Part Mean Girls part Heathers—hell there’s even a little bit of Hilary Duff’s ridiculously stupid The Perfect Man thrown in there—John Tucker Must Die fits the genre nicely. But the word “die” is a little harsh. Actually when three high school girls—wannabe journalist Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti) and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush)—find out they are all dating the delectable John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) the school’s basketball star they decide to get even. After several embarrassing tactics backfire the girls come up with the perfect idea. They’ll recruit pretty but anonymous new kid Kate (Brittany Snow) doll her up and get Tuck to fall in love with her so she can ceremoniously dump him. Wow I can’t see anything going wrong with that plan. Not at all. Talk about some pretty people John Tucker has got them in spades starting off with the insanely handsome Metcalfe who literally had women weak in the knees as the hot gardener who woos Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s not a big stretch to see him as the sexy Tuck the most popular er player in school. Then there’s the trio of revengeful hotties: tall lean and blonde Kebbel (Aquamarine) as the “smart” girl; curvy singer/actress Ashanti (Coach Carter) as the bring-it-on “cheerleader”; and luscious and exotic Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) as the “experienced” one. But really its the perky Snow’s (The Pacifier) show effectively playing the “invisible” girl no one knows or even cares to know who moves around a lot whenever her mother (Jenny McCarthy in a nice bit part) breaks up with a “John Tucker” herself. What’s wrong with these single moms dragging their daughters all over the place after their hearts get broken? Betty Thomas best known for her turn as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues doesn’t have the best track record in town as a director (I Spy is hers for example). But she’s helmed enough passable comedies (The Brady Bunch Movie Dr. Dolittle) to grant her admittance into the club. Problem here is Thomas isn’t teamed up with a sharp writer like Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey whose Mean Girls script simply zings. John Tucker is pretty standard fare taking bits and pieces from the already established high-school formula. Still the coveted teen market will more than likely enjoy all the antics in the film—especially the whole “thong” bit in which Tuck caught wearing a thong in one of the girls’ schemes makes it cool for guys everywhere to wear thongs. Yeah you get the picture.
The Recruit wants us to believe the film's main thrust revolves around the Central Intelligence Agency's old maxim "nothing is what it seems." Had they stuck with this framework perhaps the film would have been more compelling. Instead it lapses into the expected and the implausible where you can pretty much guess exactly what's going to happen even if it really makes no sense. Our hapless protagonist James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is hustled by CIA recruiter Walter Burke (Al Pacino) who believes himself to be a "scary judge of talent" and sees James as prime CIA meat. When James hesitantly accepts the offer to come to The Farm he does so motivated less by helping his country and more by trying to find out what happened to his father who died mysteriously several years before and whom Burke alleges he knew. Once at The Farm James proves his mettle and is told again and again "it's in his blood." Ah then should we believe James' father who supposedly worked for Shell Oil really worked for the CIA as an NOC or Non-Official Cover agent one of the Agency's more prestigious--and dangerous--positions? The plot thickens. James also falls for fellow recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan) but during an intense interrogation set-up he makes a serious error trying to save her and "washes out" of the program. Just when he thinks he's out forever James gets pulled back in by Burke who tells him all his trials and tribulations were just a test and that he is really NOC material and needed to root out a mole. Is it what it seems? Heavens no.
You'll be seeing a lot of Farrell in the coming months. Along with The Recruit this year alone he'll be in three major feature films including the upcoming comic-book actioner Daredevil; S.W.A.T. yet another feature based on a TV series; and the sniper movie Phone Booth. How has this 26-year-old Irish hunk risen so quickly in the ranks you might ask? Maybe it's because he has an uncanny ability to make the parts he plays completely believable. He slips easily into the Clayton character the quintessential CIA recruit with a daddy complex and fuels the film with the right amount of acting skills and smoldering good looks. Unfortunately his co-star the high and mighty Mr. Pacino is becoming a caricature of himself. Playing Burke is certainly no stretch for the actor and the film would not be complete without the requisite ranting scene where CIA veteran Burke tells the world all about it--voice booming words punctuated. It seems this has become the standard in any Pacino performance and frankly it's getting tiresome. Where's the quiet but powerful Michael Corleone when you need him? Moynahan (The Sum of All Fears) is somewhat bland as Clayton's love interest Layla. Word of advice: if Colin Farrell is making eyes at you go for it immediately. Don't waste any time.
For all its obviousness The Recruit does some things right. No stranger to the inner workings of our government agencies director Roger Donaldson who directed the Cuban Missile Crisis drama Thirteen Days and the Pentagon thriller No Way Out gives us access to the CIA training program or The Farm as its lovingly referred to--and it's one scary place. Obviously when making the film things had to be handled delicately as not to divulge too much so the film does take some creative liberties in showing the intense training the eager recruits have to face. That's fine with us--if we can't rely on death-defying stunts and car chases then outrageous mind games are generally good enough. But once The Recruit takes leave of The Farm the movie begins to fall apart. The inherent action set up for us in the first part--James finding out about his father the blossoming relationship between Layla and James who will be the NOC and the whole mole plot--just isn't as convincing to carry the film through its fruition. And being able to guess the next move isn't much fun either.
FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is cold on the trail of Texas' notorious "God's Hand" serial killer until he's paid a mysterious call by solemn Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey). It seems Meiks could bust the case wide open--he declares that "God's Hand"'s handiwork is that of his brother Adam and he's got a long and complicated tale to tell that'll explain it. Doyle's ears perk up and he and Meiks embark on a trip to the rose garden where Meiks claims Adam buried his victims and then killed himself. On the way Meiks reveals his gory story. It involves the boys' kindly father (Bill Paxton) who was a sensitive caring man--until he went insane one day claiming God had chosen him and his family to kill all the "demons" that inhabit Earth disguised as real people like their neighbors. Dad regularly makes a list and checks it twice for all the demon folk he needs to exterminate on any given Sunday but he's not on this holy mission alone--his sons are "God's hands" as well and together they must hunt down the demons and destroy them. In a weird variation on Cain and Abel 12-year-old Fenton rebels against Dad (killing others isn't exactly his idea of a fun after-school activity) while little brother Adam is happy to join in.
Because the movie is told mostly in flashback McConaughey is relegated mostly to voiceover and a few present-day scenes in which he acts frighteningly morose and gives the sense that there's more to his story than first meets the eye. Because most of the story takes place in 1979 the boys are the ones who really make this film work. Fenton the younger (Matthew O'Leary) is a real find--he clearly struggles with his love for his father whom he knows has gone over the edge and his repulsion for the deeds Dad is determined to have the family carry out. Wrestling with his own demons he finally is able to settle on a solution for how to stop the horror. Little Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) is quite good as the innocent youngster who adores his dad and hangs on his every word seeking only his approval and refusing to believe he has lost his mind. Paxton effectively bridges the transitions between gentle loving father and insane murderer insisting the boys finish all their veggies and revealing his next victim in one breath. He's like those killers on the news about whom people say "But…he was such a nice quiet guy." The performance almost verges on funny if it weren't so horrific.
Paxton makes an auspicious directing debut with this tight little movie keeping the action going and the plot flowing and letting you completely get to know the characters as they exist in their own eras. He deftly avoids choppy flashbacks and the potentially confusing story is perfectly clear yet no less gripping. The killing scenes are absolutely squirm-in-your-seat nightmarish but thankfully we don't see all the grisly details as with so many slasher flicks. Instead we're shown everything right up to the point of death and we're spared the splattering blood and guts. It's just enough to make you cringe and cover your eyes and ultimately far worse to imagine the outcome than to see it all in special effects and makeup. Frailty is also scarier than the typical slasher flick bloodfest--it's way more frightening to imagine the nice guy next door committing such crimes than a made-up character wearing a hockey mask or razors on his gloves. The movie also comes up with a startling twist that you don't see coming right away. But--without revealing too much--the movie falls apart at the end with some enormous problems. Sometimes directors try to explain too much; we won't so we'll just leave it at that.
So, what's it like when you sell your movie at Sundance? Like this: You drive through the streets whooping, yelling, cranking up the stereo and tossing black Adidas ski hats to the unwashed (and un-picked-up) masses.
The groovesters of "Groove" are, yes, grooving. A day after Sony Pictures Classic snapped up the low-budget slice-of-rave-life flick, the film's players were partying in the streets here this afternoon. And to hear one of its stars tell it -- this was situation normal, big-time movie deal or no.
"We've been partying since Day One of shooting and that's all it was, was 28 days in a warehouse, dancing 18 hours a day," actor Steve Van Mormer told Hollywood.com while dancing atop the SUV-anointed "Groove" Mobile. "And we haven't stopped since."
Not that the Sony deal hasn't made the day of even the most veteran party animals.
"It is unfathomable," said Van Wormer, who plays a club promoter in the flick. "It was always in the back of our minds, but it's a total, total dream. ... It's unbelievable. I don't even know what else to askfor."
Meanwhile, in other Park City happenings:
BIG "BUCK": "Chuck & Buck," a different kind of buddy film starring the directing-producing brothers behind 1999 summer smash "American Pie," was bought today -- reportedly for $1 million-plus -- by Artisan Entertainment, the distributor behind that other 1999 summersmash, "The Blair Witch Project." The deal was completed after the "Groove" one, leaving that film with the distinction of being the first Park City buy. "Chuck & Buck," with hot "Pie" sibs Chris and Paul Weitz, is the second feature from Miguel Arteta, who became a Sundance star with 1997's "Star Maps."
GOLDEN GLOBES? WHAT GOLDEN GLOBES? OK, so tonight's official Sundance party was billed as the DirecTV Golden Globes party -- except, like, it started at 9 p.m. local time (or roughly just as the award show was ending) and, like, nobody cared anyway.
Reports Hollywood.com's Gerry Katzman: "Fifty percent of the people there had very little concept that the Golden Globes were even going on." The other half were juiced that Alan Ball took a Globe for his screenplay for "American Beauty" (almost like an indie -- except for the DreamWorks part).
