Susan Granger’s review of “MUMFORD” (Touchstone Pictures)
What does it take to be a good psychologist? How can you get people to confide their fantasies, dreams, and frustrations in order to alleviate the pain of the human condition? Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan believes that listening, really listening is the most important skill – and that’s the premise for his intelligent, amusing new comedy. Loren Dean (“Billy Bathgate”) stars as Dr. Mumford, a young psychologist who opens a practice in a small, picturesque town, coincidentally named Mumford, and discovers his unorthodox form of therapy has amazing, unexpected results with an odd assortment of quirky locals. There’s a young divorcee suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Hope Davis), a pulp-fiction obsessed pharmacist (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a frustrated housewife (Mary McDonnell) who’s become addicted to mail-order shopping, her workaholic husband (Ted Danson), a fashion-preoccupied teen (Zooey Deschanel), Mumford’s outspoken landlady (Alfre Woodard) who runs the local cafe, and a lonely billionaire (Jason Lee), the monarch of modems, who zips around on a skateboard. While they respond to his empathy and frankness, no one realizes that mysterious, unconventional Dr. Mumford has the biggest secret of all – except maybe a suspicious attorney (Martin Short) and the two other therapists in town (David Paymer, Jane Adams). Like “The Big Chill,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Grand Canyon,” this is an excellent ensemble effort, which is a credit to Kasden’s talent for casting. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mumford” is a fantastical, intriguing 8, proving that love comes in many disguises.
Susan Granger’s review of “BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS” (Buena Vista Pictures)
Writer/director Alan Rudolph has attempted to make a deep, dark comedy out of Kurt Vonnegut’s satiric ’70s fable – and has failed to such an extent that it’s an embarrassment for all concerned. Bruce Willis plays a suicidal car dealer, Dwayne Hoover, a minor celebrity in Midland City since his commercials seem to play non-stop on local television. His pill-popping wife (Barbara Hershey) is clinically depressed, and his gay son (Lukas Haas) is an aspiring lounge singer. Is that why Dwayne thinks he’s losing his mind? We’re not really sure. Meanwhile, his devoted secretary (Glenne Headley) doubles as his hot-to-trot mistress and his sales manager (Nick Nolte) is a troubled transvestite. (Nick’s legs do look sensational in sheer black stockings!) Plus there’s a pollution scandal. In the midst of this muddled mess, the town decides to honor a mumbling, misunderstood pulpy science-fiction writer named Kilgore Trout (Albert Finney) at its first arts festival. “Midland City is ready for a renaissance, and you shall be our Leonardo,” gushes his sponsor. Predictably, when Dwayne Hoover meets Kilgore Trout (Kurt Vonnegut’s alter ego), he discovers the meaning of life and achieves some kind of bewildering redemption. Appropriately, the ’50s ballad “Stranger in Paradise” is an integral part of the soundtrack, repeatedly underscoring the bizarre caricatures and surreal situation. Like Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Alan Rudolph’s attempt to dramatize Vonnegut’s zany ’60s protest fantasy seems distorted and woefully out of date. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Breakfast of Champions” is a crude, crass, incoherent 2. Flaky, tasteless breakfasts like this could lead to indigestion!
Susan Granger’s review of “BLUE STREAK” (Columbia Pictures)
Martin Lawrence reminds me of Jerry Lewis with his silly antics in this action comedy and of Eddie Murphy with his fast-talking glibness. Lawrence plays a jewel thief who, after spending two years in prison, discovers that the under-construction building in whose air duct he stashed a $20 million diamond is now the 37th L.A. Police Precinct. Undaunted by this ironic stroke of bad luck – and unable to infiltrate the crime unit disguised as a buck-toothed pizza delivery man – the ex-con concocts an outrageous plan to impersonate a cop so that he can gain entrance, locate and retrieve the gem in a matter of hours. But, as fate and the screenwriters would have it, he inadvertently captures an escaping convict (Dave Chappelle). Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and so it goes… Director Les Mayfield (“Encino Man”) attempts to keep the pace fast but, despite lots of shtick, the necessary energy just isn’t there. He also relies heavily on Martin Lawrence to carry the vehicle as an action hero which is a mistake. There’s lots of action – sound and fury – but it signifies very little. Now, if you’re a real Martin Lawrence fan, devoted to his raw, edgy stand-up comedy, and sympathetic after his recent collapse while jogging, I don’t want to discourage you. It’s just that the plot is predictable and has too many holes in it to suspend disbelief – besides, you’re in on the joke from the beginning. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Blue Streak” is a manic, formulaic 4. I’d advise you to go to a bargain matinee or wait for the video.
