THE HOUSE OF YES - GATTACA
FAIRY TALE: A TRUE STORY

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY - WASHINGTON SQUARE
RED CORNER


THE HOUSE OF YES

On the twentieth anniversary of JFK's assassination, an event that is the very core of the wealthy Pascal family, Marty (Josh Hamilton), the only family member to have escaped the mansion known as home, arrives on a dark and stormy night to celebrate Thanksgiving. Marty has a surprise for everyone, a donut shop waitress fiance Lesly (Tori Spelling), and he's worried about how she will be received. Patrician mom (Genevieve Bujold) immediately informs him that he's mad to have pulled such a stunt when it's clear that the love of Marty's life is his mad twin sister, Jackie-O (Parker Posey).

Laura LAURA:
First time writer/director Mark Waters has adapted Wendy MacLeod's stage play and it shows its origins. Essentially a two-joke story, "The House of Yes" manages to partially succeed due to the acting of it's three female stars.

"The House of Yes" is one of the old dark house stories where the characters all creep around confronting each other in various configurations over the course of one night. Its twist is that the twin siblings, certifiably insane Jackie-O and fall duller Marty, have a long time incestuous relationship which is apparently supported by Mom while leaving younger naive brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) as somewhat of an outsider. Dad, who supposedly left the family on the day of JFK's assassination, may be buried in the back yard. The Kennedy saga is infused into the Pascal's family history. They even watch a Kennedy senator's comings and goings across the street from the living room window in their Washington D.C. neighborhood.

Jackie-O, who dresses in a pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat fashioned on the outfit worn by the First Lady on that fateful Dallas afternoon, begins to slip back into madness usually under control by drugs when she's presented with a rival she distains. Posey is cuttingly hilarious as she takes down Lesly with one witty barb after another. (When Lesly attempts to join the family repartee by demonstrating sign language for "I love you," Jackie-O advises Marty not to leave her around any lusty deaf mutes.) Mrs. Pascal dryly informs the hapless Lesly that when the twins were delivered, Jackie-O was holding Marty's penis. Bujold is fun as she utters such lines as "People raise cattle. Children just happen." Tori Spelling is a surprise as the warm but dim Lesly, who's clearly out of her league amidst the Pascal steamroller.

The brothers don't fare as well. Josh Hamilton is bland as Marty. Freddie Prinze Jr. becomes somewhat annoying as he tries to seduce Lesly by bringing her fresh towels and pestering her with puppy dog looks.

When the hurricane that rages causes power to go out, Mrs. Pascal blithely informs the group that their can be no dinner and perhaps everyone should retire for the evening. Jackie-O seizes the opportunity to seduce her brother by playing the game that turns them both on - the reenactment of the Kennedy assassination. They're ratted on by Anthony in an attempt to win Lesly, who observes the kinky ritual. From this point on, the film's ending is all too inevitable.

"The House of Yes" is so light it almost floats away were it not somewhat anchored by the performances of Posey, Bujold and Spelling.

C+


GATTACA

Written and directed by newcomer Andrew Niccol, "Gattaca" is a futuristic thriller about our society, in the none-too-distant future, where genetic engineering and perfection rule and an individual,s success in life is dictated by this perfection. Ethan Hawke is Vincent Freeman, a natural-born person, called In-valid, who, since his youth, has dreamed of going to the stars. But, the new, perfect society won,t allow such an inferior outcast to even enter its esteemed space program, let alone go into space. Imperfect, maybe, but extremely intelligent and motivated, Vincent concocts a scheme that will give him a new, perfect identity and get him his dream.

Robin ROBIN:
Vincent decides to "borrow a ladder" and take on the identity of a Valid (genetically engineered person) to gain entry into the upper levels of the Gattaca Corporation, the monolithic company that is responsible for the colonization of the Solar System. Vincent, with the help of a black market genetics dealer (Tony Shalhoub, "Big Night"), meets Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law), a Valid now handicapped because of his very perfection. (Jerome, a top rated athlete, did not win the gold in his sport. Realizing he is not the embodiment of perfection, Jerome attempts to commit suicide by walking in front of car. Instead, he became a true invalid.) The two young men form a bond that allows Vincent to take on the identity of the other, with Jerome providing the necessary bodily fluids and skin cells to allow Vincent to pull off his complex fraud.

