The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

From 1959 to 1965, animator Jay Ward cooked up 325 episodes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle show, a crudely drawn but surprisingly clever cartoon about a goofy moose with a penchant for corny puns and his flying squirrel straight man. Together, they strained again and again to stop the evil schemes of Pottsylvanian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale and their fearless leader, Fearless Leader. The show was aimed to kids, but it’s obvious that Ward was also hip to older audiences when he poked fun at the Cold War and weaved always more elaborate puns so pathetic you couldn’t help but chuckle. And now, after 35 years of reruns, everybody’s favorite moose and squirrel are back for new adventures, and this time they’re on the big screen!

The movie takes off as Fearless Leader and his mischievous spies con a studio executive (Janeane Garofalo) into signing them a deal, which somehow leads to their arrival in the “real world”, no longer cartoons but three-dimensional characters played by movie stars. Robert De Niro seems to be having a great time going all-out zany as Fearless Leader (well, he did produce the film), but as for Jason Alexander’s Boris and Rene Russo’s Natasha, they sorta look the part but they seem to wonder what they’re doing in this silly, nostalgic romp. Anyways, Fearless’ evil plan this time around is to launch RBTV, a channel consisting solely of Really Bad TeleVision that will hook American audiences and transform them into mindless zombies. Fearless will them go on the air and tell them to vote for him as their next President, which they will do promptly in their brainwashed state.

But wait, there is still hope, as the head of the FBI (Randy Quaid) sends out wide-eyed, bumbling agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to save the day with the help of, you guessed it, our old friends Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, who have been living out in retirement in Frostbite Falls. The three are in for a wild ride through America, as they go from Hollywood to the RBTV station in New York. This road comedy will include numerous attacks from Boris and Natasha, a speech at Wassomatto U (say it out loud), smashed cars, incidents with justice, celebrity cameos from the likes of John Goodman and Whoopi Goldberg and of course, plenty of lame puns! “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” isn’t high art, but like that other adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon, the Brendan Fraser vehicle “George Of The Jungle”, it’s a colorful, amusing kiddy flick that you can enjoy even if you have hair in funny places. It sometimes drags, but it remains modestly entertaining, which is due in no small part to the cheerful, very sympathetic performance of Piper Perabo. Worth a rental, or a matinee if you’re a fan.

Addicted to Love

What a strange little film! I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to be. To give you an idea, it’s kind of a cross between “Cape Fear” and “When Harry Met Sally”! Boy, what a mix, eh! Maybe the filmmakers wanted to make a romantic comedy with an edge, but the more the movie advances, the more perverse it becomes, until the usual happy end. Hence, you don’t know how to respond to the movie. When you watch “Cape Fear”, you’re terrified by De Niro: it’s at thriller. When you see “When Harry…”, you get all sweet and you want them to end up together. But “Addicted to Love”?

Sam (Matthew Broderick) and Linda (Kelly Preston) seem to be a happy couple. They’ve known each other since they were kids, and they’re in love. Sam’s an astronomer, nice and unthreatening, who likes his life simple and comfortable. Linda’s a teacher, and she has dreams of her own. She would actually enjoy change, and when she meets someone during a trip to New York, she decides to break up with Sam and move there. But our little space boy ain’t ready to let her go. You could even say that he’s obsessed. He leaves everything behind to follow her to the Big Apple, where he settles in the abandoned loft in front of the apartment of Anton (Tcheky Karyo), the French cook who stole Linda’s heart. And then Sam meets Anton’s ex Maggie (Meg Ryan), and since they both want to break this couple, they decide to work together at stalking and messing with the lives of those they’re supposed to love. And while they’re doing that twisted stuff, they find love again… with each other. How romantic…

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how destroying the life of some innocent French guy with inventive cruelty and breaking the heart of his girl can make two people fall in love. It’s just sick! Sam and Maggie are nothing short of stalkers. De Niro has played this kind of character, but it was obvious that he was the bad guy and that you should be disgusted by his behavior. But this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, so we should feel love between the characters, not resentment. If at least Anton was a jerk and Linda was a bitch, maybe we would find it justified that the “heroes” are so mean towards them, but they’re just nice people in love. Is that a crime?

