Have you been avoiding The Bridge (Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on FX) because you heard it was a dark, creepy mystery with sociopolitical overtones and a fair amount of sudden, shocking violence? Well, okay, it is. But it's also a black-humored gem, with some of the wittiest laughs of the summer TV season, something you'd never guess from a promo like this.
The Office: Homicide Division
American detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and her Mexican counterpart Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) may be trying to solve a series of increasingly baroque homicides, but the overall vibe of the El Paso Police Department's homicide unit is closer in spirit to The Office than The Wire. Sonya has Asperger's Syndrome and does not pick up on emotional or social cues, which makes her maybe not the best choice to question a grieving husband shortly after he learns of his wife's death. Marco is the walking embodiment of Elvis Costello's old line "I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused," greeting each new twist with a philosophical shrug and a wry one-liner. Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine) oversees the squad with the kind of managerial spirit that knows exactly when to take the team out for greasy Tex-Mex diner food and when to profess ignorance. "I just Google-searched 'dialectics' and I still have no idea what it means," Hank grumps after the killer gives the detectives a hint about his motivations.
On The Other Side
Meanwhile, at the other end of an underground tunnel that connects Juarez and El Paso, there's diminutive drug cartel overlord Fausto (Ramón Franco) and his oversized henchman Obregon (Daniel E. Mora), or as I've come to think of them, Mutt and Jefe. Their conversation about the difference between serial killers and their own line of business, in which Obregon awkwardly explains that serial killers also tend to do...y'know...sex stuff...to their victims, as opposed to their own efficient gangland slayings, made my wife giggle so hard I had to stop the DVR until she composed herself. Mind you, they're very polite savage killing machines: if they pass you in the aforementioned underground tunnel carrying a dead body wrapped in a blood-stained carpet, they'll nod and say hello. Their mothers didn't raise them to be rude, after all.
Hey! It's Bobby Cobb!
Okay, this will only be funny if you also watch the sitcom Cougar Town, but really, you should be watching that anyway. The tunnel is on the property of new widow Charlotte (Annabeth Gish), whose first act after the death of her rich rancher husband -- other than sleeping with Marco, that is -- is to invite her sleazy, no-account ex-boyfriend Ray to visit from Florida. Ray is played by Brian Van Holt, who gives him the same mannerisms and line readings as his dim-bulb layabout Cougar Town character Bobby Cobb, only without Bobby's innate kindness. Don't get too attached to Ray, though: he immediately started running automatic weapons into Mexico in partnership with another Juarez crime figure, the imposing Graciela (Alma Martinez), and man, he is in way, way over his head. He's gonna die, violently. And possibly hilariously, knowing this show.
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What No Reservations needs is a smell-sensitive rat who can cook. Instead we get head chef Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a perfectionist who runs the kitchen of a swanky Manhattan eatery with an iron fist. Let’s just say she’s in desperate need of an attitude adjustment so in pops new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart) a free-spirited fellow who cooks by the seat of his pants. Soon he’s got the whole kitchen staff laughing and loving him way more than Kate. Nick tries to charm Kate too but she won’t have any of it. To top it off Kate unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her 9 year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies in a car accident. The understandably distraught Zoe is having a tough time and won’t eat any of her aunt’s highfalutin cuisine. The little girl only likes fish sticks—and as it turns out spaghetti a Nick specialty. Yes Nick finally melts Kate’s heart when he gets Zoe to eat a hearty bowl of spaghetti. You can see where this is going right? Love—and tomato sauce—conquers all. When you have two incredibly attractive people onscreen together you want the sparks to fly. Think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. True those two were falling in love for real but still it makes for a more fulfilling and cinematically romantic experience. But alas it doesn’t always work out and in No Reservations’ case the love story between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart deflates like a fallen soufflé. On their own they each hold up well: Zeta-Jones is good at being steely but emotionally stunted when it comes to matters of the heart while Eckhart’s easy-going charm and great smile make his Nick an obvious choice for any woman. Get them together however and things sag like a wet noodle. Too bad. Breslin is her usual cute self playing it a little more somber than she did in Little Miss Sunshine but the little actress ought to be careful not to pigeon-hole herself into the “eccentric but affecting” kid role. No Reservations also has another knock against it: It’s a remake of the German film Mostly Martha a far more stellar—and original—effort. Natch. Turning a hit foreign film into a studio picture rarely works out; something always gets missed in the translation which for No Reservations is surprising since Mostly Martha writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck is listed as the co-writer. What Nettelbeck did with Mostly Martha is revolve her story around master chef Martha (played brilliantly by Martina Gedeck) and her quirks and anxieties over suddenly having to raise a child. The love story with the Italian chef is more a pleasant surprise than the driving force. But of course with No Reservations the romance is played up for that certain chick flick appeal with two people who have no chemistry. Maybe Nettelbeck was lured into Americanizing her original. For his part director Scott Hicks (Shine) is definitely capable enough to carve out what he can from this predictable set up even adding some flair to the kitchen scenes but he can’t quite push No Reservations past its banality.
