ADDICTED TO LOVE - LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!
TRIAL AND ERROR - THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK
CON AIR - BUDDY

ADDICTED TO LOVE

Producer-actor Griffin Dunne has made the big leap into the realm of directing with his first feature, "Addicted to Love," starring Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick as two people jilted by their significant others.

Sam (Broderick), an astronomer, has been pining over the loss of his girlfriend, Linda (Kelley Preston), since she left him to go find herself in the Big Apple. Much to Sam's distress, she also found something else - a handsome, charming Frenchman named Anton.

Maggie (Ryan) was dumped by Anton, much earlier, after she helped him acquire his precious work visa. Maggie is out for blood.

Robin ROBIN:
Sam and Maggie form an unlikely alliance, based in a deserted, house across the street from their mutual targets. The pair stalk their prey with a mix of old and new technology - an old-fashioned camera obscura provides their visual needs, while high tech bugging gear provides the audio. With their eyes and ears in place, Sam and Maggie settle down to their individual missions - for Sam to get Linda back, while Maggie simply wants to vaporize her ex.

"Addicted to Love" represents Griffin Dunne's very successful first foray as director. And, he does a damn good job of it! Dunne takes his years of experience in producing and acting and puts them to good use as he guides his cast through familiar romantic-comedy territory to its logical, and predictable, ending. It's what happens along this  journey that is the charm and strength of the film.

With Ryan and Broderick as the key players in the film, Dunne has two seasoned professionals who have a terrific sense of comic timing. They also have the physical attractiveness, and mutual attraction, to make their romance convincing,

Ryan, as Maggie, comes out on top of heap as a street smart, resourceful woman who is out for revenge and the ruination of Anton. She is, obviously, in command of the situation, any situation, and is the activist to Sam's passive observer. I've grown to like Meg Ryan over the past couple of years. She is a capable and competent actor. Her comedic experience  ("When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle") comes to the fore here. Her comedic timing and delivery help maintain the overall pace of the film.

Broderick, as second-banana Sam, plays the subordinate role to Maggie, always following her lead. Sam has been in an intellectual ivory tower for so long, that a strong personality, be it Maggie or his nemesis, Anton, will dominate him, making Sam always  a follower. Matthew Broderick, a real pro actor, plays Sam with gusto. He is the innocent of the bunch, taking more than his share of lumps because of his naivete . He and Ryan have a real chemistry that compliments, nicely, the romantic comedy tone of "Addicted To Love."

The minimal supporting cast of Tcheky Karyo and Kelley Preston suit the story nicely. Karyo, who made his first splash as the enigmatic "Bob" in Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita," is terrific as the arrogant, cocky Frenchman. He has a wonderful speech where, at one point, he equates being French in the US to Superman. On Krypton, Superman is only a man. On Earth, he is, suddenly, Superman! In France, a Frenchman is only a Frenchman. Here, in the US, with his accent and Continental manner, Anton is, to all intent and purpose, a Superman! This is a funny bit of philosophy that rings very, very true.

Kelley Preston, while attractive and graceful in the role of Linda, is little more than the object of desire for Sam. You see her, quite literally through most of the film, as a flat image projected on the wall to be watched and admired by Sam. Not much she, or anyone, could do to flesh out the role. Though Laura disagrees with me, I note more than a passing resemblance between Preston and Ryan.

The screenplay, by Robert Gordon, is, as I said, totally predictable as to the outcome of the story. It's the originality of getting to that outcome that makes "Addicted to Love" interesting to watch. The use of the camera obscura as the voyeuristic device is different and fresh. It's a low-tech device used with a high-tech flair.

The story also does a loving job building up the relationship between Sam and Maggie. You know they'll be together in the end, but you hope they'll get together, too.

Technically - photography, editing, etc. - are solid. The imaginative and original use of the camera obscura, coupled with an interesting use of sound (with all the bugging equipment), make for an original look at the stalker's art of observation.

"Addicted to Love" is an intelligent, smart romantic comedy, with a dark edge, that should give moviegoers a good alternative to the eye candy we'll be facing for the next couple of months. It's more appealing, intellectually, than its main competitor, the dino pic, and will offer a good alternative viewing, especially for a date night.

I give "Addicted to Love" a B

Laura LAURA:
"Addicted to Love" is a quirky, originally spun telling of a time-old story, where lovers continue to pursue others when it's clear that they're meant for each other.

