A CIVIL ACTION - STEPMOM - AT FIRST SIGHT
THE THIN RED LINE - HURLYBURLY

A CIVIL ACTION

Adapted by "Schindler's List" scribe Steven Zaillian from the best selling book by Jonathan Harr, "A Civil Action" stars John Travolta as personal-injury lawyer Jan Schlichtmann who took on the real-life case of eight Woburn families who believed contaminated drinking water was the cause of their childrens' deaths by leukemia.  The arrogant Schlichtmann initially turned down the case until, by chance, he visitted the dumping site and spotted the names of W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods, two huge, cash rich companies, and the lure of millions ultimately caused his downfall.

Laura's review of 'A Civil Action'
It's odd to see a film about an event that took place in your own back yard.  "A Civil Action," it should be warned, dwells less on the Woburn tragedy and its effect on that community and more on the effect the case had on Schlichtmann.  This is a courtroom drama which beautifully explores the workings of a small law firm.

John Travolta is fine as the slick, materialistic ambulance chaser who sinks his and his partners assets into a case only to fumble it badly. This is the second time this year Travolta has played a cocksure character who gets humbled (his president in "Primary Colors"), yet its an entirely different performance.  Robert Duvall is extraordinary as Jerome Facher, the Ivy League attorney for W.R. Grace who appears to only be concerned about the Red Sox yet outmaneuvers Schlichtmann like a wily old country boy.  In one nicely editted scene, we see Facher lecturing his students on tactics to avoid ("Never ask a witness 'Why?' unless you're sure of the answer.") as Schlichtmann commits every one. Also terrific is William H. Macy ("Fargo") as Jim Gordon, Schlichtmann's financial partner - he, along with Duvall, provides the film's humor as he frantically attempts to scrape up funds by taking on the office cleaning and buying lottery tickets.  Also of note in smaller roles are James Gandolfini as Al Love, the Grace employee who puts everything on the line by agreeing to testify about the chemical dumping and David Thornton ("Unhook the Stars") as Richard Aufiero, a Woburn parent who tells the heart-wrenching story of how he lost his son in the car on I93 near the Somerville exit while on route to the clinic.

Kathleen Quinlan, portraying Woburn mother Anne Anderson, who along with Donna Robbins initiated the case, has done better work than she does here - she's more the self-satisfied martyr than angry and heartbroken mother.  British actor Stephen Fry ("Wilde") is oddly miscast and wasted as Schlichtmann's geologist.  Tony Shalhoub ("Big Night"), Zeljko Ivanek ("Donnie Brasco") and Mary Mara ("Bound") largely disappear into the woodwork as Schlichtman's other partners.

While much of the film was shot locally, Woburn itself does not appear. In fact it's very odd to see Schlichtmann speeding to Woburn from Boston in his black Porsche along a countrified road (actually Palmer, MA). Waltham's Metropolitan State Hospital grounds stood in for the dumping site and the Boston Athenaeum on Beacon Hill was used for both a law firm and New York's Harvard Club (for a scene where director Sydney Pollack, playing a Grace executive, amusingly cuts Schlichtmann down to size).  Boston and WRKO's own Howie Carr has a cameo as a radio talk show host at the beginning of the film.

"A Civil Action" isn't a flawless film, yet it remains engrossing and moves along at a steady clip.  Production values are top notch.  In a written coda at the film's end, it's satisfying to learn that although Schlichtmann essentially went down in flames, only obtaining a paltry settlement for the families, further discoveries of his were passed along to the EPA which finally got the admission of guilt from the two companies and the largest cleanup settlement in New England history.

B

Robin's Review of 'A Class Action'
"A Civil Action," based on the true-life book by Jonathan Harr, is middle-level courtroom drama that is about the rise and fall of attorney Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta), the man who staged a David versus Goliath battle against chemical and food giants, W.R. Grace, Co. and Beatrice Foods.

In the early 80's, eight families in Woburn, Massachusetts claimed that toxic dumping by the two corporations had contaminated the town's drinking water, triggering a string of leukemia-related deaths in a small area of the town, mostly involving children. Attorney Schlichtmann, and his firm, following a successful string of personal-injury victories, take on the monolithic companies in an effort to get an apology for the families from the companies (and, a really big-bucks settlement in the process.) The story is about how things went drastically awry.

