Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is on top of his game--he's the eponymous star of the highest rated kid's TV show Rainbow Randolph has his own Times Square billboard and makes lots of money. Until that is he gets caught taking bribes from stage parents. Suddenly he becomes the social pariah of the millennium and of course gets canned. Losing Rainbow Randolph however leaves the network in a bind. Now they have to find a squeaky-clean replacement pronto. Enter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his alter-ego Smoochy an abnormally large fuschia rhino who sings children's songs about kicking drug habits and stepdads who aren't mean but simply adjusting. With his naivete unwavering ethics and unflagging ambition to make the world a better place he becomes the new number one show. Sheldon soon learns however how cutthroat children's entertainment can be as the powers that be try to corrupt his ideals. Meanwhile a homeless Randolph makes it his number-one priority to destroy the bastard who stole his life. Who's going to get Smoochy first the corrupt businessmen or crazy Rainbow Randy? Stay tuned...
When you hear the Smoochy cast list--Williams Danny DeVito Jon Stewart Catherine Keener--you automatically think mondo laughs. Added to the list is Norton who may not be known for his comedic talents but certainly adds credibility to the movie especially given that he rarely picks bad scripts. Luckily no one disappoints. Norton plays the straight guy with aplomb and shines brilliantly when singing his sappy yet lesson-filled songs. Keener whom we haven't seen since her Oscar-nominated turn in Being John Malkovich is also a standout as the jaded development VP who falls for Sheldon's sweet manner. She has an uncanny way of delivering lines that bite to the bone. And then there's Williams--as always he has extraordinary moments of sheer hilarity in the film. This isn't one of those films where the comedian has to attempt to act or simply be reined in by the director (as some have done) to give a good performance. Director DeVito (who also plays the greedy agent) is wise enough to simply turn the camera on the comedian and let him go. Just wish we could have seen more of him.
Ever wonder what it would be like to kill Barney? We're betting DeVito thought about it quite often--and things never turn out good for that purple dinosaur. The premise of Smoochy is one of the funnier ones in recent memory and seems to follow the dark comedic path DeVito has chosen in his other directorial efforts including War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train. Unfortunately Smoochy doesn't quite hold up to its hype (or its trailers) because basically it focuses on the wrong character. It's got some great moments granted especially when Smoochy is on his show. But instead of being about Randy's obsession to do away with his replacement the film chooses to follow Mopes and deal with the dirty business of making a kid's show which appears to involve the Mob (whatever). Smoochy would have been a lot funnier if Randolph could have finally succeeded in his quest instead of getting all sappy.
January 31, 2002 5:51am EST
A group of high school seniors put a boy who is eager to become part of their clique through a cruel initiation prank that involves jumping off some sort of high scaffolding into a cloudy pool at a local cement factory. When one of them Landon (Shane West) gets caught the principal decides Landon needs to hang with a different crowd and assigns him to tutor kids on the weekend and take part in the drama club's spring play. Surprise-the plan works! In over his head with the play Landon seeks help from Jamie (Mandy Moore) a dowdy bible-thumper who apparently only owns one ratty cardigan. Jamie however is not your run-of-the-mill unpopular girl. Rather than being introverted and weird she is smart witty and confident-in fact that grubby sweater of hers seems to be the only thing branding her as an outcast. The two grow closer and Landon eventually sees her inner beauty forgoing his own A-list status to be with her. But Landon learns that Jamie has been keeping a secret from him that inevitably blocks their path to happiness.
Moore the underdog of the teen pop stars dyes her hair brown and dulls herself down for the role of Jamie a simple girl that loves to gaze at the stars in her spare time. She did a great job transforming herself into her character but in the process extinguished most of what makes her sparkle on screen. Mind you the script might be to blame for creating a character so unbelievably mundane and one-dimensional. Under all of Jamie's goodness and perfection is well nothing. West does a great job portraying his character transformation. Even while Landon runs with the bad crowd West conveys a sense of humility in the character. Peter Coyote plays Reverend Sullivan Jamie's over-protective father without being too overbearing which is refreshing. An almost unrecognizable and weathered Daryl Hannah has a small but convincing enough role as Landon's mother. Maybe it was her now-brunette hair but I didn't realize it was Hannah until I saw the credits.
In A Walk to Remember director Adam Shankman steered away from being overly sentimental. The relationship that develops between the teens is actually very sweet and interestingly enough the film ends up being more about Landon's transformation than about Jamie's faith. While the film is not as flaky as the rash of recent teen movies it still manages to fall into the same clichés. Though the story is very-dare I say-poignant characters like Jamie's in trying to be different have become a stereotype: The plain Jane whose personality and convictions win over the popular guy. Remember Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink? Or more recently Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) in She's All That? And though Moore has a beautiful melodic voice her singing scenes are too drawn out. We are not just treated to her crooning a chorus or two of a song during a church scene but the songs in their entirety. Even Mariah Carey spared us that much in Glitter.