Things could not go better for Vincent/Jerome as he insinuates himself deep within Gattaca Corp. He is finally given his much sought prize and is assigned to the next mission to Titan, the largest moon of the planet Saturn. Vincent is home free, until, only days before launch time, the director of the space agency is brutally murdered. Suddenly, the place is swarming with cops (called, colloquially, J. Edgars) and everyone in the program is suspect. Led by the Investigator (Loren Dean) and Detective Hugo (Alan Arkin), an expansive search of the murder scene turns up an eyelash from an In-valid. Vincent,s eyelash. A cat and mouse game ensues, along with an ancillary romance between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman), a Valid whose genetic engineering resulted in a possible heart flaw, as Vincent evades the law in an effort to get on board his spaceship and fulfill his personal destiny.

"Gattaca" is an extraordinary looking film that relies, heavily, on image, and less on intrigue, in telling the story of one man,s triumph over the obstacles put in his path by an emotionally underdeveloped society. Director/screenwriter Andrew Niccol brings an interesting story idea to the screen, with high production values, but little in the way of passion. The film tracks Vincent as he attempts to overcome the prejudice society has imposed upon him and his class of naturals, but does not get beneath the surface of the main characters.

Flat performances by attractive leads, Hawke and Thurman, do not help the film. In an effort to show how Vincent keeps his natural emotions in check, to fit into the corporate world of Gattaca, Hawke plays him without expression, as if a smile would give him away. Thurman is little more than a statuesque beauty who looks real good with Hawke. She is given little to do.

The best character and performance is by British stage actor, Jude Law, as the real Jerome Morrow. Law, at first, comes across as a bored sophisticate who is helping Vincent solely for money. As the film progresses, a friendship and close bond develops between the Valid an In-valid, until money becomes secondary. Law, who will be seen in the upcoming "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," creates a complex, interesting character, providing more depth than the stars of the film.

Supporting cast consists of many second tier names - Alan Arkin, Gore Vidal, Ernest Borgnine, Blair Underwood, Tony Shalhoub, and the great character actor Xander Berkley. All are give little more than cameo duty, lending little to the film.

The intelligent screenplay, by writer Niccol, suffers from the lack of experience of director Niccol and would likely have been handled differently by a more experienced director. Niccol is not seasoned enough to get the story to the screen without serious problems. Primarily, there is no real tension built up through the film because of its slow, unexciting pace. At the climax of "Gattaca", I was more concerned about the plight Jerome, rather than Vincent and Irene.

Production designer Jan Roelfs (Academy Award nominee for "Orlando," "Little Women") does a remarkable and stylish job in creating an ethereal future world, using the Marin County Civic Center, desifutuistic-at-the-time, cars, such as Avantis, Citroens and Rovers, gives a retro-feel that suits the film, particularly the similarly retro-costume design.

Photography, by Slawomir Idziak ("The Double Life of Veronique," "Trois Couleurs: Bleu"), is suited to the striking look of the film.

A cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked technology, "Gattaca" would have benefited from a more assured directing hand. With the talents involved behind the camera, that could have made the difference. Good looks alone - cast, set and photography - are not enough to make a good film. Hollywood has to learn this, or we are going to continue to get fair, rather than good, product.

I give "Gattaca" a B-


FAIRY TALE: A TRUE STORY

In 1917 while World War I raged, 10 year old Frances Griffiths (Elizabeth Earl) travelled to England from her home in Africa after her mother's death to live with her equally grief stricken Aunt, Uncle and cousin Elsie (Florence Hoath). Aunt Polly is searching for hope after having lost her fairy-drawing son as well as her sister. Frances is a precocious little girl and brings a breath of fresh air into the Wright family, even as she waits for word from her father, a soldier who's missing in action.

The two girls become fast friends and play by the magical Beck where they find the fairies that only true believers, usually children, can see. Frances takes pictures of the tiny creatures in an attempt to help her grieving Aunt. Polly takes the amazing pictures to a Theosophical Society, and soon they fall into the hands of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole), who publishes them in his Strand magazine. Becoming famous as the girls who took the shots of the "Cottingley photographs," the girls were soon moving in circles that included the likes of Doyle and medium debunker Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel).

Laura LAURA:
For a film that purports to be a true story, "Fairy Tale" unabashedly presents special effects fairies as characters and only hints at the fact that the infamous Cottingley photographs could have been a hoax. (In fact, the cousins admitted the pictures were faked in the 1980's although they maintained that they had, indeed, seen the fairies.)