Actor/producer Griffin Dunne makes a fine directorial debut, clearly influenced by the great American filmmaker Martin Scorcese's dark comedy "After Hours," which Dunne starred in.

The always-likeable Matthew Broderick stars as Sam, who's madly in love with his childhood sweetheart Linda (Kelly Preston) in a rural small town. He's an astronomer who points the observatory's telescope at the school's playground every noon to view his love.  His world is thrown into turmoil when Linda, clearly itching to see more of the world, takes a job in New York City, ostensibly for one month.  As he frantically prepares for her return, he's dealt a blow when Linda's father reads him a Dear John letter in an amusing scene.  Sam immediately travels to the big city only to discover that Linda is living with a handsome French restauranteur, Anton (Tcheky Karyo of "La Femme Nikita").  Conveniently, there's a vacant building next door to their apartment, so Sam moves in and sets up a camera obscura, an ancient technology that allows him to project the interior of Linda and Anton's apartment onto the wall of his.

Soon Sam's space is invaded by Maggie (Meg Ryan, looking punked out with a ragamuffin, black roots haircut and dark, smudgy eye makeup), a tough, motorcycle riding cookie who seeks revenge against her former fiance Anton in a big way.  She breaks into the lovenest across the street to wire it for sound and voila, Sam and Maggie can now view the new lovers a la Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Maggie's viciousness in taking down Anton (she manages to arrange for him to lose everything, to the point where he's alone, broke and in a full body cast with a nasty rash) skirts perilously close to making the film an uncomfortable experience for the audience, but Ryan gives such a fine comic performance with the tasty lines which have been written for her and is so nicely balanced against Sam's naive sweetness that Dunne manages to make the whole thing work.  Maggie's schemes are so outrageously original that one must laugh in spite of oneself. Karyo's selfish and egoistical Anton is so genuinely confused and humbled that one believes him when he declares his true love for his lost Linda. Kelly Preston is the only member of the foursome who comes across a bit blandly.

The art direction and cinematography work well together, especially in scenes in the vacant building.  The film has a magical moment when Sam whitewashes the wall he's projecting Linda onto, bringing her into radiant sharpness.  The scene where Sam suddenly realizes that Maggie loves him, based on his watching an episode of Lassie no less, is an inspiration that concludes the film on a truly high note.

B+


LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!

is the screen adaptation by Terrence McNally of his Broadway hit about eight gay friends who spend their holiday weekends at the beautiful rural Victorian home of famed choreographer/dancer Gregory and his partner Bobby. The original Broadway director, Joe Mantello, makes his screen directorial debut with his original Broadway cast, with the exception of 'Seinfeld's' Jason Alexander, who takes on Nathan Lane's role of Buzz.

Laura LAURA:
"Love! Valour! Compassion!" is a small, affecting, ensemble film about relationships and death - think of it as "The Boys in the Band" crossed with "The Big Chill."  Stephen Bogardus is Gregory, the calming, nurturing Earth Mother type who's hiding the fact that his efforts to choreograph a new dance piece is coming to naught.  Gregory is enamored of his lover, Bobby (Justin Kirk), a blind man who's hyper-sensitive to everything around him. Perry (Stephen Spinella) and Arthur (John Benjamin Hickey) are the long-term couple who are still working to overcome some deep differences as they celebrate their 14th anniversary together.  John Jekyll (John Glover, who won a Tony for the role on Broadway) is an arch English composer who none of the group much cares for.  Jekyll introduces two new members to the tight-knit group - a new lover Ramon (Randy Becker), a narcissistic young dancer, and later, his more effeminate twin brother James (also played by Glover) who's dying from Aids.  Jason Alexander is Buzz, an HIV positive, show tune loving, single man who the group always hopes will appear with a partner, but who always arrives alone.

The film is divided into three acts.  On Memorial Day, the group is introduced and the dynamics are established.  Ramon shamelessly pursues his host's lover Bobby.  Bobby is torn between love and hot sex.  John and Perry have an antagonistic relationship, based, presumedly, on a prior love affair gone bad.  The prickly Perry lashes out, causing a rift with his good-hearted partner Arthur, while John retreats from the group.  Buzz provides most of the comic relief, declaring his single, small room the 'Patty Hearst Memorial Closet.'

