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THE IN-CROWD

Susan Granger’s review of “THE IN-CROWD” (Warner Bros.)

The kindest way to describe this teensploitation movie is to call it “a time waster.” Violence-prone nymphomaniac Adrien Williams (Lori Heuring, looking just like Madonna) has spent time in a psychiatric hospital learning to come to terms with “erotomania” and her troubled past. Nearly recovered and on the recommendation of her physician (Daniel Hugh Kelly), she emerges to build a quiet, anonymous, new life as a lowly cabana-girl at an exclusive seaside country club. But she’s too lovely not to be noticed by “the in-crowd,” a privileged clique led by perky, psychopathic Brittany Foster (Susan Ward, looking just like Denise Richards), whose lip gloss glows for the tennis pro (Matthew Settle) who, predictably, flirts with Adrien. Amidst the simmering feuds, there are lethal secrets that threaten to emerge. Is this world-shaking, or what? Directed by Mary Lambert (“Pet Sematary”), this wannabe girl-on-girl thriller is definitely a hard-bodied loser with great credit going to the imbecilic, homo-erotic screenplay by Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin. Even the climactic cat-fight between Adrien and Brittany isn’t clearly delineated since it’s photographed by Tom Priestley in a storage room with gloomy, dim lighting. The message of the movie: appearance isn’t everything…i.e: all that glitters is not gold. Duh! On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The In-Crowd” is a sluggish, ludicrous, barely tolerable 1. It gives melodrama a bad name – and it’s not gonna get better on video.

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TRIXIE

Susan Granger’s review of “TRIXIE”

With Robert Altman as his mentor/producer, Alan Rudolph is truly an experimental film-maker and, as with any innovator, he has some hits (“Choose Me,” “Afterglow”) and misses (“Breakfast of Champions,” “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”). Unfortunately, “Trixie” – an attempt at screwball comedy-turned-film noir – is one of the latter. Oscar nominee for “Breaking the Waves” and “Angela’s Ashes,” Emily Watson plays the title role of a quirky, gum-chewing undercover casino security guard-turned-detective. It’s supposed to be cute that she’s confused and mangles metaphors like “I’m a little green behind the ears,” “You can’t just sit there like a sore thumb,” “Take the bull by the tail,” “Fish or get off the pot,” “I’ve an ace up my hole” etc. but this malaprop device soon grows very, very, very tiresome. Trixie stumbles on a porn racket and a political cover-up involving a swaggering, corrupt State Senator, played by Nick Nolte. Supposedly, all of the Senator’s garbled, inane dialogue is culled verbatim from actual political slogans but that doesn’t make the double-talking gibberish easier to listen to. Credit Alan Rudolph for lining up stellar talent, because Lesley Ann Warren plays a sleazy aging showgirl who mysteriously disappears with Brittany Murphy as a sleazy wannabe starlet, while Dermot Mulroney is a womanizing gambler and Will Patton is a sneering, scheming developer. Nathan Lane is a boozy lounge comedian who does celebrity impressions and spews lines like “We’re all tap dancers in the canoe of life.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Trixie” is a tortuous, trivial 3. Don’t be tricked into spending your entertainment dollar for this self-indulgent garbage.

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SPACE COWBOYS

Susan Granger’s review of “SPACE COWBOYS” (Warner Bros.)

In a season of admittedly disappointing features, now there’s a terrific reason to orbit the box-office: Team Daedalus. Back in 1958, they were the bravest, boldest, fastest Air Force test pilots – until they were grounded so that NASA could send a chimpanzee into space. Now, 42 years later, the Russian satellite Ikon has suffered a systems failure that the Russians insist will cause a total communications blackout. Since Ikon has the same guidance system as an early American Skylab, its designer, played by Clint Eastwood, should know how to repair the antiquated technology. Only, he won’t go into space without the only crew he trusts: fearless pilot Tommy Lee Jones, astrophysicist/ladies’ man Donald Sutherland and robotics expert-turned-Baptist preacher James Garner. But first these geriatric hotshots have to get through training and fulfill the physical requirements for spaceflight. Because of the buddies’ humorous bantering, this part is hilarious. Even the obvious clichŽs seem to have a fresh spin. Then the countdown comes and the real challenge begins. Written by Ken Kaufman & Howard Klausner and directed by Clint Eastwood, each character’s strengths and weaknesses are so well delineated that you have an emotional investment in their success – and survival. After a slow start, the first two-thirds of the story is light-hearted, while the final third is suspenseful and serious. There’s nothing but class and quality in this wonderfully performed production, a high-tech action-adventure that’s perfect for family viewing. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Space Cowboys” blasts off with a irresistibly exciting, adventurous 8. ‘Fun’ is the operative word for this crowd-pleaser.