Susan Granger’s review of “THREE KINGS” (Warner Brothers)
‘Remember “Catch 22″ and “M*A*S*H*” – those black comedies that captured the surrealist insanity of W.W.II and the Korean War? That’s what David O. Russell attempts in this astute blend of action/adventure, drama, humor, and scathing political commentary. George Clooney stars as a cynical career soldier – an American Special Forces Captain – who’s ready to retire. In March of 1991, he and his cohorts (Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze) are ready to return home from the Gulf War when they unexpectedly come into possession of a map that indicates the location of a stash of Kuwaiti gold bullion stolen by the Iraqi army. “Saddam stole it from the sheiks,” Clooney says, “and I have no problem stealing it from Saddam.” They take off at dawn, planning to return by noon. But it’s not that easy, particularly with a feisty war correspondent (Nora Dunn) snooping around. There’s chaos, confusion, and carnage – but don’t expect any stupendous battle scenes. Encounters with the “enemy” are primarily skirmishes as Iraqi rebels, encouraged by George Bush’s exhortations to overthrow Saddam Hussein, courageously fight the brutal Republican Guard, only to discover that the politically expedient cease-fire has made the Americans unwilling to offer humanitarian aid to the civilians caught in the turmoil. “We’re fighting Saddam and dying – and you’re stealing gold,” one angry rebel astutely observes, igniting a moral dilemma for the greedy treasure-hunters who are cornered into doing the right thing. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Three Kings” is a suspenseful 8, raising serious questions about the morality of the United States position on military intervention and putting a human face on the atrocities of war.
Susan Granger’s review of “A DOG OF FLANDERS” (Warner Bros.)
Set in the early 19th century in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium known as Flanders, this tale revolves – not around a dog – but a boy. Little Nello (Jesse James/Jeremy James) is an poor orphan who grows up in the care of his kindly grandfather (Jack Warden). Since his mother was an artist and left him her sketchbook, Nello loves to draw. A chance meeting with a noted local artist (Jon Voight) introduces the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, as a focus for Nello’s dreams. So where does the dog come in? By the side of the road, Nello finds a large Bouvier des Flanders who was cruelly abused by a peddler and befriends him, naming him Patrasche. Big, black, fluffy Patrasche trots around as Nello’s loyal companion, but the pet is limited to the periphery of the action. Writer/director Kevin Brodie, working with Robert Singer, adapting the novel by Ouida (a.k.a. Marie Louise de la Ramee), comes up with trite dialogue punctuating a contrived yet predictable story. Those familiar with the book will note that the ending has been changed to one much happier. Brought up on a diet of fast-paced television, children will undoubtedly be bored, squirming in their seats along with their parents. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Dog of Flanders” is a slow-paced, dreary 3. “Real happiness comes not with possessions or positions but with people” and “Never underestimate the power of love” are worthwhile sentiments but they’re presented in the dullest framework possible.
Susan Granger’s review of “The 13th Warrior” (Touchstone Pictures)
For more than two years, this clich?-ridden action adventure has gathered dust on the shelf at Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures. No one knew quite when to release it or how to market its blood ‘n’ guts content to the public. Antonio Banderas (“The Mask of Zorro”) plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an urbane Muslim poet-diplomat banished from his Egyptian homeland during the 10th century, along with elderly Omar Sharif, who acts as his translator. Fleeing from Baghdad in a caravan after Banderas has indulged in a foolish sexual liaison, they join up with some growling, swaggering, blond Nordic warriors with names like Helfdane the Large (Clive Russell), Skeld the Superstitious (Richard Bremmer), and Herger the Joyous (Dennis Storhoi), among others. They’re led by Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich) on a quest to liberate a kingdom across the sea from a mysterious, marauding tribe of bear-like savages who have been terrorizing everyone – at least when it gets foggy. (They filmed it in British Columbia where the mists obviously rise on cue.) Based on Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel, “Eaters of the Dead,” it combines rowdy, swashbuckling brutality with a hint of the supernatural as they pursue the ferocious “terror that must not be named.” Director John McTiernan did this long before “The Hunt for Red October” and he would be wise to leave it off his resume. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The 13th Warrior” is a ridiculously bloodthirsty 3, proving grisly gore has no limits.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE” (New Line Cinema)
