Another feature of...
Recently Entertainment Weekly released their Summer
Movie Preview issue. Here are my thoughts on upcoming movies. I should
note that I prefer to know as little as possible about films I intend to
see. So I might well not be up on all the bandied gossip on most of the
films mentioned below.
X2: X-Men United (May): Kicking off the Summer Season, this has the advantage of following a solid but unspectacular entry. And while some new characters are being introduced, the bulk of the exposition was already delivered in the first movie. Therefore there’s a quite decent chance for this chapter to be a better film. Certainly Hugh Jackman must be looking forward to it. After following up X-Men with the desultory Someone Like You, Swordfish and Kate & Leopold, he could really use another blockbuster under his belt. My advice for him would be a period adventure movie, like Russell Crowe’s Gladiator. (And no, I’m not counting his upcoming Van Helsing.) Halle Berry remains miscast as Storm, and Famke Janssen and James Marsden remain pretty colorless. Still, with such a surfeit of characters that’s not really a problem. Certainly a cast that includes Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen more than compensates. As well, the additions of the always interesting Brian Cox, along with Alan Cumming, who’s a perfect choice for Nightcrawler, promise good things. This should really be pretty cool.
The Matrix Reloaded (May): The buzz promises a mind-blower here. The only question is whether this, the third Matrix movie due this November or the concluding chapter of The Lord of the Rings will be the year’s biggest film. I’ve purposely avoided learning much about this one. It’s really too bad that Jet Li turned down a role here in order to headline in the lame The One. That pales, however, compared to the tragic death of young pop singer Aaliyah, who had been set to appear in this. Other than that, however, all systems are go. Basically I have to spend the next month ready to quickly change the channel whenever a commercial for this pops up on the telly.
The Hulk (June): The picture us comic nerds are counting on to be a really good film. C’mon, Ang Lee, show ‘em how it’s done. In a year packed with certifiable, can’t miss blockbusters, this one’s success will only be limited by how well it delivers. The relatively unknown Eric Bana—that’s right, put the money on the screen in these things, not in the cast—should be fine as the gamma irradiated Bruce Banner. And while I appear to be one of the few guys who doesn’t find Jennifer Connelly all that attractive, she certainly has the acting chops required to acquit herself as the film’s heroine. Bonus points for hiring the ever-crustier Sam Elliott, who’s a top notch choice to play Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross. Meanwhile, more people will see Nick Nolte in this than his last ten movies put together. This is the film that will demonstrate what the 1998 Godzilla could have been had Devlin and Emmerich not felt themselves above the material.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (July): Sans Jim Cameron, this could be a major disappointment. (Or even with Cameron, who’s begun that midlife career slide almost all genre directors go through. Compare the bloated True Lies and Titanic to The Terminator and Aliens and you’ll see what I mean.) With the proficient but stolid Jonathan "U-571" Mostow taking over the helming duties, a fabulous script is a must, but sadly nowhere near a certainty. Schwarzenegger is back as the oddly aging android, again programmed to protect John Connor from another Terminator unit out to kill him. This time the bad robot’s a 'female.' Along with Cameron, we’ll sadly miss Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. Moreover, troubled actor Edward Furlong as been replaced as John. For this one to smash its way through the pack, it’ll have to be quite a bit better than I’m anticipating. Still, who isn’t crossing their fingers for Arnold’s return to his greatest role? I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Arnie hang up his actor’s hat after this one, though. He strikes me as someone who likes to get out on top.
Big Movies/Some I’ll See, Others I Won’t…
Finding Nemo(May): This year’s Pixar animated movie, which is about all that needs to be said. A timid father fish has his son go missing and heads off to find him. I like ocean pictures, so it’s a pretty solid bet I’ll see this. Assets: Albert Brooks voices a character, as does Brad Garrett, who’s a natural for this sort of thing. Debits: So does Ellen DeGeneres, who I have never found very funny. Still, that’s a minor quibble.
Daddy Day Care (May): Assuming they’re at all well made, I like a cute comedy as much as the next guy. And ones with kids or big dogs more than some. Eddie Murphy movies are always a crapshoot—usually literally—and he’s in a real bad place right now, career-wise. Let’s just not overdo the potty humor, please. Assuming he can rein that tendency in, this could be a modestly successful twist on Mr. Mom. (Although that’s probably a vain hope.) If the reviews are good on this, it’ll be a good palette cleanser for the summer’s heavier cinematic fare. As for the presence of Angelica Huston, time will tell whether this heralds an unexpected touch of class or merely an actress slumming for a paycheck.
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (June): Hey, the first one was fun. Which means…absolutely nothing. In fact, if one should be wary of any major movie this summer, this is it. It does accrue bonus points for bringing in Bernie Mac to replace the disenchanted Bill Murray. And super extra bonus points for the lack of any Tom Green-related content. On the other hand, having a slate of star cameos usually sounds more amusing in theory than it proves out in practice. It’s not impossible for them to pull this off. Still, the first one was probably a fluke, and had the advantage of everyone assuming it would suck. This one, in contrast, isn’t entering theaters as an underdog. Some films you shrug off until and unless they reap a much better series of reviews than you anticipated. This is one of those.
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (July): Didn’t catch the second one—luckily, that’s what DVDs are for—but I wouldn’t be averse to seeing this one. As a b-movie buff, it’s heartwarming to see a filmmaker like Robert Rodriguez, who can kick out a very nice series of inventive and entertaining pictures over a comparatively short period. Even so, if they do another of these, they’ll probably have to find some new ‘kids.’ Assets: Ricardo Montalban is in the casa! Debits (?): Sly Stallone attempts to right his career skid by playing the villain. My guess is it’ll provide an upward blip at best.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (July): DreamWorks’ animated follow-up to Shrek. Here’s an EW quote I strongly take issue with: "DreamWorks learned [to hire stars to provide ‘toon voices] with it’s computer animated Shrek…[in contrast, the star bereft] Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron stumbled out of the gate." Here’s a better lesson to take from those two flicks: Make your films fun, instead of getting all earnest and preachy. Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones do voices. Which brings us back to my other point. Mike Myers is not only a ‘star,’ but a genius at creating memorable characters. He was largely responsible for the Shrek we all came to know and love. Pitt, however, while talented, is basically just an actor. He’ll read his lines, and chances are that will be the end of his input. Still, animated sea monsters are always cool.