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THE REPLACEMENTS

Susan Granger’s review of “THE REPLACEMENTS” (Warner Bros.)

So here’s the set-up: It’s late in the season, time for the playoffs, and the Washington Sentinels have just gone on strike because five million dollars a year “really isn’t that much.” The owner (Jack Warden) decides to bring in a retired coach (Gene Hackman) to recruit and train a team of replacement players in exactly one week. And for these guys who never made it to the Big Time for one reason or another, it’s the chance of a lifetime, particularly Shane “Footsteps” Falco, a former quarterback, played Keanu Reeves. “You’re not even a has-been. You’re a never-was,” he’s taunted. Other team members are hilarious Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”), as a chain-smoking Welsh soccer player, plus actor/writer/director Jon Favreau, comedian Faizon Love, former pro player Michael “Bear” Taliferro, Orlando Jones, Michael Jace, Troy Winbush, David Denman, and Ace Yonamine, a sumo wrestler. Plus Brooke Langton as the head cheerleader and Reeves’ love interest. “I’ve seen monkeys at the zoo that were more organized than this,” mutters Warden dubiously as the first game begins disastrously. Written by Vince McKewin and directed by Howard Deutch, it was inspired by the 1987 professional football strike but it’s a universally appealing story about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – like “The Dirty Dozen,” “Slapshot” and “A League of Their Own.” The script’s filled with underdog stereotypes and clichŽs, the team’s colors are the All-American red, white and blue, and a highlight’s a rousing rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” but on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Replacements” is an uplifting, delightful, funny 7. Good family fun – it’s a winning sports comedy about teamwork that should appeal to everyone whose dreams never quite came true.

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BULL

Susan Granger’s review of “BULL” (TNT Original Series premiere)

On Tues., Aug. 15, at 10 PM, TNT will premiere its first-ever original drama series. “Bull” is the story of a team of young investment bankers and traders who rock Wall Street when they break away from a major investment bank to start their own company. Their leader, Robert Roberts III, known as Ditto, (George Newbern) is the renegade grandson of the autocratic boss (Donald Moffat) of the family firm; he looks at his inheritance as a curse, not a blessing. With no financing, no clients, and the rivalry of every player on the Street, Ditto enlists several colleagues, each with his/her own reason to bolt the Establishment and strive to succeed in the competitive world of high finance. Corey (Malik Yoba) is an African-American facing a glass ceiling; Marisa (Alicia Coppola) had to fight her way up – but she won’t compromise her principles; Marty (Ian Kahn) is fighting for legitimacy; Alison (Elisabeth Rohm) has a secret which will be revealed later in the series; and Carson (Chris Wiehl) is the naive rookie, right out of business school, who gets caught in the family feud. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath theme with Hunter (Stanley Tucci) as the hard-hitting negotiations shark. The title of the show comes from the literal meaning of a “bull” market – when stocks are rising and consumers are buying. For TV viewers who have been inside the “ER,” enticed by “West Wing” and intrigued by the Mob in “The Sopranos,” “Bull” offers a behind-the-scenes view of the amorality rampant on Wall Street. And the timing seems right with people following the Dow and NASDAQ like they are sports scores. On the Granger TV Gauge of 1 to 10, the IPO or premiere episode of “Bull” floats an 8. TNT has invested in 13 episodes to air weekly on Tuesdays at 10 PM with encores at midnight and the following Monday at 11 PM. It could be a blowout (i.e.: a hot issue).

