The standard biopic plotline based on the life story of Carl Brashear follows the uneducated sharecropper's son (Gooding) as he braves 1950s-era racial discrimination for the right to risk his life in one of the most dangerous occupations in the armed services. At the Navy's elite salvage school in New Jersey master diver Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro) gives Brashear the "Officer and a Gentleman" treatment singling him out for special punishment at the request of the base's insane racist commander (Hal Holbrook). Will the hero overcome the obstacles in his path to becoming a master diver himself?
Gooding's glowing likability is the main factor keeping the film's saintly conception of Brashear from getting annoying fast. The one-dimensional character lacks a single flaw for an actor to grab onto but Gooding's enthusiasm is contagious (remember that Oscar speech?) and he gets surprising mileage out of it. De Niro's trademark intensity is put to only minimal use in a variation of the cantankerous drill sergeant part familiar from half the military flicks ever made.
George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food") delivers some effective if obvious action-drama in the film's first half which chronicles Brashear's tireless efforts to earn his Navy flippers. Unfortunately Scott Marshall Smith's screenplay gets a bit water-logged dealing with the hero's subsequent career both above and below the waves. (One key development closely parallels John Wayne's role as a Navy flier in another true story 1957's "The Wings of Eagles.) All this sets up a particularly weak courtroom finale reminiscent of another slew of movies including "A Few Good Men" and "Rules of Engagement."
Fahrenheit heats up box office
Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 broke single-day box office records at the two New York theaters where it played Wednesday, Reuters reports. The movie, which criticizes President Bush and the war in Iraq, sold $49,000 worth of tickets at the Loew's Village 7 theater, beating the venue's single-day record of $43,435 held by 1997's Men in Black, according to distributors Lions Gate Films and IFC Films, while at the Lincoln Plaza theater, Fahrenheit took in more than $30,000 to top the $24,013 set by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Lions Gate Films said the company debuted the movie in the two theaters to help build good word-of-mouth ahead its wider debut June 25 in 868 theaters.
And on to more record-breakers...
Bill Clinton's My Life sold more than 400,000 copies in the United States on in its first day of release, the most ever for a nonfiction book and double the believed previous record holder, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History, The Associated Press reports. Clinton's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, announced an additional printing of 725,000 copies, bringing the total to 2.25 million. Clinton's book has also topped the Amazon.com best-seller list in the United States, England, France and Japan, AP reports. Still, the record holder for the most books sold on one day belongs to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the Harry Potter installments, which sold an estimated 5 million copies on its opening day last year.
Crystal hits Great White Way
Billy Crystal is bringing his autobiographical one-man show, 700 Sundays, to Broadway in November, AP reports. The play marks the comedian first extended return to live performing in 16 years, in which Crystal portrays numerous characters drawn from his childhood, his teen years and adulthood. The title relates to Crystal's father, Jack, a jazz concert producer who died when the comic was just 15. "It's not a concert, but there are elements of that. It's deeply personal and liberating at the same time," Crystal explained to AP. "I've never been as excited about anything since I starting working in this play. It's been such a great energy at this point in my life, to be able to bring the show to New York."
Walters thinks today's journalists should follow upBarbara Walters criticized the current state of political reporting, Reuters reports. When asked whether journalists go too lightly on politicians, Walters, who steps down as ABC's 20/20 co-anchor in September, said, "No, I think journalists are tougher on politicians," she said. "One thing they don't do enough is the follow-up question." The veteran newswoman known for her in-depth interviews with celebrities, said she's looking forward to doing specials and reporting on people that she finds interesting once she leaves 20/20. "Even with the hideousness of the other parts of the world, we still seem to be in the throes of (celebrity culture)," she said. "People would still like to see Paris Hilton rather than Paris, France."
Celebs, musicians line up to raise money for John Kerry
Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Neil Diamond, Dave Matthews, Whoopi Goldberg and others are lending their support in raising money for Democratic candidate John Kerry, Reuters reports, by putting on two gala concerts on both U.S. coasts. A Los Angeles concert on Thursday, and a concert in New York on July 8 are expecting to raise about $10 million. Ticket prices range from $250 to $25,000 a seat. The two shows are the biggest political outings by the Democratic entertainment set since early 2003 when actors and musicians joined forces in opposition to the imminent U.S.-led war on Iraq, Reuters reports.
Playgirl magazine searches for sexiest TV newscaster
Anderson Cooper we could understand, but Andy Rooney? The 85-year-old 60 Minutes commentator is among the candidates on Playgirl magazine's online ballot for sexiest TV newscaster. "We're looking for all the elements that make the perfect guy--intelligence, personality and good looks," Playgirl's editor in chief Michelle Zipp told the AP Wednesday. "We know that 'handsome' is really in the eye of the beholder. We're anxious to see what the outcome will be." Among the 18 men on the ballot are CNN's Bill Hemmer, MSNBC's Lester Holt, Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith, ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw. The winner will be announced in September and profiled--fully clothed--in Playgirl's October issue. The magazine will make a contribution to a charity of the winner's choice.
Tommy Lee denies being forced out of Bellagio gig
So what exactly happened at the Bellagio's Light nightclub in Las Vegas on Sunday night? It depends on whom you choose to believe. Former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who was at the club for a disc jockey gig, claims he walked off 30 minutes into the Father's Day party because the management was asking him to play top 40 hip-hop songs. But the club's director of marketing, Sean Christie, is spinning a different tune. "He was playing lousy music," Christie told the Las Vegas Sun in Tuesday's edition. "We told him to wrap up his set and make a graceful exit. When he refused, we said we would just pull the plug on him, which is what we ended up doing." Christie added the club was bothered that Lee kept ordering $800 bottles of Cristal champagne and didn't pay for them, something Lee's publicist denied. Christie said he'd welcome Lee back if the 41-year-old drummer cleaned up his act, but added, "dealing with him was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had in this business."
Times they are a-changin' for Bob Dylan
Musical icon Bob Dylan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of St Andrews in Scotland Wednesday. Dylan, whose hits include Like a Rolling Stone and Mr. Tambourine Man, has only accepted one other honorary degree, from Princeton University in 1970. Dressed in a black academic gown, the 63-year-old rock legend arrived 50 minutes into the 90-minute ceremony and did not address the audience of 180 graduating students and their relatives. According to the AP, Dylan sat motionless, sometimes yawning, and showed no reaction as a university choir performed a version of his early classic, Blowin' in the Wind-- but his presence brought a strong dose of star power to Britain's third-oldest university.
Korn singer sued over serial killer museum
A collector of criminal artifacts filed a $4 million lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court on against Korn frontman Jonathan Davis after the singer announced plans for a museum of American serial killers. According to court papers obtained by Reuters Wednesday, Arthur Rosenblatt claims Davis, a former mortuary science student, approached him in June 2001 about his collection of "Americana," which included a Volkswagen once owned by serial killer Ted Bundy. Rosenblatt said when he told Davis of his plan to open a museum of criminal artifacts, the singer offered him $250,000 to fund the museum, which Rosenblatt suggested be named the "Museum of Justice & Odditorium." Rosenblatt alleges Davis and other partners never provided any money and that his life was threatened on various occasions.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.
With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.