In this innocuous PG comedy Charlie (Eddie Murphy) and his business partner Phil (Jeff Garlin) lose their jobs at an advertising company after their attempts to market a vile tasting vegetable cereal goes bust. Charlie's family could probably live comfortably on one income since his wife Kim (Regina King) is an attorney but they have become accustomed to a higher quality of living with their prized Mercedes-Benz in the driveway and their 4-year-old son Ben (Khamani Griffin) enrolled in the exclusive Chapman Academy. When Charlie and Kim contemplate enrolling Ben in a more affordable school they find the alternatives deplorable. Without a job and in desperate need of day care for Ben Charlie comes up with the idea of running a day care service out of their home. With a little help from his pal Phil Daddy Day Care gets underway. But when the Chapman Academy starts to lose students to this new rival taskmistress Mrs. Harridan (Anjelica Huston) does everything in her power to run Daddy Day Care out of business no matter how unethical.
This movie is a cakewalk for Murphy who in his later years has turned to somewhat softer comedy compared to his '80s heyday with 48 HRS Trading Places and Eddie Murphy Raw yet this type of comedy suits him just as well. But while it is nice to see the 42-year-old comedian playing more mature personas on screen Daddy Day Care does not give Murphy enough witty material for him to really sink his teeth into. In The Nutty Professor for example Murphy donned a fat suit and layers of special-effects makeup and brought to life a character that was hilarious yet incredibly endearing. Here Murphy's Charlie is a much simpler character and the actor gives most of the film's laughs to cast members under four feet tall. Out of the multitude of children who star in the film Griffin who plays Charlie's son Ben definitely outshines his little comrades. Sure he's over-the-top cute but this little boy is also pretty sharp. As Murphy's sidekick Garlin provides predictable slapstick humor but Steve Zahn who plays Marvin a Star Trek aficionado who comes on board to help run the day care center easily delivers some of the film's funniest moments.
Directed by Steve Carr Daddy Day Care is a guiltless straightforward comedy bound to make any parent chuckle a light and fluffy flick that nevertheless fails to take Murphy's comedic talent out of first gear. But while Murphy does not deliver the more vulgar laughs moviegoers have come to expect of him his character Charlie at least does not fall into the conventional stereotype of the diaper-phobic father; he may not be perfect but he is an affectionate parent who is genuinely involved in his son's life. And although scribe Geoff Rodkey's screenplay is peppered with predictable potty training humor and the obligatory kick-in-the-groin scene it wedges in a decent amount of funny moments as well. Some of the best scenes revolve around the kids. Take the boy that no one can understand--including his mother--until Marvin discovers that the 4-year-old is actually speaking Klingonese. (Turns out Marvin learned quite a bit from Dr. Spock's book on childcare which he was surprised to find out was not about Star Trek.) Carr's Daddy Day Care is not as clever his last pic Dr. Dolittle 2 and it's much tamer than his Next Friday but it is cute and harmless entertainment.
February 21, 2003 11:09am EST
In March 1991 TV stations repeatedly broadcast an amateur videotape of LAPD officers kicking and clubbing Rodney King an unarmed black man. A year later an all-white jury acquitted three officers involved in the beating inciting a riot that killed 54 people and destroyed much of South Central Los Angeles. Dark Blue is a gritty police drama that unfolds in the four days leading up to the verdict. The story revolves around veteran cop Eldon Perry Jr. (Kurt Russell) who does what he needs to do to bring someone to justice even if it means planting a gun--or drugs--on a suspect. But police intimidation and corruption doesn't sit right with his rookie partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). Their ideologies clash when the two are assigned to a high-profile quadruple homicide and receive orders from a high-ranking member of the LAPD to pin the crime on innocent suspects in order to appease the public. Keough contemplates going to Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) the only black man in the department about unfair police practices but is worried about going up against such a tight brotherhood. This cop flick is disturbingly realistic--which unfortunately is also its weakness. It tells us what we already know: that the history of the LAPD is meshed tightly with racism and corruption.