S.W.A.T. (Aug): What can I say, I grew up in the ‘70s. I used to have the S.W.A.T. theme on vinyl and probably played it about five hundred times. Let’s just hope the villains aren’t the obligatory white supremacist militia guys or something like that. (Although if not, that’ll probably be what the sequel’s about.) Plus, hey, you gotta love Samuel L. Jackson, even if he makes a lot of crap. LL Cool J, meanwhile, usually delivers a nice piece of acting himself. Although I wonder if I’m the only guy not getting the Colin Farrell thing. Director Clark Johnson starred in the superior Homicide TV series and directed the pilot episode of The Shield, so he knows his material. This might suck, I suppose, but I’m really hoping it’s this year’s Shaft.
28 Days Later: Flesh-eating zombies again. Amazing how video games have augured the renaissance of this previously moribund genre. Supposedly quite bleak and thoughtful, as opposed to, say, Resident Evil. No surprise there, as the film was made by the dude who directed Trainspotting. (!!) Buzz is strong. It’s the art house zombie movie we’ve all been waiting for!
Freddy vs. Jason (Aug): Good grief, did this finally get made? Slasher buffs are irate over the absence of Kane Hodder, although as a non-fan it’s hard for me to care who plays a lunk like Jason. Having said that, though, I will allow that not hiring Hodder is sort of weird. I have never understood how this pairing would work. Freddy is a sophisticated, boldly intelligent creation, Jason…isn’t. Nor do I have overmuch faith in director Ronnie "Bride of Chucky" Yu. For this to work the script will have to be gangbusters, and they’ve been whacking away at it for over a decade. If this works it would be a miracle. But hell, who isn’t keeping their fingers crossed anyway?
Highwaymen (Aug): A serial killer travels the roadways of America, running down women as he goes. Then he kills the wife of Jim Caviezel. The latter begins tracking the killer’s mobile murder spree, seeking revenge. By the director of the brutal The Hitcher. Joy Ride redux? Time will tell. Still, mysterious killers and lonely highways are a generally fruitful combination.
Jeepers Creepers II: More monster mayhem, same pedophile director. (No, not Roman Polanski.)
The Medallion (Aug): An aging Jackie Chan continues his sad, if inevitable, descent into the realm of wirework with this entry. Another of his patented, if increasingly wearisome, "action comedies," it sounds quite similar to The Tuxedo. Only here the super-scientific tuxedo that gives him superpowers has become a mystical a magical medallion. Hey, though, at least it doesn’t costar Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Would See If Things Worked Out That Way…
The In-Laws (May): Not a remake of the old Peter Falk/Alan Arkin film, so that’s in its favor. Plus it stars Albert Brooks, although he has a mixed record in other people’s movies. Co-stars Michael Douglas and (huh?) Candice Bergen. I’m a little leery of them pushing it as this year’s Meet The Folks, though.
Johnny English (July): I enjoy Rowan Atkinson best in small doses, and another spy spoof doesn’t seem all that necessary at this point. Still, better than a poke in the eye, I guess. Bonus points for odd casting of John Malkovich.
Hoping They’ll Pull It Off…
The Italian Job (May): I love a good heist film. I hope they just remember to make ‘em fun. On the plus side, Mark Wahlberg’s a good actor and has screen presence, while it never hurts to get another look at Charlize Theron. Ed Norton’s a good actor, too. I just hope this is better than his previous heist film, The Score. Bonus points for hiring vet thesp Donald Sutherland. Filmboy over at Stomp Tokyo has a review here.
Seabiscuit (July): Tobey Maguire is an unusually tall jockey in this bio-pic of a horse and his rider. Seabiscuit’s tale has inspired a reportedly fascinating book and a great PBS documentary. Let’s see if it can win the triple crown. Bonus William H. Macy points, and having Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges in the film doesn’t hurt.
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (June): A film us nerds would love to be blown away by, but the buzz ain’t good. Pluses: Adapted from a typically brilliant graphic novel by Alan Moore. And Sean Connery is perfect for the aged Allan Quatermain. Minuses: Moore’s book has, of course, been witlessly screwed around with. (Tom Sawyer was added to the fictional cast so as to make the film more appealing to Americans – huh?) Meanwhile, Connery has one of the worst noses for scripts in the business*. Question: Can director Stephen "Blade" Norrington tone down the MTV factor? If not, this might really, really suck.
[* EW article quote from Sean Connery: "I got offered The Lord of the Rings, and I turned it down because I didn’t understand it. I was offered The Matrix – twice – and turned it down because I didn’t understand it. I don’t understand this movie, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn it down." Uh oh.]
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (July): I’d simply love for this one to pull off the return of the sea adventure. And I adore the fact that they’ve included a supernatural element to the proceedings. And dig the cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Jonathan Pryce. Unless the reviews are utterly wretched, I’m seeing this one.
Depends on the Execution:
Down With Love: A period romantic comedy ‘inspired’ by the old Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies. Stars Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, who I suspect has reaped zero box office heat from starring in the second batch of Star Wars movies. I’d like to see this work, but find it hard to believe they’ll pull it off. Charm is one of the most delicate things to pull off, especially today. Remember The Truth About Charlie? That’s what I mean. The film’s director remade some ‘60s Disney movies for TV, and is currently slated to direct the purported upcoming Fantastic Four picture. On the good side, they were smart enough to hire Tony Randall, a vet of the Day/Hudson pictures. On the other hand, another co-star is David Hyde Pierce. The last period romantic comedy he appeared in was the hideous Isn’t She Great. Basically, if the reviews are good, I’ll eventually rent the DVD.