When the July 4th weekend rolls around, John arrives with his brother from England, James, who has a penchant for wearing bonnets and flowing caftans. James quickly becomes a group favorite because of his sweet nature and the group quickly dubs them 'James the fair and John the foul.'  John also surprises (and somewhat dismays) the group by bringing the immoral, exhibitionist Ramon along again.  (Be advised that "Love!  Valour!  Compassion!" features quite a bit of male frontal nudity.)  The central segment is the most combustible.  Gregory learns of Bobby's dalliance with Ramon and is devastated.  Buzz runs around the volleyball court in only an apron and heels serving martinis, delighting some and disgusting others.  Buzz and James begin a heartfelt relationship that's doomed to end too soon.

Labor Day weekend is the final act and we've really come to know and care about these characters.  John has become increasingly bitter and tortured, knowing that he's disliked while the group has taken his saintly brother into their bosom.  Glover has an amazing scene where he comes to terms with his dying brother - this actor plays both parts with a wide disparity of emotion that's wrenching.  Later, Jason Alexander has a tour de force scene with his oldest friend in the group, Perry, where he rages out against the unfairness of a death that will leave him to face the same fate alone. Gregory has all his friends (except Perry, who refuses to participate) practice a number from Swan Lake that they will stage for an Aids benefit, complete with feathered headdresses and tutus, where we learn of each character's eventual fate via their own voice overs.

The film manages to avoid appearing stage-bound, even though all the settings are economically kept within the grounds of Gregory's home. It's also well paced as its two hour run time zips by.  The cast is excellent (with Glover, Spinella, Hickey and Alexander being the standouts). While the concept has been worked many times before, with both hetero and gay protagonists, it mostly works again here.  My only question was why only Gregory seemed to show compassion to the obviously tortured character of John - the audience seems to learn more about this man's inner conflicts beneath his grating exterior than his friends ever do.

B

ROBIN:
did not see this film.


TRIAL AND ERROR

In his second foray into courtroom comedy, director Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinnie") tackles changing identities and life crisis in "Trial and Error," starring Michael Richards and Jeff Daniels, as an out of work actor and hot-shot attorney on the brink of marriage, respectively.

Michael Richards is Richard Rietti, an unemployed actor with time on his hands and scheduled to be the best man to his best boyhood friend, Charlie Tuttle (Daniels).

Robin ROBIN:
Charlie lives a life diametrically opposite of Richard. He is a man who has done all the right things - excellent prep school, undergraduate degree from Yale (with a law degree from there, too), upcoming partnership in his future father-in-law's prestigious law firm, pending marriage to a wealthy young woman. A man who has it all.

On the eve, literally, of his marriage, Charlie is ordered, by dad-in-law-to-be, to go to a remote desert town in Nevada (missing his bachelor party) to represent a family member, Benny Gibbs (Rip Torn). Benny is charged with fraud in a scam selling "engraved copper portraits of Abraham Lincoln" (AKA, pennies) for $17.99 each to unsuspecting fraud victims. Because of the unexpected trip, Charlie is also going to miss his own bachelor party, being planned by friend Richard.

Richard, undeterred by the inconvenience, conjures up a bachelor party for Charlie in the remote town, getting the groom-to-be drunk as a skunk, then in a barroom brawl, requiring medical attention.

The next day, Charlie, doped up on pain-killers, is in no condition to represent anyone, in court or anywhere. Richard, always the actor, decides to pose as the unconscious attorney and do the walk-on line, "Your honor, my client requests a continuance." Unexpectedly, the judge refuses the request and things go completely awry.

"Trial and Error" is a mixed bag of a film telling two diverse stories - Richards, as actor Richard  Rietti, taking on the role as lawyer, finds himself dealing with the moral and legal problems created by posing as an officer of the court. Daniels' Charlie Tuttle, a man who has it all, is fast realizing that 'all' is not what he wants. He really wants freedom - the freedom to figure out what it is he really wants.

This diversity in stories both works and doesn't. On one hand, this lends complexity to the plot -  a complexity that is refreshing in the usual Hollywood fare. But, it also adds an element of confusion as the story jump back and forth between Richard getting himself (and Charlie) mired more and more deeply in his illegal deception and Charlie coming to terms that his terrific life is not so terrific - as a matter of fact, it sucks. If anything, the story, by wife/husband writing team Sara and Gregory Bernstein, tries too hard, covering a lot of territory in its 90+ minutes, sometimes handling this a bit hurriedly. This is a minor tradeoff for an intelligent story.