Director/screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who created the wonderful "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and won an Oscar for his script for "Schindler's List," tackles adapting the Harr book for the screen, but is only mildly successful. "A Civil Action" concentrates on Schlichtmann's courtroom battles to get a huge settlement for the eight families. His initial efforts look promising for a quick deal, but the corporate pockets run deep, not just for payoffs, but for the best legal defense, too. The courtroom intrigue focuses on the attorneys on both sides, but gives little insight to the plight of the suffering families.

Zaillian presents the story of the victims in a cursory manner with little detail on the events that led to the suit. The eight families are trotted out at appropriate moments to show what the case is all about, but, with the exception of Kathleen Quinlan as Anne Anderson, a mother of one of the child victims, they are faceless entities. Quinlan, even with some poignant lines, is little more than a symbol and has little to do. Nationally, this doesn't matter too much to the story presented, since it is really a local tragedy, but it also diminishes the impact of the tale.

John Travolta gives a solid performance as the beleaguered Jan Schlichtmann. Jan goes from being an up-and-coming attorney who, with his partners, have the world by the tail to a legally battered and defeated lawyer, forced to start all over again.  Robert Duval plays Beatrice Foods attorney, Jerome Facher, an aw-shucks, down home kind of guy who really is a razor-sharp litigator who eats people like Schlichtmann for breakfast. Duval is a master of creating real, fully developed characters and he does not disappoint here. Look for an Oscar nod for this great American actor.

The cast, below the principles, is populated by talented actors who, mostly, are only and unfortunately for show, just like the families of the story. Only William H. Macy ("Fargo"), as law firm accountant James Gordon, has any opportunity to stretch his acting muscles. Gordon is on the financial and emotional edge as he tries, in vain, to manage the money as his firm devotes every resource to the Woburn case, neglecting all other income opportunities. Macy once again shows his mettle as an outstanding character actor.

The rest of the supporting cast - Quinlan ("Apollo 13"), Tony Shalhoub ("Big Night"), Stephen Fry ("Wilde"), Dan Hedaya ("Blood Simple"), John Lithgow (TV's "Third Rock from the Sun") - are little more than scenery used to populate their scenes. James Gandolfini ("Get Shorty") and David Thornton ("The Last Days of Disco") shine out in tiny roles as a Grace employee who testifies against the company and the father of one of the child victims, respectively.

Production credits are adequate.

I expected a harder hitting indictment against the uncaring power of corporate America. Instead, we get a middlin' courtroom drama that lacks the intensity of such films as the 1982 Sidney Lumet/Paul Newman film, "The Verdict." I, for one, am disappointed and give "A Civil Action" a B-.


STEPMOM

Director Chris Columbus, best known for the No. 1 movie comedy of all time, "Home Alone," now brings us "Stepmom," starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris. Isabel Kelly (Roberts) is a young, beautiful New York fashion photographer who has fallen for the divorced father of two, Luke Harrison (Harris). The only problem is, the two kids, especially elder daughter Anna (Jena Malone, "Contact"), resent Isabel and make life tough indeed. Add to the mix Jackie (Sarandon), Luke's ex-wife and earth mother to Anna and son Ben (Liam Aiken, "The Object of My Affection"). Conflicts arise as Jackie tries to protect her children from Isabel's influence while the younger woman works really hard to make a new life with Luke.

Robin's Review of 'Stepmom'
Chris Columbus brings us an upbeat, holiday family film that deals with divorce, the big 'C', imminent death, the trauma of puberty, career crises and more in an  positive, clan affirming comic-drama. The trouble is, there is nothing real about the story. There are solid performances and high-quality tech values that are almost enough to overcome the sentimental, button-pushing, manipulative and trite screenplay by a gang of credited writers that outnumber the principal veteran cast.

The script, from the original screenplay by co-writer Gigi Levangie, is by-the-numbers and covers virtually every family crisis imaginable. The characters are so darn well-adjusted, though, every crisis is overcome with warmth and humor. The whole thing is unbelievable and contrived, with no basis in reality. These are not people who really exist, at least, not in my humble life.

The vet actors, however, do a first-rate job, considering the formulaic material. Julia Roberts shines out as the "other woman." Roberts, as Isabel, is such a warm, kind, intelligent, sensitive, understanding and talented person, I spent much of the film wondering what was wrong with everybody for not immediately accepting this nice lady into their lives and hearts. Roberts actually shows some relaxed talent when she is not the focal character of a film (see "Conspiracy Theory).