Director Charles Sturridge ("Where Angels Fear to Tread") has done a fine job recreating the period - the Wright family home seems to come out of a fairy tale cottage print and London bustles with streets filled with horse drawn carriages and interiors warm with rich red velvets and dark gleaming wood. He also does a fine job presenting a world where people are eager to believe in the supernatural while the world wages war around them. He ultimately fails with this story, however, with his uninteresting (and far too modern looking) fairy people flitting about on dragonfly wings. The amazing tricks of Harry Houdini are far more intriguing than the little people who butt in to the point of a ludicrous (and illogical) climax where the whole fairy clan buzzes the girls' bedroom and are seen by the parents themselves. I actually found myself bored by the fairy element.

"Fairy Tale" is much more interesting when it deals with the little girls' reactions to their fame and Elsie's obvious reluctance to continue pushing their story (at one point, she asks Houdini "Do you ever tell people how you do things?"). Hoath, and particularly Earl, are both natural young actors. Peter O'Toole is surprisingly bland as Doyle. Keitel is better as the suspicious Houdini. Paul McGann and Phoebe Nichols portray the doubting Uncle and believing Aunt sympathetically. Watch for a blink-or-you'll-miss-it surprise appearance by Mel Gibson at the film's conclusion.

In a year with such odd dualing films as "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Kundun," both dealing with Tibet, the Cottingley photographs are also producing rival films this year. I hope that the following "Photographing Fairies," is truer to reality.

C


A LIFE LESS ORDINARY

Following the international success of last year's hit indy film, "Trainspotting," the director/producer/writer team of Danny Boyle, Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge come to the plate once again with their first American-based movie in "A Life Less Ordinary." The film stars Ewan McGregor as the hapless Robert Lewis, a transplanted Scot working as a janitor in a faceless mega-corporation, but, with aspirations of becoming a trash romance novelist. Automation puts Robert out of his janitorial job, forcing him to seek redress from the company's ruthless owner, Naville, played by Ian Holm. The confrontation ends with Robert kidnapping Naville's beautiful daughter, Celine (Cameron Diaz), at gun point. This begins a dizzying road trip as Robert and Celine's relationship changes from kidnapper/victim to partners in a plan to bilk Celine's heartless father of millions, with the pair falling in love along the way.

Robin ROBIN:
The ensemble production team, led by Boyle, throw themselves into the effort of making "A Life Less Ordinary" with exuberance, but without the focus and social tensions of the successful "Trainspotting," or the noir thriller, "Shallow Grave." "A Life Less Ordinary" is an offbeat road movie that is more formulaic than the teams previous efforts together.

Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz have mild chemistry as a couple thrown together by the circumstance of Robert's desperation at being replaced by a robot (resembling R2D2, in a reference to McGregor's upcoming role as a young Obi Wan in the "Star Wars" prequel, perhaps?). Robert is a likable schmuck whose aspirations are as simple as the romance stories he plans to write. Celine is a spoiled rich kid, bored with her life, who takes advantage of Robert's act, as the two join in bizarre kidnapping scheme. Cutely, there is a role reversal with Robert as helpless and confused and Celine, strong and savvy, takes charge of the situation from the very start, controlling Robert like a puppetmaster, even giving him lessons in Kidnapping-101. It's a nice pairing of an attractive couple, though comparison to the great screwball comedy couples, like Gable and Cobert in "It Happened One Night," or Tracy and Heburn in anything, is paying "A Life Less Ordinary" too high praise.

Hunter and Lindo are an amusing pairing as Reilly and Jackson, the heavenly detectives with the mission of uniting an earthly couple to prove true love exists. This is accomplished with a "Stairway To Heaven"-like opening where the angelic cops are also issued the threat by boss, Gabriel (Dan Hedaya), of being marooned on Earth if they fail. (I couldn't figure out the point of this subplot.) In one of the few diversions from normally racially-biased, mainstream American movies, there is a romance between Hunter and Lindo that is subtle and sweet. Like Robert and Celine, the two heavenly messengers switch gender types as Lindo's Jackson writes poetry and is a sensitive individual while Hunter's Reilly chews tobacco (and scenery) and is the one in charge of the situation.

Holly Hunter is, hands down, the best thing in "A Life Less Ordinary." This five-foot-nothing actress, a winner of an Academy Award, gets down and dirty in her role as Reilly. She is a redneck, a killer, and, in one action sequence, rivals Toecutter from "The Road Warrior" as the most tenacious movie foe, attacking Robert and Celine over the engine cowl of a speeding 18-wheeler. Hunter has a knack for physical comedy and gives a hilarious performance - a best supporting actress kind of performance..

