After starting what he thinks is just another day by methodically brushing his teeth the way he always does IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) gets a visit from an uninvited auditory guest--Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) the author of his life. Little does she know while writing a book about a character named Harold Crick that the real Harold can hear her narrations loud and clear; little does Harold know that her novels don't have happy endings--that is until he hears it in her narration which states that he is to die. Luckily she's in the midst of writer's block so he has some time to find out well how much time he has to live. He immediately consults a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) who instructs Harold to further pursue a relationship with an anarchistic baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he is currently auditing in order to learn more about the course the novel will take. The relationship flourishes and he’s happy for the first time in a long time but will art imitate--or end--his life? Ferrell seems to be mimicking the exact path of his direct comedic-superstar predecessor Jim Carrey even down to his first serious-ish role: Carrey’s first dramatic foray was the equally quasi-existential though much better Truman Show. Ferrell has no problem whatsoever making the transition--that’s just what abundant natural talent affords certain actors. But his crossover attempt should’ve been more subtle since audiences have come to expect at least one “streaking” scene per Ferrell film. As Ferrell’s heavily tattooed love interest the ubiquitous Gyllenhaal scores again. Fresh off roles as a stripper single mom (Sherrybaby) and a frantic pregnant 9/11 wife (World Trade Center) she proves that no matter her character’s physical appearance or mindset she can do no wrong. Ditto for Thompson who spends much of the film in pajamas and the throes of writer’s block--the "writer" prototype--much to the dismay of her publisher-appointed assistant played well by Queen Latifah. Rounding out the cast is Hoffman whose professor isn't totally unlike his answer provider in like-minded I Heart Huckabees. His character’s quirky humor is child’s play at this point for the veteran but a select few scenes between him and Ferrell are extremely satisfying. To liken Stranger Than Fiction to a Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Adaptation et al) script/movie is not totally without merit. Fiction captures the “vivid yet distant” essence that is common with Kaufman’s stories and subsequent movies. But whereas Kaufman doesn’t go out of his way to coddle audiences’ minds amidst his often obtuse movies writer Zach Helm and director Marc Forster seem to have audience appreciation (read: box office) on the brain. Helm’s idea is nothing short of genius in a way that’s different from the oft-mentioned screenwriters he’s compared to but somewhere en route he and/or Forster (Finding Neverland) compromised the vision. Because what starts out as a complex intriguing movie turns stale quickly especially given the inexplicable ease with which it transitions from a metaphysical story into a straightforward one. And Forster's tendency in the movie to undercomplicate is just as detrimental as the opposite extreme. The dialogue also falls somewhat flat often neither funny nor off-kilter enough buoyed only slightly by superb cinematography set direction and indie music featuring Spoon (whose frontman Britt Daniel reworked some of their best songs for the movie)--but we’ve come to expect that trifecta from similar movies.
Scooby and the gang at Mystery Inc.--Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Velma (Linda Cardellini) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard)--are at the top of their game and just about everyone in Coolsville loves them. Even the Coolsonian Museum is honoring them with an exhibit--a costumed display of Mystery Inc.'s former foes such as The Pterodactyl Ghost The Black Knight Ghost and The 10 000 Volt Ghost. Yet at the museum's gala opening the team's stellar reputation is put in serious jeopardy when said monsters come alive re-created by a masked villain who vows to bring Mystery Inc. down. Under pressure from relentless reporter Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone) the gang launches an investigation into the monster outbreak but as the mystery deepens Mystery Inc.'s members end up questioning their roles within the organization. Can macho leader Fred and image-conscious Daphne look past the superficial and find the identity of the Evil Masked Figure? Will brainy Velma let her feelings for Coolsonian Museum curator Patrick Wisely (Seth Green) blossom even though he is a key suspect? And finally can Shaggy and Scooby stop cowering--and eating--long enough to prove they can be detectives? These are tough times for the gang but they've got to pull it together so they can solve the mystery and save the day.
Even though it seems a little ridiculous that Scooby-Doo 2's fleshed-out cartoon characters would try to dig deep to find answers within the returning actors continue to have fun exploring their alter-Scooby-egos. Prinze's Fred has a hipper haircut this time (the original matted blond 'do had to go) and isn't quite the braggart he once was. He is still unquestionably the "face" of the group until he is made to look foolish by the ruthless Heather played with relish by Silverstone who shines in the bad-girl role. Gellar has definitely dropped Daphne's "damsel-in-distress" routine getting all Buffy on the monsters but is still worried that its her looks not her skills that get her attention. Cardellini's Velma on the other hand gets a love interest--and even all dolled up at one point--but can't get rid of her inherent geekiness. It's Shaggy and Scooby who experience the biggest revelation realizing they really are nothing but giant screw-ups. Lillard actually turns in some (and I can't believe I'm actually saying this) poignant moments as Shag grapples with his inequities. They all realize in the end though that for the good of Mystery Inc. it's best to be true to yourself. Thank god.