Sarandon, as Jackie, comes across as a selfish, self-center, lying, cheating mother whose own needs (and by extension, her kids') come first in any case. She connives to undermine everything that Isabel does to make things better. Jackie is so mean spirited she steals an idea of Isabel's to make peace with the hostile Anna - Isabel wants to take Anna to a Pearl Jam concert on a school night, which Jackie discourages, only to use the idea herself to help alienate Isabel even more. There is an edge of cruelty to the character that even Sarandon cannot overcome. Jackie is not a nice lady.

Ed Harris has the unenviable role as the "loyal wife/husband" character in a performance similar to that given in the 1996 Sally Fields vehicle, "Eye for an Eye." Harris gives it his best and comes across as a three-dimensional person, at least. The kids, Malone and Aiken, are fair. Malone plays Anna as a clone of her mom, with the same selfish, *itchy traits (the * is intentional). Aiken is annoyingly theatrical as the too cute Ben.

Production values are of the highest level and are an excellent example of the craftwork that Hollywood can produce. Photography, by Donald M. McAlpine ("Mrs. Doubtfire") is crisply delivered. Production design, by Stuart Wurtzel ("Hannah and her Sisters") and costuming, by Joseph G. Aulisi, complement the film nicely, contributing to the overall high tech qualities of the production. One complaint I have about Hollywood-grade productions, especially here, is the staging of "children's" holiday pageants that look like they have bigger production budgets than most independent films. This just contributes to the falseness of the story.

"Stepmom" is pure Hollywood formula designed to manipulate the viewer with laughs and tears on command. This overt machination may work for many people, particularly those of us who are sentimental slobs. But, the sheer force of this manipulation is so obvious, the more discerning viewer will see it for what it is.

Another example of Hollywood manipulation, but one that works, Rob Reiner's "The American President," represents sentimentality without the feeling that, as the viewer, you are being led around by the nose. "Stepmom" makes no pretense that it is a major Hollywood product (rather than "film") aimed to push and pull you through the gauntlet of a family facing divorce, puberty, cancer, remarriage, career problems, motherhood and death. I felt more like a victim than a viewer.

The high quality of the acting and production do not overcome the formulaic nature of the story and its execution. I think I still have bruises from all the times my buttons were pushed while watching "Stepmom" and I give it a C+.

Laura's review of 'Stepmom'
Chris Columbus's "Stepmom" is a piece of formulaic Hollywood product that's barely redeemed by its three fine leads and top notch production values.  It suffers in comparison to the similar, but far better, "One True Thing."

Susan Sarandon's Jackie is so uncompromisingly bitchy, the only way the screenwriters could evoke any sympathy for her was to give her cancer.  (To give her credit, she does have one really good scene - when Luke tells her he's marrying Isabel, you can see this woman still loves him.)  She's fine in the role, but her judgement in taking it was sorely lacking.  (When I saw the film, I overheard a 4-year old little girl ask her friend 'Do you feel sorry for her?  I don't feel sorry for her.' - priceless!)  Julia Roberts fares much better as Isabel, the younger woman who loves Jackie's ex and is trying to connect with his children without usurping their mother's place.  Her caustic retorts, muttered under her breath, are beautifully executed, she shows quiet patience with the children and she does have that glorious smile (or big teeth to hear Jackie tell it).  Ed Harris polishes up his 'perfect man' character from "Eye For an Eye" as Luke, the man in the middle.

"Stepmom" is the type of film that offers no surprises, particularly if one's viewed the film's trailer.  Jackie's home is perfect. Isabel's fashion photo shoots are artificial.  The NYC loft she shares with Luke is perfect.  Eldest daughter Anna apes her mother until she comes around to Isabel.  Younger son Ben is a fake movie kid who happens to own both a magician's top hat and a wizard's hat. Their mother takes them horseback riding and creates professional looking costumes for Halloween and their school play.

The film's conclusion, where the family's Christmas morning celebration consists of Jackie's two children visitting her separately as if she were on her final deathbed before they all unite in a group photo which Jackie invites Isabel to join, is barf inducing.

C


AT FIRST SIGHT

When New York based architect Amy (Mira Sorvino) needs to unwind, she heads alone to a woodsy spa recommended by a friend and immediately signs up for a daily massage.  She's delighted when her masseur turns out to be hunky Virgil Adamson, a man with a golden touch.  Amy's smitten and comes on to the young man, only to be faced with a shocking truth - Virgil is blind.  Amy falls even more in love with Virgil as he presents his blind-eye view of the world to her in poetic terms. Trouble begins to brew, though, when she convinces him to come to New York where a famous surgeon may be able to restore his sight.

