Woody Allen’s neurotic-speak works wonders coming from a New Yorker but coming from a Brit? Not so much. The British could very well be just as phobic as anyone else but they are also repressed and trying to force the neurosis out just doesn’t ring as true. Nevertheless Allen is bound and determined to film abroad these days and thus once again sets Cassandra's Dream in contemporary London where we meet two brothers struggling to better their lives financially. The more blue-collar Terry (Colin Farrell) has a gambling problem and is in debt up to his eyeballs while enterprising Ian (Ewan McGregor) dreams of leaving his family’s restaurant and moving to California with his newfound love Angela (Hayley Atwell) an ambitious actress. Their only hope is their wealthy uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) but the boys quickly find out you can’t get something for nothing. You see Uncle Howard is also in a bit of trouble and he asks his nephews to help him out of his jam--with sinister consequences. First of all Farrell and McGregor look about as related as a dog and cat. Secondly they don't seem at ease in the film partly because their characters are anxious but also partly because they don’t mesh as well with Woody Allen’s sensibilities. Farrell fares a bit better since his natural Irish tendencies towards emotional outbursts fit the character well. His Terry is the one with the conscience and murdering someone just doesn’t sit well with him. McGregor on the other hand plays Ian almost robotically saying the words with as little emotion as possible which doesn’t do Allen’s dialogue any justice. Wilkinson falls under the same category as McGregor but his character is the one most morally challenged so playing it cold sort of works. The women in Cassandra's Dream are fairly wasted including newcomer Atwell as the manipulative actress and Sally Hawkins as Terry’s sweet and concerned girlfriend. Even the boys’ mother played by veteran stage actress Clare Higgins (The Golden Compass) comes off screechy. The cast must have all been thrilled to be in a Woody Allen movie to be sure but it just seems like Allen didn’t get them. Cassandra's Dream suffers from some of the same hang-ups as Match Point. Even though many heralded that 2005 movie as Woody Allen’s return the film had the same problems namely the ill-fitting British cast. At least Match Point had an American Scarlett Johansson whom Allen could pour all his tried-and-true fixations into--the paranoia the obsessiveness and the ultimatums. But Cassandra's Dream really proves that as a filmmaker Allen has become a stick-in-the-mud. He really hasn’t changed his tune in 25 years exploring the same themes over and over again and it’s finally getting old. When his films turn dark it’s usually about how murder can corrupt the soul. Natch. Sometimes the murderers however bothered they are by their deeds get away with it; sometimes they don’t. But rarely does Allen veer from this path making Cassandra's Dream a now very stale rehash of Crimes and Misdemeanors without the benefit of having at the very least some good old-fashioned Allen-styled American-acted neurosis to back it up.
A truck carrying hazardous materials accidentally drops one of its containers into a small lake contaminating it and its delicate ecosystem. Trouble arises when the wacky town entomologist feeds his collection of exotic spiders contaminated crickets which act as a sort of spider "steroid." The result is a horde of giant hairy spiders that prey on the town's unsuspecting inhabitants. Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) doesn't believe her son Mike (Scott Terra) when he tries to warn her about what's going on but blames his "media-induced paranoid delusional nightmare" on too much boob-tube watching. Then when mining engineer Chris McCormick's (David Arquette) aunt gets spun--literally--into one of the spider's webs he enlists the help of Sheriff Parker and paranoid radio announcer Harlan Griffin (Doug E. Doug) to fight off the eight-legged freaks. Armed only with rakes ski poles and chainsaws the townspeople fight off the spiders in a losing battle before Chris comes up with a master plan that will blow the arachnids to smithereens.
Prankster Arquette (See Spot Run) tones down his funnyman routine in Eight Legged Freaks and takes on the role of the humble hero. It's refreshing to see Arquette playing a more subdued character with less of a slapstick edge although I half expected him to start yelling at people to "dial straight down the center." As the sheriff Wuhrer (Berserker) plays her dual role well as a headstrong single mother of two and the town leader. Sure she looks a little too hot to be a chief law enforcement officer but maybe some sheriffs really do look like that in small-town America. While the laughs may not have been coming from Arquette there were enough to be had thanks to Doug whose most memorable role to date has to be Sanka Coffie from the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings. His radio announcer in this film believes the government is conspiratorial and that the spiders are the alien invasion he has been warning people about for decades. Doug delivers some of the movie's funniest lines.
New Zealander Ellory Elkayem (Larger Than Life) wrote and directed Eight Legged Freaks a sort of homage to mid-1950s B-movie sci-fi thrillers like Tarantula or Earth vs. the Spider. But while these cult films were funny merely by accident--Tarantula director Jack Arnold probably wasn't being intentionally campy--Eight Legged Freaks at times seems to try too hard. Packing in one joke after another takes away from the spiders' scariness making them seem more like a practical joke than a potentially annihilating threat. The special effects are extremely slick however and the spiders are well done with techniques approaching those in the 1997 sci-fi actioner Starship Troopers (but none of the gigantic CGI spiders are as scary as the real-life tarantulas caged up in terrariums at the start of the movie). Although at 99 minutes the film moves quickly the final scene in which the townspeople are being chased through a labyrinth of mining tunnels drags on a bit too long.
"Star Trek" shows are like salmon. There comes an hour when they know it's time to swim upstream. "Star Trek: Voyager" And so it has come to pass that "Star Trek: Voyager," the fourth spin-off of the "Trek" franchise, will swim upstream after next season, the UPN announced Monday. Like forerunners "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager" will end its voyage after seven seasons. (The original "Trek" was a short-timer, expiring on NBC after only three seasons. So, too, went the critically acclaimed 1973-74 animated series.)
UPN exec Tom Noonan is pledging "Voyager" will go out with "a surprising conclusion" and a "smashing finale," surely disappointing fans who were counting on "a really bad episode -- like that thing 'Seinfeld' did." In preparation for the farewell, a special two-hour episode will air in November.
"Voyager" made its debut on UPN's own premiere night on Jan. 16, 1995. The show was most notable for introducing the first female "Trek" captain (as played by Kate Mulgrew) and the first female "Trek" catsuit-wearer (as played by Jeri Ryan).
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING: With the impending demise of "Voyager," talk about an all-new "Trek" series has heated up (again). UPN is said to be in talks with Paramount Pictures on how best to milk, er, continue the saga, but nothing concrete has emerged yet.
AFTERLIFE: Cable's Fox Family Channel has snapped up the rerun rights to the NBC hit drama "Providence." Look for old episodes to turn up there starting in September.
TAKE THAT, "ZOE, JACK AND WHOEVER": "The Steve Harvey Show" has been picked up for a fifth season by the WB. The comedy is the network's highest-rated sitcom.
ROCKS IN THEIR HEADS? Some 10.4 million people watched pro-wrestler The Rock host last weekend's edition of "Saturday Night Live." That was the best performance by the NBC show since another worthy host, Monica Lewinsky, did the honors last May.
CAN HARVEY KORMAN BE FAR BEHIND? Tim Conway ("The Carol Burnett Show") has joined the cast of Ellen DeGeneres' new comedy project for CBS.
CYBER WATCH: For those who can't get enough of Fox's "That '70s Show," a series of behind-the-scenes footage will be Webcast on Mondays, starting next week. Look for the 10-minute-long bits at www.that70sshow.com. The shows will unspool at 7:30 p.m. in the Eastern, Pacific and Central time zones.