After 20 years with the LAPD Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) just wants to catch the crooks finish the paperwork and retreat to his mundane life at home where he eats TV dinners and pursues his hobby of making bad pottery. Patrolman Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) really wants to be an actor--he's only a cop because he made a lousy waiter. When Sellars bungles Preston's undercover case and media hounds catch it all on tape the irate Preston shoots up a news camera that gets in his face. Over-caffeinated network exec Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) upon seeing the damning evidence that could have killed her cameraman is captivated by Preston's complete lack of charm and convinces her superior she can save his crappy network by pairing Preston and Sellars up on a reality show. As expected Preston is reluctant--and even more so when he's forced to take the mugging Sellars as his partner. The two take impromptu acting lessons from iconic actor/director William Shatner (playing himself) and set off to attract an audience boost the ratings become celebrities and get the bad guys in a televised reality christened Showtime. Meanwhile the evil Cesar Vargas (Pedro Damian)--whom we know is evil 'cause he hides in the shadows he's flashy and well groomed and he mumbles in an unfathomable Third World/ European accent--is stockpiling guns powerful enough to knock down houses and blow the doors off a Brinks truck.
The movie offers a few good yuks--a coke-sniffing dog an unprecedented cameo by jive-rhyming lawyer Johnnie Cochran and William Shatner satirizing William Shatner (who does this better than anybody else satirizing William Shatner). Unfortunately we've seen a lot of his funniest stuff like the scene in which he demonstrates how to roll over a car hood cop-style in the previews. Rene Russo gives an effective souped-up Lethal Weapon-type performance with her hyper pushy fast-talking network exec desperate to make her name in the industry. De Niro's straight-man comedy is in his facial expressions--or lack thereof--and Murphy is…well Murphy. It's their first outing together and they play off each other like a foul-mouthed version of Abbott and Costello (guess who plays who?). We've seen De Niro play grumpy (Midnight Run) and Murphy play obnoxious (almost everything) before. But as you may suspect it's their grade-A chemistry that holds this badly stitched predictable though occasionally funny flick together--especially in regards to the jokes on Hollywood and the current bounty of reality TV.
You can smell the gags and The Odd Couple-versus-Goldfinger plot unfolding a million miles away. You just know Preston is hiding a gun inside that Big Gulp when he goes undercover to investigate a pawn shop and you know Vargas will make bad-guy errors in judgment like staging a robbery in downtown L.A. the day after he's confronted by our star cops in a populated disco. But that may lead you to wonder why the police--who are likewise not presented as being particularly bright in this movie--weren't trailing him as Vargas is the prime suspect in the gun-trafficking subplot. Some of the comedy borders on satire but isn't played up enough for you to tell if it was meant that way or not. The action scenes are so badly edited it's hard to tell who's chasing whom until the camera cuts back to Murphy's toothy grin and a cement-faced De Niro shooting out his car window. And speaking of commercial-laden reality TV the product placement in this movie is shameless--we get a full-length commercial for Apple Computers played not once but twice.
Who better to save the world from scheming corporate slimeballs than three suburban
girls with spunk smarts--sort of--and catchy choruses to spare? Singer and guitar-slinger
Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) sets the agenda. Melody (Tara Reid) sweet but slowwitted
bangs the drums. Bassist Val (Rosario Dawson) always watching out for her friends
knows when something's rotten in sleepy Riverdale. Their dream to make it to the
top of the charts becomes a reality when creepy record manager Wyatt Frame (Alan
Cumming) offers the garage band a contract - without hearing a single note. See
Frame's in hot water. He's missing his boy band. Seems an airplane carrying the
four members of DuJour - of "Backdoor Lover" fame - fell off the radar whereabouts
still unknown. Before you can say boxed-set retrospective Frame whisks the re-christened
Josie and the Pussycats to the big city to meet MegaRecords CEO Fiona (Parker
Posey) - just Fiona - and to record a No. 1 album. One week later Josie and the
Pussycats rule. Only the pressures of fame threaten to tear apart these lifelong
friends. And just why are Frame and Fiona planting subliminal messages on such
Josie and the Pussycats songs as "Pretend to be Nice" and "Small Words"? Could
it be that they want to brainwash the youth of America into buying more than just
the singles CD and merchandizing? Will the Pussycats save the day? Of course:
all things must end in a catfight.
Does acting really matter when it comes to such a glossy but exuberant display
of teen spirit? Not really but these feline friends certainly try hard. They
storm their way through the Monkees-style music-fueled montages looking and acting
very much like today's aspiring pop divas. An enigmatic talent used to ill-effect
in such recent disasters as Get Carter Antitrust and Blow Dry
the charming Cook imbues Josie with wisdom beyond her years even if it takes
Josie a while to figure out what's going down. Playing a prototypical blonde bimbo
Reid delivers her dopey asides with breathy giddiness and sincerity. "If I could
go back in time I would want to meet Snoopy " Reid gushes in one of her more
enlightened moments. Of the three Dawson has the least to do. She's tougher than
leather but that's about it. The three do find themselves outmatched by Cumming
and Posey who make a deliciously dastardly duo. Cumming is becoming an old pro
at this having recently menaced Antonio Banderas and family in Spy Kids.
