Wild Wild West

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

“The Wild Wild West” has the weak, weak script. It is not unusual to see a trailer that is better than the movie, but in this case the music video is brighter, wittier, and more exciting than the movie.

Will Smith may still own the 4th of July, but this year’s entry is much weaker than his 1996-97 one-two punch of “Independence Day” and “Men in Black.” His unquenchable appeal goes a long way toward making up for poor plotting and dialogue, but not far enough, leaving us with a summer popcorn movie — impossible to resist at the time, but leaving you a bit queasy afterward.

The 1960s television show starred Robert Conrad in a bolero jacket and very tight pants as a Civil War era secret agent. Like the newly popular James Bond, West was a spy who was infinitely attractive with the ladies and who always triumphed over the bad guys, who were always maniacs intent on three things — total world domination, killing West in fiendishly complex contraptions, and making sure that they conveniently explained all their plans to West in time for him to escape from the fiendishly complex contraptions and save the world again. West’s sidekick Artemus Gordon was a master of disguise and technology. Their most frequent foe was Dr. Loveless, played in the series by Michael Dunn. And the whole thing was very much tongue in cheek.

The big-screen version has Will Smith as West, all bolero jacket, tight pants, and attitude, with Kevin Kline as Gordon, Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Loveless, and Salma Hayek as the lovely Rita Escobar, who flirts with all three men and spends much of the movie in fetching 19th century lingerie with a brief detour into a union suit with the trap door open. The plot remains the same — Dr. Loveless, vowing revenge for losing his entire lower half in the Civil War, seeks total world domination, and West and Gordon have a week to stop him. There is some attempt to deal with the fact that West is a black man at a time when most black people had only recently been freed from slavery, but the fact is that the entire movie is so completely preposterous that the effort is awkward and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film.

Indeed, the overall tone of the film is awkward, not giving Kline or Hayak much to do, though Kline has a nice turn as President Grant and Hayak looks fetching in her undies. Branagh is happily over the top as the bad guy, there are some cool special effects, and Smith’s charm and grace carry it a long way, but not far enough to make it anything more than a pleasant diversion less raunchy than “Austin Powers.” Parents should know that there are some PG-13 sexual references, including prostitutes and Loveless’ impotence and a lot of cartoon-style action- violence.

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy Remake Spies

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie is only slightly behind “Phantom Menace” in anticipation and excitement among kids, but parents need to know that it is very, very, very raunchy, with incessant and prolonged sexual humor. Because it is a comedy, the rating system gives it a PG-13, but the material would clearly get an R if it appeared in a drama. Do not kid yourself that some of these jokes are “over their heads.” Those kids who do not see it — or who do see it and miss some of the jokes — will hear detailed explanations from those who do of references like Powers asking one woman “Which is it, spits or swallows?” and pretty much every woman “Do I make you horny?” In addition, the movie features character names Felicity Shagwell and Ivana Humpalot, a rocket shaped like a penis (described by a series of characters with every imaginable euphemism), references to a one-night stand “getting weird,” an extended sequence in which it appears that a number of objects are removed from Powers’ rectum, and Powers’ inability to perform in bed due to his missing “mojo.” There is also a good deal of potty humor, including Powers mistaking a stool sample for coffee.

The movie is very funny at times and always genial enough to inspire generosity toward the jokes that don’t work. Spy boss Basil Exposition (Michael York) wisely advises both Powers and the audience not to think too much about the plot. So we are left with a series of skits as Austin Powers (Mike Meyers) loses his wife (Elizabeth Hurley from the first movie, who turns out to be a killer robot), meets up with CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (deliciously pretty Heather Graham) and goes after Dr. Evil (also Mike Myers), still plotting world domination, with the assistance of Number Two (played by Robert Wagner in the scenes set in the present and Rob Lowe doing a great Robert Wagner impersonation in the scenes set in the past). Dr. Evil goes back in time to 1969 to steal Powers’ “mojo” with the help of a huge Scot called Fat Bastard (also Mike Meyers) and Powers goes back to 1969 to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil is still struggling with his dysfunctional relationship with his son (Seth Green), who goes on the Jerry Springer show to talk about it with other children of fathers plotting world domination. Dr. Evil becomes very attached to a tiny clone of himself, christened “Mini-Me” and takes time out from extorting billions of dollars from the President (Tim Robbins) to sing “Just the Two of Us” with him. And somehow everyone ends up on the moon.

This is silly fun for its core audience of college kids. They will find the jokes about the 1980’s wildly funny, though they may miss some of the jokes about the 1960’s. Parents should be very cautious about allowing children or young teens to see the movie, and should be prepared to talk with kids who see or hear about it, to answer questions, explain family standards on the use of the language in the movie, and to provide reassurance.

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Action/Adventure Comedy Satire Spies

My Favorite Martian

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The commercial for this movie features our heroes (the visiting Martian and his earthling friend) in the midst of a car chase. The Martian (Christopher Lloyd) shrinks the car, which goes into the sewer system and comes up in a toilet. We get the toilet-eye view just as a hugely overweight man is pulling down his pants to sit. This is a good indication of the movie’s subject matter and humor level.