Delroy Lindo, better suited as a dramatic actor, is a little awkward in his real comedy debut. He is physically perfect as the hulking foil to Hunter's diminutive Reilly, but never seems comfortable with the feminine side of Jackson.

Ian Holm is one dimensional as an unloving, vengeful father, who wants his daughter's kidnapper dead. The relentless hatred from Naville is excessive and inappropriate, hurting the lightness of the film's comedy.

The fast and furious scoring is used in much the same way as the makers did in "Trainspotting." One fantasy dance number between Robert and Celine, done to the standard, "Beyond the Sea," has a surreal similarity to numbers in the Steve Martin/Herbert Ross film, "Pennies From Heaven." It doesn't have the panache of the latter, but does imitate well.

"A Life Less Ordinary" is a sum that equates to less than its parts. It benefits greatly from the talent of Holly Hunter, with the rest of the cast giving yeoman's effort without singing out.

Boyle, MacDonald and Hodge stormed the US with "Trainspotting." "A Life Less Ordinary" is more a breeze than a storm and I give it a B-.

Laura LAURA:
The Scottish producing, directing, writing team who brought us "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting," Andrew MacDonald, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, have come up with another stylish effort in "A Life Less Ordinary." Starring Ewan McGregor (of the aforementioned two films) as Robert, a Scottish janitor/would be romance novelist and Cameron Diaz ("My Best Friend's Wedding," "The Mask") as Celine, the spoiled rich daughter of Robert's employer, "A Life Less Ordinary" is a madcap mixture of "Excess Baggage" and "Stairway to Heaven." Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo are O'Reilly and Jackson, the two angels tasked by Chief of Police Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) to play cupid to bring these two together or never return to Heaven. That they choose to do so by masquerading as repomen and bounty hunters only adds to the fun.

Celine is a bored brat who amuses herself by shooting apples off the butler's (Ian McNeice) head with bullets, angers her father (Ian Holm) when she accidentally shoots her dentist fiancee (Stanley Tucci) in the head. As she's being lectured about how she's going to work for a living, Robert enters to demand his job back (he was replaced by a floor-sweeping robot), but ends up kidnapping the daughter instead. The sweet natured Robert is no match for Celine. After they hole up in an abandoned shack in the Utah desert, it's Celine who begins to mastermind the kidnapping. Meanwhile Dad sicks O'Reilly and Jackson on the pair and we're off on a rollercoaster ride of song and dance numbers to karaoke (Diaz is making a career of karaoke!), bank robberies and gunplay.

The standout of the cast is Holly Hunter, giving a truly inspired, offbeat performance as O'Reilly (again the woman is the tougher of the pair). With a litany of accents (at one point sounding just like Sally Kellerman), the pint-sized Hunter goes after the two with the determination of the Terminator. Delroy Lindo gives a more muted performance as the romantic, laid back Jackson which mirrors Ewan McGregor's sweetly affecting turn as Robert. Diaz is OK - unfortunately there's too little to like about her aggressively snide character, one of the films major flaws. The supporting cast offers such delights as veteran Canadian character actor Maury Chaykin as a backwoods club owner and Tony Shalhoub (reunited with "Big Night" costar Tucci) as an advise giving bar owner. Hedaya is fun as the Chief of Heaven, displaying some of the quirky warmth that shone in "Clueless." Tucci, McNeice, and particularly veteran Ian Holm are largely wasted.

The film plays out in the romantic comedy formula of two seemingly opposite types taking their time getting together. It's the weird quirks thrown into the mix that elevate "A Life Less Ordinary" and modernize it. Although the film's conclusion isn't up to the trip that gets us there, the filmmakers still manage to treat us to a touching moment between the equally mismatched angels which rings truer than the lead pairs'. Stay for a claymation epilogue over the closing credits.

B-


WASHINGTON SQUARE

In the second adaptation of Henry James' "Washington Square" (1949's "The Heiress" won Olivia DeHaviland an Oscar), Jennifer Jason Leigh stars as Catherine Sloper, the plain awkward daughter of the wealthy Dr. Sloper (Albert Finney), who lost his wife with his only child's birth. Catherine painfully tries to coax affection out of her judgemental father under the tutelage of her companion Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith) receiving only barely cloaked disdain as her reward. When she attends the engagement party of her beautiful and accomplished cousin, Catherine meets the charming and handsome, albeit penniless, Morris Townshend (Ben Chaplin), setting the stage for a battle of wills between father and daughter that will have devastating repercussions.