The screenplay does a good job of covering the bases of potential implausibility in the setup, moving the action away from home to a place where no-one knows who's Charlie or who's Richard. There isn't a lot of time wasted trying to be clever by forcing the identity switch on home turf.

Richards and Daniels do yeoman's work with the inherent physical humor you'd expect from the film. There is a decent quotient of good slapstick humor (sometimes reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote) with pratfalls galore and some degree of personal harm.

Michael Richards isn't given a role that's much of a stretch beyond his Kosmos Kramer character. He's pleasant enough, but doesn't give us anything new or different.

Jeff Daniels does the physical humor well. And, he gets to kiss Charlize Theron. How hard a job is this?

I like Charlize Theron as Billie. She's wholesome and a rebel at the same time and give more than just a supporting role. Her charisma, charm and natural air push her character, Billie, to more than just a supporting role. My only question is: why doesn't Charlie run away with Billie within 30 seconds of meeting her?

Jessica Steen, as the prosecuting attorney, holds her own well opposite Richards. She makes me believe that she is a dedicated law enforcement official, fighting for justice, and that she finds Richard attractive.

Alexandra Wentworth, in what would ordinarily be a throw away role as the fiancee, Tiffany, comes across, convincingly, as the wealthy, well groomed, spoiled, but not too pretty or intelligent, socialite. It's a small role, but she leaves her mark on it.

Austin Pendleton lends his own brand of manic flexibility as presiding Judge Paul Z. Graff.

Rip Torn, as the object of the court's desire, starts slow, ends strong. He's a true pro.

Jonathan Lynn isn't going to get the attention that he did with "My Cousin Vinnie," although I like "Trial and Error" better. He can take credit for presenting us with a film that is a full cut above what we expect to come out of Hollywood.

I give "Trial and Error" an enthusiastic B.

Laura LAURA:
did not see this film.


THE LOST WORLD:  JURASSIC PARK

The highest grossing film of all time, "Jurassic Park," just had to have a sequel, so director Steven Spielberg brings us to Site B, a second island where cloned dinosaurs have been allowed to flourish unrestrained, a fact conveniently overlooked in the first film.  John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has turned environmentalist and arranges to send a small crew to document the natural wonder in order to gain support for cordoning off the island as a Jurassic habitat.  His nephew who now runs Ingen (Arliss Howard) has other ideas, sending in a huge group, including big game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postelthwaite), to capture a selection of the beasts for a San Diego zoo environment which had previously been built but abandoned by his uncle.

Laura LAURA:
Director Steven Spielberg has never gone through the motions so ploddingly as he does in this follow-up to his shallow, but far more entertaining, "Jurassic Park."  While the special effects outdo the first effort by leaps and bounds (there are more dinosaurs roaming more freely and interacting with humans than before) and the final San Diego sequence shows Spielberg firmly planting tongue in cheek, the large part of the film is a pale retread.

Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcolm, a scientist whose reputation has been ruined by telling his tale of his first dinosaur adventure to a disbelieving public.  Hammond ropes him into returning when he informs Malcolm that his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on the island.  The rest of the 'good guy' crew is made up of photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn of "Swingers"), a field equipment systems specialist Eddie (Richard Schiff "City Hall") and Malcolm's stowaway daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester "Harriet the Spy").

When Ian, Nick and Eddie first run across some herbivorous dinosaurs while searching for Sarah, Nick and Eddie are awed.  Goldblum's Ian sums up the film when he pronounces that 'first there's oohing and ahhing, then there's running and screaming.'  Sarah's out to prove that dinosaurs were nurturers and ventures too close - she pats baby dinos (which look maybe a bit too cute) and ventures to save a baby T Rex with a broken leg, incurring the wrath of mom and dad in a scene that plays like a repeat of the 'jeep in the tree' scene of the original.  We also get warmed over repeats of the 'bad guy taken down by cute dinosaurs scene' and the raptor hunt scene, although the raptors appear to be a lot more easily foiled the second time around (one even gets taken out by a preteen gymnastics move!).