Besides that, the movie is rather enjoyable. First-time director Griffin Dunne uses plenty of stunning visual tricks, and his movie is always well crafted and dynamic. The music is particularly enjoyable, with everything from Cake’s Nugget to cool French songs like MC Solaar’s Victime de la Mode. So the movie’s fun for the eyes and the ears, but like I said, it’s really not romantic or much involving. It’s sporadically funny, but it’s mostly confusing.

Take Meg Ryan for instance. In most of her movies, she’s hella sweet, hella cute, hella lovable, hella amusing… But in “Addicted Love”, she plays a biker chick with dark eye shadow who spends the whole film being a bitch to her ex. Talk about odd casting. Matthew Broderick is a little more at his place. Even though we first watched him in 80s high school comedies, he has also been convincing in bleaker movies such as the overlooked but delightful black comedy “The Cable Guy” and in the brilliant satire “Election”. But these movies were supposed to be cynical. “Addicted to Love” might have worked as a black comedy with the necessary script and casting modifications, but under the romantic comedy label, it’s just a weird mess. Entertaing, but still a misfire.

Action Jackson

Oh man! I sure love those macho action films from the eighties! The master of this kind of film is of course Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of his best followers is Carl Weathers, the star of this film. In this kind of film, the plot ain’t important. Here, Jericho Jackson, sergeant for Detroit police, is after a rich auto executive. Of course, he has a sexy girl with him to whom he can talk about his investigation. There are also lots of cool bad guys. What’s great about these films is the machismo; in a film like that, a guy can run faster than a car, he can break a windshield with his fist, and he doesn’t care about pain. And, of course, if he’s in a showdown with his nemesis, he’ll drop his gun and fight that punk mano a mano!

Now, let’s talk about this movie in particular. The direction is very good and the action is fast. The music is excellent: I love 80s pop music ! The theme song is especially powerful. The cast is also brilliant for the genre: Weathers, Bill Duke, that Chinese guy, that big black guy, that Italian fella… The action scenes are very cool. But the best thing about this film is the main character : ACTION JACKSON! He’s almost as cool as John Shaft! He talks fast and he kicks ass, big time! I laugh every time someone says his name. One of the best example of this is when he meets the girl.
“What’s your name?”
“That sounds like a priest’s name… you have a nickname?”
“Yeah… People call me ACTION JACKSON!”

If you like testosterone, don’t miss this film!

À Bout de Souffle

Michel Poiccard’s not a regular guy. He’s French, but he wish he was American. He likes the American way of life, at least the one he sees at the movies. The big cars, the money, the cool look, the careless attitude… With his hat and sunglasses, Michel’s almost unstoppable. Basically, he’s no gangster. He goes from place to place, robbing cars, meeting people, banging girls… One day, he’s back in Paris. A friend of him owes him some cash, but he can’t get a hold of the guy. And the police is after him since he killed a cop who had stopped him on the road. Even worse than all that, Michel is actually… in love. A little American girl named Patricia caught his heart. Their relationship is weird, like Poiccard’s whole life.

And so is the film. There isn’t a real story. We just catch a slice of life of the characters. They wander around, they get together… The screenplay from François Truffaut is far from usual. We spend a lot of time with the couple, not to make the story go forward but just to get to know them. There’s a very long sequence in their bedroom that leads nowhere but is still absolutely fascinating. The dialogue is just so brilliant. Patricia and Michel talk about nothing and everything, exchanging their views on life. Jean-Luc Godard’s direction is really interesting too. His film has a cool feel of anarchy. Many scenes seem improvised. It’s all so natural. But at the same time, the visual style is original, and the loungy music is great. This is the exciting Godard of his debuts, when he was awestruck to can finally make some cinema of his own, in a way even today’s audiences are not quite ready for. The cast is very good. Jean Seberg is cute and very likable as the girlfriend, and Jean-Paul Belmondo is terrific in the lead. He’s a rebel yet a nice guy, a criminal yet a romantic. His performance in this flick is legendary. For all these reasons, I really enjoyed “A Bout de Souffle”. It’s as innovative as it is entertaining. It’s clever, hilarious, amazing… You just can’t miss this!

