Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
The latest scary news from the "Blair Witch" front is that the sequel will be seeking "unrecognizable talent," according to a casting note obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Specifically, "Blair Witch Project 2" is looking for five lead characters - two men and three women, ages 19-early 20s. The trade paper says a one-page breakdown on the film lists the characters thusly:
-- "Heather Arendt," a Chicagoan whose life philosophy is "when in doubt indulge"; -- "Nick Leavitt" and "Anna Casio," a couple of live-in lovers attending their senior year at Boston College; -- "Cotter Kaller," an irresponsible state college kid; -- "Domini Von Teer," the enigmatic outsider who favors black and a vague Gothic look.
No word if recognizable talent will be deigned eligible for the above roles -- provided they round up really good disguises.
"Blair Witch 2" is scheduled to begin shooting Feb. 23 on the East Coast, with a Fall 2000 release planned. (Think Halloween.) Despite all this activity, there's still no word on a script (or a screenwriter). Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker behind "Brother's Keeper" and "Paradise Lost," will direct.
GETTING "UGLY"? They may be splitsville in real life, but in Hollywood, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow are seriously considering a reunion in "The Ugly Truth," a possible project for Warner Bros. and Disney about an unlucky-in-love woman (Paltrow, presumably) who receives a romantic sparkle from an obnoxious, sexist, sloppily dressed TV personality (paging Affleck?).
ON LOAN FROM HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE: 007 star Pierce Brosnan is set to sign up for the CIA as the headliner and producer of "Burnt Sienna," a movie based on an upcoming novel by "First Blood" author David Morrell. Today's Daily Variety says Brosnan will play a former Marine pilot who becomes an artist in Mexico, only to find his life threatened when he turns down an offer to paint the wife of an arms dealer. His character is described as a cross between James Bond and John Rambo.
WHAT A CROC: Car pitchman Paul Hogan is ready to return to the film franchise that made him a movie star - at least in the mid-1980s. According to the Reporter, Hogan, now 59, will say "G'day' in a third "Crocodile Dundee" flick, tentatively titled "Crocodile Dundee in Hollywood." No director yet. Hogan's wife and perennial co-star, Linda Kozlowski, will return as his, yes, perennial co-star. The last "Dundee" movie - that would be "Crocodile Dundee II" - was released in 1988.
IN THE 'DUST': Disaster prone Jan De Bont ("The Haunting," "Speed") has signed on to helm (and produce) "Dust" for Village Roadshow/Warner Bros The movie's based on a novel by Charles Pellegrino, who created the dinosaur-cloning theories behind Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park."
TRUCKIN' TO 'RENO': Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson are in final talks to put on their redneck boots alongside Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron in "Waking Up in Reno," the Reporter says. Newcomer Jordan Brady will direct the film about Arkansas rednecks, infidelity and (of course) monster truck shows.