Director Raja Gosnell goes full throttle in his second Scooby effort with more action and more elaborate theme-parky sets than the original. Even as the characters pause to reflect on their faults these moments are thankfully short-lived before the gang is thrust into another wild chase or fight sequence keeping the kiddies' minds occupied--and allowing the adult fans to laugh at all the monsters they remember from the TV show. One of the criticisms from the first Scooby-Doo was that it didn't provide enough "inside" jokes for the grown-up enthusiasts (and face it there are probably more of them than kids). But Scooby-Doo 2 harkens back to the good old days and even pokes fun at all those criminals whose evil plans and ghost disguises were foiled by the meddlesome quintet. They all gather at their own watering hole called the Faux Ghost where they can throw darts at pictures of the Mystery Inc. gang. Funny stuff. Overall the sequel provides the same madcap fun the original did without requiring the use of too much brainpower.
August 29, 2003 11:06am EST
Jeepers Creepers which was released in 2001 established some basic facts about the winged monster the most important being that it eats every 23rd spring for 23 days. This sequel however is not set in 2024 but on the last of the 23 days and parallels the events of the first film on the dreaded East 9 Highway in Poho County: On the same stretch of road a bus carrying high school students returning home from a championship game become stranded when two tires on the vehicle blow out. It's not an accident but the work of the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who then returns to the crippled bus to feast on its passengers. After the driver and coaches get picked off the kids like savory sardines in a tin box are left to fend for themselves. The only clue they have as to what's going on is through cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox) who has a dream in which Darry (Justin Long)--the lead character from the first film--warns her of the Creepers intentions. The group's only salvation is a local farmer (Ray Wise) looking to avenge his son's demise at the hands of the Creeper. Fraught with fright flick clichés Jeepers Creepers 2 is not as intelligent as the first and the elements that made the original so compelling--the suspense drama and the emotional investment in its characters--are definitely lacking in this sequel.
Jeepers Creepers 2 follows a busload of basketball players and cheerleaders as well as a farmer and his son in a concurrent storyline. The problem is there are so many characters here that none of them ever get a chance to fully develop. As the film opens attention is focused on Jack Taggert (Ray Wise) as the Creeper snatches his son in a cornfield. As an actor with great range Wise best known for his stint as Leland Palmer in David Lynch's cult series Twin Peaks isn't taken full advantage of here. He's bitter about the loss of his son but the movie gets that across to the audience by intermittently showing Wise's character frantically crafting a giant spear gun. But because the film doesn't devote enough time to the character we don't share his hatred for the Creeper. Breck reprises his role here as the winged beast and if the film spawns into a successful horror movie franchise could gain cult stardom as the Creeper. Because the Creeper is more prominent than in the first film Breck gets a chance to play with the character a little more and even infuses a bit of personality into the monster. The cast of teenage characters including Aycox Lena Caldwell and Garikayi Mutambirwa all give respectable performances but sadly get lost in the mix and never become anything more than disposable targets.
When it was released in 2001 director Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers grossed $37.9 million at the box office--commercial success for a small horror genre flick. It had a lot going for it especially compared to most slasher pics; a good story with an even more intriguing villain but its appeal rested in Salva's visual approach. The director used subtle effects to mount suspense including what he describes as a "Hitchcock reveal " where the audience is given details that the characters aren't like a shot of the Creeper in a car's rearview mirror. But in Jeepers Creepers 2 Salva overuses this effect and it becomes almost irritating. What's more the tension that came with delaying the Creepers reveal in the first film is now gone. Moviegoers see him in the first scene followed by longer glimpses with each exposure--and the more we see of him the less scary he becomes. This film does have a few things going for it one of them being Bennett Salvay's musical score. Salva does not drown the film in pyrotechnics and screeching sound effects but instead uses the musical compositions to convey the mood of the entire production. In one scene Salva provides the audience with a bird's-eye-view of the group of teens running to safety across a vast field and accompanied by the heightened score resemble a herd of wildebeest on the run. But while the film is visually interesting it ultimately fails to get the audience to care for its whole host of characters making their fate and the action inconsequential.