Laura LAURA:
Director Agnieszka Holland ("The Secret Garden") has graced James' tale with a feminist undercurrent not unlike that given to another recent James adaptation, "Portrait of a Lady," directed by another female director, Jane Campion. Holland's film is also lush in period detail and fortified by strong acting all around - her "Washington Square" may stand firmly alongside the earlier classic adaptation, "The Heiress."

Jennifer Jason Leigh has the misfortune of being disliked by many for some of her strange and bold acting choices. I happen to be a big fan of hers, believing she's been wrongly overlooked by the Academy for such strong performances as in "Georgia" and "Mrs. Parker and the Viscious Circle." Leigh's Catherine is a deeply touching and amazingly layered character. She allows herself to look plain, always hiding behind fingers at her mouth or clumsily stumbling when she's paid the least bit of attention (she looks radiant only once - when trying on her wedding gown). Her desire to please her imperious father is capable of producing an ache in the viewer's gut. Her performance here is a strong candidate for one of the very best this year by an actress.

Albert Finney finds many nuances in Dr. Sloper. He manages to show the bitterness eating at his soul over the loss of his wife for a daughter whose lack of charm embarrasses him. His complete refusal to accept Morris Townshend as a husband for his daughter is equally determined by not only his belief that the man is only after his money, but by the fact that polite society would also recognize this fact, making him a laughingstock, both far more important considerations than his daughter's happiness.

Maggie Smith provides the film's comic relief as the meddling romantic, Aunt Lavinia. She's sheltered Catherine against her brother's lack of love all her life, yet her misguided attempts to keep the lovers together are as harmful as anything her brother does. In one scene, as Lavinia places a lock of Morris' hair she's wheedled him into giving her into a locket to give Catherine, the girlish simper on her face radiates her subconscious vicarious agenda.

Ben Chaplin gives an interesting spin to the well-educated, charming Morris who almost blinds himself to his self-serving nature by being caught up in being the center of a woman's universe. His acknowledgement of his own ego is almost refreshing even as the audience can't quite accept a romance that at its core is a calculated balance of assets.

Support is also fine, featuring Judith Ivey as Catherine's sympathetic worldly aunt and Betsy Brantley as Morris' dignified, impoverished, widowed sister.

For all its tragic consequences, "Washington Square" is a fully satisfying film. We're even saddened when Dr. Sloper pathetically realizes how much the loss of his daughter's love really means to him, which is another tribute to Finney's fine acting here. And although she ends up alone, Catherine does so with a new found confidence on her own terms.

A


RED CORNER

"Red Corner," by director John Avnet, stars Richard Gere as Jack Moore, a high level American TV exec sent to Beijing, China, to bid on a mega-deal to bring Western television and satellite technology to the People's Republic. As negotiations progress, Jack looks for a little diversion and finds it in the guise of a beautiful young model and artist. Their romantic night together abruptly ends when Jack is found, groggy, with the brutally murdered body of the girl, descending the executive into the mysterious quagmire of the Chinese criminal justice system

Robin ROBIN:
The story is divided into three parts - the examination of China's legal system from Western eyes, a murder mystery/thriller, and a chaste romance between Jack and Yuelin, with Gere and Bai Ling developing a real chemistry. Because of the several levels on which the film operates, "Red Corner" tries hard to delve into each, but, ultimately, succeeds only in part.

The examination of the Communist justice system, in the wake of still-reverberating events in Tiananmen Square, is interesting in that it is an area of study previously untouched by Western cinema. For a very different, and much more realistic, look into the Chinese legal workings, I highly recommend mainland China director Zhang Yimou's "The Story of Qui Ju," starring the terrific Gong Li. That film, dealing with simple peasant matters, gives more insight into Chinese culture than the surface treatment given in "Red Corner."

The murder thriller aspect of the film seems almost tacked on as an excuse to make social commentary of the injustice of Communist justice. The action/chase sequences are out of place with the rest of the film's tone.

The part that works is the relationship between Jack Moore and his defense advocate, Shen Yuelin, played, in a remarkable debut entry into American film, by Chinese stage and film actress, Bai Ling. As played by Gere and Bai Ling, these two culturally-crossed people could and would grow close enough to be friends and, potentially, lovers. Their parting. is touching and heartfelt. The trust that grows at the film's end, between the two, while a little sappy, has a fresh honesty, without sex as a hindrance.