Laura's review of 'At First Sight'
"At First Sight" is based on a true story written by Dr. Oliver Sacks, who also wrote the book "Awakenings" was based on.  This story is identical, if one substitutes blindness for the mysterious illness in "Awakenings" - a man long afflicted suddenly is cured for a brief introduction to a strange world before the cure is cruelly snatched away from him again.

Val Kilmer can be an actor of startling depth ("The Doors"), but here he's unconvincing - Virgil is too soft a character for Kilmer to play convincingly.  Even worse, his chemistry with Sorvino is oddly off kilter throughout the film and her performance is hesitating - frequently scenes of the two seem like work print outtakes shoved into the film because the editor had no other choice but to use them.  Kelly McGillis, as Virgil's older sister, is initially laughable because she's so ridiculously overprotective of him that she snaps at outsiders like an attack dog, although she grows into the role by film's end.  Nathan Lane fares best of this cast as a humorously irreverent therapist.

The film is interesting in it's presentation of the reaction of a man, blind since the age of two, suddenly having his sight restored.  It's no miracle for him.  In fact, it's a nightmare.  He has no depth perception at first, perceives shadows as solid matter, and we suddenly realize he's also illiterate to a world which does not read in braille. Of course, his sight is snatched away just as he begins to adjust and revel in the gift.  Virgil's realtionship with Amy crumbles away as well, as he believes she can only accept him now on the seeing terms which she pushed him into when urging the surgery on him.  A coda to the film, as the two meet again much later on a park bench, explains that the real characters got married, so I guess we're supposed to believe the two live happily ever after.

"At First Sight" never real gels and should remain unseen.

C-


THE THIN RED LINE

Following a twenty year hiatus from filmmaking, director Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven") returns to the helm with his own adaptation of the 1962 World War II novel, James Jones' "The Thin Red Line." Malick assembles a diverse cast of veterans and newcomers to people the rifle company called C-for-Charlie, the first US Army unit to land on Guadalcanal in 1942 to relieve the battle-weary Marines in the struggle to wrest the island from the firmly entrenched Japanese troops.

Robin's Review of 'The Thin Red Line'
The reclusive Malick, known for his lyric, almost idyllic, filmmaking style, seems like an odd choice for recreating a WW II literary classic. The story is about the men consumed in the pivotal battle where the US turned the tide of the war against Japan, securing the first foothold on the arduous journey in the fight against fascism. Malick's thoughtful style works surprisingly well with the subject matter. Comparison to "Saving Private Ryan" is inevitable, but there are few threads connecting the two. It's like comparing "Apocalypse Now" with "Patton." "The Thin Red Line" is surreal, where ""Ryan" is hyper-real.

The cast is so diverse and numbered, there is often-times little for the many talented actors to do. Nick Nolte, as the obsessed Lt. Col. Gordon Tall, cuts the broadest image in the film as a career military man who has suffered through missed promotions during the peace-time years. The war, at least this little corner of it, is Tall's last chance to be a part of the coming glory and victory. Nolte is outstanding in an intense, multi-layered performance.

The rest of the cast, led by Sean Penn as company top sergeant Welsh and Jim Caviezal as his chosen personal mission, Pvt. Witt, is richly cast with talented actors with little to do. Penn and Caviezal are the quasi focus of the story with the sergeant as the "mother" to the rebellious, independent minded Witt. John Cusack, John Travolta, Elias Koteas, Woody Harrelson, Geroge Clooney, Adrien Brody, Dash Mihok and a plethora of unknowns are used mostly as background characters. There are many moments where some of this astonishing cast gets to shine out, but not nearly enough.

The Daintree Rainforest  in Queensland, Australia substitutes nicely for the varied terrain of the real Guadalcanal - one 'Canal vet who screened the film said the only difference was the grass was longer on the island. Production designer Jack Fisk ("Days of Heaven") captures the look and feel of war with a mixture of the very real and equally unreal aspects of battle, its deadly violence and its randomness.

Technical aspects are outstanding on every level, particularly the striking photography by two-time Oscar-winner John Toll ("Braveheart," "Legends of the Fall"). Toll's camera work, with lyrical images of gently blowing grasslands punctuated with the chaotic, sudden violence of battle. His use of hand-held camera, particularly in the battle sequences, lends to the realistic, almost documentary quality of the film.