Of course the dinosaurs manage to destroy both groups vehicles and means of communication until they must join forces to survive, only to find that the 'bad guy' group has succeeded, tranquilizing an adult T Rex to be shipped back to San Diego.  This last sequence does manage to bring some much needed levity to the proceedings in a clear homage to "Godzilla." Spielberg also merrily thumbs his nose at the disaster flick 'the dog gets saved' cliche.

The cast is largely forgettable, although Goldblum brings his trademark deadpan humor and Pete Postelthwaite amazingly manages to create a somewhat complex character out of sheer willpower.  Although I'm sure it was meant as a politically correct gesture, the casting of a black actress to play Goldblum's daughter called attention to itself more than anything else.

"The Lost World" is pretty ho-hum stuff for all its great effects.  While "Jurassic Park" was really little more than an amusement ride, I've watched it again - it at least had a truly thrilling T Rex chase and the unbearably suspenseful raptor-in-the-kitchen scene.  I've seen "The Lost World" and doubt I'll bother again.

C

Robin ROBIN:
They're big, they're brash, they're bellicose and they're back! The dinosaurs, and a couple of the human characters, of "Jurassic Park" have returned in the $80-million sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park."

Spielberg and company have put together the requisite thrills and spills from the original "Jurassic Park", but failed to provide anything new by way of story. "The Lost World" is a true remake, taking each of the action sequences from the first film and, one by one, recreating them with exacting detail. Which makes "Lost World" a prime example of super high-tech boredom.

I am also surprised at the derivative nature of the film. "The Road Warrior," "Hatari!" and "Cliffhanger" are some of the films copied, in part, in "Lost World." With a name like Spielberg up front, this film should be the one that's copier, not the copier.

On the plus side of things, the last 20 minutes of the film is a witty sendup to the father of all monster movies, "Godzilla." This tacked on bit actually ended up being the best and funniest part of the film. Spielberg pokes fun at himself and Hollywood in this part. I expected this to be the weakest aspect of the film. Instead, it's the strongest.

As expected, there is a bevy of character actors doing their bit to flesh things out. Jeff Goldblum leads the pack in his reprise of the Ian Malcolm character, being joined by Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Richard Attenborough. Postlethwaite, as white hunter Roland Tembo, of all the cast, comes off best. He's the only one who shows any emotion or character development. (Well, Julianne Moore does some emoting when the T-Rex is only this far away. The rest of the cast are, as Postlethwaite's Great White Hunter describes, "a movable feast."

As everyone expects, the special effects used in "The Lost World" are superlative. The melding of computer imaging with live action is flawless, bringing to life the myriad collection of dinos in a wonderfully realistic way. This has, by far, the most incredible F/X - rate as excellent the animatronic, digital, and live action effects - put on the big screen, to date, from the compey attack on bad guy Dieter (Peter Stormare) to the T-Rex and raptor attacks. Kudos to Industrial Light & Magic for giving us real movie magic. Too bad the makers didn't see fit to provide a real story to take advantage of this magic.

"The Lost World" is like painting by numbers - you get something that looks pretty good, but there's no creativity in getting there. It is, unfortunately, typical of Hollywood today to provide the look but leave out the substance. The only intelligence in "The Lost World" is technical. I'm extremely disappointed that tech stuff is all that matters in Hollywood. F/X should be a tool used in making a film, not the reason for the film.

I give "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" a tepid C+. F/X and Godzilla help to raise it that high.


CON AIR

From Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer who brought us such blockbusters as "The Rock," "Top Gun," and "Crimson Tide," comes "Con Air", the summer's next big action-thriller, following Spielberg's "Jurassic Park 2." Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage,  leading an all star cast, is Cameron Poe, a former Army Ranger unjustly convicted of manslaughter. After serving eight years in maximum security, Poe is on his way home, on parole, and hitches a ride on a plane carrying the very worst the federal prison system has to offer.

The routine flight, monitored by US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack), takes a dramatic and unanticipated turn as one of the inmates, criminal mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), leads a bold and bloody escape and takes over the plane, aptly named "The Jailbird."

Poe, hiding his free status from the convicts, is the monkeywrench in the works as he and Larkin join forces to thwart Cyrus' plans of escape.

Robin ROBIN:
"Con Air" almost, just almost, pulls it of as an original concept action thriller, reminiscent, for 85% of the film, of the best of the genre, equaling other originals such as "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon."