Hollywood Homicide (June): A buddy cop movie (bad hmmm) starring Harrison Ford (good hmmm). Writer/director Ron Shelton usually turns in at least decent work. Ford desperately needs another hit here. Since 1995 he’s had two hits and five non-hits. If this bombs, he better find time for that fifth Indiana Jones movie right quick.
Matchstick Men (Aug): EW calls this one "Paper Moon meets Monk." Hmm. Not especially a Nick Cage fan, so there’s that. And watching him play "a tic-ridden man-child in need of emotional healing" sound downright deadly. Nor am I a huge Ridley Scott buff, although I’ve never seen him try to make a Barry Levinson-type film before. I do like well-fashioned period pieces, though. Hmm.
Just Plain Weird:
Garage Days (July): A "rock & roll fantasy that follows a young Australian band trying to make it from the garage to the arena." A purportedly lighter work by director Alex Proyas, whose The Crow and Dark City I rather like. Still, I already saw Streets of Fire back when it was a theatrical feature, and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience. Further research dictated.
Gigli (Aug): A "bottom-rung hitman" (Ben Affleck) and a "lesbian contract killer" (Jennifer Lopez) end up protecting their intended target, a prosecutor’s mentally impaired brother. It’s High Concept Heaven! (Or Hell.) Christopher Walken has his obligatory ‘crime movie’ cameo, a fact that no longer inspires much confidence. And why does Affleck keep making movies where lesbians fall in love with him? Is he really that insecure? Director Martin Brest’s last film was Meet Joe Black. What happened to the guy that made the eminently fun Beverly Hills Cop? He can still draw the stars, but a lot must be riding on this one. Unfortunately, the buzz on this one is horrible. A dark horse candidate, but could this be one of those increasingly rare Jabootu Specials?
American Splendor (Aug): An indie based on Harvey Pekar’s cult, autobiographical slice o’ life comic books. This year’s Crumb? Maybe.
Shaolin Soccer (Aug): From Hong Kong, it’s "The Mighty Ducks meets The Matrix." Uh…OK. Handily, the guys at Stomp Tokyo just reviewed it.
Big Projects I Care Little About…
The cover of Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Preview, in a season prominently featuring big action pictures, counterintuitively showcases Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston of Bruce Almighty. (Perhaps because these are the biggest stars they could get for a photo shoot.) Carrey receives a day’s worth of omnipotent power from God (Morgan Freeman). In other words, he’s basically Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, only with a much huger f/x budget. Carrey’s career is in a slump, and it’ll take more than a moderately amusing piece like, say, Liar Liar to burnish it again. He better watch out before he becomes the white Eddie Murphy. Nor is Jennifer Aniston’s name likely to drag me to the theaters. On the other hand, this is one of the season’s few big comedies, so perhaps it’ll work as counter-programming. Seeing this would be better than a poke in the eye, I guess, but unless I’m with others determined to see it or the reviews are substantially better than I’m anticipating, I probably won’t get to this one. Uh Oh: I just saw a commercial for this, and one of the gags was about Carry using his powers to make Aniston’s breasts bigger. Yikes!
2 Fast 2 Furious (June): C’mon, what’s the point if Vin Deisel’s not back? Especially when the first film wasn’t that hot to start with. On the other hand, John "Shaft" Singleton is a better director by far than Rob Cohen. And the villain is played by the son of veteran screen psychopath Wings Hauser. Could this be one of the summer’s pleasant surprises? (OK, probably not.)
American Wedding(June): Didn’t see the first two ‘American’ films.
When Harry Met Lloyd: Dumb and Dumberer (June): Let me count the ways: Didn’t see the first one, and have no interest in doing so. Unknowns replacing Carrey and Daniels. ‘Prequel’ to movie made ten years ago. Original writer/directors not involved. Screenplay credits on the IMDB list six people…man, this should suck. Between this and American Wedding, there’s two Eugene Levy films I won’t be seeing.
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (July): Got nothing against, just didn’t see the first one.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (July): Didn’t see the first one. This one’s directed by Jan De Bont, whose latest offering was the execrable The Haunting. And what’s with these clunky titles? (It’s so the films sit nicely together at the video store.)
My Boss’s Daughter (Aug): Ashton Kutcher, apparently the winner of this year’s ‘Freddie Prince Jr./He’s In Every Freakin’ Movie Award,’ continues to ride his fifteen minutes into the ground with this entry. Adding a bracing dose of horror to my disinterest is the supporting cast of Molly Shannon and Andy Dick.
Bad Boys II (July): Oh, please.
Also featured in an article on next summer’s big
movies. It’s amazing how many opening dates are already staked out.
Entries include Shrek 2, Van Helsing, Mission Impossible
3, Spider-Man 2 and Troy (directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Meanwhile, Jabootu Correspondent Tam1Ml provides his thoughts on some of the above, based on the films’ poster art and trailers:
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN: Saw the poster kind
of shoved off in a corner of the theatre building. (Not a good sign.) The
odd thing is, you had to practically squint to see the name of the film
being promoting. (Also not a good sign.) And Sean Connery, although
prominent in the poster, is nearly unrecognizable unless you peruse it
very, very closely. All of which makes me very nervous. Is the studio
deep-sixing this before it's even released?
[*Editor Ken: While Hollywood is always trying to cram new ‘trends’ down our throats, a single film doesn’t constitute one. Also, while Catch Me If You Can made a good deal of money, I’m not sure it made as much as was expected, given the combination of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCapreo.]
HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE: Oh. My. Dear. God. This is a movie
where you look at the poster, you look at the preview, and you can't
BELIEVE the producers got such A-list stars for it. Look, I know Harrison
Ford took a hit after K-19 kind of tanked at the box office. Still,
he's hardly at the desperation-point in his career where he would have to
star in such obvious swill in order to make ends meet. And Josh Hartnett
looks completely miscast in a role that seemed to be originally written
for Owen Wilson or Adam Sandler or, lawd-have-mercy, Rob Schneider. This
kind of movie was old and lame back when the POLICE ACADEMY movies were
infesting the theatres. So what the hell are stars like Ford and Hartnett
doing in something like this? Jabootu doth eventually reach out and bring
down the best of them all. Yeesh.
For further pungent commentary on this summer’s most pointless offerings, try here: http://fametracker.com/blue_moons/misc_summer_films_2003.shtml
Be warned the language is quite salty.
Plot: An ex-con trucker finds himself hauling an illegal load.
I’ve always had a soft spot—in my head, probably—for the two action flicks Patrick Swayze made in 1989. He made earlier ones, too. Even so, the ludicrous kids vs. commies feature Red Dawn remains of interest mostly as a period curio piece. Steel Dawn, meanwhile, was a typically painful Mad Max knock-off.
In 1989, though, he secured cheeseball action movie immortality with Road House and Next of Kin. Swayze’s was never a great actor, but could provide solid work in films like Ghost and Dirty Dancing that contrasted his masculinity with his wet-eyed emotional vulnerability. Compared to contemporary action homunculi like Van Damme or Seagal, moreover, he was a regular Laurence Olivier.
I especially enjoy the redneck milieu that marks these two flicks, as well as the fact that they were more violent than I initially expected. Swayze might not have been kill crazy, but he didn’t just knock people unconscious like the A-Team, either. By the end of Road House he’s literally tearing his opponents’ throats out with his bare hands.
Road House is a marvelously stupid but entertaining schlockfest. (It’s status as a truly epic bad movie was inflated when it became a running punch line on Mystery Science Theater 3000.) Still, Next of Kin is easily my favorite Swayze film. Yes, it’s dumb. So stipulated. Yet I find the hillbilly vs. big city mobster action a hoot. A cast including turns by Ben Stiller, Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Adam Baldwin, Michael J. Pollard, Ted Levine and Liam Neeson doesn’t hurt either. (So who was the brainiac who decided the DVD should only feature a pan & scan version? Morons.)
After peaking with Ghost in 1990, however, Swayze went into a horrendous career slump. Soon he was co-starring in purportedly heartwarming family fare with Whoopi Goldberg. Black Dog was an obvious attempt to return to his roots.
A thrifty, if yet occasionally bloated, 90 minutes, the film stars Swayze as ex-con, ex-truck driver Jack Crews. (It’s a homonym, get it?) The series of events that follow seem to have been assembled by a computer screenwriting program, and a primitive one at that. Jack is fresh out of jail—the full details of his backstory, of course, are saved for a big confession scene later on—and working in a garage, having lost his truck driving license.
His shady boss offers him a job covertly driving an eighteen-wheeler up from Georgia. Needless to say, our true blue hero declines, wanting to now stay on the straight and narrow. He heads home, where we meet his Loving Wife and Adorable Daughter. (The most obnoxious thing about the film is that these two will, of course, be placed in harm’s way later in the picture.) Gee, life is perfect. Or so it seems until Jack finds a foreclosure notice for their house sitting in a kitchen drawer. Since his wife meant to hide the truth from him (?), I found this an odd place to stash the document. Especially with the prominent heading FORECLOSURE NOTICE left facing out.
And so Jack takes the job, despite his wife’s concerns. Because a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Conveniently enough, the fee his boss offered is almost exactly what they need to pay the bank to stay afloat. Huh. What’re the odds?
Jack ends up in Redneckville, Georgia, picking up the truck from the wittily named Red (Meat Loaf!). Red spouts a lot of Bible verses and constantly talks about Jesus, so obviously he turns out to be a psychopathic nutcase. Shrewd and original scripting there, guys. Riding with Jack will be Earl (Randy Travis!), a ‘comically’ talkative hillbilly and would be songwriter. One of the film’s ‘jokes’ is that Earl is an awful singer, when we all know Randy Travis is really a good one. Ha. Ha. Meanwhile, black dude Sonny and Comic Yutz Wes will run interference in a Thunderbird.
The truck turns out to be ferrying "three million dollars" worth of automatic weapons. It’s implied that this presumably massive shipment of AK-47s is to be sold to gang bangers or some other sort of street thug. It’s a good thing gangs in real life don’t pack the kind of heat they always do in the movies, or we’d have lost entire cities by now.
Unbeknownst to our other characters, the shipment is being tracked by a ‘comically’ mismatched team consisting of a loudly belligerent FBI agent (Charles Dutton!) and a balding, new age platitude spouting AFT agent. They’re the original odd couple!
With two agents tossed together like this, I assumed one of them would turn out to be in cahoots with the bad guys. To my surprise, this didn’t occur. Instead, the two spend their maybe five aggregate minutes of screentime running through the evolution of your typical Buddy Cop Movie partners. First they hate each other, with Dutton as the blustering Oscar and the ATF Guy as the nerdy Felix. When the latter saves Dutton’s life during the climatic shootout, the clichés have all been properly observed. Ho hum.
The central part of the film is the movie’s core. Red’s men attempt to hijack his truck once Jack’s on the road. This makes little sense, especially since some of Red’s other men—albeit apparently innocent ones—are accompanying Jack on the trip. I mean, Red’s the guy who had the guns in the first place. I guess he’s intending to rip off Jack’s boss, and waiting until the truck’s on the road would give him plausible deniability. Except, of course, that Jack has a cell phone, and would presumably quickly alert his boss that men he recognized as Red’s were attacking the truck. And the hijack attempts continue even after Red’s involvement is obvious.
Thus occur various set pieces wherein Red’s men use cars, motorcycles and other semis to force Jack off the road. They never succeed, of course, because of Our Hero’s superior trucking skills. Like most Swayze action movies, he actually ends up killing most of the guys sent after him. Vehicles are seldom disabled, but instead, in proper movie fashion, massively explode at the drop of a hat.