Changing Lanes

I can’t explain the sudden critical embrace this movie has received. Sure, it’s not quite the retarded revenge thriller the marketing campaign wanted you to believe it was, and it aims higher than, say, your everyday Jerry Bruckheimer production, but it’s still a not-so-smart, Swiss cheese slice of a morality tale about utterly unlikable people doing dumb and/or despicable things. Who’d want to watch that? A anti-hero is one thing, but these guys are anti-human!

So you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson downplaying the cool (à la “Die Hard with a Vengeance”) as a lower middle class insurance salesman with a drinking problem who wants only one thing: to get his family back. He thinks he has a shot, too, if only he can convince his ex-wife and a judge that he deserves visiting rights. Meanwhile, we’ve got Wall Street lawyer Ben Affleck, a Yuppie who’s really made it, working for one of the biggest New York firms, which just happens to be owned by the father (filmmaker Sidney Pollack) of his gorgeous wife (Amanda Peet). On this fateful morning (Good Friday, no less!), he’s got to present a file to the court which will give the firm power of appointment over a dead client’s 100 million foundation. Unfortunately, these two hurried men on a mission will clash on the FDR highway, as their cars get into a fender-bender. Jackson wishes to exchange insurance information, obviously, but Affleck just wants to get the hell away and just scribbles him a blank check.

Mmm. To me, this could end here. I mean, a blank check ain’t bad, why get insurance companies involved? Then again, Affleck does act like a dick and because of the incident, Jackson is late to his court hearing, arriving only to find that his ex has been awarded full custody. I guess you can understand him for being upset… To even the deck a little, Jackson already has something to get back at Affleck: the oh-so-important file, which was unwittingly dropped on the scene of the accident and picked up by Jackson. And thus begins a primitive and cruel game of cat-and-mouse between the two. I won’t tell you about all the twists and turns, even though the trailer did a good job of spoiling them, but personally I couldn’t buy most of it. First of all, why can’t Affleck just ask for the stupid file? Does he really think that screwing with Jackson’s credit and having him arrested in from of his sons will make the man want to co-operate? To me, all this would do is make me wanna burn the damn file right there!

Jackson is not much better. Initially, he appears to be the innocent victim, but soon we can see that he’s an asshole himself, the kind of impulsive jerk who beats up strangers on the street or throws a bank employee’s computer into a wall in a fit of rage! I don’t know about you, but actions like this make me lose all empathy for the character. And then comes the kicker, which you’ll remember as the money shot from the TV ads, where Jackson drives next to Affleck and waves some bolts and a tire iron at precisely the same time as a wheel on Affleck’s car comes loose. What a psychotic, criminal thing to do! This is not getting even, this is attempted murder! Furthermore, as this takes place on a busy highway, it’s not only Affleck’s life which is at risk. His out of control car could have crashed in a bunch of other vehicles, and lots of innocent family men could have been injured and make their kids orphans. Really smart move there!

Still, through all this madness, there is some attempt by director Roger Michell and screenwriters Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin to discuss matters of ethics and morality, which is certainly more than most Hollywood flicks are concerned with. “Changing Lanes” is also notable for rather solid performances from the leads and the supporting cast but as mentioned above, one central weakness remains: we don’t feel sympathy for either of the protagonists, therefore we’re not much involved or interested in what happens to them. When Jackson’s ex wife threatens to make sure his kids never see him again, I thought ‘Good, keep them far from this violent lunatic!’ And while Affleck’s character sort of redeems himself in time for the half-assed happy end, he commits too many devious, evil acts through the movie to be forgiven that easily. “Changing Lanes” had the potential to be a challenging, thought-provoking film, but it ends up an uneven, contrived picture. Better luck next time…

The Sweetest Thing

Damn! I get caught every time! Be it “Coyote Ugly” or “Crossroads”, I always succumb to the temptation of patronising lame girlie movies marketed with the promise of sexy jiggling. This flick is obviously tailored around the concept that Cameron Diaz is a perky hottie. It’s as if the filmmakers had watched her oeuvre and decided to do the ultimate Diaz movie, with the premise of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (but with Cameron in the Julia Roberts part), the gross-out gags of “There’s Something Mary” and even more booty shaking than in “Charlie’s Angels”! Couldn’t miss, right? Especially with Roger Kumble directing, in a follow-up to “Cruel Intentions”, one of my favourite guilty pleasures. Well, there’s little pleasure to be had here, guilty or otherwise.

