Monday, October 21, 2002

Formula 51 / zero stars (2002)

A series of new words need to be invented just to describe how wretchedly awful "Formula 51" really is, the new vehicle starring one the box office's most relentless legends, Samuel L. Jackson. This isn't just your standard bad movie, but one that abandons every established rule of a repulsive endeavor and creates a chain of new ones simply for itself. The movie is a sad, sorry, contemptible pile of garbage, and how any studio has the balls to back it in a major market, I will never understand.

Knockaround Guys / 1/2* (2002)

So there it was, the single most joyless film of the year, ejecting its pitiful energies off the screen in the same revolting way that I was staring at it. When the lights finally went up and the closing credits began to roll, the feeling of frustration polluted the air like expired milk, and I remember wondering how, just how, it was possible for any sane human being to unleash this kind of garbage on unsuspecting moviegoers in the hopes that someone would find it amusing. "Well that was dumb!", one of my colleagues remarked at the theater exit. Close call, but not quite an appropriate one; after all, even dumb movies are at least ambitious enough to be negative. When it comes to "Knockaround Guys," the latest clone to the ongoing "Reservoir Dogs" legacy, the only remotely energetic aspect of the project is the fact that characters occasionally use words with more than two syllables.

Moonlight Mile / ** (2002)

The earliest sign that Brad Silberling's "Moonlight Mile" won't be anything close to what other film writers are saying about it comes in during the movie's critical first few minutes, where characters are sleepwalking through an indecisive reality in search of a logical response towards the death of a family member. We watch on as Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) is invited by the girlfriends of his deceased fiancee to a local bar for some time "away from it all." He pops a coin into the jukebox in the back room, and heads turn at his song of choice. Out from the back enters Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), a fetching young woman whom Joe met a day before at the post office (she helped him retrieve all of his wedding invitations before they were mailed). They notice each other instantly, but not a word is said; instead, she approaches him, falls into his arms, and they dance to the music. The awkwardness of the scene is immediately identifiable—our familiarity with the characters and their situations is very rough at this point, and nothing is explained of their reactions or their feelings until much later in the cycle. No, this isn't one of those sweet and tender moments that most would have you believe; reflecting the picture as a whole, the moment feels rather labored.

Red Dragon / ***1/2 (2002)

The recent surge of movie villain admiration could not have arrived at a better time than now, as one of the most notorious of his field, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, finds himself worming his way back onto motion picture screens in Brett Ratner's "Red Dragon." In the opening scenes of this "The Silence of the Lambs" prequel, the camera descends into the quiet, ordained audience of a classical music concert like a magnet being drawn to its attraction, a man whose brilliant and cunning psyche spawns the kind of fascination that make his mental corruption seem less distracting than it should be. He's a dark and sinister man at heart, but the calm behavior suggests otherwise; unlike most film antagonists, Lecter realizes the physical limits and works around them, tackling his casualties in ways that no jail cell can barricade. When he is confronted in "Red Dragon" by the man who caught him years before, there is no negative reaction or hatred in the doctor's eyes; he simply smiles, listens to the agenda of his visitor, and then compares himself to him. "Perhaps you're more like me than you care to imagine," he insists with sly enthusiasm.

The Ring / ***1/2 (2002)

"The Ring" is an oasis for audiences dehydrated of creativity in modern movie thrillers, an exciting and often brilliant ghost story that penetrates the core of formula, rips it wide open and erases every trace of cliché like a hit man taking special care to clean up after himself. Most films in this vein work against the mold simply because filmmakers want them to, but seldom do they seem to abolish the standards without even trying, or without so much as a concern of undertaking the task. Don't ask me to explain how or why, but something about this creepy and unnerving suspense vehicle is almost fortuitous about itself, as if the writer never entertains the notion that the script is shattering boundaries almost as easily as it is telling a story.

The Rules of Attraction / *** (2002)

Roger Avery's "The Rules of Attraction" launches with these harsh words of wisdom: the first rule about the rules of attraction is that there are no rules. Indeed, as revealed through the warped character arcs exposed to the audience during the course of this two-hour acid trip, such an announcement couldn't be closer to the truth, especially when it comes to college kids who coexist on a campus that seems to lack everything resembling a reality except for sex, drugs, alcohol, and the occasional frat party. Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, the movie is comprised of players who behave, react, detach and negate from the norm like they're part of some gigantic psychological tug-of-war against insanity, disoriented by their own conduct without actually realizing the personal obstacles they're usually up against until it's too late for them to be forgiven.

Tuck Everlasting / *1/2 (2002)

Someone with substantial power inside the executive offices at Disney must be suffering from some serious lack of quality control, otherwise live-action films like "Tuck Everlasting" wouldn't be pumped out by the studio on such a frequent basis. As of late, the same large-scale company that fancies itself the leader in motion picture entertainment for younger audiences has also been one of the most lazy, unleashing projects on us that try so hard to be cutesy and innocent with their viewers that they completely ignore all other potentials. Consider even recent mishaps like "The Princess Diaries" or "Snow Dogs"—how does such a widely-embraced distributor for children find itself saddled with such screen slop? If the animation department can recover from a slump as quickly as theirs, shouldn't that at least be expected of live action as well?