Richard Gere, a talented leading man (see his powerful portrayal as a a corrupt cop in "Internal Affairs" - worth a rental), gives a convincing performance as a man framed for a crime he did not commit. Jack Moore is in over his head as the foreign legal system dictates his moment-by-moment existence, oftentimes with sudden violence. In one scene, as Jack loudly proclaims his rights as an American citizen, he is soundly slapped by a high-ranking magistrate who also crushes Jack's glasses underfoot. Gere portrays the bewilderment and anger of Jack, knowing he's framed, as he strikes out helplessly at his captors.

Bai Ling, as the fluently English-speaking counselor assigned to defend Jack, is simply great as Yuelin. She is both a talented actor and an extremely attractive screen presence. Her linguistic ability allowed a subtle crossing of English and Chinese (sorry, I don't know the dialect(s) used), using English for expediency and Chinese to conveying the foreign culture. Bai Ling has made a solid entry into American film and has an interesting career coming up in the US.

A problem with the interesting script is the identity of the leader of the conspiracy and murder. When the perpetrator is exposed, it is not a surprise and, in fact, is kind of disappointing in its obviousness. I won't give it away, but even I guessed it all in the first ten minutes. Fortunately, the nicely drawn relationship between Jack and Yuelin allays the problem and gives the film a satisfying side.

The social statement on the Chinese law system consists of the repeated statement of Chinese philosophy: "Leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist," with the resistor given a bullet to the head (and his family billed for the cost of the bullet). It's not an in-depth analysis, but an interesting glimpse into what is still, to the West, a strange land.

Production is straightforward, with location shots in Beijing (without Gere, whose visa to visit China was revoked because of his adamant denouncement of the Chinese government's invasion and occupation of Tibet), nicely joined to the state-side footage, using Tiananmen Square, the Beijing Hotel and the Beijing Intermediate Courthouse footage in a well-mixed blend with the Culver City, California location used to recreate China in the US.

"Red Corner" delivers an interesting look, albeit a surface one, into China's legal culture and couples a murder mystery and virtuous relationship between the stars.

I like "Red Corner" mainly because Bai Ling's fine performance and give it a B-.

Laura LAURA:
Director Jon Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes," "Up Close and Personal") gives us a marginally better film than his first two efforts with Richard Gere's grandstanding China-bashing "Red Corner." This has less to do with the director or his male lead than it does to the strong lead performance of Chinese actress Bai Ling as Shen Yuelin, Gere's court appointed defense attorney. Ling, who has far much more at stake with the Chinese Government than Gere in her American debut, is about the only reason to see "Red Corner."

Gere is Jack Moore, an American executive trying to seal the first Western television distribution deal with the Chinese. When the traditional Chinese elders object to the sex and violence in the American product, Moore pitches them by promoting the decadence of the American culture as being a reason the Chinese will shun Western values when presented to them on their TV screens.

After a night of celebration with a young Chinese exec who's been behind Moore's deal, Moore carries on with a beautiful Chinese model in his hotel room. The next morning he's stupified when he's woken by Chinese guards arresting him for her murder - the slain woman is in his room, he's covered in her blood and the murder weapon is covered with his fingerprints.

Faster than you can say frameup, Moore's abandoned by his colleagues and the American Embassy. His court appointed attorney pleads guilty without having met with him. Moore objects and Yuelin explains that resistence will be dealt with more harshly, sentences are carried out within a week of conviction and the executioners' bullet is billed to the guilty party's family.

Moore slowly gets Yuelin to become suspicious after introducing doubt over a missing locket and phone records. She's totally behind him after she witnesses an assassination attempt on his life followed by a rather silly 'thrown in to have an action sequence' escape attempt to the American Embassy immediately followed by a surrender when Moore's made to realize that his escape will have a devasting effect on her career.

There are no surprises in "Red Corner" including its thoroughly hokey, Casablanca-like ending. Gere is merely OK as Moore - it's all too clear he's using this role to further his human rights anti-Chinese political leanings. Bai Ling is a terrific new screen presence, though, rising so far above the material that she gives the film more than it deserves. If "Red Corner" does nothing else, I hope it allows Ling to get cast in more American films.

Oddly, the script's choice of villain throws a backhanded compliment to the Chinese, as he's the only Westernized Chinese character in the film.

C+


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