Diaz stars as Christina Walters and, what do you know, there’s something about her. Guys go crazy for her all the time, unfortunately she’s afraid of commitment. But sshh! Her insecurities are hidden behind a “grrl power” facade, which she parades with all she’s got, getting her groove on every night in bars with her roommates Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair). In spite of it all, one evening she stumbles unto this Peter (Thomas Jane) “dick” and something clicks in her, yet she’s too indecisive to do anything about it and he gets away. This could end there, but in a spur of spontaneity, Court and her decide to track him out, as they know he’s gonna be at a wedding this Saturday…

Yeeesh. Am I the only one who’s fed up with these movies which try to make us feel bad for gorgeous women who just can’t seem to find Mr. Right? I actually have nothing against romantic comedies, but only when they’re done with wit and heart, like those of Cameron Crowe or Nora Ephron. “The Sweetest Thing”, on the other hand, doesn’t even own up to its “chick flickitude”. Hey, we gotta get those oh-so-valuable 13-to-35 male asses in theatres, too, so easy with the feelings! Girls can be retarded horn dogs too, right? In with the random profanity, bodily fluids ahoy! Let’s have Courtney pee in an urinal, and Jane bring in a cum stained dress to the dry cleaner, and Christina dive between Court’s thighs to retrieve a lipstick tube, but make it look like she’s going down on her, tee hee! Even worse, the film rips some gags right out of other movies, like having Diaz nostalgically push her breasts up like Madonna in “The Next Best Thing”, or an elaborate but tedious sequence revolving around a penis getting stuck that’s a mirror image from the infamous “There’s Something About Mary” zipper scene. And even if you point out your lack of originality yourself (“Wait a minute, do we have time for a movie montage?”), it doesn’t make it any less of a pile of lazy, unimaginative filler.

“The Sweetest Thing” is too dumb to be romantic, yet too sappy to work as a no holds barred comedy. It feels interminable at 84 minutes, plagued as it is with a predictable by-the-numbers plot balanced on an incredibly contrived pseudo-serendipitous twist, beyond generic direction and an obnoxious near-Muzak soundtrack. I never thought I could get tired of watching Cameron Diaz waving her butt around, but this utterly vapid movie did just that.

Y tu mamá también

“It Only Hurts When I Think”, reads the boy’s shirt. Two boys they are, and they don’t think too much, they’re too busy cracking each other up and having fun. Tenoch (Diego Luna) is the smallish, smart-ass teenage son of a rich Mexican business man, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is poorer but taller and better looking, which doesn’t really matter anyway, as they hardly bother to think about such things. They stick to the essentials: getting drunk, getting stoned, playing football (not the brutish American type), racing each other in the pool and, of course, having sex, or in the absence of willing girls, talking about it and jerking off! As the film begins, each of the young men is having goodbye sex with his girlfriend, whom are both leaving to spend the summer in Italy. They won’t have time to miss them, as they soon befriend Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a gorgeous older Spanish woman who happens to be the wife of Tenoch’s cousin. She finds them kind of silly, but after her husband cheats on her, she thinks “what the hell” and decides to accompany the boys on a ride in Julio’s beat-down car to Boca del Cielo, a heavenly beach…

Here’s a movie which takes on a few of the most familiar motifs of contemporary Hollywood cinema, such as the love triangle, the road movie, the teen sex comedy and the coming of age story, and manages to always feel sincere and refreshing anyway. I never got the impression filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón was going for showy effect or straining to set up a gag or trying to shove a message down the audience’s throat. Ultimately, this is sort of a message picture, one of those Oprah-ready movies about making the most of life, appreciating beauty, carpe diem and all that feel-better pap. Yet this overall theme only comes through clearly in the last five minutes, and even then it’s mentioned in a matter-of-fact way, not as a contrived life affirming message. There’s no big Oscar-friendly, overwhelmingly teary actor moment, no swooning music cue. All you get is the two guys sitting over coffee and chatting, and then Frank Zappa plays over the end credits and you just sit there, unexpectedly moved.

