Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.
November 25, 2003 12:00pm EST
Top Story: Country Singer Glen Campbell Arrested
Country singer Glen Campbell, best known for his hit single "Rhinestone Cowboy," was arrested Monday in Phoenix, Ariz., on suspicion of extreme drunken driving and hit and run, Reuters reports. Campbell, 67, was also booked into jail on suspicion of aggravated assault on a police officer for allegedly kneeing a sergeant in the thigh while at the station. According to police, Campbell's BMW slammed into a Toyota sedan at an intersection and failed to stay at the scene. Campbell was later arrested at his residence at the Biltmore Estates in a posh area of Phoenix and was released on bond at 12:30 a.m. after a midnight hearing. The singer's blood alcohol level was not immediately released, but the legal limit for drivers in Arizona is .08, with extreme drunken driving more than .15. Campbell's official Web site says that the singer has given up alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
Survivor's Elisabeth Joins The View
Former Survivor: The Australian Outback castaway Elisabeth Hasselbeck, previously known as Elisabeth Filarski, has been named a co-host on ABC's Emmy-winning The View, now in its sixth season. The View's executive producer Barbara Walters, who made the announcement on air Monday with the rest of the co-hosts, held an open casting call for a fifth host to join the daytime show after Lisa Ling left last December. Hasselbeck was one of three finalists in the search for a new host, which also included contenders Rachel Campos of MTV's Real World: San Francisco and actress Erin Hershey Presley of ABC's defunct soap opera Port Charles. Hasselbeck, who was the host of the Style Channel's The Look for Less, will begin her hosting duties today.
Jonathan Brandis' Death a Suicide
The Los Angeles county coroner's office concluded Monday that the Nov. 12 death of 27-year-old actor Jonathan Brandis, who starred in two seasons of Steven Spielberg's SeaQuest DSV, was a suicide, The Associated Press reports. Brandis, who died Nov. 12, hung himself, the coroner said. The actor started his career with a recurring role on the soap One Life to Live at age 6, and went on to make guest appearances on L.A. Law, Who's the Boss? and Murder, She Wrote. His film credits included the starring role in 1991's The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter, the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Ladybugs and the martial arts comedy Sidekicks with Chuck Norris.
Meat Loaf Recovering From Surgery
Rock singer Meat Loaf, who collapsed in the middle of a sold-out concert at London's Wembley Arena last Monday, is recovering from heart surgery to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a defect of the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. Reuters reports the 56-year-old singer, best known for his hit single "Bat Out of Hell," is recovering at a private location in London after undergoing surgery last Friday. Meat Loaf is expected to give more details about his condition and future tour plans after additional tests later this week to determine the success of the surgery, his record company said.
Men Plead Guilty to Posing as Boy Band Members
Two men who posed as former members of the boy band New Kids on the Block in southern Nevada have pleaded guilty to fraud charges and begun serving sentences at separate federal prisons, the AP reports. In October 2002, Ward claimed his wallet was stolen and identified himself as NKOTB member Jonathan Knight, providing Las Vegas police with Knight's Social Security number and date of birth. He then used the report to obtain a Social Security card and Nevada driver's license in Knight's name and a credit card he used it to make purchases. Veskovic admitted to the same scheme involving the identities of NKOTB member Daniel Wood and Kevin Richardson, a member of the Backstreet Boys. A judge sentenced Patrick Ward, 24, to 18 months in prison and Michael Veskovic, 20, to six months in prison, and ordered the defendants to pay nearly $138,000 in restitution
Small Movie Companies Sue Over Screener Ban
More than a dozen small movie companies sued the Motion Picture Association of America Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, claiming the partial ban by Hollywood studios on sending screeners to awards groups will "chill the financing of independent films" by limiting the awards they can receive. According to the AP, the lawsuit seeks at least $25 million in damages and claims the MPAA was conspiring to monopolize the film industry, restricting trade through unlawful and unreasonable agreements with its governing members. The lawsuit said the MPAA's actions toward the small movie producers "were outrageous and were taken with evil motive." Among the 14 plaintiffs are Talking Wall Pictures, Sandcastle 5 Productions and Salty Features.
Role Call: Diesel's Child-Rearing Role, Punk'd Pranksters Hit Big Screen
Vin Diesel is set to star in the Disney action/comedy The Pacifier. According to Variety, Diesel will play an undercover agent who, after failing to protect an important government scientist, learns the man's family is in danger. He agrees to take care of the man's children in an effort to redeem himself, and discovers his toughest mission yet: childcare ... Former Punk'd pranksters Dax Shepard and Al Shearer have set up an untitled project at Fox Searchlight Pictures based on their own pitch. According to The Hollywood Reporter, they will star as two guys from different racial backgrounds who find out they are actually brothers--and who must compete against each other for an inheritance.
The animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas has all the great adventure of the story wrapped up in a sappy little package for the kiddies. Taken from the ancient tales of the Arabian Nights Sinbad is a rogue who cares only about what is in his and his crew's best interest--and little else. As the film begins he unsuccessfully tries to steal the Book of Peace--which keeps order in the world--from his childhood best friend Proteus the Prince of Syracuse who is sailing to the city to return the sacred book. Although the two are estranged it's clear they still have a kinship. When the Book of Peace is actually stolen by Eris the goddess of chaos she frames Sinbad for the theft. Proteus stands up for his friend and makes the council give Sinbad one chance to find and return the precious book or Proteus will die on his behalf. Disbelieving the threat the pirate decides to blow the whole thing off but Proteus' beautiful betrothed Marina who has stowed away on Sinbad's ship has other plans. Marina has Sinbad's crew on her side and it could turn mutinous if the guy doesn't fulfill the mission. OK so he'll go get the book. Eris doesn't make it easy for our reluctant hero--dispatching both monstrous creatures and the elements to do battle along the way. But ultimately the brave Sinbad learns a few life lessons falls in love and wins out by following his heart. Aww!