This stuff is seldom believable. For instance, at one point a guy clambers between the cab and the trailer and wreaks havoc, yet no one thinks to peek through the cab’s rear window and just shoot the guy. Still, there are moments when the film adequately functions as an overblown riff on the chariot fight from Ben Hur. And to his credit, Swayze quite obviously performs some of own stunts, a few of which look actually dangerous.
Jack can’t quit, meanwhile, because (duh) his boss kidnaps and threatens to kill his family. The film ends on the aforementioned shoot out, which is pretty anticlimactic after the trucking stuff. Seeming to realize this, Red hilariously (if all too predictably) pops up out of nowhere after the film awkwardly maneuvers Jack and his family back into a truck for a final vehicular joust.
The ending is particularly silly. Despite having an undercover FBI agent killed on his watch, the feds not only don’t arrest Crews, they help him keep his house. Moreover, Dutton then reaches into his jacket and hands over Crews’ reissued trucker’s license. The timing of the movie makes this all but impossible, and this parade of rewards becomes a bit much.
Still, if you want a moderately entertaining crash ‘em up rental flick, you could do worse. Swayze doesn’t seem overly engaged in his role, but he generally carries it off. His strongest scenes involve him doing physical stuff. He might not be a master thespian, but he can carry himself in a blue collar fashion and handle tools and equipment without looking foolish. His attempts to project an ultracool competence, however, end up less laconic than catatonic.
Meat Loaf, meanwhile, keeps broadening his performance throughout the movie. He’s a raving, eye-popping loon by his final confrontation with Jack, during which he (of course) manically spouts Bible phrases until his inevitable demise. In the end, I’d have to give Travis the acting chops award. He overplays his character occasionally, no doubt at the behest of hamfisted director Kevin "Passenger 57" Hooks. Still, his marvelous voice and natural screen presence make you wonder why he doesn’t get more film work.
The person I really felt sorry for here was Dutton. Dutton is a fine actor. Being a big black man, though, he ends up playing the Shouting Black Cop in way too many lame movies. (The recently reviewed Eye See You being a prime example.) On one hand, he’s in that tiny percentage of actors who actually can make a living at it. Still, I can’t imagine he summons up much enthusiasm for this sort of crap. The only good thing is that he probably knows how few people end up seeing him in these things.
Summary: Provides modest rewards for the undemanding viewer.
Plot: Retro zombie antics.
This film, I have to admit, had pretty much stayed under my radar all these years. So when I rented it, I really didn’t know what I’d get. (Other than in a broad sense, of course, as an experienced b-movie watcher.) The sheer obscurity of the film indicated that it would be no great shakes. Then I looked at the description on the Netflix envelope. I knew I was in severe trouble when I saw it described as a "wacky romp." Films called wacky romps are nearly always one of two different things: A painfully failed comedy, or a really failed serious movie that someone figured might sell better if people believed it to be intentional camp. Obviously, I was hoping for the latter. Failed horror movies might at least be entertaining, while failed comedies almost never are.
The pre-credit sequence involves a mafia hit. We know the assassin is a gangster, because as he waits we hear a radio report* on organized crime activities. Moreover, he buys his clothes from Hoods ‘R’ Us, as he’s dressed in a dark suit over a black shirt and solid white tie, crowned with a porkpie hat. After shooting down their target, the hood and his partner drive the body out into the country. Reaching an isolated lake, they dump the corpse and head off.
[*The report establishes the film as taking place in the ‘50s, as it mentions "Vice President Nixon." This describes "high praise for the popular vice president," which, given that this was made in the ‘70s, might well be a winking aside to the audience. Supporting this is the identity of the film’s director, Harry Thomason. Thomason was/is one of former President Clinton’s best friends. The eventual co-creator of TV’s Designing Women, Thomason made films on Clinton for the Democratic party conventions, and was a frequent sleepover guest at the White House.]
Cue credits, accompanied by a ersatz ‘50s rock ‘n roll tune and goofy cast photos and images of the ‘50s. So apparently the picture is, in fact, meant to be a parody of old sci-fi movies. Also supporting this idea is the one ‘name’ actor in the cast, comedian George Gobel. Trivia fans will want to note that one of the female leads, Debbie, is played by Rita Wilson, Tom Hank’s wife. (Really nutso trivia fans, meanwhile, will note that Wilson’s birth name was Margarita Ibrahimoff. [!!])
Obviously I’m reserving judgment at this point as to how the film’s going to be. Odds are it will suck, as most of these do. The opening hasn’t caused me to alter that expectation. Still, if events haven’t been very funny so far, at least things haven’t been played in that wearisome overly broad fashion. If the movie is smart enough to going along in a deadpan fashion, this might work at some extent after all.
Our primary cast is a bunch of college students. Part of the gag, I think, is that the actors are clearly too old for this. (Of course, it’s hard to assume satirical intent on this basis, as high schoolers and college students are often actually played by too-old actors in these things.) Over breakfast in the mess hall, Eddie regales his roommate Ronnie with his thoughts about a recent rash of UFO sightings.
Cut to science class, taught by The Professor (Gobel). Ronnie, following his interest, asks his opinion about the UFO stories. The response, I have to admit, actually sounds like that of a highly regarded academic. By which I mean the Professor takes about fifty works to say, "I don’t know."
After class, Ronnie sees a couple of cute girls, Sally and Debbie, and talks them into having a cup of coffee with him and Eddie. Things go well, and they make a date to hang out the next day at a local, albeit somewhat secluded, lake. Hey, could that be the same lake from the beginning of the movie?!
