Based on books by Besson (yes he writes books too) we meet Arthur (Freddie Highmore) a 10-year-old kid living on his grandparents’ farm. But there’s trouble: Arthur’s grandfather has mysteriously disappeared and now a real estate developer wants the land Arthur’s grandma (Mia Farrow) doesn’t have enough money to keep. Maybe the solution lies in his grandpa's treasure which is hidden somewhere on the "other side" in the land of the Minimoys. Who are the Minimoys you ask? Why they are creatures that live in Arthur’s backyard just a tenth of an inch tall--that’s who. The only hope is for Arthur to enter into this miniature world become a little pointy-earred wild-haired Minimoy find the treasure in the forbidden city and save the day. For this adventurous boy that’s no problem. Arthur and the Invisibles doesn’t lack star power that’s for sure. Along with sweet-faced high-spirited Highmore (taking a step down from Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my opinion) and Farrow (who looks a little Minimoy-ish herself) we have the voices of: Madonna as the plucky Minimoy warrior princess; Jimmy Fallon as her younger klutzy brother; Robert De Niro as their father the king; Harvey Keitel as a kindly wizard; Snoop Dogg as a weird-looking miniature denizen who runs a dance club; and David Bowie as the evil ruler of the forbidden city. That’s some eclectic lineup--too bad they couldn’t all click. Poor Madonna--even her animated voice-over efforts can’t make the grade. We all know how creative French filmmaker Luc Besson can be. His offbeat sensibilities can be seen in his tense crime dramas La Femme Nikita and The Professional as well as his wildly imaginative sci-fi cult favorite The Fifth Element. But he’s been taking a break from making his own films producing and apparently writing children’s books instead. Arthur and the Invisibles is his first directorial effort since the 1999 movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and while it definitely taps into Besson’s fanciful notions--which is probably even more evident in the novels--it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to the big screen. Invisibles’ animation is lush and there’s a lot to look at but it’s almost too busy while the tepid yet convoluted story drones on. Invisibles is definitely not adult-friendly.
Occasionally--mainly out of desperation--a sitcom will detail the supposedly humorous antics that arise when one of its straight protagonists is mistaken for gay. Invariably it involves a pass and a subsequent rejection. Not so with The Closet. Writer and director Francis Veber uses this slight premise to vividly dissect the politics that drive today's workplace. François (Auteuil) overhears plans for his firing. He's dull but not the idiot that thuggish rival Felix (Gérard Depardieu) makes him out to be. To prevent François from committing suicide his neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont) tells him to pretend to come out of the closet. The company could face accusations of homophobia should it fire him Belone reasons. Doctored photos of François groping a man soon arrive at work. His colleagues assume that he's gay; his job is safe but there are those who question François.
Such is Auteuil's initial blankness that it does not become apparent that François is fighting such dark demons until his halfhearted suicide bid. Being fired is the last straw. He still loves his ex-wife. His son refuses to see him. Posing as gay as ridiculous it may seem offers him a reason to live. Slowly and subtly over the course of the ruse Auteuil reveals François' rainbow-bright colors. He also allows François to find honor in even the most potentially embarrassing situation in particular his participation in a very public gay pride parade. In contrast a slightly over-the-top Depardieu makes no bones about playing a boorish spiteful racist homophobic clod deserving of the hysterical comeuppance he receives. Then again the dexterous Depardieu manages to find a modicum of goodness in Felix so we are willing to give him the same second chance that François does.
Veber is famous for churning out the French hits that Hollywood loves to remake but unfortunately for Hollywood something nearly always gets lost in the translation. Veber's straightforwardly directed French films stripped as they are of stylized comedic embellishments are usually smarter and funnier than their Americanized counterparts (witness The Birdcage). Sure The Closet is predictable. You know that someone will see through François' deception. But Veber never allows the proceedings to turn malicious. Instead he allows his cast to articulate the script's humor while focusing on the whispers the innuendoes and the machinations that one must endure in an office environment. It's all done with the intention of zeroing in on people's prejudices and making them aware of the idiocy of their beliefs and misconceptions.
October 11, 2002 6:40am EST
Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is a former Special Forces operator who fed up with military bureaucracy retires from the army to lead a quiet life in the south of France or so one would think. Frank actually makes a living hiring himself out as a transporter carrying packages in his spiffy BMW. He manages to keep his nose clean by adhering to three simple rules: never change the terms of the deal never exchange names and never look at what's inside the package. But when Frank notices that one of his packages is moving curiosity and concern get the better of him and he takes a peek. A beautiful woman named Lai (Shu Qi) emerges from the duffel bag in his trunk and it's love at first sight. (We know this because of the overpowering instrumental love theme that goes along with the scene.) Breaking rule No. 3 gets Frank into a whole lot of trouble especially when he discovers the kind of mess Lai is involved in: she is trying to stop a ring of human smugglers led by her father.
Statham (John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars) carries this film with complete ease. There is an intelligence in his work that comes through here in the same manner it did with his character Turkish in Snatch. In Frank Statham creates such an identifiable character--stylish brawny and brainy--that audiences will want to revisit him in a few years just to see what he's been up to. The gorgeous Qi (Millennium Mambo) plays his love interest but her character has a piece of duct tape over her mouth for most of the film. It's not to say she is not a good actress but her lack of lines makes her character--whose loyalties are a bit confusing from the start--seem a little dimwitted. Worth mentioning is French actor Francois Berleand (Alive) who plays the role of Detective Tarconi a cop who knows Statham is up to something but lets him do his thing as long as he keeps it under the radar. The two actors have good chemistry on screen although their relationship could have been explored more. The same can be said of Matt Schulze (Blade II) who plays the main villain--nicknamed "Wall Street." Compelling bad guys are hard to find these days and it would have been interesting to see more done with this character.
Slick action scenes and artfully choreographed fight sequences are director Cory Yuen's specialty: he was martial arts choreographer for Kiss of the Dragon and The One and martial arts supervisor for Romeo Must Die. His extensive background in the genre shows in this film but while the The Transporter is visually exciting and technically well done it loses points for adding some really tacky elements to an otherwise action-packed flick. For someone as professional and calculating as Frank for example to break one of his long-standing rules at the sight of a pretty woman seems out of character. Writers Robert Kamen and Luc Besson have a great hook with the Frank Martin character but they introduce too many cheesy elements. I mean Asian families being shipped in containers and sold into slavery? Call me a cynic but human-interest stories simply don't belong in action movies.