The script, adapted from the Jones novel by Malick, tries to balance many stories about many characters and is unevenly successful. Milton's "Paradise Lost" is an obvious influence to the story as the purity of the Melanesian villages is replaced by the horror of war. It will be interesting to see what I estimate will be a 4+ hour director's cut somewhere in the future. The story uses voice-overs and flashbacks to the idylls of peacetime in much the same way as the 1964 Cornel Wilde WW II film, "Beach Red."

There is a brilliance to "The Thin Red Line." That is obvious, even if the execution of the work is flawed in a number of ways. The main problem is the lack of real focus on any of the principal characters. (Again, the director's cut intrigues me.) It is not "Saving Private Ryan" and doesn't try to be. I give it an A-.

Laura's review of 'The Thin Red Line'
1998's second big WWII film, "The Thin Red Line" is about as different from Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" as possible.  Legendary director Terrance Malick ("Badlands," "Days of Heaven"), the J.D. Salinger of filmdom, returns to his craft after twenty years and proves he's no two hit wonder.  "The Thin Red Line" is a surreal, dreamlike portrait of war which is reminiscent of "Apocalypse Now" is its look and sound and "Platoon" for its characterization of good and evil represented within its cast's ranks (Jim Caviezel's Private Witt is the Christlike sacrificial lamb much as Willem Dafoe was in "Platoon").

As in "Private Ryan," "The Thin Red Line" is not without flaws.  Its use of big stars in small roles (John Travolta as a General, George Clooney as a replacement Captain) pulls one's focus out of the film and the freqent voiceovers expressing the men's thoughts are sometimes unidentifiable.  Malick's trademark nature shots, while beautiful and symbolic of the film's themes, are over used.  What's good about the movie far overshadows its weaknesses however.

Malick's adaptation of James Jone's novelization about the taking of Guadalcanal bears his personal stamp. While not flinching from portraying the horrors of war and the bravery and cowardice that accompany it, the screenplay is largely meditative, focussing on the personal journeys of the men of Company C and man's relationship with nature in all its beauty and cruelty.

The huge cast (every male star in Hollywood lobbyed to be in in this film) features many notable performances.  Sean Penn is first rate as the pragmatic First Sergeant Edward Welsh.  He portrays courage and cynicism so naturally we forget we're watching an actor.  Jim Caviezel ("Wyatt Earp"), the movie's primary character, brings the right note of saintly calm to Witt, the man Welsh despairs of saving.  Nick Nolte is so enraged as Lieutenant Colonel Tall, a man passed over for promotion within the military who's willing to risk his men to prove himself, that his veins pop out and his lines spew forth vollied on sprays of spit.  In smaller roles, John Cusack, first appearing to be Tall's yes man, Captain Gaff, lets us read his disgust with his superior in his eyes while Dash Mihok's Private Doll embodies both terror and bravery in battle.  The film also stars Elias Koteas as the humanistic Captain Staros, Woody Harrelson as Sergeant Keck who sacrifices himself to save others, Ben Chaplin as Private Bell who idolizes his underserving wife back home, Adrien Brody as Corporal Fife, John C. Reilly as Mess Sergeant Storm and John Savage as Sergeant McCron.

The film, shot by John Toll ("Braveheart") on location in Australia, features many indelible images - a baby parrot struggling from its shell amidst a fearsome battle, a Japanese soldier's face eerily framed by a mound of earth, a very young and terrified soldier dying in a river while hiding from the enemy, Penn and Caviezel sitting in a field of tall, rippling grass.  The score by Hans Zimmer ("The Lion King") is hauntingly beautiful in its somberness and just right for this rich film.

"The Thin Red Line" may be the first art film about war.

A-


HURLYBURLY

Adapted and updated by director Anthony Drazan and David Rabe from Rabe's 1980's play, "Hurlyburly" gives us a peek into the mixed up lives of four men working on the rim of Hollywood.  Edie (Sean Penn) is a casting agent who believes he loves Darlene (Robin Wright Penn), even though she's slept with his roommate Mickey (Kevin Spacey).  Edie's the only one who can tolerate the out of control Phil (Chazz Palminteri), a struggling actor who he attempts to fix up with Bonnie (Meg Ryan), an exotic balloon dancer with loose morals.  Their buddy Artie (Gary Shandling), a producer, gifts them with teenage runaway Donna (Anna Paquin), who has more sense than any of them.

Laura's review of 'Hurlyburly'
"Hurlyburly" features the drunken, coked up philosophical ramblings of four men hurtling through life to no apparent end.  This is an actors' piece.