At the police station, we meet professional hard-ass Lt. Kelly. He’s shown chewing out two uniform cops for failing to locate the body of the guy killed earlier. Then he lodges a complaint with veteran flatfoot Sgt. Pinkerton. (A gag reference to the Pinkerton detective agency, perhaps?) "First, you haven’t come up with any details [about the murder case]," he notes. "And two, you make a lousy cup of coffee." Hard to believe the director of this went on to make TV sitcoms, huh?
Cut to that evening. We waste some time with purportedly amusing character scenes between the girls and then the guys. Then we get what I’m sure is one of the film’s highlights: A really bad "special effects" bit of a meteor crashing into *gasp* the very lake that so much of things has centered upon. Unlike the Dino De Laurentiis Flash Gordon movie, which spent millions of dollars to make the f/x look cheesy, this looks like an actual cheap effect. Which is fine.
Anyhoo, this results in a big batch of dry ice fog, out of which emerges a zombie of the guy killed earlier. This shambles around a short while, then reaches a hideout containing his killers. This makes the geography kind of suspect. Given Lt. Kelly’s involvement, the murder was presumably local. That’s further indicated by the Zombie quickly getting to the hideout. Yet earlier it seemed that the killers had driven several hours at least to reach the lake, indicating they are based some distance from the area. Oh, well. In any case, the rotting corpse, seemingly supercharged by the meteor, makes short work of the men. Following this, he returns to the lake. After all, that’s where our leads are due the next day.
After we watch Lt. Kelly investigating the crime scene, we cut to the kids hitting the lake the next day. There follows much forced mirth and frivolity. Then comes the pairing off and making out segments of the program. Meanwhile, we occasionally cut to the zombie lying under the water. He’s leaking a lot of oxygen bubbles, for come reason. Next to him sits a basketball-sized chunk of the meteor, which sways around in a rather odd fashion for a large piece of rock.
Eddie finds a shard of the meteor and recognizes it was something strange. Intrigued, the guys return to town to show the rock to the Professor. Here the Prof is described as an "authority on geology," which doesn’t explain why he was teaching an astronomy class. Unless this is a gag on the old "scientists know every discipline" trope. I have to say, despite the description on the DVD, they thankfully aren’t trying to make this a "wild romp," i.e., a overt campfest. Even Gobel plays his part straight, if a bit stiltedly. Honesty impels me to note that he also has a lot of trouble getting his lines out.
The Prof agrees that the rock is strange, and asks them to guide him to where they found it on the following day. Things progress without many more surprises. Although this is, after all, quite in keeping with the idea behind the film. Basically the boys and the Professor find the meteorite and take it back to the college, prompting the zombie to come after it. Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, Ronnie has given Sally a necklace containing a small piece of the meteor. Stuff ensues.
This largely involves the girls. They’re discussing plans for a wacky sorority outing, in which they and ten of other pledges will camp out at a "supposedly haunted Victorian mansion all night." (!!) This leads into the film’s last third, with Ronnie, Eddie and some other guys surreptitiously on the scene to play pranks on the them. Unfortunately, they’re not the only uninvited guest…
For what this is, the movie’s not bad. Which, given most similar films is rather a triumph. Admittedly, the film doesn’t actually provoke the guffaws inspired by, say, Monster In the Closet. It’s more likely to provoke knowing smiles from sci-fi buffs. Better yet, the zombie stuff is played straight. I also liked the fact that it’s kept lighthearted and, well, clean throughout. The killings are kept to a strict minimum, and the girls-in-the-haunted-house doesn’t prove a set-up for lingerie shots or anything of the like. Some will doubt find this less than an advantage, but I kind of respected the filmmakers for it.
Over all, it’s a fairly painless way to pass an hour and a half—although they profitably could have cut another ten minutes out of the running time—and occasionally better than that. Often being a B-movie completist means watching really horrible and boring stuff. While nobody’s classic, this was a lot better than that.
Obviously the biggest names to come from this modest effort are Harry Thomason and Rita Wilson. Wilson went on to a decent and ongoing film career. Thomason and his wife Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, as noted above, became successful TV producers in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with such series as Designing Women and Hearts Afire. They’ve either semi-retired from show biz, though, or just had their time pass. Nor do their programs show much sign of becoming beloved classics.
Early in the first Clinton administration, Thomason joined the sizable ranks of presidential associates embroiled in political scandal. In the situation dubbed "Travelgate," Hillary—this was one of her earliest White House shenanigans—ordered the firing the long-serving civil servant employees of the presidential travel office. When one of the employees, Billy Dale, complained to the press he was summarily smeared with false accusations and had the FBI and IRS sicced on him. Eventually Dale was cleared, although nearly ruined by legal bills. The cause of all this, it later came out, was that Thomason ran a travel agency and wanted to take over the responsibilities as part of his attempt to become a Washington player. Reading up on the case serves as a reminder of the weirdly petty corruption and paranoia that marked the Clinton administration. Given the hatred all involved had of Nixon, it’s actually kind of funny.
Thomason’s most notable contribution to Jabootudom, meanwhile, was the atrocious and hilarious Twilight Zone knock-off Encounters With the Unknown. (I really have to get around to that one.)
Lt. Kelly was played by Robert Ginnevan, who even today continues a long career as a character actor and bit-part player. Ginnevan appeared in mostly regional productions. He was, in fact, one of two actors here, along with Ronnie portrayer Roger Manning, to appear in Shadow of Chikara.
Sally was played by Delight De Bruine. Other than her name, I have no evidence she was ever a stripper or porn actress. Her sole other IMDB credit was an appearance as Bunny on the Happy Days episode "Potsie Quits School." Ed Love, meanwhile, was played by Ed Lover. Lover went on to become an announcer on the manqué American Gladiators program Battledome and also become a contributor to the Daily Show with John Stewart.
Summary: A nostalgic, if somewhat redundant, replay of
‘50s sci-fi movies.
Plot: Pretty young nurses in training major in sexual healing and radical politics.