In the meantime, we just casually tag along with the trio through the Mexican countryside, with little or no plot getting in the way. It’s almost like a documentary (down to the sometimes distracting hand-held camerawork), where life happens without following screenplay conventions. It’s sometimes really funny, sometimes more serious… Whichever it is, it’s all very enjoyable, in most part because it all springs out of the characters and their interaction. Maribel Verdu is convincing as the woman caught between two horny young dudes, we can believe how she decides to play a little with them. But the movie truly revolves around the friendship between Julio and Tenoch, who are portrayed wonderfully by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

We really get the impression that these two have spent their lives together and that they have this incredible complicity. They’re close, very close, with apparently nothing off-limits between the two. One will leave the bathroom door open and keep talking to the other while peeing, they tell each other everything (or so they think), they even masturbate next to each other! They’ll get even closer on their vacation, as they lust for the same woman and eventually get to share her… Maybe too close, so much that all they can do is bounce apart. Yet while it lasts, we get to share this friendship through the camera’s voyeuristic, unblinking eye. While we’re spared genital close-ups (this isn’t porno!), the movie does feature a lot of full frontal nudity and sex. I liked how natural these scenes felt. For once, sexuality isn’t used for gross-out humour or highly stylised like most Hollywood love scenes, and it’s not exploitative and disgusting as in the movies of rambling feminist Catherine Breillat (“À Ma Soeur”) or dirty old man Larry Clark (“Bully”) either. This is not love, not rape, just real, lively (if quick!) sex.

“Y tu mamá también” (“And Your Mother Too”) is a real gem, full with the beauty of Mexico and its people, one of these movies where I want to jump in and live in these places with these characters. There’s only one cinematic “gimmick” when once in a while, the sounds fades out and an omniscient narrator gives some insights into the past and the future of places and characters. It’s odd at first, but it grows on you and adds to the overall feel of the movie, giving you a larger understanding of Mexican society and its less glowing aspects. I don’t think the sobering running commentary takes away from how sexy and fun a film this is, in fact it complements it. It makes it so you not only leave the theatre satisfied from having a few laughs, but also thoughtful about the evasive nature of life. “It Only Hurts When You Think”

The Godfather part III

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Godfather movies, but I do think that the original is a masterpiece, and there’s plenty to enjoy in the first sequel, despite the somewhat distracting double narrative. But with this third film, a much-afterthought made some twenty years after the others by Coppola when his career was down the sewer and he badly needed a hit, it’s harder to praise the trilogy as a whole. “Part III” is not a bad movie, just an unfocused, uneven one. It has its moments, and the powerful final 20 minutes alone make it worth seeing, but I wish Coppola had been able to use his preferred title of “The Death of Michael Corleone”, which would have identified it as an epilogue separate from its classic predecessors.

So we’re now in 1979, with Michael (Al Pacino) still the Don of the Corleone family but looking to finally severe all his mob allegiances. He’s spent some of the two decades since he ordered his own brother’s murder trying to redeem himself and his family, working to make the Corleone name legitimate. As the film opens, a 100 million dollars donation to the Vatican has bought him one of the highest honours from the Catholic Church, and he’s now looking to move all his business into Immobiliare, a European conglomerate currently overseen by the Vatican. Yet things won’t go that smoothly, of course, as the past keeps coming back to haunt him. Whether it’s crooks like Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who are unwilling to let him take his chips off the table or dirty Church officials trying to play him for a fool, everything is tempting him to resort to his old violent ways… “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

One of the biggest problems of “part III” is that Coppola and Puzo seem unsure of what story they’re trying to tell, or why these later adventures of the Corleone needed to be recounted at all. The whole Church shenanigans are bit hard to swallow. I do not doubt in the least that the Vatican has seen its share of corruption and fraud, and that it rubbed elbows with the Mafia, but in the context of this series of films, I don’t think it works. It’s a bit late in the game (after some seven hours of narrative!) to introduce a whole new bunch of allies and foes, and the fact that they’re supposed to be servants of God makes the whole thing feel awkward. I’m sure the picture would hold on better if it stuck to the general idea of Michael trying to go legit, with hard-asses like Zasa rocking his boat, even though this is almost all just more of the same we’ve seen before.

Even more than the mob hits, what’s most interesting about the “Godfather” movies is the way it portrays family. While most people don’t have to deal with violence on a daily basis, everyone can relate to the wide array of emotions one goes through with his relatives, as these are people who are around you through your whole life, through good and bad times. “part III” might suffer from occasional bad dialogue, hammy acting and ungraceful direction, but it remains interesting nonetheless because of our investment in these people. They’re almost like relatives of our own, as we’ve followed them for years. When we’re introduced to Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Sonny, there’s a special thrill in seeing how Andy Garcia has the same bad temper and cocksure attitude that James Caan had in the first movie. We’re able to understand Michael’s ambiguous feelings about recognising his late brother in his nephew, as we “know” him from the first movie ourselves.

Less effective is the depiction of Michael’s relationship with his children and their mother Kay (Diane Keaton). There’s some attempt to have Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosia) mirror the young Michael in his unwillingness to enter the family business, but he’s barely developed as a character. He’s just the singing kid, the excuse to bring the whole gang to Sicily to attend his first opera performance. As for Mary (played by Coppola’s daughter Sofia), she doesn’t do much either except engage in a not very convincing romance with Vincent: “I really love him!” “He’s your first cousin!” “Then I love him first!” Whatever. I didn’t buy Michael’s getting chummy with his ex wife either, how she’s all like, “I’ve always loved you Mike.” No you haven’t! You aborted his unborn son because you couldn’t stand what he had become, remember!?

Still, even though it somehow dilutes the impact of the first instalments, “The Godfather part III” retains enough of their qualities to deserve a viewing anyway, notably to watch another strong performance by Al Pacino, the true soul of the trilogy. He’s working with lesser material here than in the previous movies (the Godfather’s got diabetes now, for chrissakes!) but he remains engaging, and his climactic breakdown on the stairs of the opera house is wrenching.

Death to Smoochy

There’s a throwaway bit late into Kevin Smith’s “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in which a wigged out Will Ferrell barges in a taping of a kiddie TV show revolving around a dude in a bright coloured cow suit who does sing-alongs, and he accidentally shoots poor Mooby dead. That little Barney gag wasn’t particularly funny, but at least it was only 30 seconds out of a mostly hilarious picture. Now, imagine blowing up that one not so good joke to feature length and you’ll get an idea of what a bore “Death to Smoochy” is. Here’s a movie of which the extent of the comic output begins and end with its amusing title. See, Smoochy is a pink plush rhino suit who delights children with his silly songs, but it turns out that the kid TV business is a corrupted and ruthless one, and everyone wants him dead. That premise is actually pretty good, but it should be only a starting point, not one general idea which is stretched for 90 minutes with no punch-line.

So you’ve got Ed Norton as Sheldon Mopes, a naïve but overwhelmingly nice guy who sings ditties as Smoochy in methadone clinics until a bitchy TV executive (Catherine Keener) hires him to star in an after-school kid show in replacement of previous host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), who was revealed as a crook who took bribes by parents who want their children to go on his program. This doesn’t please Randolph at all, and he vows revenge on the damn dirty rhino who stole his time slot. Meanwhile, Sheldon must also fend off greedy agents, executives and merchants who want to use Smoochy to sell all kinds of junk. But his refusal to sell out pisses off a lot of folks, and he’ll have to be careful if he doesn’t want to get killed! Tee-hee.

From what I can tell, writer Adam Resnick and director Danny De Vito set out to make a black comedy but then they backed out and contented themselves with a lot of tired, harmless humour. Oh, there’s a lot of naughty words sprinkled into every line of dialogue, but all the crude language in the world doesn’t make it the wild, demented comedy it wants to be. And it’s certainly not gonna get laughs from its one-dimensional characters. Some people say that it’s nice to see Robin Williams letting loose again after starring in a string of touchy-feely pictures these last few years. Personally, I’ll take him in “Good Will Hunting” or even “Patch Adams” over this manic crap any day. Williams is extremely grating as the lunatic Randolph, always desperately hamming it up, doing stupid voices and coming up with lame ad-libs, anything for laughs that never come.