It is also a good indication of the failures of the rating system. It is hard to imagine an appropriate age group for this movie, but because the language is euphemistic, it gets only a PG rating. As with Flubber, Disney has remade a familiar story with souped-up special effects, but with a poor script. Not recommended.

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Comedy

Never Been Kissed

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Drew Barrymore is completely adorable in this completely adorable story about Josie, a former high school ugly duckling, now a copy editor for the Chicago Sun Times. She wants to prove herself as a reporter and her first assignment is to go undercover as a high school student to report on what is going on in the lives of teenagers.

She finds that more than proving herself as a reporter, she wants to use her adult competence to triumph over her hideously humiliating memories of being unpopular (her nickname was “Josie Grossie”) and find a way to fit in. But it turns out that the skills it takes to succeed as an adult have nothing to do with the skills it takes to succeed in high school. When she does find a place with “The Denominators,” the school’s brainy (nerdy) crowd, she is happy. But pressed by her editor to fit in with the cool kids, she relives her old experience of frustration and embarassment.

Meanwhile, her brother Rob (David Arquette in his most appealing performance), has found that the skills that made him very successful in high school have been of no use since. Wanting to help Josie — and to return to the place where he was happiest — he, too enrolls in the high school, and is not only immediately dubbed “cool” by the entire student body, he is able to make Josie cool, too.

Josie is at last noticed by the most popular boy in school, and is thrilled when he invites her to the prom. And she begins to fall in love with her handsome English teacher. Her entire office is mesmerized by her daily adventures, which they watch through a hidden camera.

All of the predictable complications ensue, and all are resolved in a finale that is more romantic than persuasive, but fun.

This is the best of the recent spate of teen-centered comedies, with a genuinely sweet and romantic story and some perceptive comments about life in high school. It also has a heroine who believes in waiting for the right person to kiss, even if that wait takes quite a while.

Parents should know that there are some sexual references (Josie’s friend at the office brags about her sex life, but envies Josie’s views on love) and that in one scene Josie unknowingly eats some hash brownies and as a result behaves very foolishly. A “sex talk” is played for humor, and involved putting condoms on bananas. A young girl offers to have sex with Rob. He is clearly tempted, but knows that it would be wrong, and he turns her down. In general, however, this movie’s values are of self-respect and of making decisions about sexual involvement based on love and maturity.

Families who see this movie should talk about why high school is such a clique-ish stage of life, and what kids think will be different in college and afterward. Why did Josie want so badly to meet the limited standards of high school popularity? Why did her friends at work envy her? Why didn’t she tell the truth earlier?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Barrymore’s “Ever After.”

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Comedy High School Romance

Bean

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

One of the classic set-ups for comedy is what I refer to as the “Cat in the Hat” plot — one or more “normal,” somewhat bored characters find their lives completely (and yet somehow enjoyably) disrupted by a free- spirited character who has what a modern psychologist might refer to as “sloppy impulse control.” This is the basic premise of the first feature film starring Rowan Atkinson’s cult favorite, Mr. Bean. Bean is something of a throwback to the classic silent film comedians, a childlike man who is unabashedly consumed with enjoying himself, and incapable of considering the consequences for others. In an effort to make the character more appealing to a U.S. audience, the producers have sent Mr. Bean to Los Angeles and to actually have him not only trying to solve the problem he creates but even hugging someone. The result is uncomfortably uneven.

Frustrated with his work as an incompetent guard at an art museum, but unable to fire him, his supervisors send him to a U.S. art gallery as an “expert,” to speak at the unveiling of “Whistler’s Mother.” All of this is an excuse for what is really a series of slapstick sketches (on an airplane, in a kitchen, in a hospital, and of course in the art gallery) involving very little dialogue, but many funny faces and physical contortions, and a lot of potty humor and general grossness.

Parents should know that there are some sexual references. Younger kids may miss the suggestiveness of Bean’s pelvic gyrations when he is trying to dry his pants in the mens’ room. But a young boy says that he can’t sleep because he keeps thinking about naked women and asks what an intrauterine device is. There is a modern version of “Whistler’s Sister,” featuring a nude. Bean gives people “the finger,” thinking it is a friendly gesture. Grossness includes an exploding vomit bag on the plane, a very wet sneeze onto a painting, an overdose of laxatives, and a candy dropped into an open incision, washed off, and eaten. Bean and his American host (Peter MacNicol as David Langley) respond to disaster at work by going out to get drunk. Langley’s wife and children respond to disaster at home by leaving. His daughter is in a motorcycle accident and it is not clear whether she will be all right.

This movie will be most successful with kids who are already familiar with the character and appreciate that kind of humor. Other kids may be very uncomfortable with the gross and embarrassing situations. Parents may want to point out that Bean is upset by the guns carried by the police because British police don’t carry guns. They will also want to talk about the different attitudes toward art, and about Bean’s “solution” to the problems he creates. Kids may enjoy knowing that Atkinson did the voice of Zazu in “The Lion King” (but adults will remember him as the malapropish vicar in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”).

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