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Cinema-Scene.com
Volume 5, Number 43

This Week's Reviews:  Scary Movie 3, Runaway Jury, Out of Time.

This Week's Omissions:  Beyond Borders, Casa de los Babys, Passionada, Wonderland.


Director:
David Zucker

Starring:
Anna Faris
Simon Rex
Charlie Sheen
Jeremy Piven
Queen Latifah
Eddie Griffin
Darrell Hammond

Release: 24 Oct. 03
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Scary Movie 3

BY: DAVID PERRY

I hate reviewing spoofs like the Scary Movie films because I often feel that thereís nothing there to really write about. After all, this is a genre that is essentially little more than repeating elements from other films, changing them slightly, getting a laugh, repeating. How can I write a thoughtful commentary on a film that clocks-in at less than 90 minutes, is based on repetition, and hasnít any substance to analyze. At its earliest, I could look at the introduction of a new form of comedy. At its close (which I hope is upon us), I can only contemplate what to write.

I could sit and transcribe jokes for 500 words, but that would be a waste of my time and an offense to the rare funny moments in Scary Movie 3 that deserve the freshness of seeing it in the cinema if you are unlucky enough to do so.

But there is something to write about, I suppose, in the understanding of the evolution of this film series from its auspicious 1999 debut to its ugly 2001 sequel to its currently boring incarnation. There was a promise in the tagline for Scary Movie: ďNo Mercy, No Shame, No Sequel.Ē When that film broke $100 million, it became clear that Miramax would do anything to ensure that the promise was not kept.

I liked that first film because it dealt with a genre that certainly deserved some ridicule, as well as the way it showed homage as a worthy joke-inducer. However much Scream (and to a lesser degree I Know What You Did Last Summer) came from the loins of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and its other slasher precursors, it was a film unto itself, a referential animal self-conscious of its existence. I like Scream and consider I Know What You Did Last Summer to be a guilty pleasure, but Iíll be the first one to admit that its solemnity in the face of satire made it prime for mocking.

The wicked wit of the Wayans brothers made Scary Movie work by recognizing the problems with those films and turning them into humorous comedy. Little was changed other than the tone (I still believe that much of the success was on the shoulders of star Anna Faris, as Neve Campbell/Jennifer Love Hewitt).

All was lost in the second film, as the Wayans discovered that little remained to be made fun of out of those films. Ultimately, it was one of the worst films of the year, delivering no laughs and wasting the talents of people like David Cross.

The third film was meant to be a spoof of the mystical films of the moment like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, but that fell through and the Wayans brothers left the franchise. Enter Airplane! co-creator David Zucker to keep milking the cash cow dry (at this point, I think itís dead). He tries to return to the first, spoofing such films as Signs, The Ring, and 8 Mile (?), but fails to find the parts of those films deserving of ridicule. Though I laughed through much of Scary Movie, I only remember one laugh in Scary Movie 3 (a bit with the dogs from Signs acting weird -- a bit of absurdist comedy genius worthy of Cabin Fever). That is a pretty sad downfall.

There, 556 words. Happy? Just please promise me I wonít have to struggle to come up with something to write on Scary Movie 4.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 24 October 2003



Director:
Gary Fleder

Starring:
John Cusack
Rachel Weisz
Gene Hackman
Dustin Hoffman
Bruce Davison
Bruce McGill
Jeremy Piven
Nick Searcy

Release: 17 Oct. 03
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Runaway Jury

BY: DAVID PERRY

There was a time when the name John Grisham on a film meant something. Thatís not true ever since the author du jour fell flat on his face with a series of unsatisfying books, more critically reviled than his popular film adaptations. I havenít read anything by him, so Iím not in the position to criticize him as a writer, but I did notice, especially getting further into his career, that the adaptations seemed to be repetitious, turning for the same plot twists and contrivances as had been previously exhausted. Iíll give him the benefit of the doubt that this was the fault of Hollywood writers trying to keep with what sells tickets, bastardizing his works for the almighty dollar. But, then again, his complaint about Robert Altmanís The Gingerbread Man was that the director tried to turn it into something new, making me worry that the villain in this case may in fact be the source novelist.

Runaway Jury doesnít stray too far from the pack, delivering the same pat dramatics for muted surprise out of an audience that, by the second hour, no longer cares. The long break between this and the last adaptation, 1998ís The Gingerbread Man, hasnít made these works of legalese conventionality any less tired.

Gary Fleder directs this story with the wham-bang mentality of Michael Bay, but with only a little more substance. A liberal chest-thumbing tome, the entirety of Runaway Jury comes as an anti-conglomerate piece of propaganda that is miraculously from Rupert Murdochís 20th Century Fox. Instead of attacking propagandist newsmen and the opportunistic television developing of Murdochís staff, the film looks at the gun manufacturers and the way they can buy out anything that might hurt the cause of gun ownership (contemplating the Murdoch quandary, I was reminded of the contracts between manufactures and the National Rifle Association that led to fliers for the NRA in gun packaging, and the way manufacturers are now giving that spot for fliers to anti-gun violence advocacy groups because of the money they are willing to throw at them). In the novel, the enemy is the smoking industry, which may not have seemed as formidable a villain or was just too similar to The Insider.

The trial is over the death of a stock broker played by Dylan McDermott who is killed by an angry ex-employee with an automatic weapon (you can feel the attempts at heartstring-tugging as Fleder injects images from the recent birthday of the brokerís son). The widow believes that the gun manufacturer has been lax in following their products as they move into the hands of individuals without any background checks. She has the idealistic liberal attorney Wendell Rohr (Hoffman) on her side, which should be enough to win when added to the sympathy factor. But the gunmen have also brought in their big guns, so to speak, with legal maven Rankin Fitch (Hackman) and his corporation of jury busters.

The twist comes in with the fact that one juror, Nicholas Easter (Cusack), is playing both sides, offering to sway the jury to whomever pays him $10 million. The film makes clear that he can, and it also makes clear that Fitch can make his life a living hell if he thinks Easter can get away with this.

And none of this really matters after a while, once the true colors of the film comes out (ahem, The Life of David Gale-lite) and the editing and look of the film becomes such a distraction that style and substance converge into a mess of irrelevance.

I know some people who still care about Grisham novels, but his films havenít merited a bit of interest among producers despite the fact that heís still doing about one book a year. With Runaway Jury, I donít see that disinterest changing any time soon.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 24 October 2003



Director:
Carl Franklin

Starring:
Denzel Washington
Eva Mendes
Sanaa Lathan
Dean Cain
John Billingsley

Release: 3 Oct. 03
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Out of Time

BY: DAVID PERRY

Matt Lee Whitlock (Washington) has a bad case of money burning a hole through his pocket. Chief of police in the fictional south Florida town of Banyan Key, he is in charge of watching $485,000 in confiscated drug money as the federal government prepares the paperwork to take it. He is extremely cautious of it, locking it away in his office and not allowing anyone in the police force to touch it. As fate would have it, his mistress, the sultry Ann Merai Harrison (Lathan), has also learned that she has cancer and needs an operation to save her life. The price tag of the operation will be paid later, but sheís running out of time. Guess who is willing to pay for it under the impression that heíll get his money back?

The most colorful film noir Iíve ever seen, Out of Time uses its lush Gold Coast setting to create a drama that is both tense and by-the-book. Introducing its lead and femme fatale with the panache of Brian De Palma in Femme Fatale, Out of Time uses its resources to its utmost. Even though its finale is a little bit of a let down, the rest of the film has a turgid feel coupled with perfect cinematography by Theo van de Sande, creating a tension beyond the seeming worth of the original script by Dave Collard.

Out of Time is clearly the child of director Carl Franklin, who has already proven himself with film noir, but is always willing to take it to a different setting and infuse it with a fresh look and style. One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress were both acclaimed for their realization of the genre while integrating race issues to couple le film noir with la chair noire.

Out of Time might not have the same level of formalist perfection (One False Move, of course, being among the best films of 1991), but it achieves its main intention, which is simple, thoughtful, well-made entertainment. It is unlikely that anything revolutionary will come from this film, but its existence is welcome nonetheless: it serves as a reminder that the desert of original thought common to most Hollywood thrillers can be upended occasionally by filmmakers knowledgeable of their craft. Franklin has lately been wasting his time on films like High Crimes; itís nice to see him come back to the fray.

Despite the headway Franklin and his team make with Out of Time, its rough edges are still noticeable, especially in the screenplay. There is expository dialogue that becomes painful in its stiltedness (nothing beats ďHowís your husband, the ex-pro quarterback?Ē), and the filmís concessions of reality are a bit creaky (how the hell is a former NFL quarterback working in a rinky-dink police force in small-town Florida?). Franklin overcomes this by being smart enough to put tense situations above mediocre scripting. While the dialogue in the first 45 minutes of the film is more than fruitless, the way Franklin creates a mellowness out of it is absolutely brilliant. Without the comfort of this first section, the intensity of the latter half would have been only slightly notable.

Adding to the mix is Denzel Washington, star of Devil in a Blue Dress, who uses his often aggravating self-importance to create a character as arrogant as himself, which produces a great quandary within the audience -- at one level, itís hard to like Matt, but at another, itís hard to see his sins deserving of such punishment (he plays especially well beside flavor of the moment Eva Mendes as his ex-wife). The way Washington is relaxed at the filmís first half is representative of the way he seems relaxed in any situation. He may no longer be the infallible actor of yesteryear, but despite his big-budget star status, Washington can still do some good for film: after all, he was the one who brought Franklin onto the project.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 24 October 2003



Reviews by:
David Perry
©2003, Cinema-Scene.com

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