the film, which is more about the blindness of Anglo America to the rest of the world's citizens (Ramu's agent corrects himself when he calls his client an Indian, since he believes the preferred nomenclature is Native American) comes off as stronger. This may also be in the lap of Tomei, who takes the once charming glow of romantic double Graham and turns it into broad stereotypes that feel forced and, ultimately, boring.

Probably the most disturbing fact about The Guru is that, regardless of the charm and the skewered morality that makes it better than Grease on many counts, this isn't near as interesting to watch as Grease. I don't think many kids will sneak out of a Bollywood musical to watch The Guru; and if they did, I believe a few would sneak back to that 4-hour musical.

©2003, David Perry,, 11 April 2003

F. Gary Gray

Mark Wahlberg
Edward Norton
Charlize Theron
Jason Statham
Seth Green
Mos Def
Donald Sutherland

Release: 30 May 03

The Italian Job


The original The Italian Job has a certain amount of nostalgic support from its English countrymen that the idea of a slick American remake justifiably brings apprehension and fear out of those who dearly like that Cockney Brit spy/thief/detective/playboy Michael Caine capitalized on during the 1960s and 1970s. The last time Hollywood put its hands on one of these Caine classics was in the 2001 remake of Get Carter, and one could understand if our neighbors across the Atlantic never spoke to us again because of it.

But The Italian Job remake does the right thing in trying to bring the original to new audiences: it makes the original story unrecognizable. The Italian Job is nominally a remake, taking the original's title and car chases, and turning that film's major heist into the new film's minor opening. While the robbery of gold in Venice still has the satisfaction that made the original so enjoyable, the new film understands that it doesn't have the same impact it once had by virtue of the very existence of the 1969 version. Thus, responsibly, the filmmakers choose to give something to those who have seen the original by creating a larger story and to those who haven't seen the original by still including the main task from the first.

Now, the opening of The Italian Job doesn't exactly remain faithful, but it still generates the same alien bravura that the original had. This opening does not, for example, integrate the BMW Mini Cooper, which had a huge presence in 1969. But, it should be noted that BMW is about to reintroduce the Mini Cooper to the U.S. marketplace, so one shouldn't assume that its disappearance from the actual Italian job in this movie means that it will remain absent for the American job.

In fact, if memory serves me right, the first image that follows the Italian section of this film is of Charlize Theron's legs fitting oh-so-perfectly into a new Mini (they do not, I'm assured, come standard with the new Mini). The Italian Job, regardless of the awe-inspiring chases and the satisfaction of its thief-on-thief thievery, is a slick little commercial for the Mini. It's a beauty of a car, and if the leggy Ms. Theron can fit into one, there's hope for me yet (getting the car, that is -- not Ms. Theron).

But, I digress. The other intent of The Italian Job is to tell a story about how the criminals behind the Italian job must work together to get back their booty after one of the more villainous among them collects all the loot for himself. That villainy is brought by Edward Norton's Steve Frezelli, the type of clichéd heavy who sports a thin mustache and a smarter-than-thou sense of enunciation (woe the days since David Niven and William Powell).

After the Italian job's success, he and the other thieves gather to divvy out their cuts in the Italian Alps (why? well, I guess it made for a nice shot), where he and some hoods kill John Bridger (Sutherland), the wise patriarch of the crew, and leave the other four for dead. Playing to the rules of James Bond villains, he assumes their death instead of ensuring their demise.

Of course, they survive and are rather perturbed about this bit of underhandedness. Since Frezelli served only a small part in the division of tasks, his absence means that the remaining crew -- leader Charlie (Wahlberg), computer whiz Lyle (Green), getaway driver Handsome Rob (Statham), and explosives expert Left Ear (Def) -- need only replace John's lock picking abilities. Thank heavens his daughter Stella (Theron) took up her dad's craft (albeit, legally) and has a bone to pick with Frezelli.

Even if the trailer for The Italian Job gives away most of the film, there's still much to enjoy within its infantile, escapist structure. Sure, most of the drama lacks any heat -- neither Theron nor Wahlberg have much to add to the pantheon of great actors -- but the chases are truly exhilarating (not quite the same level as Bullitt or Ronin, but still very respectable in a Jade and The French Connection way) and the supporting players (short of Norton's lifeless performance -- it shows that he was contractually obligated to make this) are almost all memorable.

In the mire of summer action films, The Italian Job may be the best. Sure, this isn't saying much, but when the other contenders are as bad as The Core, The Matrix Reloaded, et al. this film begins to look like a godsend.

©2003, David Perry,, 11 April 2003


Anger Management

As much as I love Jack Nicholson in films like One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and About Schmidt, I find it easy to become tired of his angry shtick.   When playing the everyman with insanity teeming within, Nicholson can be perfect, but when it's just madness for the sake of madness, the experience can become, well, maddening.  Couple that with the already boring passive-aggressiveness of Adam Sandler's characters, and Anger Management becomes notable only for its perfect title.

Peter Segal

Adam Sandler
Jack Nicholson
Marisa Tomei
John Turturro
Luis Guzmán

Release: 11 Apr. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 11 April 2003
Boat Trip

Doing to homophobia what Bringing Down the House did to racism, Boat Trip could be among the year's most disturbingly veiled politically incorrect film of the year. With the acting all over the place (including Roger Moore as the creepiest queen on the high seas) and the direction (by Golden Girls writer Mort Nathan) growing from bad to worst, the only things constant in this movie is its lack of humor and its possession of an unvarying offensiveness.

Mort Nathan

Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Horatio Sanz
Roselyn Sanchez
Vivaca A. Fox
Maurice Godin

Release: 21 Mar. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 11 April 2003

Daniel Mann's 1971 camp classic Willard has no place being remade, but that means nothing to Glen Morgan, who has remade the film known for its deliciously over-the-top premise (a man sends an army of rats to do his bidding) without really grasping the humor aspect. Oh, there are moments when the film captures the heart of the original (especially in a scene involving Michael Jackson's song for the its sequel, Ben), but most of the film just seems like a makeshift attempt to turn Crispin Glover's creepy look into the crux of an entire film.

Glen Morgan

Crispin Glover
R. Lee Ermey
Laura Elena Harring
Jackie Burroughs
Kim McKamy

Release: 14 Mar. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 11 April 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry