B.A.P.S - GROSSE POINTE BLANK
THAT OLD FEELING
- LOVE AND OTHER CATASTROPHES
DOUBLE TEAM - THE SAINT


B.A.P.s

"B.A.P.s," the acronym means Black American Princesses, is the latest effort from director Robert Townsend ("Hollywood Shuffle," "Meteor Man"), starring Halle Berry and newcomer Natalie Desselle as two homegirls from Decatur, Georgia. Nisi (Berry) and Mickey (Desselle) dream of going to LA, hitting it big in the music video business, and, then, buy their own business - a combination hairdressing salon/soul-food restaurant.

Once in LA, they are approached by the nephew of a wealthy, elderly recluse, Andrew Blakemore (Martin Landau), offering Nisi $10,000 to pretend to be the granddaughter of the Blakemore family's housekeeper of years ago - a black woman the old recluse has loved, secretly, for these many, many years.

Robin ROBIN:
Robert Townsend showed innovative financing with "Hollywood Shuffle" and an honest sincerity in "The Five Heartbeats." He also displayed a distinct lack of humor in the unfunny and unwatchable "Meteor Man."

With "B.A.P.s," Townsend does nothing to change his status following "Meteor Man."

Townsend has put together a sexist and racist tale, I won't say comedy, that rehashes many, many other comedies, such as "Arthur" (drolly amusing butler character) and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (livin' large on someone else's nickel). Unfortunately, the story offers nothing original.

The film, obviously and early, starts out with the sinister subplot of the wicked nephew trying to have his kindly old uncle declared mentally unfit and take over his fortune. This falls apart before the halfway mark and isn't mentioned again until the end, when the nephew gets his comeupance at the reading of the uncle's will. Pathetic writing.

I'm not going to rate this very highly, as you may have guessed, but I have to take note of and give a lot of credit to Halle Berry. She is funny, even without any funny dialogue, and extremely pretty. A wry sense of humor and good looks should put her in good stead, career-wise.

Ian Richardson, as butler Manley, provides much needed comic relief for this so-called comedy, but, not nearly enough to matter.

Newcomer Natalie Desselle gives a good shot at her first film major role. She's amusing. Not a bad start. Too bad it's in this film.

Martin Landau, one of the great character actors, seems to be in another movie. He gives a thoughtful and melancholy performance more fitting for light drama or a romantic comedy.

"B.A.P.s" is rarely funny. The ending is trite and thoroughly expected. (The homegirls live happily ever after - so what if their benefactor is dead.)

Besides the stupid story, production is as amateur as the direction.

Berry and Richardson help raise "B.A.P.s" to the lofty heights of a D.

Laura LAURA:
Director Robert Townsend keeps trying to make comedies that just aren't that funny. Even his first effort, "Hollywood Shuffle," which became known mainly based he had the chutzpa to finance it on his personal credit cards, was sporadic at best. "B.A.P.s," while not unlikeable in some ways, is a disjointed mess written by first time screenwriter Troy Beyer.

The big surprise here is Halle Berry. She throws her elegant ingenue image out the window to play a down home Decatur girl with outrageous hair, press on talons and gold teeth. Her best friend Mickey is played by newcomer Natalie Desselle. The two gamble their life savings to go to L.A. so Nisi can enter a contest to be in a Heavy D video, but instead they're scammed into a plan to rob the rich Mr. Blakemore (Martin Landau) of his fortune.

Although trite, some of the funniest parts of the movie revolve around the thawing of the arch British butler, Manley (Ian Richardson), who appreciates the new love of life the girls bring to the childlike Blakemore.

The screenplay is such an unmitigated disaster, though, that the inconsistencies leave the few laughs in the dust. Nisi and Mickey gradually lose their bad hair, clothes, nails, jive talk and even those gold teeth with no explanation. Manley arranges for their loser boyfriends to join them from Decatur for no apparent reason. When it becomes strikingly clear that Nisi isn't the granddaughter of Blakemore's long lost love as she was introduced, the script still forces Nisi to attempt to hide the truth. This film even resorts to trying for laughs by having a character pushed into a swimming pool.

B.A.P.s had some good ideas and some talented actors, but all you're likely to remember is their squandering.


GROSSE POINTE BLANK

stars John Cusack (who also co-wrote and co-produced) as Martin Blank, a self-employed hit man who's approaching an emotional turning point in his life. His secretary Marcella (the goofy Joan Cusack) begins to hint that he really should return to his home town for his tenth high school reunion. When he botches a job, his employer insists on a make-up hit in Detroit. Fate seems to be leading Martin back to the girl he left behind, Debi (Minnie Driver), who he's been obsessing about in dreams. Of course, when Martin decides this will be his one last hit, his plans are complicated by his arch rival Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) who not only follows him to Detroit but sets a couple of Feds on his tail as well.

Laura LAURA:
"Grosse Pointe Blank" is a gentle, languid comedy about a hit man! Its pleasures are mostly of the droll type. When Cusack argues against returning to his home town his argument is 'What am I going to say? I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork?'

If you like John Cusack's work, as I do, you're sure to enjoy this film which fits him like a glove. The people who support him, Alan Arkin's reluctant therapist and Joan Cusack's efficient but offbeat secretary, are always mysteriously at the other end of the phone whenever Martin calls. When Martin returns home, he finds that his house has been replaced by an Ultramart and his senile mother is in a nursing home. Martin finds his girlfriend DJing the local radio station - when he visits her she puts him on the air and invites callers to help her decide whether to give him a second chance. He tells everyone his past - how he 'lost it,' joined the Army and then became a professional killer, but of course everyone thinks he's joking.

Minnie Driver is quite charming as Debi - you know she's melting when she asks Martin to let her do an airplane (that childish game of 'flying' on someone's outstretched legs). Martin convinces her to attend the reunion with him and the film begins to jack up its energy level when another hit man comes gunning for him.

Technical credits are fine except for a couple of boom mikes getting into shots. The soundtrack is a great collection of 80's alternative rock featuring David Bowie and Queen, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Pixies, the Cure, the Jam, the Specials, the English Beat, Faith No More and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

"Grosse Pointe Blank" is the type of comedy where interesting characters induce smiles more than laughter, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Robin ROBIN:
As producer, co-writer and star, John Cusack has set himself up a pretty tall order in "Grosse Pointe Blank." Martin Blank (Cusack) is a government-trained, free-lance hit man who is in the midst of an emotional crisis. He is having doubts about his chosen profession, has just botched a big hit (and is forced to do a "make up" hit) AND he is invited to attend his 10 year high school reunion.

The reunion represents the biggest reason for Martin's angst. On the night of his high school prom, he freaked out, dumped his date with the pretty Debi (Minnie Driver), and joined the army, where he was trained for his current profession.

Now, back in Grosse Pointe, Martin is trying to rekindle the spark between him and Debi, now the town's local DJ, while also trying to fulfill his "make-up" contract hit. He also has the additional problem of being pursued by a lunatic Basque hitman, hired for apparently unknown reasons.

>From the description you can see that Martin's life is in utter turmoil. Cusack, in an amusing character study of a man torn by his profession and his past, plays the neurotic Martin to the T. He is utterly cavalier, though professional, in his job, worrying more of his mental health than his future.

"Grosse Pointe Blank" is a likable enough movie, but tries to do too much. It works real hard at the romance between Martin and spurned high school girl friend, Debi, played by the quite remarkable Minnie Driver. It, also, tries to be a manic-paced hitman action flic, with loads of shootouts along the way and the climax ending in, yes, a shootout. I admire Cusak and company for the effort, however.

Senior supporting cast is solid, with Alan Arkin as Martin's initially unwitting shrink. Dr. Oatman doesn't find out about Martin's profession until their fourth session and now fears for his life from the obviously neurotic killer. Arkin is a long time favorite of mine and he puts his own unique spin on the character.

Dan Aykroyd, as Martin's rival, Mr. Grocer does his straight-faced, rapid fire line delivery in a fair performance as a man who just wants to bring a union into his chosen profession, with Martin as his premier member. His violent methods of persuasion are, shall we say, unconventional.

Cusack's sister, Joan, also lends a lot of comedic experience to the role of the loyal secretary, a character she seems to pull right out of a Sam Spade novel.

It's the quirky nature of the story (although high school reunions now seem de rigeur as background setting for films, lately), a good character study by John Cusack, and a first rate supporting cast, that merit giving "Grosse Point Blank" ...


THAT OLD FEELING

Veteran director Carl Reiner comes out of the starting gate one more time with the new Bette Midler vehicle, "That Old Feeling." The Divine Miss M stars as Lily with Dennis Farina as Danny, Lilly's longtime divorced first husband.

The couple have had few, but all very loud and public, words since their divorce 14 years before, but must once again confront each other, this time at the wedding of their only daughter, Molly (Paula Marshall).

What starts out as a major confrontation between Lilly and Danny - their fight in the middle of the wedding reception almost comes to blows - soon twists into a rekindling of their old flame, a flame that never really went out!

Robin ROBIN:
My main complaint with "That Old Feeling" is the utter predictability of the whole story. Nothing is fresh or unexpected, from Lilly's and Danny's incessant bickering to their getting back together to daughter Molly dumping her brand new husband. Virtually all the plot lines are telegraphed, as to their outcome, early on in the film. I had a checklist, by the end, where I could tick off each of the resolutions as they happen.

I also have a problem with the fights between Lilly and Dan. Any time there is a social gathering, they seem to feel compelled to argue at the top of their voices, completely ignoring everyone around them for their own selfish motives. At one point, I wished someone, anyone, in the cast would tell these people shut the hell up. Outrageously rude behavior is not, to me, funny.

Besides the complaints, there are bright sides to "That Old Feeling." Bette Midler gives one of her best caustic comic performances - she defines the term "the venomous glance." Miss M does have to tone down the costumes, though. She's a bit too matronly to pull off a slinky sexpot.

Dennis Farina, as the romantic lead, is no great shakes. At least, he doesn't float my boat at all. He plays pretty well off of Midler.

Other cast members are servicable, but not special, overall. I do think that Paula Marshall, as the beleaguered only child of the two lunatic parents, holds her own as she plays the part of the daughter caught between her parents - the irresistible force and the immovable object.

Technical aspects, from directing to lighting/photography to editing, are professional, but unexciting.

"That Old Feeling" is a little than most of the drek out there. I couldn't get excited and give it a C+.

Laura LAURA:
I wasn't expecting much from "That Old Feeling" and maybe that's why I was pleasantly surprised. While the script (by Leslie Dixon of "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Look Who's Talking Too") doesn't offer any surprises, the cast executes it with such finesse as to almost make it seem fresh.

I'm not much of a Bette Midler fan, but her Lilly is the best thing she's done since "Ruthless People" in 1986. Her timing is exqusite and she's the master of throwing a look that would kill. She's also believable as a woman newly smitten by her long-hated ex-husband - when she sings "Somewhere Along the Way" to him, it's quiet and affecting.

Most of the cast is made up of TV veterans. Dennis Farina ("Crime Story") is usually cast as a tough guy, but here he's genuinely sweet as Lilly's ex, Dan. Paula Marshall ("Chicago Sons") is quite a find for the big screen as Molly, Dan and Lilly's daughter whose wedding is the catalyst for their reunion. Gail O'Grady ("NYPD Blue") is a shrewish trophy wife by benefit of plastic surgery who cares more about her appearance and social standing than her husband Dan. David Rasche ("Sledge Hammer") is amusing as Lilly's current husband, the self-help author of "The Tao of Divorce" who wears his insecurities on his sleeve while fussing with his three silly toylike dogs. Danny Nucci's ("The Rock") brashness as Joey, the paparazzi who hounds Lilly, is slowly stripped away to reveal a nice guy who doesn't have a way with women until he meets Molly. Jamie Denton is appropriately stiff as Keith, Molly's new husband whose honeymoon and political campaign are jeopardized by the behavior of his new in-laws.

Carl Reiner has directed a nice looking, solid romantic comedy that's head and shoulders above Midler's last effort, "The First Wives Club."


LOVE AND OTHER CATASTROPHES

is a 90's take on the romantic screwball comedy by first time 23 year old Australian director Emma-Kate Croghan. Mia and Alice have just moved in together and are looking for a third roommate. Mia, fearing commitment, is keeping this quiet from her girlfriend Danni. Alice has a crush on the 'Warren Beatty of the campus,' Ari, who in turn, introduces them to Michael, a medical student who longs to escape his Animal House-like living arrangements.

Laura LAURA:
"Love and Other Catastrophes" has a wonderfully engaging cast of unknowns who greatly aid in making this otherwise slight film enjoyable. This is a solid effort as a student film, but probably won't have staying power up against more mature independent releases.

Frances O'Connor, who strongly resembles Jessica Harper, gives the most accomplished performance as Mia. She manages to portray a manipulative, selfish bitch with a relatively good heart - no mean feat! Alice Garner is the pixish Alice, a typical twentysome confused by love. Matt Day is the fresh-faced, naive Michael whose only hope with women is to let them discover him on their own. Radha Mitchell is the doe-eyed innocent Danni, sadly waiting on the sidelines for Mia to realize what she's throwing away. Matthew Dyktynski is above it all as the intellectual Ari - not a bad sort, if a bit self-absorbed.

All the romantic confusion is draped over a subplot where Mia is trying to get professors' signatures to enable her to switch college departments. As she bolts from one end of the campus to another battling red tape, all the characters meet up in various configurations. There's a particularly nice scene when Danni and her friend Savita (who Mia of course believes to be Danni's new girlfriend) find Mia lying on a bench singing away to herself.

The film is peppered with title card film quotes that comment on the action. The filmic in joke is taken further during a lecture on film auteurs where several student factions break off imitating favorites such as Woody Allen and Spike Lee. Croghan also manages to use the camera for one visual joke where we see the scenery outside of Mia and Alice's car jolt back and forth as Mia attempts to parallel park.

As for the film's being described as a 90's screwball romantic comedy, well...the 90's twist is that there's a lesbian couple and the screwball twist consists of one of Mia's professors dying before he can sign her transfer. As I said earlier, slight... This film's major draw is witnessing what could be the beginning of several fine acting careers.

Robin ROBIN:
"Love and Other Catastrophes" is an Australian entry into the comedy lite category that seems to have taken hold lately with the likes of "Liar Liar" and "B.A.P.s." It has a naive sweetness about it that keeps it from being bad, but it never really rises above average.

The performances by the young cast, except for Frances O'Connor's Mia, are heartfelt, but amateur. O'Connor rises above the rest of the cast, giving a strong performance as a young woman who gets what she wants when she wants it - usually through sheer force of will and determination.

Storywise, it's a traditional romantic comedy that does not transcend the tradition. It offers little in the way of originality, except, maybe in the relationships that take place:

Alice likes Ari.

Mike likes Alice.

Danni likes Mia.

Mia likes Mia.

I'm not sure who Ari likes. I think Ari likes Ari.

It all works out to its logical end, especially when Mike proves himself to be the "one" for Alice.

It's trite. It's sweet. But, it's not new.

"Love and Other Catastrophes" gets a C.


DOUBLE TEAM

Hong Kong action flic veteran, Tsui Hark ("A Chinese Ghost Story"), makes his U.S. debut with "Double Team," starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and, in his own film debut, NBA star Dennis Rodman.

Jean-Claude plays Jack Quinn, an ex-super agent for the CIA, retired for these past three years, but, suddenly, back in demand by his Company keepers. Jack's old nemesis, the evil Stavros, is back and wants revenge against the ex-agent. To force the confrontation, Stavros, played by Mickey Rourke, kidnaps Jack's very pregnant wife and uses her as bait to lure him into a final confrontation.

Jack, seeking the firepower to take on Stavros, contacts the flamboyant arms dealer, Yaz (Rodman), eventually convincing the arm merchant to help him find and destroy Stavros.

Robin ROBIN:
Oy vay! Whose idea was "Double Team," anyway?

This is a disaster (or disasterous) flick posing as an action adventure.

I have yet to watch a Tsui Hark film - I will borrow "A Chinese Ghost Story," just to get a better feel for Hark's visual style for action. Some of the action sequences are really a cut above what the film deserves. "Double Team" notwithstanding, I am intrigued to see what Hark can do outside the restrictive, often stupid, influence of Hollywood.

Jean-Claude really looks horrible here. I mean, physically. He looks haggard and wane. I don't know if he filmed this before or after his stint at the Betty Ford Clinic. From his looks, before, I think. Physically, he is still the Muscles From Brussels, but he doesn't look like his heart is in the film.

Dennis Rodman, in his debut performance, sports several different hair styles and colors, as well as outrageous costumes, for your amusement. Too bad he doesn't show any real acting talent. Much of his dialog is obviously added in post production and his acting is stilted, at best. Rodman seems to believe, from interviews I've heard, that his character Yaz has the potential to be a going concern. Let's hope he's wrong.

Mickey Rourke is nearly unrecognizable and shows absolutely none of the acting skill he showed in such films as "Bar Fly." The opportunity to be a memorable bad guy is missed by Rourke entirely. He performs like a hack and does nothing to lend any spice to his mundane Stavros.

The biggest reason for the failure of this turkey to fly can be solidly aimed at the screenplay. Let me try a brief synopsis of the story:

Jack Quinn, after his last spy caper years ago, retires from the CIA, but, is pulled back to duty to kill his arch nemesis, Stavros. He fails, but accidentally kills Stavros' son. For his failure, Jack is sent to "The Colony - the place where all super agents are sent when they screw up. Stavros kidnaps Jack's wife, who thinks he's dead, to lure Jack out of the Colony to Rome. Jack escapes the Colony and heads for Rome, enlisting arms dealer Yaz on the way. Jack and Yaz do battle with Stavros, gladiator-style, in the Colosseum - the battle includes a tiger. Stavros rigs the Colossem to explode, but screws up, blowing up himself and the entire Colosseum. Rodman saves the good guys with a Coke machine. I don't know what happened to the tiger. They all, except for Stavros, live happily ever after. Sort of.

The plot holes are huge and inconsistencies run rampant throughout the film. Ideas, like the Colony, are introduced and dropped when convenient. Story integrity is thrown out the window.

"Double Team" is a prime example of bad Hollywood filmmaking and should be avoided at all costs.

A D- is probably too high praise for this dud. I'll give it a D-, anyway.

Laura LAURA:
The teaming of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman against bad-guy Mickey Rourke didn't cause me to set my hopes high, but the chance to see the American film debut of renowned Hong Kong director Tsui Hark ("Peking Opera Blues," "A Chinese Ghost Story") did. Unfortunately all "Double Team" has to offer are some occasional beautiful visuals created by camera trickery, movement and editting. If I hadn't known better, I'd have believed Tsui Hark was an MTV hack.

"Double Team" has to have one of the most ridiculous plots in film history. The wooden Jean-Claude (who looks old and tired here) is Jack Quinn, called for that one last anti-terrorist mission while awaiting the birth of his first child in a villa in the south of France. He fails to take out Mickey Rourke's villain Stavros when Rourke's young son is too close for comfort. Stavros' son is killed in the melee anyway and Stavros now wants revenge on Quinn. In a plot diversion that has no place in the film, Quinn awakes in The Colony, a secret group of supposedly dead spies who comprise a think tank against their will. Quinn escapes (the only reason for him to have been there in the first place) and meets up with arms dealer Yaz (Dennis Rodman), who inexplicably makes constant basketball references. They then both go gunning for Stavros, who now of course, is holding Quinn's wife and unborn child in Rome.

There's a rescue scene in the maternity room which looks like it came right out of "The Omen." The whole affair ends at the Roman Colliseum which Stavros has rigged with landmines and a tiger while Quinn's newborn son floats about amid the action in a blanket lined basket. The entire Colliseum is demolished by a nuclear explosion (from a landmine, mind you), but Rodman saves the good guys with a Coke machine. I kid you not.


THE SAINT

In the newest TV series to be adapted for the big screen, Phillip Noyce ("Dead Calm," "Clear and Present Danger") directs Val Kilmer as Simon Templar, a master thief who accomplishes the seemingly impossible with a myriad of disguises and a fancy Swiss Army knife.

Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija of "Before the Rain") is an evil industrialist who wishes to take advantage of unrest in Russia which he's created by secretly holding the empire's heating fuel in tanks beneath his mansion. When a young scientist, Emma Russell (Elizabeth Shue of "Leaving Las Vegas") seems unwittingly about to foil Tretiak's plans with the discovery of cold fusion, Templar goes to steal her discovery, but finds instead that he must protect it - and her.

Laura LAURA:
"The Saint" is as flat and confused as last year's made from TV "Mission Impossible" without the few exciting scenes that almost made that film bearable.

The film begins with a ludicrous 'explanation' for Simon Templar's character (the man of many disguises does not know himself). As a young illegitimate boy in a Dickonsonian Catholic orphanage in the Far East, Simon Templar rebels against the evil priests (they hunt him down with a pack of snarling hounds) only to see his young friend Agnes plummet to her death. Now we know why Simon Templar assumes the names of Catholic saints in his adult career.

Elizabeth Shue's introductory scene is painfully embarrassing for an actress who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination last year. She's a scientest who appears before a group of colleagues in a short skirt, knee socks, heels and a lab coat to explain cold fusion by telling them she has 'nothing prepared' but is willing to take questions. Nice script setup for a fellow scientist to cut to the quick and ask her to explain the whole theory for the dim-witted audience.

Templar breaks into her apartment where he discovers she's a romantic eccentric and promptly appears as the brooding, long-haired Thomas Moore to sweep her off her feet. When she discovers she's been duped, she traces him to Moscow (those saints' names again) because she's in love and to put herself in precarious situations that Templar must rescue her from.

To give the film some credit, Kilmer and Shue do manage to kindle a spark, but their on-screen chemistry is about the only thing (besides slick production values and great locations) that "The Saint" has going for it.

Kilmer should have stuck with his Batman character - that series is destined to continue. "The Saint" strikes out on its first outing.


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