Boston-born screenwriter Scott Rosenberg has scripted a very tight story, establishing the "murder" committed by Cameron Poe as an unfortunate circumstance - right off, we know he's a good guy. Poe, we are shown (succinctly, beneath the credits), was simply defending himself and his newly pregnant wife, Tricia (Monica Potter), from drunken rednecks. The explanation of how an innocent man can go to prison is done well. We are shown how Poe does all he can to keep a sense of normalcy to his life in expectation of meeting his never-met daughter. And all this under the opening credits. Some Hollywood films don't tell this much of a story in two hours.

Once the setup is done, things take off, so to speak, as the cast of convict characters are, one by one, introduced to us. And, this is the most bad ass collection of nasty people imaginable. Led by Malkovich as Cyrus the Virus, the criminal cast includes Ving Rhames as black militant bomber Diamond Dog, Steve Buscemi as serial killer Garland Greene, M.C. Gainey as convict-pilot Swamp Thing and a host of others. The experience and talent of the supporting cast definitely raises the level of "Con Air."

Nic Cage is becoming one of Hollywood's mainstay leading action figures. He is physical enough to do the necessary stunt work, plus can deliver witty lines with the best of them. I just hope he'll continue with efforts like "Leaving Las Vegas," instead of just going for the bucks. He makes a convincing hero as Poe, giving the character depth and motivation. He's pretty buff, too.

John Cusack, as US Marshal Vince Larkin, is a good foil to Cage's Poe. Cusack is a smart actor and uses his time on screen quite well. He and Poe have a lot in common, so Larkin can get inside Poe's head as they combine their significant skills and abilities to stop the baddies.

John Malkovich, though typecast lately as the perennial bad guy, shows us just how bad a bad guy he can really be as Cyrus. His droll and relaxed, though commanding, delivery is perfect for the character. He is a worthy foe.

Supporting cast is an embarrassment of wealth. Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin, M.C. Gainey and the rest of this fine cast provide "Con Air" a rich collection of secondary characters, fleshing the background out beautifully.

Why is "Con Air" terrific for only 85% of its run time? Answer: Hollywooditis.

Bruckheimer and company feel it is necessary to have a slam-bam, flashy, explosion-laden, extravaganza of a finale that destroys half of Las Vegas. The stupidities  and inconsistencies that occur during the first ending are compounded when the makers see fit to add another ending to the first. Any sense of reality is completely dropped with Cyrus withstanding incredible punishment before meeting his maker. The end feels like it was tacked on by someone other than the people who created the first 85% of the film.

"Con Air" could have been great if they had kept the ending simple and consistent with the tone and feel of the rest of the movie. A convincing final confrontation between Poe and The Virus is all that is necessary to make it great. The Hollywood ending hurts the film's integrity, diminishing what could easily have become a classic of the genre.

Tech credits are top notch, with the spectacle of the Las Vegas' famous strip becoming a disaster zone done to the max.

What could have been an A movie, I can only give a B+. If the end(s) equaled the rest of the film, "Con Air" would have been another "Die Hard."

Laura LAURA:
"Con Air" was approaching the level of that pinnacle of action films, "Die Hard," for 85% of its running time until it had to come crashing down with not only a ludicrously overblown climax but also the Hollywood cliched second ending.  Still and all, "Con Air" is a wild ride supported by a great cast and a refreshingly sardonic script by Newton native, Scott Rosenberg ("Beautiful Girls").

The film neatly provides its hero's back story during the opening credits, where we learn that Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) was a decorated Army Ranger who killed a man in self defense while defending his pregnant wife's honor and was subsequently jailed for eight years.  Just when it's time for Poe to return home the penal system decides to try out a new maximum security airplane to move the worst assortment of criminals to another prison.  Cyrus 'the virus' Grissom (John Malkovich) and Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames "Pulp Fiction") quickly (and a little too conveniently) escape their constraints and take over the plane.  They even pull off a quick stop to take on three more prisoners, including their replacement pilot and a notorious serial killer (Steve Buscemi).  Poe stays on board and plays along with while plotting against the murderous crew because his friend Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson of "Forrest Gump") is in desperate need of insulin.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, U.S. Marshal Larkin (John Cusack) uncovers Grissom's plot and begins to track the men while attempting to control the manic behavior of D.E.A. agent Malloy (Colm Meany).  Larkin becomes fixated by Poe as a possible ally.