And then there was the matter of Barbra Streisand. (She picked up the Globe's lifetime achievement award.) The word that came up most often, Katzman says, in describing Streisand's acceptance speech was, um, "rambled."
MAYBE WE WERE AT THE WRONG PARTY: The big shindig in town tonight (perhaps the one that emptied the streets) was apparently the MGM-sponsored Globes bash. This one wasn't for journalist types -- it was for "the special people," in the words of a fellow journalist type (i.e., a nonspecial person).
THE ORIGINS OF BUZZ: "Oh, it's really good." -- A cell phone disciple on her way out of Saturday's premiere of boxing chick flick (and Dramatic Competition hopeful) "Girlfight" at the Park City LibraryCenter.
HOW TO PARK IN PARK CITY: Stop your SUV in the middle of Main Street -- and get out. (Leaving the engine running is optional, if not recommended. At least that's how three drivers -- two in one lane, one in the opposite -- did it at the same time here Sunday night, much to the delight of their fellow motorists.)
PARKING ASIDE, WE'RE A WELL-BEHAVED BUNCH: Park City police Sgt. Sherm Farnsworth told us today all has been pretty quiet in packed Park City -- flier controversy or no. The Slamdance types, as we reported earlier, have been complaining that their filmmakers are being hassled over handbills and threatened with $2,000 fines. Farnsworth said no actual citations had been issued through the weekend. He also denied that police were springing a new law on festivalgoers -- as Slamdance had suggested. ("Why they say that ... I have no idea," Farnsworth said.) The anti-flier ordinance has been on the books for a while, the official said, adding that police are just cracking down this year. In other civic news, Farnsworth estimated that the biggest Park City population crush is yet to come, with up to 30,000 expected to be milling about town Wednesday and Thursday. No word on how many will come bearing fliers.
WHO SAID MOVIE PEOPLE HAVE NO STANDARDS? "I can't just whip out a power schmooze -- 'How 'bout them Knicks?'" -- A conflicted guy overheard tonight on Main Street.
THE MOST WELL-INFORMED MALL IN AMERICA: Park City's Main Street Mall (home to the No Dance Festival), where the communal TV sets are inexplicably always tuned to CNN.
HOW TO ELIMINATE THE COMPETITION: New to Park City this year is the Independence Film Festival. It's the brainchild of filmmaker David Merwin, who has a very specific agenda: To screen his short, "The Regular Menu," as many as 100 times by Wednesday morning. "The Regular Menu," in fact, is the only film on the menu at the Independence Film Festival, based near Slamdance headquarters at the Treasure Mountain Inn. Said Merwin: "We could have hustled up some other entries, but I kind of liked the idea of being the guaranteed grand-prize winner thisyear."
MOVIES WE SAW:
1. "Songcatcher" (Sundance Dramatic Competition) -- We had to get up early to watch this stuff? Janet McTeer plays a 1920s musicologist who chooses to move to hillbilly country to live with her lesbian sister schoolteacher (Jane Adams) and discovers the joy of native folk songs. Unfortunately, almost every freakin' scene features dirty-faced mountainfolk breaking into song. It's both annoying and unrealistic -- as if the hillbilly lifestyle was not too divorced from that of a Broadway gypsy. A great performance by Aidan Quinn (as McTeer's love interest, a hillbilly with a heart of gold) and an unbelievable supporting turn by Pat Carroll ("The Little Mermaid") can't make up for the film's contrivances. (-- AnonymousSource)
2. "Double Parked" (Slamdance Competition Feature) "Tumbleweeds" (and/or "Anywhere But Here") with a New Yawk accent. Like those two wacky-mom/put-upon-kid flicks, "Double Parked" gives us a wacky single mom (who, in a twist, is as a tough-talkin' meter maid name of, ugh, Rita) and a put-upon kid (who, in a twist, is sickly). Though heartfelt, this is the kind of film that shows up on IFC or the Sundance Channel full of a self-congratulatory sense of entitlement that says, "We're indie. We're better than Hollywood because no cars were crashed to make this film." Well, no cars were crashed to make "Anywhere But Here," either, and it's just as cloying as that, so what's the point? (-- J.R.)
MOVIES WE WANTED TO SEE BUT COULDN'T GET TICKETS TO EVEN THOUGH WE WAITED OUT IN THE BITTER COLD FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF: "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (Sundance Documentary Competition).
SPOTTED: Indie god Steve Buscemi ("Living in Oblivion") at today's "Songcatcher" screening at the Eccles Theatre; indie guru John Pierson (TV's "Split Screen"), animation icon Craig "Spike" Decker (of Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation) and James Woods ("Any Given Sunday") at the Independent Film Channel bash tonight at the Harry O's nightclub. We also thought we saw Kato Kaelin (The People vs. O.J. Simpson) at the IFC shindig, but upon further review it was determined it wasn't Kato, after all. (It was that kindof night.)
LOOKING AHEAD: The Jason Priestley-directed documentary "Barenaked in America" (about the pop band Barenaked Ladies), plays Slamdance on Monday; the buzz-a-rific "Happy Accidents" (with Marisa Tomei) unspools at Sundance; alternafest SlamDunk begins its run at Harry's O.