Roger Corman’s definitive era as a director was during the ‘50s. (His best work as a helmer, meanwhile, occurred in the ‘60s with his string of extremely loose Poe adaptations.) Churning out films on a seemingly weekly basis—and that often wouldn’t even have been an exaggeration—his notoriously shoestring budgeted genre films like It Conquered the World helped define the pop culture of that era.
Eventually, though, he figured he could do better by running a production company and getting others to make his films. He stopped working for the Sam Arkoffs and Jim Nicholsons and instead became one of them. He founded New World Pictures and produced a long list of low budget genre films. (Although said budgets were often huge compared to what he had worked with as a director.) All the staple genres were represented: Redneck Comedies, Blaxploitation, Horror, Action, Women in Prison films, etc. For three decades and in evolving roles Corman bestrode the B-movie world like the archetypical colossus, winning him fame and even prestige such as few filmmakers would ever know.
Corman’s MO as a producer was to hire eager kids, many recent graduates from the film schools that were being newly created. Such future name directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Joe Dante, among many others, did early work for Corman, who had a brilliant eye for hungry young talent. They were told the kind of film to make, and made aware of what amount of car chases, naked ladies and gore was required.
Other than that, though, they could make the film as they wished. Again, this is what Corman did, working on goofy monster flicks on shoestring budgets and yet often managing to make them better—or at least wittier—than they had any right to be. Given the era and the ages of the directors and writers he hired, a great many of the company’s films were markedly leftwing in their political orientation. Which suited Corman just fine, since this matched his own beliefs. (More importantly, the teens who make up New World’s core audiences dug such material too.)
Unlike modern Hollywood, though, Corman never took his eye off the prize for the sake of politics. He was legendarily firm that such extraneous elements not interfere with his films’ box office popularity. The result was some of the consistently finest B-movies ever to be released by one company.
One of the genres New World exploited with great success was the Sexploitation picture. Student Nurses kicked off a whole skein of ‘nurse’ films, with a new one generally getting churned out on a yearly basis. The success of these efforts lead to much similar fare, both from New World and its various competitors. (See The Naughty Stewardesses for an example.) Cheerleaders were popular fodder as well.
These films were much alike. Which is, of course, the entire point of genre films, after all. A group of pretty young nurses, some nudity and sex, a dash of violence and a soupcon of anti-establishment and sexual liberationist politics. The amazing thing is that, as with much of New World’s product, the movies so often transcended their obvious limitations and proved pretty decent motion pictures.
The first minutes of today’s subject capture a lot of what defined these pictures. Four extremely pretty and cheerful young women in nurse outfits leave their shared apartment. (Shared bonds of Sisterhood.) Their car doesn’t start. (They’re poor.) The most assertive of them steps in front of a car, and soon its owner—a somewhat nerdy fellow who looks realistically pleased with this situation—is driving them to work. (They are brash and confident.) We spend several minutes of this fairly short film watching while they’re driven to the generically monikered City Memorial Hospital.
In other words, these are movies that revolve around the observation of small moments rather than huge, bombastically dramatic incident. Sure, each of our protagonists will have a plot thread of their own. And yes, as this is an exploitation films, these will no doubt feature a fair amount of sex and nudity. (Actually, this particular entry is lighter on these elements than you’d expect. Subsequent movies amped things up a bit.) Even so, these were at heart intended as character films, and so they remain. Thus the magic Corman formula: Make the kids you hire deliver the goods first thing, then get out of their way and let them make the best possible film they can. It’s odd how often these seemingly skewed priorities resulted in superior B-movies.
At the hospital we watch as Lynn enters a room. A creepy patient is lurking there and attempts to rape her. (Refreshingly, this is not portrayed in a salacious fashion, nor does Lynn get her blouse ripped off.) She fights him off and runs for help. However, and this definitely marks when the film was produced, she becomes upset at the way an orderly and doctor wrestle the man down and deliver a shot.
By today’s standards, the man is treated with kid gloves. In the ‘70s, however, his violent tendencies mark him as an outsider, and thus deserving of at least some sympathy, especially when being (in this case literally) held down by establishment authority figures. Part of the ideology endemic to such films, and even more so in the decade’s Blaxploitation flicks, is that no matter how vile and dangerous a criminal is he’s still better than The System that presumably created him.
So we know Lynn’s the Committed One. The other women include the group’s obligatory Vivacious Blonde, Phred. She’s the one hoping to snag herself a doctor for a husband. Our quartet is rounded out by nice girl Sharon and wild girl Priscilla. (Oddly, the group doesn’t include a black character. This would be remedied in later such flicks, if only to increase their perceived audiences.) City Memorial, as the film’s title indicates, is a teaching hospital. Our characters won’t become actual nurses until they graduate.
With so many characters to service in a compact running time, we often cut from situation to situation with some alacrity. (This isn’t a complaint, by the way.) First, a horrified Phred discovers that she gave a patient the wrong dosage of adrenalin. Still, she admirably informs a doctor of her mistake as soon as she realizes it. He investigates and establishes that the woman is all right.
Then he takes Phred into a room to talk things over. After he assures her he won’t report the incident, she asks what she can do to thank him. Amazingly, this doesn’t lead into the expected gratuitous sex scene. Instead, he replies, "work as hard as you can to be a good nurse." Only after indicating that he’d like to be friends—and at her further prompting—does he invite her to meet him at his apartment for a dinner date. While it might seem cliché for a romantic relationship to develop between them, well, handsome doctors and pretty nurses have been getting together for many a year.
On the other hand, the sex and nudity quotient must be filled. So we cut to a dark room. Phred’s voice is heard. The door opens, and in the light so provided we see she’s, er, unclad and waiting in the guy’s bed. The gag, though, is that it’s not her date that has responded to her beckoning. However, she doesn’t see this because he’s backlit. She only grasps the situation when her intended partner arrives and turns on the lights. Waa waa waa. Still, later they hash things out.