December 21, 2001 8:07am EST
Jamal (Redman) and Silas (Method Man) have spent the last six years attending a two-year community college and smoking way too much marijuana. When their friend Ivory (Chuck Davis) dies after falling asleep with a lit joint loosely dangling from his lip and catching on fire Silas uses his ashes to fertilize one of his plants. Now it seems that whenever the two smoke weed from the special plant they get a visit from the ghost of their dead friend. When the time comes to take their THCs (that's Testing for Higher Credentials) Jamal and Silas light up and enlist Ivory's help to pass the tests. The plan works and the twosome's perfect test scores get them admitted into Harvard University. But the high times quickly take a nosedive when an on-campus security guard steals the spiritual plant. The two must now figure out how to stay at the highbrow institution and fulfill their dreams of developing pot in a real lab.
Method Man plays Silas a pot dealer with big dreams with Redman as his best friend Jamal. Because the roles are practically tailor-made with them in mind they are able to play their characters as written and bring much of their public persona to the screen. They also have great chemistry and literally light up any scene they are in together. With a shaky script to stand on these two easily carry the film. Lark Voorhies (Saved by the Bell) is convincingly sweet and natural as the poor but really smart girl and Silas' object of affection but Essence Atkins is too over-the-top and contrived as the U.S. vice president's daughter with eyes on Jamal. Obba Babatunde had some good scenes as the uptight but underdeveloped character of Dean Cain and there are some great notable cameo appearances by Spalding Gray as a professor of African-American history and rappers Cypress Hill as party deejays.
How High was produced by Danny DeVito's Jersey Films and marks Jesse Dylan's feature directorial debut. The movie has some extremely funny moments like the overly dramatic slow motion shot of Jamal's cheese doodle dropping onto Dean Cain's imported handmade rug and some great references that aren't too obscure to catch (does "Pass the dutchy from the left hand side" sound familiar?) But while the film has its creative moments it is marred by a superficial script complete with a not-so-funny pimp his sidekick and some stereotypical "hos." The story becomes a little too formulaic and lacks the sophistication of Ice Cube's Friday and the intricacies of Tamra Davis' Half-Baked. But as far as this comedies go How High--thanks mostly in part to Redman and Method Man--is entertaining enough to join the ranks of classic pot comedies like Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke.
Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as Ryan Dunne the first local boy to break into the Cape Cod Baseball League--a stable of college all-stars who descend upon the idyllic seaside town for the summer to duke it out for pro scouts. Ryan is a fairly talented pitcher but tends to choke at key moments in a game. He's got a dad (Fred Ward) and a brother (Jason Gedrick) who work blue-collar jobs and (in a typically clichéd fashion) don't want to see Ryan fail as they have. But even with all the competition Ryan still manages to make friends with rowdy catcher Billy "Bru" Brubaker (Matthew Lillard). To complicate matters Ryan gets involved with the lovely and--surprise!--rich girl named Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel) whose father (Bruce Davison) is none too pleased about his daughter's budding romance with the "boy from the wrong side of the tracks." The pressures are mounting. Will Ryan make it to the Big Show? And if so will we care?
No matter what he does Prinze seems to be in this teen flick rut. His Ryan may be the most complex character he has played so far but that isn't saying a whole lot. The actor has decent range and is capable of tackling heavier material. It's just time for him to grow up. Biel known best for her role as a troubled daughter on the family WB show 7th Heaven gets to stretch her wings here and does a good job playing an unspoiled rich girl who doesn't care what her family thinks. On the flip side Davison falls right into the villainous father figure role without trying anything new. Lillard underplays his talented slugger from USC yet manages to add a requisite amount of flair when needed. Still like his pal Prinze he needs to move on and join the big leagues. However a true standout is Brian Dennehy as the demanding but understanding coach. He is one of those actors you can always depend upon to give you a good performance.
The premise of the story in which the action is centered upon the Cape Cod Baseball League is different but the script never digs deep. Apparently the writers felt subtleties in a scene wouldn't adequately display the emotional impact needed so every cliché in the book is thrown right in your face. For example Ryan's embittered and widowed dad who has long given up his dreams will be damned if he sees Ryan fail. There are the typical barroom antics as well as the sneering rival pitcher (Corey Pearson) who wants Ryan out of the way. Or how about the "fast" girl in town (Brittany Murphy wasted in this role) with a heart of gold. You get the picture. It's clear director Michael Tollin enjoys the game of baseball. The film steps up a notch when the action is on the field. However many directors before him have portrayed the beloved sport better.