After its opening sequence, "Con Air" is loud, fast, in-your-face and funny.  The dialog snaps and the actors act.  A very buff Cage is simply great as the noble Alabaman trying to get to his family and meet his eight year old daughter for the first time on her birthday.  When another con rifles through Poe's belongings, discovering the stuffed rabbit Poe's bringing to daughter Casey, Cage's "Put the bunny back in the box" line was delivered with such authority as to negate its innate idiocy.  The previously underappreciated Cage is proving himself an able action hero.

The still underappreciated John Cusack also makes the most of Larkin, the dogged marshal who'll go any distance, including driving a plow through flaming wreckage and hails of bullets, in pursuit of his ends.  Cusack and Cage are a delightfully edgy team.

John Malkovich manages to give a fresh performance as the sociopath Grissom.  He's supremely intelligent, completely immoral and quite witty. Steve Buscemi is also wryly amusing as the Hannibal Lectorish Garland Greene.  Unfortunately, the character really doesn't belong in the film and a side plot involving Greene and a little girl who's conveniently playing near an obsolete and isolated airstrip should have been dropped.

Overall I had a rousing time aboard "Con Air" and still rate it a B+ despite its lamentable silliness at the end.


BUDDY

Based on a true story, "Buddy" tells the tale of the extraordinary eccentric 1920's socialite Getrude Lintz (Rene Russo).  Trudy lives with her physician husband Bill (Robbie Coltrane) on a large estate where she keeps a menagerie of animals including a kennel of championship Briard dogs, Rex rabbits, flocks of geese, horses, kittens and four chimpanzees whom she treats as her children.  In raising the chimpanzees, Trudy's become quite an expert on ape behavior, but when she rescues a baby gorilla, Buddy, her patience and devotion to the animal defy all beliefs held at the time, making her a forerunner of such women as Dian Fosse and Jane Goodall.

Laura LAURA:
Sophomore director and noted screenwriter Caroline Thompson clearly has a way with outsiders and animals, having written "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Addams Family" and directed "Black Beauty."  "Buddy" is not only a wonderfully quirky children's film, but also a modern retelling of "Beauty and the Beast."

The film features a marvelously off beat cast.  Rene Russo ("Ransom," "Tin Cup") is charming as the independent Getrude and proves here that she's one of the few model-turned-actresses with the chops to carry a film's starring role.  Robbie Coltrane ("Nuns on the Run, "Henry V," TV's "Cracker") is great as her patient husband, a role that could have been a throwaway in lesser hands - his warmth, support and humor lend a tremendous amount to the film. Alan Cumming ("Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion," "Circle of Friends") is Trudy's assistant, clearly having fun keeping tabs on the quartet of precocious chimps.  Irma P. Hall ("A Family Thing") is Emma, the Lintz' cook and housekeeper who carries out her duties while being both challenged by and exasperated by the strange denizens of the household.  Paul Reubens (TV's "Pee Wee's Playhouse," "Batman Returns") has a brief role as a supercilious, supposed gorilla expert.

"Buddy" begins as Trudy does her morning routine - a vigorous exercise of animal and bird calls that wake up the entire estate!  The film establishes the characters (the chimp Maggie is the mischievous one, etc.) before introducing the baby Buddy into the household, where he's nursed back from death and clearly becomes Trudy's favored child.  As Buddy grows, he doesn't know his own strength, breaking chairs and easily getting out of his cage. A trip to the Chicago World's Fair results in Buddy's escape into the hysterical crowds, an event that forever scars his psyche.  In a fit of rebellion, Buddy destroys the lower level of the Lintz estate and finally Trudy accepts that she must free whom she loves.  In an odd way, the story has undercurrents of a love story - the trilling sounds Buddy makes are actually a gorilla's courtship call.  In a beautiful scene, Trudy and Buddy sit on the edge of his bed watching the evening snow fall while holding hands.  When Trudy and Bill go out for a social event, Buddy gets out of his cage and retires to the Lintz' bedroom where he finds Gertrude's red silk slip and dances with it.

The costume and art direction marvelously evoke the time period in a fantastical way - the chimps' rooms are decorated to suit their personalities.  The film has a bright look and good pace, clocking in at just over 80 minutes, which is actually a bit of a problem.  "Buddy" could have used a bit more fleshing out to give it some much needed depth.  While I really enjoyed the film, it somehow felt too slight.

B



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