Friday, July 26, 2002

Austin Powers in Goldmember / *** (2002)

There is a moment towards the beginning of "Austin Powers in Goldmember" when our unlikely British hero is being pursued by a helicopter down a stretch of desert highway, being shot at by fast air rifles. In the literal blink of an eye, he ejects himself from his vehicle, the appropriately named "Shaguar," and proceeds to flip behind the airborne enemy, where he shoots it until it explodes. The audience is baffled and disheartened by this seemingly serious battle sequence... until he turns around and reveals his true identity. The opening joke is so precious and rare that I won't dare reveal the punchline here. We've often been treated to this precious kinds of jokes throughout the series, but few times have they been so energetic and hilarious.

The Country Bears / *1/2 (2002)

If the childhood fantasy that animals can talk continues to inspire the moviemakers at Disney, then "The Country Bears" represents a very serious error in judgment. Most of us have delved into the possibilities of our wild neighbors having the intellect and characteristics of normal human beings, but seldom have we imagined them looking so ferocious or foreboding as they appear to be in this screen treatment. Based on the famous Country Bear Jamboree attraction at Walt Disney World, here is a movie all about concept and nothing about forethought; it walks and talks like an endearing fable, bankrupt of the realization that it can be creepy and unsettling on the eyes.

Pumpkin / * (2002)

If society was allowed to function the way that the characters in "Pumpkin" do, life would be a series of "Leave it to Beaver" reruns in which your identity was decided by how plastic and shallow you could be. With such thoroughly calculated ineptitude, the movie imbeds these traits into the film's players the instant they arrive on screen, saturating their psyches in all the familiar sitcom traits until they're too far gone to be saved. But this rather devastating property is only a small clue as to what horror the movie truly volunteers, and by the time the film reaches its final act, most of us are too limp from frustration to even care what happens next.

Stuart Little 2 / *** (2002)

There is immediate difficulty for people, like me, who go into "Stuart Little 2" without having seen so much as a frame of the first film (or for that matter, without having read a single line from the famous children's book by E.B. White, who also created "Charlotte's Web"). How do you approach the experience? What is required of those of us who have no foreknowledge whatsoever about the already-established subject matter we are confronted with? And furthermore, are we in an unfair position to judge a film on its merits when the foundation for the plot was anchored in an earlier movie that we have yet to see?

Friday, July 12, 2002

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course / **1/2 (2002)

To have the kind of personality that is imbedded in Steve Irwin's psyche is to wrestle with death on a daily basis. The notorious and audacious "Crocodile Hunter," as he is known on his Animal Planet series, is the kind of spirited by troublesome guy that most of our parents warned us about when we were young: the seemingly insane individual who always acted on impulse but never thought about the potential consequences until it was too late. On a weekly basis, Irwin, along with his wife, descends perilously into the murky habitats of wildlife, exploring creatures and their characteristics so thoroughly and profusely that their own lives are sometimes placed on the line. His passion for nature is also a personal war, and though it's hard not to be charmed by the guy's crazy and sometimes hilarious methods, it's also hard not to wonder if he's ever suffered some kind of brain damage.

Road to Perdition / *** (2002)

There is something strangely amiss about Sam Mendes' "Road to Perdition" that prevents me from calling it one of the year's best films, and I'm not even sure what that one thing is. No, it's not the premise nor is it the resulting story that builds from it. No, it's not the casting or the acting. It certainly isn't the cinematography or film editing, either; in fact, those two elements are so plausible and effective here that it would be easy to justify the movie getting major Oscar nominations. The more I think about what so irked me about this interesting and well-crafted drama, the more it frustrates. In either case, it's obvious that when one sees this long-awaited vehicle starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, chances are they will admire what they see, even though they'll hardly be completely absorbed.

Reign of Fire / ** (2002)

There is a great concept lost somewhere inside the ruckus that is "Reign of Fire," struggling so hard to materialize that its level of energy dwindles before the first half hour is even finished. Sandwiched in a realm when interesting myth clashes with modern society to result in an apocalyptic future, the premise is as inspired and distinctive as those in summer blockbusters come, compelling and ironic and yet not too devious on the audience's intelligence. And yet with all that promise backing the setup, a wall of resistance is built that refuses to lead us to some kind of worthwhile payoff. The movie is cold, miscalculated and hollow, and aside from a few isolated scenes of genuine excitement, it's also rather dreary.