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HOLLOW MAN

Susan Granger’s review of “HOLLOW MAN” (Columbia Pictures)

The concept of invisibility has intrigued man for centuries. Plato wrote that an invisible person would become intoxicated with the power and abuse it simply because he could get away with it. Plato suggested that he would steal, rape and kill because there is no central moral code inside us that leads us to being good and just. Now, director Paul Verhoeven, working with writer Andrew Marlowe, turns that idea into a suspense thriller, starring Kevin Bacon (“Stir of Echoes”) as a brilliant but arrogant scientist who develops an invisibility serum as part of a top-secret U.S. government research project and, defying Pentagon orders, he experiments on himself. It begins with bio-phase shifting, lifting him out of the visible spectrum layer by layer. As the radiated fluid enters his system, flesh seems to liquefy. Then the muscular system dissolves, leaving a skeleton with major organs. Then that goes. But there’s a problem: the procedure cannot be reversed, although his colleagues (Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin) work on an antidote. In the meantime, Bacon’s transformation results in an orgy of selfish pleasure and power since he can operate with all societal constraints lifted. So much for the sci-fi plot which is soon discarded in favor of murder, mayhem and horror. Dutch-born Paul Verhoeven has created some of Hollywood’s most controversial films: “Basic Instinct,” “RoboCop,” “Starship Troopers” and “Showgirls.” Verhoeven obviously delights in disturbing audiences, yet if his challenge in “Hollow Man” was to make the drama as interesting as the mind-boggling digital special effects, he fails because Bacon becomes a mad, evil, puppy-bashing monster. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hollow Man” is a repulsive, repugnant 3. Remember, hollow means depressed and empty.

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THE FIVE SENSES

Susan Granger’s review of “THE FIVE SENSES” (Fine Line Films)

“The senses are elemental, and in connecting us to the world, they connect us to each other,” says Canadian writer/director/producer Jeremy Podeswa. In this compelling urban story, he delicately interweaves five separate crisis situations that intersect in a poignant drama involving a missing child. There’s Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), a grief-stricken, recently widowed massage therapist who is unable to touch her rebellious daughter emotionally, and the troubled teenager Rachel (Nadia Litz) who became distracted while vicariously watching lovers in the park when the adorable toddler in her care wandered off. Their neighbor Rona (Mary Louise Parker) is a cynical, indecisive baker whose cakes are beautiful to the eye but bland to the taste until her passionate Italian lover (Marco Leonardi), a chef, arrives in Toronto. Rona’s best friend (Daniel MacIvor) is a sardonic bisexual who believes he can identify the scent of true love, noting: “The nose knows.” Another neighbor, an opera-loving French ophthalmologist (Philippe Volter), discovers he’s going deaf and is determined to build a “library of sounds,” something to fall back on. Each of the characters is infatuated with one of the five senses while going through a trauma or hardship, and they’re all lonely, searching and afraid of something. Essentially, this is an episodic, fragmented ensemble piece about relationships – and the choice of whether to give up or to keep going. Because of the editing, some subplots work better than others, while cinematographer Greg Middleton balances the definitive essence of time and place. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Five Senses” is a stylish, intimate, spiritual 7. It’s an intriguing example of the elegant art of cinematic craftsmanship.

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TIME CODE

Susan Granger’s review of “TIME CODE” (Screen Gems)

British writer/director Mike Figgis (“Leaving Las Vegas,””Miss Julie”) enjoys breaking “out of the box,” and this dark comedy is his most innovative concept. The “timecode” is the cinema technology that allows an editor to synchronize sound and picture so that when a character’s mouth moves, the words come out. But Figgis uses it to show four different versions of 93 minutes in the lives of people at a Los Angeles exploitation-film production company, displayed simultaneously on a quadruple-split screen. What also makes this film unique is that it was shot entirely in one day on high-definition digital video, combining spontaneity with surveillance. Figgis also composed the jazz music score which combines multiple melody lines. That’s the plus. On the minus side, the largely improvised story is an aimless, clichŽ-filled glimpse of the relationships that exist among drug-abusing, philandering gonzo film-makers, ambitious actresses and a revenge killer, all jostled by some earthquakes. Figgis diverts our attention from one section of the screen to another by raising and lowering the vocal volume level. For example, while we’re listening to a psychiatrist (Glenne Headley) with a depressed patient (Saffron Burrows), there’s also a fight ensuing in a limo between two lesbians (Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn). Then there are the studios execs (Holly Hunter, Steven Weber) and their movie mogul boss (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s having a nervous breakdown, plus a British masseuse (Julian Sands) with other things on his mind. Confusing, even dizzying, with four simultaneous images, this is novel cinematic experiment. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Time Code” is an inventive, surreal 6. Granted, it’s an edgy, odd gimmick but – for adventurous moviegoers – it works.