See what a little success in the animated world can get you? These days an animated film can demand the attention of any A-list actor to provide the voices not just your occasional Robin Williams. We have Finding Nemo with the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres and now Sinbad which attracted huge names such as Brad Pitt (Sinbad) Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marina) Michelle Pfeiffer (Eris) and Joseph Fiennes (Proteus). It could also be the fact DreamWorks' animation king Jeffrey Katzenberg has the clout to rope them all in. Pitt as Sinbad is roguishly clever infusing the pirate with the requisite amount mischievousness and rebellion while Zeta-Jones provides the adventurous Marina with the right amount of bravado and vulnerability. Fiennes as the stiff but honorable Proteus is fine but you can tell right away who has the most fun with her character; Pfeiffer's Eris is a pure delight in sound as well as sight. She is able to take her Catwoman persona from Batman Returns and elevate it to a well celestial level. In the supporting roles Dennis Haysbert does a nice job as Sinbad's right-hand man Kale as does Adriano Giannini the son of legendary actor Giancarlo Giannini as the ship's lookout Rat. Kudos all around for a job well done.
As a self-proclaimed fan of those cheesy 1970s Sinbad movies including The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger--where the stop-motion special effects of wizard Ray Harryhausen made it all worthwhile--the idea of an animated version of Sinbad seems perfectly fitted for the genre. Now the mythical creatures could be fully realized in vivid Technicolor where the DreamWorks' animators spare no expense in providing their own visions of things such as sirens sea monsters and giant birds of prey. The artwork for Eris is a particular stroke of genius with the flowing black hair and beautifully evil features; the film definitely comes alive when she is onscreen. As well the action sequences are as exciting as any car chase or gun battle you'll see in a live-action film. The drawback for the adults is the film's slightly schmaltzy story about friendship and of course true love. It's not entirely clear why computer-animated films such as Shrek and Finding Nemo are now becoming the only animated films that appeal to everyone adults and kids alike. It used to be traditional hand-drawn classics such as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King did the trick but now it seems animated films need only provide spectacular visuals--without a great story and snappy dialogue to back them up.
One thing The Country Bears has in its favor is that the film keeps the plot simple. A convoluted storyline in which bears and humans interact would only make this even more painful to watch. Set in a music-video-type format where the bears and the humans sing and dance and have a grand old time the movie focuses on 11-year-old Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) a young lad growing up with a very loving--and very human--family. Yet something doesn't feel right to Beary. Maybe it's because his jealous older brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) keeps telling him he has been adopted. Or maybe it's because he is a bear. Whatever the reason Beary feels connected only when he is playing his guitar and worshipping a hugely successful '60s rock band called The Country Bears--a quartet of big hairy fellows with names like Tennessee O'Neal Ted and Fred Bedderhead and Zeb Zoober who broke up over "creative differences" many moons ago. Beary decides to head out into the wild beyond to look for his true heroes--and find his place in the world. What he discovers is that the old Country Bear Hall where those wily bears used to perform is going to be torn down by the evil Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken. Yes we just said Christopher Walken.) Beary can't let this happen so he comes up with the plan to find the ex-Bears get them back together for a benefit concert and save the venue. Yee-haw.
Everyone associated with this film (from the actors to the long string of cameos by real-life musicians) surely believed they were making a fun-filled romp for the kiddies. You know "something to take the whole family to see " but they may not have realized how incredibly inane it would turn out to be. Or maybe Disney called in a lot of favors. Walken could have just lost a bet. The point is this--the human cast simply serves a purpose as the framework for the bears. Megan Fay and Stephen Tobolowsky are Beary's sugary-sweet mom and dad. Diedrich Bader and Daryl Mitchell play bumbling police officers looking for the hairy little fellow. Only Marienthal's Dex recognizes the absurdity of the situation--Beary is a bear and Marienthal gets to say probably all three of the best lines in the film. Cameos by artists such as Bonnie Raitt Don Henley and Elton John are fun but don't add much to the fray. Meanwhile the vocal talents are notable only when real-life singers like Raitt and Henley (who "sing" a duet as Tennessee and lady bear Trixie) and country singer John Hiatt (also as Tennessee) get to perform. Haley Joel Osment as the voice of Beary is more animated than the young actor has ever had the chance to be onscreen but there may be a reason for that--Osment is annoying as a chipper guy.
Most of us know about Disney theme parks and their most popular attractions--the Haunted House the Pirates of the Caribbean and of course the Country Bear Jamboree. Now Disney has gotten the bright idea to turn these attractions into movies--cashing in on the familiarity--and those singing dancing bears are the first guinea pigs. In other words Disney is grasping at straws. Granted the film is intended for children but let's not insult their intelligence as well. Besides a bad script so-so puppetry and sappy original songs the most bothersome thing about The Country Bears is that the bears walk and talk like their human counterparts have jobs eat in restaurants and play in rock-and-roll bands but there are only about six of them altogether. There aren't any other bears around. Or any other animals for that reason. At least in a Muppet movie the Muppets are everywhere and so it's understood they simply co-exist with humans. If you were to meet one of these Country Bears on the street you'd be very afraid.