Now that word is out of Dr. Dolittle's ability to talk to animals his business is booming. Distraught pet owners ambush him outside his home and furry critters tap on his window during dinner all wanting some sort of advice. Joey the Raccoon has a special request: he has been sent by the God Beaver to solicit the doctor's help in saving their forest from developers. Dolittle reluctantly agrees to look for endangered species living in the forest so that the law can be invoked to protect it. He discovers Ava a lone Pacific Western Bear living in the soon-to-be-demolished forest and sets out to find her a mate. Enter Archie a performing circus bear. Dolittle convinces Archie that he would be happier living in the wild and to help the bear adjust to the wilderness the doc relocates his own city-dwelling family to the forest much to his teenage daughter Charisse's (Raven-Symoné) dismay. But the match between the two bears is not exactly made in heaven and when the plan backfires the animals organize and plot a worldwide strike.
Murphy seems lately to have traded in his adult-oriented comedy of the past (Beverly Hills Cop 48 Hours) for one that appeals to a younger audience (Dr. Dolittle Shrek). In Dr. Dolittle 2 Murphy is funny and comfortable enough in his role as the doc who can talk to creatures big and small but it is the animals that generate the biggest laughs. Smooth-talking Joey the Raccoon voiced by Michael Rapaport ( Men of Honor) positively steals the show with lines like "Mafia? We don't know anything about no Mafia do we boys?" The flighty voice of Lisa Kudrow who plays the endangered bear Ava is appropriate enough for the part but you can't help but wonder if it's Phoebe Buffay wrapped in a bear pelt. Norm Macdonald narrates the entire film as Lucky the Dog but the lines are surprisingly vacuous and Lucky spends most of his on-screen time peeing on things and making passes at wolves. A grown-up Raven-Simoné (The Cosby Show) returns to her role as Charisse Dolittle and is convincing enough as the brooding rebellious teenager fed up with animals clambering up her balcony and vying for her father's attention.
As with the acting the animals easily steal the show. The filmmakers use different methods to achieve realistic animal interaction including motion-control cameras that filmed the animals separately and later created a composite shot. Digital animation techniques animate some of the animal's mouths and facial features while others like Joey the Raccoon are completely animatronic and required several people to operate them during filming. These special effects must have burnt up most of the budget however because the outdoor sets with their moss-covered Styrofoam rocks look totally fabricated. The animals were amusing to watch and delivered good one-liners but they were mostly about defecating and bestial libido. Sadly not even the animal kingdom is able to transcend social stereotypes like Pepito the Mexican chameleon who gets excited at the mention of tacos or the French beret-clad monkey who is perpetually drunk. The film also portrays the life of a circus bear in a curiously positive light--unless they really do take bubble baths in swank accommodations--that clashes with the whole animal rights theme.
Nothing shimmered at the Dec. 5 premiere for "Diamonds" in Westwood more than the grace of star Kirk Douglas, who returns to the screen for the first time since his stroke in 1996.
The actor, who turns 83 today, plays a former boxer who takes his son (Dan Aykroyd) and grandson (Corbin Allred) on a road trip to recover 13 diamonds he stole and hid in Reno. The road trip includes an encounter at a house of ill repute overseen by Lauren Bacall, but ultimately becomes a bonding experience for the three generations.
For Douglas, who arrived with wife Anne, it was a perfect fit.
"It's a powerful role, but it's not a difficult role," Douglas said, his speech still affected by the stroke. "Because I play a man recovering from a stroke, and that's something I know something about. But I love the picture because it has so much humor and so much humanity, so I was very lucky to get the part."
The film pairs veterans Douglas and Bacall with young faces, including 27-year-old Jenny McCarthy, who plays a prostitute in the film and said she was very nervous about working with the screen legends.
"I wanted to make them proud," said McCarthy, sporting black curls for her next film role. "As an actress, it was really hard to be in the scene when I wanted to just watch the scene."
She calls working on the film "the most amazing experience of my life," but it's also in reference to her recent marriage to "Diamonds" director John Asher, 28, who says fell in love with McCarthy during a wardrobe fitting.
"It was literally like getting in a car accident, but it feels much better," Asher said of meeting McCarthy. "It just happens. You have to believe there's a soul mate out there."
The guest list was a Who's Who of classic Hollywood, drawing names such as Karl Malden, Cyd Charisse, Cathy Moriarty and Mariette Hartley. Sally Kirkland said, "Here's Kirk standing up for all stroke victims, saying ... if [he] has the courage to be an actor after that, then we all have the courage."
But for Douglas, a grandfather and father of four sons (including actor Michael Douglas), the spotlight is less about his return than the film's family ties.
"I have learned one thing. All fathers and all grandfathers: You do the best you can," Douglas said. "But you will never win. What I mean is, you will always make mistakes because in the last analysis, it's up to each individual.
"My kids are responsible for their actions, so you do the best you can. But you can never be a perfect father or grandfather. My sons can never be perfect sons -- although Michael came close," he joked.
"Diamonds," released by Miramax, opens for an exclusive one-week Oscar run Dec. 10.