We're introduced to Edie as he awakens from another decadent evening and immediately applies nasal spray while a cigarette dangles from his mouth in order to in jest a little more coke before starting his day while an exasperated Mickey chides his poor morning routine ('Eat some breakfast!')  Edie is obsessed with Mickey's relationship with Darlene, who Mickey apparently cares little for.  In a seeming move of largesse, Mickey unloads Darlene by reintroducing her to Edie.

Edie, you see, is searching for something, and this is what drives the film. He won't find what he needs with Darlene.  The film's satisfying conclusion provides Edie with a glimmer of hope from the most surprising source.

Sean Penn is simply fabulous as the wild, yet basically decent Edie.  He's disturbed by Phil's abusive behavior towards women, yet finds way to excuse it in order to support his friend.  Chazz Palminteri delivers the scariest performance since Jason Patric in "Your Friends and Neighbors" as Phil, an unsuccessful man who vents his feelings of inadequacy on the weaker sex. Kevin Spacey, though, hints at being the most morally corrupt of the three main characters, with his cynical but charming veneer hiding complete emptiness - he manipulates his friends for his own amusement.

The women don't have as much to work with, but 15-year old Anna Paquin makes a strong impression as the runaway who may sleep with the guys to keep a roof over her head, but never really sells herself.  Robin Wright Penn is brittly shallow, befitting her character.  Meg Ryan puts a darker edge on her "Addicted to Love" character to play a loose party girl.

The play, which doesn't really have a traditional story arc, has been beautifully opened up.  Carphones are used hilariously as Edie continually badgers Mickey about Darlene during their separate commutes, yelling out his window as he passes Mickey on their way home in the Hollywood Hills.  The home's balcony provides some outdoor space.  Cinematography by Changwei Gu ("Farewell, My Concubine") inventively uses the interior space.

"Hurlyburly" doesn't provide a story so much as a three-way character study.  While none of its characters are likeable, with the exception of Edie, it's a joy to watch Penn, Spacey and Palminteri inhabit them.

B

Robin's Review of 'Hurlyburly'
"Hurlyburly," despite its exemplary cast, is a stage play, not a film. The dialog, attitudes and social mores it expounds upon - and there are many - are fuel for the theater, not the screen. Adapted to the screen by David Rabe from his 1984 off-Broadway hit play, "Hurlyburly" abounds with talky chatter, freeform philosophizing, unlikable characters, and an incredibly overwhelming hipness. Pithy cast off lines, like the all encompassing "blah, blah, blah" used by Eddie to carry forth his derailed train of thought, abound.

The base story - there are many other story threads here - is the romantic triangle of cocaine freak Eddie, Darlene and Mickey. Eddie (Sean Penn) and Darlene (Robin Wright Penn) had a long-term romance. The drugs and Eddie's jealousy drive the two apart. Mickey (Kevin Spacey), Eddie's roommate and talent agency partner, gets his OK, following the breakup, to date Darlene. Eddie, in his own mind, still sees he and Darlene as a couple. Mickey doesn't give hoot one bit about who's with whom.

The huge amount of drugs consumed by the characters during the course of the film is so overwhelming in its utter excess, I don't think these people would be coherent, never mind the waxing poetic they are capable of in the film.

Attached to the triangle, as a tangent, is Eddie's friend Phil (Chazz Palminteri). Phil is a woman-abusing, drug-using loose cannon actor who was thrown out by his wife for his abuse and philandering. Palminteri, in a bravura performance of a man driven to the edge of sanity and humanity by drugs, and over-active imagination, and Eddie's friendship.

I can't fault the actors for their efforts. Penn's Eddie is a lunatic who has no clue that he is rolling fast down the path to self-destruction. Penn, who does manic as a trademark, is solid in his very over the edge role. Kevin Spacey is drolly bland as Mickey. Spacey is laconic, almost bored, as the character who has to live within the same sphere as total opposite Eddie.

Palminteri, as I said, is best. Gary Shandling as Artie, a hanger-on to Eddie and Mickey, gives a bland performance. Robin Wright-Penn is OK as the romantic object of Eddie's affection, but gives the same performance as in last year's "She's So Lovely." Anna Paquin, now a young adult, is actually the most mature of all the characters as the homeless vixen, Donna. Meg Ryan is wasted in a role that she overpowers.

The cast cannot overcome the pretentious blather of the talk, talk, talk that this film consists of and overwhelms you with. Blah-blah-blah and I give it a C+


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