And so things go. Sharon storyline centers on one of her patients, a young man dying of Cystic Fibrosis. (In one of the film’s few false steps, an angry display when we first meet him is unnecessarily underlined with blaring music chords.) Her inevitably tragic relationship with him will be her major storyline. Basically, she tries to get him to live before, you know, he dies. That sounds trite, but they do a pretty good job with it. Again, small moments are the key, including a scene where she takes him grocery shopping with her.
Priscilla butts heads with her nursing instructor over her short skirt. Then we see her out on the street, decked out in tight bell bottom jeans and a purple top composed of fringe. She stops to admire a motorcycle. Since the owner of said hog is a dude with long hair sitting next to an I Ching quotation on a blackboard, we quickly ken that they’ll become an item. She orders vegetarian cuisine and pulls out a copy of Steppenwolf to read, then she and the dude, Les, discuss the properties of various recreational drugs.
They talk about ‘things (as in, "What’s your thing?") and ‘trips’ and such like. They ride his bike out to a field, "a groovy place," as Priscilla describes it, and inevitably Les turns out to be an, uhm, unlicensed pharmaceutical salesman. Which is jake with our heroine, of course. She picks wild flowers and they play with a dog that appears out of nowhere. As you may have gathered, at this point the film has unintentionally veered into period farce. Still, it’s at least not as obnoxiously self-righteous as a lot of similar stuff tended to be. Instead, it’s just enjoyably quaint.
The most ur-‘70s storyline, of course, belongs to serious and politically ‘aware’ Lynn. She attends a sort of Latino block party/anti-war/anti-police/anti-whatever protest. There she sees a brooding dude named ‘Victor Charley.’ (A name he’s adopted as an enemy of the State.) In an interesting moment, some of the other Hispanics decide they don’t like the proceedings and a brawl breaks out. Needless to say, the film pretty much sides with the anti crowd. Still, the idea that racial identity doesn’t necessarily correspond to a fixed ideological position is actually pretty refreshing. Say what you will about films of this period, they were seldom, for better and for worse, politically correct.
Victor’s friend is hurt in the brawl. Lynn, reminded of an instructor’s warnings about the possible legal ramifications of getting involved in unsanctioned medical activities, walks off in a bit of a panic when Victor calls out for help. He instead takes the guy to the hospital, where he recognizes her. Of course, she later attempts to repent by becoming Committed to The Cause.
This stuff gets a little thick—Victor publishes a street paper literally called "La Causa"—reflecting the widely held belief of the time that The Revolution was right around the corner. Still, even if you consider the politics grossly wrong-headed, as I do, you have to admire the forthrightness with which they’re portrayed. The film might consider The Establishment to be the real enemy, but it believes it enough so as to not need to paint Victor or Les as being morally perfect characters. Compared to the simplistic and phony populism of films like Patch Adams or Erin Brockovich, this is bracing stuff.
Meanwhile, there’s footage of Priscilla and Les attending what looks like an actual "Love-In." The Gentle People smoke their dope and pass around a kitten (really) and exchange stoned philosophical musings. Then Les and Priscilla take off, whereupon he guides her through her first acid trip. Some, like me, will roll their eyes in disbelief as we watch these shenanigans. Others, no doubt, will observe them with envy. I will say, though, the music heard throughout the proceedings is really quite good stuff.
Some will argue that the film can’t be taken as a legitimate feminist statement because each woman’s story involves a relationship with a man. However, the women aren’t passive in these, and each of them ultimately makes her own decisions in accordance with her own desires. And if not all of their stories end happily, we never get the idea they are being punished for making what the filmmakers consider to be the wrong choices.
The most eye-popping plotline follows one of the women’s efforts to procure an abortion. They were proscribed except for health reasons back then, and the process to get one legally comes across as pretty demeaning, even speaking as someone who’s views are pretty rabidly pro-life. The depiction of the subsequent illegal procedure is downright harrowing. On the other hand, this situation results in the movie’s sole example of making one of its characters look bad purely for their beliefs. Ultimately, it views someone who’s kinda/sorta anti-abortion more harshly than somebody with a trunk load of guns to be used against cops. Even the person who was against the abortion shrugs the whole thing off after it’s done. So no biggie, I guess.
As with much of the stuff coming out of New World during this period, Student Nurses is a pretty credible film. The acting is uniformly good. Not only can the actors read a line without stumbling over it—not something to be taken for granted—they actually manage to seem like real people. And get this: There isn’t a single dumb character in the entire film. Obnoxious, even dangerous, yes. Stupid, no.
The writing is sharp, the direction and editing solid and assured. The humor is generally low-key and observational in nature, and generally successfully executed. Finally, the film displays that tangible sense of urban milieu unique to films of the ‘70s. Perhaps it’s the use of natural lighting or whatever, but cities and the people who live in them seldom come to life as pungently in films made elsewhen.
The four female leads are all attractive without being insanely so, and they can actually act. (Well, except for the one playing Sharon. She’s not awful, but the whole ‘dying patient’ plotline causes her to indulge in some pretty raw overacting.) Moreover, the lack of surgically enhanced boobage is a welcome improvement over the Barbie Doll-figures often seen in B-movies of the last decade or two. Of course, the trim nurses’ uniforms don’t hurt either.
As proof of the film’s structural competency, I’ll note it avoids one of my personal B-movie bugaboos: It actually names our lead character early in the proceedings. This occurs during a staff meeting, in fact, and the camera cuts to each woman in turn as her duty assignment is announced. If only more low budget fare could display such a knack.
In the end, the film’s faults lie mostly in being a bit too much the product of its time. The hippie stuff, the slang, the anger at the ‘pigs’ that justifies even murder and all the rest is perhaps best viewed in an anthropological sense. And the stuff with the dying guy ends up, perhaps inevitably, getting a bit schmaltzy in the end. Still and all, the film reminds us of when even drive-in fare was expected to made with a modicum of intelligence and ambition.
Summary: Those wishing some steak with their sizzle will not be disappointed.
-by Ken Begg