There are some fun cameos including Eugene Levy as himself hosting a hysterical
promotional film about subliminal messages. Yet there's something creepy about
watching MTV personality Carson Daly chase real-life love Tara Reid with a baseball
That Josie and the Pussycats takes itself somewhat seriously as a screed
against rampant consumerism seems both ironic and bewildering. Writers and directors
Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont - of Can't Hardly Wait fame for what that's
worth - rally against corporate America's constant and often overpowering crusade
to persuade teens to buy their products. Yet every scene in the film - every scene!
- features a familiar brand of soft drink shoes or clothes. This is not a film:
it's a shallow and insulting exercise in product placement. You can't see the
message for the ads. Besides Josie and the Pussycats rarely reaches the
inspired heights of its opening. Otherwise Kaplan and Elfont rely on yawn-inducing
MTV-style theatrics tired pop cultural references and terribly self-conscious
in-jokes about the comic book to keep these cats on the prowl.
The biggest millennium party is definitely not going to take place at your local cineplex this week. Taking into account the pre-millennial craze suffered by shifty audiences coast to coast, Hollywood is taking a low-key, market-testing approach to the week's more recognizable releases.
The Denzel Washington vehicle "The Hurricane" will make its limited-release debut Wednesday. A favorite of critics, the well-reviewed film based on the true story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter features an award buzz turn by Denzel Washington as the titular boxer who is wrongly accused of the murders of three white men in 1966.
Also hitting the theater mid-week is Sony Pictures Classics' "The Third Miracle." Starring Ed Harris and Anne Heche, it is a story of lost faith and renewed hope set in present-day Chicago.
For those wanting to journey to the sardonic dark side of America before the turn of the millennium, there're two indie favorites from Lions Gate: the adaptation of Denis Johnson's "Jesus' Son," with Billy Crudup staking the lead as the nihilistic, angst-ridden junkie traveling through the post-war drugscape of 1970s America; and renowned Errol Morris' ("The Thin Blue Line," "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control") latest offering "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.," a psychological profile of Fred A. Leuchter Jr., the man best known, and most hated, for his involvement with the Holocaust denial movement.
On a lighter (and a glaringly Technicolor) note, Disney will usher in the new millennium with "Fantasia 2000," a newly restored version of its 1940 animated classic that blends the creative innovation of the original with the technical capability of today's technology. "Fantasia" purists will not only be able to view the timeless musical in a visually and aurally enhanced setting via IMAX technology, they will also be treated to six new computer-generated musical segments specially created for the occasion.
Below is a list of all the films opening this week.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1999
"The Hurricane" (Universal) -- Based on a true story, Denzel Washington stars as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted for the murders of three white men in 1966. Spanning over 20 years, the film follows the innocent boxer's fight for justice that leads to his eventual exoneration. Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah and Liev Schreiber co-star as the activists who champion his cause.
"Jesus' Son" (Lions Gate) -- Billy Crudup plays an itinerant junkie stumbling across 1970s America, searching for meaning in everything from drug and sex to chance encounters with anonymous strangers. From rural Iowa to arid Arizona, his nihilistic journey weaves together interconnected stories of loss, angst and isolation into a jarring collage of an American subculture. Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter, Denis Leary and Dennis Hopper co-star. Based on a collection of short stories by Denis Johnson.
"Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr." (Lions Gate) -- From groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Errol Morris comes another distinctive portrait of human extremes. The subject of this fascinating portrait is the infamous Fred A. Leuchter Jr., the erstwhile engineer of death row technology who disclaimed the occurrence of the Holocaust in 1988. Rather than being the crowning achievement of his career, his alignment with the Holocaust denial movement instead ruined his life.
"The Third Miracle" (SPC) -- Ed Harris plays a disillusioned Catholic priest sent to Chicago to investigate the life of a deceased woman who's under consideration for sainthood after a religious miracle. His religious conviction and faith further erode as the skeptical priest finds himself increasingly attracted to the woman's daughter, played by Anne Heche.
Opening Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000
"Fantasia 2000" (Disney) -- The 1940 Disney animated classic returns with an added touch of technological magic this time around. Combining traditional cell-animation with computer-generated animation, the musical gala features six new segments -- each created by different directors and creative teams. The renovated Mouse House favorite is also the first animated feature to be specially formatted for IMAX theaters.
The year's first space disaster flick, "Supernova," will blast into the stratosphere this week.
Along with the sci-fi thriller, this week's openers include the family drama "My Dog Skip," Ice Cube's "Next Friday" and the baseball documentary "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."