Dark Blue's Perry is a vulgar hard-drinking and unscrupulous cop--and Russell (3 000 Miles to Graceland) does a great job embodying the character. He swears knocks back drinks and smokes cigarettes like he's been doing this since birth. In fact Russell creates such a despicable character that I hoped he would get his ass kicked by rioters. As his naïve partner Keough Speedman (Duets) is a little bland. Keough redeems himself by rising above the police department's practices but Speedman's character is almost too nice and fresh-faced to be a cop in a city like L.A. As Deputy Chief Holland Rhames (Undisputed) is well cast but unfortunately the character is so one-dimensional that he doesn't make for a very passionate hero. The problem here is not the acting but the film's characters which are too simply drawn. Keough for example is not only unprejudiced he's politically correct--he has a black girlfriend and gets offended when his big bad partner uses the "n" word. And Holland is not only honorable he's a churchgoing community leader. It's not that these characteristics are bad but they are certainly tautological and stereotypical by movie standards.
If this movie sounds a lot like Training Day it's because scribe David Ayer wrote both of them. Unfortunately Dark Blue's characters are drawn with such a heavy hand they reek of clichés and are a far cry from Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke's complicated and well-developed characters in Training Day. Director Ron Shelton found success with the 1988 hit Bull Durham and--with the 1994 sports drama Cobb--proved that he could deliver character-driven movies that were well worth watching. Despite the rigid characters he manages to deliver a straight-up dirty-cop movie that effectively mirrors the LAPD. (Is Holland for example the film's take on former LAPD Chief of Police Bernard Parks?) Shelton achieves the film's true-to-life feel by leaving out slick car chases explosions and shootouts and paying closer attention to sets such as Perry's unadorned house and the clunker he drives. There are some great scenes towards the end of the film when Perry is driving through South Central as the riots--which caused an estimated $900 million in damages--break out. What's even more chilling however is the lack of LAPD presence at the riot epicenter.
October 19, 2001 5:57am EST
The film opens with prison warden Colonel Winter (Robert Redford) greeting the highly respected General Irwin (James Gandolfini) at the start of his 10-year sentence for disobeying a presidential order. When they meet Irwin makes a snide remark about Winter--a non combatant--proudly showcasing military trinkets and memorabilia in his office. The comment instantly touches off a power war between the two which ends with Irwin threatening to take over the prison and flying the American flag upside down--a symbol that the castle has fallen. Winter rises to the challenge and the two begin their strategic plotting. Irwin wins the respect of his fellow inmates in an overly drawn scene where he is forced to carry large stones from one pile to another in the prison courtyard and forms an army of inmates using clichéd chess tactics to demonstrate his assault plans. Winter meanwhile watches from his cozy office overlooking the courtyard as if he was watching a reality series on a big-screen TV.
The highly regarded General Irwin is a simple solemn type which unfortunately is what is fundamentally wrong with the film. While Redford does the brooding thing quite well the script never calls for him to do anything more than that. James Gandolfini takes on the role of prison warden Colonel Winter with fitting simplicity. He accentuates Winter's dumb-thug persona by over-enunciating his words and speaking in an unnaturally slow manner. Redford and Gandolfini both churn out great performances but it would have been more rewarding had the script called for their characters to be more well-rounded. Steve Burton plays Winter's right hand man Captain Peretz convincingly considering what few lines he has. His body language facial expressions and dialogue manage to convey his character's thoughts even when his lines don't.
Directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender) The Last Castle is a well-paced story without a dull moment. It concludes with a dramatic and exciting climax but the problem is it's just too simple. While it's easy to get caught up in the story it's hard to buy how easily the inmates are able to take control of such a heavily guarded maximum-security prison. Using cafeteria trays as shields is one thing but hurling stones using a giant catapult that somehow went unnoticed by prison security is hard to swallow. So is the fact that these inmates a group of hardened criminals cooperate so easily with hardly any friction. While it could have been a very emotional story it fails because the characters are one-dimensional and never really explored including the two main characters played by Redford and Gandolfini. One is a great strategist and the other draconian but viewers are left to guess why and how they got that way.