Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
The Associated Press reports that Nicolas Cage and his off-again, on-again girlfriend Lisa Marie Presley were married in a private ceremony on a beach in Hawaii on Saturday. Hotel staff told The Honolulu Advertiser that Lisa Marie's kids--Danielle, 13, and Ben, 10--attended the ceremony along with her mother, Priscilla, and Cage's 12-year-old son, Weston. The marriage is not the first for the celebrity couple. Cage, 38, was previously married to Patricia Arquette for six years, while Presley, 34, was married to Michael Jackson for two.
Speaking of Nic Cage, his directorial debut, Sonny, will have its world premiere at the Deauville Festival of American Film in France, which kicks off Aug. 30, Variety reports. The drama, which stars James Franco, Brenda Blethyn and Mena Suvari, is about a man who is trained from early adolescence on all aspects of being a male prostitute, the family trade. Sonny will compete for the grand prize and jury prize at the 28th annual event.
One film that won't be making its way through the festival circuit is Nicole Kidman's The Hours, which will not be ready in time for this year's Venice Film Festival for technical reasons, the AP reports. The Miramax film, an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's successful novel, had been in competition for an award. The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 29-Sept. 8.
Multihyphenated entertainer Jennifer Lopez is teaming up with Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin to develop a film adaptation of the unpublished novel Dirty Girls Social Club, Variety reports. The novel, by journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, focuses on six college friends who reunite 10 years after graduating from college and continue to meet every six months.
New Line Cinema has tapped director Larry Guterman (Cats & Dogs) to direct the follow-up to the 1994 pic The Mask, which launched the careers of Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Son of the Mask is not being billed as a sequel, just a second installment of the franchise. Carrey and Diaz are not expected to reprise their roles in the film, which follows the premise of the character-altering mask.
Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart--a film was bound to happen. Marlee Matlin is teaming up with director Simon Gornick to produce and star in an action feature that satirizes contemporary corporate scandals, Variety reports. In Bad Ass, Matlin will play an accountant who stumbles across some information she shouldn't have, survives a hit by her bosses and tries to go after the execs that set her up.
Michael "Mikey" Houser, the guitarist for the rock band Widespread Panic, died Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, the AP reports. Houser was 40. He released a statement last month, explaining his illness and saying he would not participate in the band's summer tour.
Veteran rock band Aerosmith will kick off a three-month tour Tuesday in New Jersey, with some more appropriate acts in tow, Reuters reports. Among the supporting acts will be Run-D.M.C. and Kid Rock. Guitarist Joe Perry is hoping the acts will help erase fans' memories of the band's family-friendly version of "Walk This Way" at last year's Super Bowl, which included Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Nelly and Mary J. Blige.