The Painted Veil is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel about British colonialism in China. The film's cohesion is largely helped by a user-friendly script from Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) who tackles amorphous movie-unfriendly themes like emotional longing. We meet Walter Fane (Edward Norton) a lovesick middle-class bacteriologist who spots Kitty (Naomi Watts) an upper-class socialite approaching the upper limits of marrying age at a party. Walter not smooth with women woos Kitty with his intensity and persuades her to join him in cholera-stricken China. With a wandering eye Kitty is soon caught in a lusty affair with a local British diplomat Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) but Walter eventually forgives her but imprisons her in the desolate green south China countryside. The film's crucial problem is its setting of a Western-centric love story on top of a palette of Chinese human death and disease albeit framed beautifully and exotically. Norton and Watts take producers' credits as well. The actor pushed for years to get The Painted Veil made painstakingly and authentically co-produced with the China Film Board. These facts hint at the commitment and intelligence Oscar nominees Norton and Watts bring. Norton always impresses and surprises. Each role in his resume is tasty in its own way a wholly new creation and never derivative. In Norton's previous film The Illusionist he was a similarly powerful opaque character from a far away time and place. Although sometimes seeming she’s on autopilot Watts is also brilliantly underrated as the conflicted Kitty who doesn't love the man she married even though he loves her as much as she loves herself. Her tricky darting eyes mixed with uneasy body language tells us we don't know what to expect other than that she'll probably sabotage herself. Toby Jones--who played Truman Capote to critics' acclaim in Infamous--does a provocative turn as the mysterious opium-smoking neighbor. The Painted Veil falls short of greatness when the second half crumbles into laziness right when the emotional impact should be the strongest. Director John Curran is relatively untested ( We Don't Live Here Anymore) especially with difficult material and he stumbles a bit in this ambitious drama. Veil's storytelling meanders with a few unnecessary scenes. Lame mini-montages lapse into TV movie territory. Attention to detail however (minus Norton's highlighted hair) is superb. Four exquisite wisely picked Chinese locations were used in concert with local actors and crew to produce an internationally representative work of Chinese/American art. Interior sets are post-WWI prudish and upper-class underlying the movie's "painted " hidden ideas. Old-world rickshaws and water systems are true to the time. The haunting soundtrack feels postmodern and contemporary. But overall like last year's disappointing Memoirs of a Geisha the mish-mash of American and Asian story themes doesn't quite work.
January 30, 2004 2:33pm EST
Best friends David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston) earn a living dancing in competitions against rival dance crews in a local warehouse owned by Mr. Rad (Steve Harvey) who keeps the challenges clean and organized. Basking in their recurring success David and Elgin are approached by an Orange County crew for a dance-off with a bigger payday than they are accustomed to: $10 000. The only catch is that they would have to put up half that money in advance which they scrape up at the last minute thanks to Elgin's grandmother. But the OC crew plays dirty steals their moves and wins the competition leaving David and Elgin with a huge debt to repay. To come up with the dough they become runners for a local drug dealer--a job that doesn't pay off when Elgin gets robbed and beaten while transporting a large sum of money. He blames David for the attack since his buddy was too busy cozying up to his Princeton-bound sister Liyah (Jennifer Freeman) to have his back. Now the only way Elgin can repay his grandmother and the dealer is to win "The Big Bounce " an MTV-sponsored dance competition with a $50 000 purse. But Elgin and David's falling-out threatens their shot at the big time.
The majority of the cast in You Got Served are onetime members of the boy band B2K (an acronym for Boys For 2000) an R&B quartet that includes Lil' Fizz J-Boog Raz-B and Omarion. Houston a solo artist whose single "Smile" is included on the film's soundtrack is Omarion's older brother and with recurring role on UPN's Sister Sister is probably their only castmate with any real acting experience. That seems to have helped Houston however whose character Elgin has the most emotional range of the bunch: Sweet funny bitter angry and at times apologetic. His co-star Omarion goes over the top with the puppy-dog-face thing but let's face it teenage girls across America will swoon over just that. But despite some amateurish performances it is apparent that these heartthrobs did not take themselves or their roles too seriously and their lighthearted performances make their characters so darn likeable. More to the point the performances in this film depend more heavily on the dancing than the acting and in that department both Houston and Omarion thrive. The film also features Harvey in a demure role that doesn't do anything for the comic actor and cameo appearances from Lil' Kim and hottie Wade Robson. But the prize for the most irritating performance of all goes to MTV VJ LaLa who plays herself as "The Big Bounce" host and whose shrieky voice will have you scrounging in your pockets for aspirin.
Chris Stokes makes his directing and screenwriting debut with You Got Served and giving members of the B2K hip-hop ensemble starring roles makes sense; after all he was the band's manager. While this casting choice was weak in terms of acting it was a solid pick in terms of the film's dance theme not to mention fan fare. Although B2K split up last month the group still has a stranglehold over the young ladies. Besides it's a given that moviegoers aren't expecting great performances or a gripping tale from You Got Served just some awesome dancing which is where this film really delivers. Sure some scenes belong on the editing room floor especially one in which David and Elgin practice their latest moves shirtless in an alley at night during a rainstorm. But with dance sequences making up more than three-quarters of the film it still moves along at a fast pace and is surprisingly entertaining. The film's amateurism however rears its bopping head when scenes stray from these awe-inspiring dancing sequences. In these instances the dire acting skills of its young cast and the sappy dialogue become more obvious not to mention the director's overuse of fade-outs from scene to scene; you'll half be expecting a commercial break.