Despite what the trailer might have you believe In the Land of Women isn't exactly a sweet sigh-inducing romance. Yes main character Carter Webb (Adam Brody)--a slightly snarky screenwriter who makes his living writing soft-core porn--leaves Hollywood for Michigan to get over a hard break-up by taking care of his aging tart-tongued grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). And yes he subsequently ends up getting entangled with angsty blond teenager Lucy Hardwicke (Kristen Stewart) and her lonely mom Sarah (Meg Ryan). But the trio's tenuous relationships are complicated by confusion resentment illness and misunderstanding all of which add up to a situation that's hardly straightforward--and frankly not all that romantic either. Brody is no stranger to playing sarcastic pop culture-savvy Southern Californians: After four seasons on The O.C. as Seth Cohen he's got the type down pat. As Carter he balances wry quips with a nice dose of empathy--you can tell that he truly cares about both Lucy and Sarah (not to mention his grandma as crusty as she is). But to be honest it's a little hard to see why. Stewart plays Lucy with a shy sullenness that's not very endearing--she gets a little more animated toward the end but it's too little too late--and Ryan's trademark perkiness has worn thin. She gives Sarah's dramatic scenes her best shot but the character's confusion and pain don't seem at home on her unnaturally tight face. Dukakis gets in a few zingers as Grandma Phyllis but the character is essentially one-note--as is Lucy's sister Paige (Makenzie Vega) who swiftly goes from "cutely precocious" to "awkward yapping." In many ways Paige seems like a character lifted out of the John Hughes playbook which isn't that surprising given Carter's fascination with the '80s director's oeuvre--and the movie's Hughes-ian high school subplot. Unfortunately the "classic" high school movie scenes (the party Lucy takes Carter to their movie outing at the mall her dawning realization at the end etc.) while fun for folks who grew up watching the movies they're obviously inspired by have a light tone that's jarring compared to the rest of the film's drama. When it comes down to it Carter--who's looking for a reason to stop drifting through life--has a lot more in common with Garden State's Andrew Largeman than Hughes heroes like Ferris Bueller and John Bender. Trying to squeeze him into a teen-centric story rather than focusing on helping him grow up doesn't do him--or the movie--any favors.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman adapts Brown’s bestselling page-turner to the best of his ability adding a few variations of his own but following the general plot of the novel. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) a professor of iconography and religious art becomes embroiled in a mystery when the highly respected Louvre curator in Paris is found murdered. Before he died he was able to leave Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) the curator’s granddaughter clues through Da Vinci’s works which eventually lead them on a quest for the Holy Grail itself. Along for the ride is historian Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) a Paris detective (Jean Reno) and an albino monk (Paul Bettany) intent on stopping them. But here’s the kicker: one of Da Vinci’s theories is that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ were married and had a child thus creating a “sang real” or “royal bloodline” that must be protected destroyed or exposed--depending on which side of the fence you’re on. Ah the stuff great stories are made of. Upon hearing the casting of Da Vinci many of the book’s avid fans rejoiced--it is indeed a stellar line up. But it is probably one of the least compelling performances star Hanks has ever turned in. It’s not his fault really; Langdon is equally as stiff in the book. Same sort of goes for the Sophie character which is a shame for the lovely Tautou (Amelie) who isn’t able to fully utilize her incredibly expressive face here. Both actors could have been more animated but they are really the conduits for the more colorful supporting characters surrounding them. Bettany (Wimbledon) does an admirable job as the baddie a self-flagellating zealot intent on following orders even if the amiable actor is a bit ill-suited as a villain. But it’s McKellen who steals the show as the acerbic but jovial Teabing full of conspiracy theories and revelations about the true meaning of the Grail. The veteran thesp has a lot of information to pass on in the film but does so in a very engaging way. When he finally exits so does the film’s energy. Therein lies the main problem with The Da Vinci Code: Keeping up the momentum. The novel is chockfull of exposition--pages and pages of historical information along with passages about the characters’ pasts. It’s great to read but to watch it unfold on screen could have been an excruciatingly boring experience. Goldsman and Howard have both admitted having trouble adapting the material trying to find ways to make the story more cinematic. But the Oscar-winning Howard has proven himself to be a highly capable director and gives Da Vinci Code the necessary touches interweaving visual re-creations within the narration. Salvatore Totino's glistening cinematography also accentuates the lush sets while Hans Zimmer's score pumps it up. Still at two and a half hours Da Vinci Code drags. It has to--you’ve got all the book’s theories to get out. It's true Brown’s imaginative opus for obvious reasons rocked a few boats when it was first published but it sold millions. It stands to reason the movie will do the same at the box office.
The networks are in rerun mode now, so think of this as your big chance to find out what’s on Fox. Hey, come on, we just kid Fox because we love 'em.
Actually, summer is the time for cable TV to pick up the slack and to prove it’s worth paying for, so let’s take a look at what they’ve got this week.
-- It’s steamy, ribald, often shocking, often funny and sometimes even poignant. It’s “Sex and the City” (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, Sunday) back for its third season on HBO. Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall head an ensemble of single, professional Manhattanites happily weeding through as many Mr. Wrongs as it takes to one day find Mr. Right. Women can usually relate pretty well, as these well drawn and varied characters always seem to be either picking up the broken pieces of their last relationships, or generating the broken pieces of the latest one. And for us men in the audience, “Sex and the City” can be frighteningly educational.
-- Of course, we realize that there must be a great segue from the manhunters above to this next item, but we’re going to ignore that and just jump right into “Quest for the Giant Squid” (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, Sunday, Discovery Channel). This is a one-hour documentary with an intriguing premise. We know that giant squid actually do exist in the deep, deep ocean because dead ones turn up in fishing nets all the time. But apparently no one has ever seen one alive, ever. Enter intrepid squid seeker and marine biologist Clyde Roper, his supercool one-man sub, Deep Rover, and a documentary film crew. If anybody can film this not-so-mythical beastie, alive, it should be this guy, right? “Quest” is a pretty entertaining hour, in the tradition of Discovery’s ratings giant “Raising the Mammoth,” but it does have one little problem. They don’t actually find any squid. Call us old-fashioned, but we would actually like to see a giant squid or two in our giant squid programming.
-- Outstanding actress and Oscar winner Holly Hunter gives another outstanding performance in “Harlan County War” (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, Sunday, Showtime). This well-written drama about coal miners in Kentucky striking over unsafe working conditions is a good example of premium cable putting its best foot forward. It’s gritty, intelligent and not flashy in the least. Network made-for-TV movies are never this good.
-- Meanwhile, on the other side of the world and the other end of the spectrum, Fox presents “Britney in Hawaii” (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, Wednesday). Twenty thousand screaming teens can’t be wrong, right? Well, what difference does it make, really? Britney Spears sings, she dances, she swims with dolphins, her new album “Oops! ... I Did It Again” recently debuted at No. 1, and she’s just red hot in general.
-- And finally this week, no one puts on more entertaining award shows than MTV. It seems to be able to avoid all the down time that plagues most award shows, cutting right to the glitz, glamour and fluff -- you know, the stuff we really want to see. So when the 2000 MTV Movie Awards (hosted by the aforementioned Sarah Jessica Parker) airs Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT, expect it to rock. By the way, tonight brings Broadway's Tony Awards (8 p.m. EDT/PDT, PBS; 9 p.m. EDT/PDT, CBS), as hosted by Rosie O'Donnell, but be honest, who really cares?