Ed Norton can’t make the lousy material funny either, but at least he’s likable enough as the idealist, innocent Smoochy, even though he’s only there as a target of mockery. Oh, he eats healthy food! He doesn’t swear! He’s not interested in money! What a dork, right? The movie seems to think so at first when it wants to be satire, but later it decides out of the blue to be a sappy feel-good flick instead and suddenly Smoochy is a role model, he warms the heart of Keener’s bitchy executive (and gets her into bed) and, worse, he helps Randolph have a change of heart. What a cop-out, black comedy my ass!

De Vito, who also plays a totally unnecessary role in the movie (as does Jon Stewart), does an atrocious job behind the camera. Even on the rare occasion that he stumbles into something remotely amusing, the comic timing is all off. Scenes go on and on long after any potential humour has burnt out. There are countless stupid songs, which culminates with an endless ice show where even the hit-man sent to kill Smoochy falls asleep! And then there’s the Irish retard and his family of thugs. What can I even say that can translate how utterly pointless and dull this stuff is… “Death to Smoochy” is a complete failure. It’s spectacularly unfunny.

Panic Room

Blah. It’s not that I expected David Fincher to top his “Se7en” or “Fight Club”. I didn’t expect his latest film to be anything else than what it aspires for, namely suspense. But Christ, who knew Fincher had such a pedestrian movie in him! It’s not a bad movie per se; it’s certainly well crafted and it delivers a few thrills here and there, but it’s sadly unmemorable nonetheless. That’s what shocking to me. Even Fincher’s “lesser” movies had things which stuck with you, be it the final twist of “The Game” or Ripley’s unexpected suicide at the end of “Alien³”. “Panic Room”, though, is bound to be remembered only (if at all) for some fancy camerawork.

Jodie Foster stars as Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who moves to a gigantic Manhattan house with her daughter Sarah (11 year old tomboy Kristen Stewart). A rich, paranoid old man used to live there, and he had a “panic room” installed, i.e. an impossible to open room equipped with security monitors giving a view of every corner of the building where one can hide in case of, say, an intrusion. And what do you know, on the very first night that Meg and Sarah move in, the house is attacked by three robbers! Thus begins a long, tense night the two locked in the panic room, while the thugs put to the test its alleged infallibility…

That’s it, that’s the story. We don’t even get to know the characters, though we do get a extended scene in which the girls take a tour of the house. I guess this is necessary to establish the geography of the premises of the remainder of the film but it also illustrates the film’s main problem: it’s more interested in its set than in its characters. I know this is just a cat-and-mouse thriller, not a psychological study, but by giving us almost no insight into who the characters are, it’s harder to invest ourselves in their ordeal. I didn’t find myself caring much about their well being. And anyway, they’re in an impossible to open room, what’s to fear?

Ok, writer David Koepp does have a few nifty twists in his bag to make things worse, but there are even more really dumb moves on the part of his characters and some rather contrived complications. This is the kind of movie where everything could wrap up in twenty minutes, but sheer bad luck or stupidity always comes in the way! Clueless neighbours, phones which don’t work, gullible cops… If that’s not enough, let’s make the daughter diabetic, that’ll screw things up! It might become ridiculous if it wasn’t for the actors, who generally manage to sell even the most preposterous twists. Foster is wonderful, of course, making the most out of a barely developed character. She looks great too; she was a few months pregnant when the film was shot, and she fills that tank top deliciously! I liked the bad guys too, even though they’re non-specific types. Jared Leto is good as the amusingly manic leader, Dwight Yoakam is appropriately menacing, with or without his ski mask, and Forest Whitaker is compelling as a thief who can’t quite forget his kind nature, which makes him sort of a tragic figure.

The solid cast puts “Panic Room” above the usual straight-to-video thriller fare, as does Fincher’s distinctive visual style, with sombre, gorgeous photography and inventive shot composition. There are a few jaw-dropping seemingly unbroken sequences where the camera travels around the house, passing smoothly through walls and ceilings, zooming into minuscule details and setting up perfectly who is doing what and where. The sound editing is sharp, and the Hermannesque score by Howard Shore is effective. Yet, no matter how technically superb the film can be, it’s oddly devoid of tension. It rarely ignites, and what sparks we get are few and far between. For an average filmmaker, this might be a nice addition to a résumé but for Fincher, this is a disappointment.