February 19, 2004 12:07pm EST
Mooseport is an idyllic little Maine town populated with equally idyllic folk including Handy Harrison (Romano) who owns the local hardware store and his veterinarian girlfriend of six years Sally (Maura Tierney). But Mooseport is also the vacation home of the former president of the United States Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) who after two successful terms in office decides the sleepy community would be a great place to quietly live out the rest of his days. But the people of Mooseport delay the president's retirement when they convince him to run for Mayor which doesn't sit well with Handy. Unbeknownst to the town council he's also put in a bid for mayoral candidacy. Certain he could never beat the former president in an election Handy nearly backs down--but when the ex-prez makes a move on Sally unaware she is Handy's significant other he decides to stay in the races for both mayor and boyfriend. Regrettably it might be too late for the latter since Sally resents Handy's commitment phobia and has accepted a date with the president in retribution. Oh but who will she choose? The campaign gets thorny when Eagle's ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) arrives in town to help with Handy's campaign and the president's chief advisor of 15 years Grace (Marcia Gay Harden) discloses she has feelings for him.
All eyes are on Romano known to TV viewers since 1996 for his portrayal of New York City sportswriter and father of three Ray Barone on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Welcome to Mooseport is Romano's big-screen acting debut and he does a fine job shedding his popular television persona for that of a small-town handyman. But while Romano successfully crafts a character devoid of any Barone family attributes that character Handy is as one-dimensional as a blank script sheet. His love interest in the film played by Tierney (ER's nurse Abby Lockhart) gets fleshed out a little more and--unlike Handy--her character actually shows thoughts and feelings. A dedicated veterinarian Sally is a tough and outspoken woman with a heart of gold and she's impossible to dislike. More engaging is the relationship between Hackman and Harden two veteran actors who make the most of their cookie-cutter roles. As the charismatic onetime leader of the free world Hackman does his best Bill Clinton while Harden seemed more inspired by Condoleezza Rice a consummate professional and the president's indispensable right-hand woman. Welcome to Mooseport doesn't tap into its supporting talents as well: Baranski as the president's ex-wife and Fred Savage as his fresh-faced PR director deliver the film's rare laugh-out-loud moments but they're brought in for a couple of zingers and then left out to dry.
Donald Petrie who made his directorial debut in 1988 with the Julia Roberts starrer Mystic Pizza has a flair for helming fluffy comedies that succeed because of their star power rather than their stories (read: 1993's Grumpy Old Men starring Jack Lemmon Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret; Sandra Bullock's 2000 comedy Miss Congeniality; and last year's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey). Now Petrie can add Welcome to Mooseport to the list. Although scribe Tom Schulman's (Dead Poets Society) screenplay is pretty imaginative his characters are unexciting and too goody-goody. Unfortunately the clever dialogue has been reserved for the supporting characters rather than its stars Romano and Hackman. Thus there are no bad guys to loathe (Eagle a career politician refuses to fight a dirty campaign) and Handy the underdog is too uninteresting to root for. Then there are all the unanswered questions: Where and how does Handy live? We only see him stacking shelves in the store and driving around in his truck. And why he hasn't made a commitment to Sally after so many years? While we find out somewhat at the end of the film why Handy has never proposed the revelation comes too late for us to care and until then the most personal thing we know about him is that he has a dog named Plunger.