Here's a look at the new films hitting theaters - and the films already around going into new release patterns:
"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" (Cowboy Booking) -- Portrait of the legendary Bronx-born Jewish baseball player who came close to breaking Babe Ruth's home-run record. Tall, handsome, and uncommonly good-natured, Greenberg was a secular Jew from Bronx who became "the baseball Moses," an icon for everyone from Walter Matthau to Alan Dershowitz. (Limited release)
"My Dog Skip" (Warners) -- Based on the autobiographical book by Willie Morris, the film chronicles the growing pains of an unpopular, introverted 9-year-old boy living in a small Mississippi town during World War II. The arrival of a Jack Russell terrier puppy on his birthday will open the boy up to valuable lessons of life and friendship. Kevin Bacon plays his overprotective father. Diane Lane co-stars as his mother. (Limited release)
"Supernova" (MGM/UA) -- Set in the 22nd century, this sci-fi thriller follows the rescue mission of Nightingale 229, an ambulance spacecraft dispatched to investigate a distress signal from a distant comet. Awaiting the six members are a lone survivor, a strange alien artifact and a star that is about to go supernova. James Spader, Angela Bassett and Lou Diamond Phillips play the time-bound rescuers. (Wide release)
"Next Friday" (New Line) -- Ice Cube produces, writes and stars in this sequel to 1995's comedy hit "Friday." The action picks up where the original film left off with Cube taking down the neighborhood bully. In fear of revenge, the young man flees the inner city to hide out at his uncle's suburban home. (Limited release)
"The Quarry" (First Run) -- Set in the South African outback, an escaped criminal accidentally kills a minister and assumes his identity. His action catches up with him when a band of petty thieves discover his true identity and threaten to expose the impersonator. Based on the novel by South African writer Damon Galgut. (Limited release)
"The Terrorist" (Phaedra) -- Inspired by events surrounding the assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, this insightful portrait traces the final days of a female bomber preparing for a suicide mission to kill a major political figure. Her ideological quest transforms into a spiritual and psychological journey after a series of encounters she has with various characters. (Limited release)
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) - Winona Ryder stars in this based-on-a-true story tale of a teen confined to a psychiatric ward. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient. (Expanded release)
"Holy Smoke!" (Miramax) -- Kate Winslet plays a young Australian woman who journeys to India for spiritual enlightenment. When her family suspect her transformation is in fact the doing of religious brainwashing, they hire Harvey Keitel to rescue her. Undermining his task, the experienced guru gets sucked into a world of temptation. Directed by Academy Award-winning director Jane Campion. (Expanded release)
"The Hurricane" (Universal) - Denzel Washington stars as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the real-life middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of the murders of three white men in 1966. Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah and Liev Schreiber co-star as the activists who champion his cause. (Expanded release)
"Jesus' Son" (Lions Gate) -- Billy Crudup plays an itinerant junkie stumbling across 1970s America, searching for meaning in everything from drugs and sex to chance encounters with anonymous strangers. Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter, Denis Leary and Dennis Hopper co-star. (Expanded release)
"Topsy-Turvy" (USA) -- Acclaimed director Mike Leigh leaps back in time to enter the lives of two Londoners who were marked by their extraordinary creativity: William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. (Expanded release)
We knew he couldn't keep his secret identity for too long. Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean, who chose to tour as a solo artists as "Johnny No Name," will launch his charity, the Johnny No Name Foundation, on Thursday. According to Launch.com, 500 fans will be able to purchase tickets to Thursday's event in Orlando, Fla., for a minimum $5 donation. The organization intends to raise awareness and funding for VH1's Save the Music Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In related news, fellow BSB Howie Dorough will hold his Lupus 2001 Fund-raiser on June 1 and 2 at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando. Among the guests scheduled to appear are fellow band mate Nick Carter, Marc Anthony, Deborah Gibson, Tito Puente Jr., amd more. Tickets for the Lupus 2001 are available via Ticketmaster.
Supermom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her geneticist husband Norman (Harrison Ford) are adapting to their only daughter's departure to college when Claire begins sensing an unearthly presence in the couple's lakeside Vermont dream home. Is she losing her marbles or is that the spirit of a beautiful young woman she keeps glimpsing? To say any more (as the too-explicit ad campaign does) would spoil some delicious twists.
The toplining Ford is his usual solid self in a role that plays cleverly on his familiar persona but the picture is Pfeiffer's from beginning to end. She delivers one of her most pleasing performances nicely disarming audience doubts about the story's supernatural elements with some judicious eye-rolling and embarrassed frowning -- her character is so painfully aware that what she's saying sounds crazy how can we possibly doubt her? Among the low-key supporting cast Joe Morton ("Terminator 2") stands out as an amiably down-to-earth psychiatrist.
Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") takes Clark Gregg's highly derivative haunted house script and pours on the Hitchcockian visual flourishes unapologetically pilfering from the Master's "Rear Window" and "Psycho " among others. His extended homage results in scene after scene of almost unbearable tension as the audience waits for the next shock. There's some clunky storytelling in the first section but the all-suspense second half more than makes up for it with some classic work including what seems destined to go down in movie history as "the bathtub scene."