Writer/director Rand Ravich came up with an intriguing premise for this sci-fi tale: What would happen if an astronaut was, somehow, changed after he returned from a supposedly routine space journey? Who would know? Good idea, right? So, Johnny Depp – newly blond with a Southern drawl – plays a NASA shuttle pilot, one of two crew members who are nearly killed when a satellite explodes and ground control mysteriously loses contact with them for two minutes. His companion (Nick Cassavetes) flips out soon after their return to Earth. But Depp doesn’t. Instead, he announces his decision to quit the space program and impregnates his beautiful wife, played by Charlize Theron (“Mighty Joe Young,” “The Devil’s Advocate”), with twins. But then strange things begin to happen. First, Cassavetes dies from “a severe insult to the brain” (i.e.: a stroke). Then Theron’s confidante, played by Donna Murphy, is electrocuted. Nevertheless, the now-former astronaut and his now-fearful wife leave Florida and move to New York, where she’s befriended by the wife (Blair Brown) of her husband’s new corporate boss (Tom Noonan) in the aerospace industry. Are there any surprises? Only when British actress Samantha Eggar turns up as an obstetrician with a thick German accent. Otherwise you can probably guess what happens. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Astronaut’s Wife” is a fumbling, formulaic 4. Think of a sluggish “Rosemary’s Baby” with an extra-terrestrial twist.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE CHILL FACTOR” (Warner Brothers)
In this wannabe action-thriller, the mid-August tranquillity of a tiny tropical atoll in the South Pacific is shattered when a covert scientific military research operation, code name “Elvis,” goes terribly wrong. As a result, only the scientist who invented the formula and a disgraced Army officer remain alive. Skip ahead ten years to a hot summer day in the tiny town of Jerome, Montana, where two young men – Cuba Gooding Jr. (Oscar winner for “Jerry Maguire”) and Skeet Ulrich – are in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the guilt-stricken scientist (David Paymer) is murdered by the villainous Major (Peter Firth), these two hapless guys must transport the toxic and potentially combustible chemical weapon and safely deliver it to Fort Magruder, 90 miles away. Only, they have to keep it frozen, and the only refrigerated vehicle available is Gooding’s ice-cream truck. Of course, the Major’s tactical team is in hot pursuit of “Elvis on ice.” Kind of reminds you of the concept “Speed,” doesn’t it? Plus a French thriller called “Wages of Fear” with much the same plotline. The profanity-laden screenplay by Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda is dumb and derivative, and novice Hugh Johnson’s directing is by-the-numbers, relying on violent hand-to-hand combat, macho gunplay, and loud explosions. And how is it that everyone seems to know everyone else’s cell-phone number when I can’t even remember my own? On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Chill Factor” is a numbingly stupid 3. It’s toxic, all right.
Susan Granger’s review of “OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE” (Miramax Films)
Don’t expect another “There’s Something About Mary,” just because this contemporary comedy is made by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Instead of gross silliness, there’s gloppy sentiment, as Shawn Hatosy portrays a pot-smoking slacker teen, circa 1974, in the blue-collar town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. After a fender-bender with a parked police car, he’s packed off to a fancy Connecticut prep school, Cornwall Academy, where he’s outnumbered, outclassed, and definitely out of place. But he gets little sympathy from his beer-guzzling, loud-mouthed, deadbeat dad (Alec Baldwin) whose idea of affection is to nickname the boy “Dildo.” “It ain’t easy being Ozzie when you ain’t got a Harriet,” dad explains. Predictably – and somewhat unimaginatively – Hatosy not only ends up with the prettiest girl around (Amy Smart), protects his wheelchair-bound younger brother (Tommy Bone), and takes revenge on a repressive dean. Directed and co-written by Michael Corrente (“American Buffalo”), there are quirky touches like a three-legged dog and some crude slapstick antics, but there’s nothing to make your hair stand on end about this prosaic coming-of-age story set. Not surprising since the script was recycled from long before the Farrelly brothers had hits like “Dumb and Dumber.” And the edgy comedy “Rushmore,” released early this year, covered the same territory far better. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Outside Providence” is a flimsy 5. It’s bittersweet nostalgia – wait the video.
Susan Granger’s review of “RUNAWAY BRIDE” (Paramount Pictures)
Ever since “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, and director Garry Marshall have been looking for another project, and this screwball romantic fantasy seems to fit the bill. No, it’s not a sequel. It’s an entirely different story. Roberts plays Maggie, a small-town charmer who has left three grooms at the altar – a fact that is exaggerated in USA TODAY by a cynical New York columnist, Ike Graham (think Jimmy Breslin) – that’s Gere – who bitterly dubs her a “man-eater.” She complains to his editor (Rita Wilson), who is also his ex-wife, citing just cause for a defamation lawsuit. He promptly gets fired for exploitive journalism. Determined to vindicate himself and uncover the “real story” for GQ magazine, Ike shows up in bucolic Hale, Maryland, just as Maggie is preparing to marry groom #4, the high-school physical education teacher/coach. “Shazam! It’s Mayberry,” he mutters just before the barbershop quartet starts. Ike’s acerbic; Maggie’s defensive. They spar and spat with incredible finesse. But will she bolt once more? No one knows, even her widower father (Paul Dooley) who notes, “Maggie may not be Hale’s longest running joke, but she’s certainly the fastest.” Eventually, Maggie realizes “there’s a distinct possibility that I’m profoundly, irreversibly screwed-up.” The screenplay by Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott, and Audrey Wells leaves little doubt in your mind about the outcome but it’s deliciously amusing getting there. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Runaway Bride” is a glowing, breezy 8. It’s not as quirky and witty as “Notting Hill,” Roberts’ most recent romantic comedy, and not in the same league as “Pretty Woman.” But Gere’s glossy and gorgeous, and it’s flirty, feel-good fun from beginning to end – a date movie or chick’s flick.