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GROOVE

Susan Granger’s review of “GROOVE” (Sony Pictures Classics)

A favorite of the Sundance Film Festival, first-time writer/director Greg Harrison’s “Groove” explores San Francisco’s underground rave scene. As I understand it, the difference between a dance club and a rave is that raves are parties that spring up almost spontaneously in different locations. Someone puts out the word on the Internet, via e-mail, and it spreads. Others get a voice mail message and pass it along. Participants gather, illegally, at the designated place at the appointed time, pay an entrance fee, and the celebrated DJs take turns, working in shifts to provide the music. This film supposedly chronicles in pseudo-documentary tone one night at a rave. It begins on Friday with an e-mail, announcing tomorrow’s event. By Saturday night, a crowd of 200 has assembled at an abandoned Bay Area warehouse, many of whom are, want to be and/or will be high on the drug Ecstasy. There’s the naive, aspiring writer David (Hamish Linklater) from the Midwest who meets Leyla (Lola Glaudini), a worldly New Yorker who advises him to take Ecstasy with lots of water to avoid dehydration. And David’s brother Colin (Denny Kirkwood) who surprises his girlfriend (MacKenzie Firgens) on her birthday with something she didn’t expect. Real-life DJs with names like Digweed and Dimitri vary the pace and mood by changing the tempo and tone of the music. Humor is injected by the efforts of the promoter (Steve Van Wormer) to divert the suspicions of a cop (Nick Offerman). The writing is sketchy, relying on the art of improvisation which these unskilled actors, and others, have yet to master. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Groove” is a throbbing, feeble 4. I suspect there’s less than meets the eye in this manic, all-night, psychedelic celebration

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GONE IN 60 SECONDS

Susan Granger’s review of “GONE IN 60 SECONDS” (Touchstone Pictures)

Has your car ever been stolen? Have you ever experienced that queasy, sinking feeling when you walked to where you left it, only to find…no car? That may be why I had a perverse curiosity about this new Jerry Bruckheimer action/thriller. Written by Scott Rosenberg (“Con Air”) and directed by TV-commercial veteran Dominic Sena (“Kalifornia”), it stars Nicolas Cage as “Memphis” Raines, a master car thief. Back in his heyday, there was no vehicle he couldn’t heist in 60 seconds. He’s ostensibly retired until his kid brother Kip, played by Giovanni Ribisi, is in mortal danger. That brings him back into the grim world of crime and fear for one last, intense high-stakes heist. He and his hastily re-assembled gang of seasoned experts, teamed up with Kip’s younger crowd, must steal 50 prized cars – as Robert Duvall does the tally. Angelina Jolie plays a tough, Ferrari-loving mechanic who was romantically involved with Memphis. Delroy Lindo is the L.A. police auto-theft detective who’s determined to arrest Memphis, while Christopher Eccleston is the vicious villain. The inventive car chases with expert stunt drivers are amazing, particularly on the bridge linking Long Beach and San Pedro. Car thieves give their prey girl’s names so the mythical star is “Eleanor,” a pewter 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500 with black stripes. In the original “Gone in 60 Seconds” (1974), best known for its 40-minute chase, Eleanor was a yellow 1973 Mach 1 Mustang. (Remember the green ’68 Shelby fastback Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt”?) On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Gone in 60 Seconds” accelerates to a fast-paced 4. It may push the pedal to the metal for car-and-action aficionados but it left me still wondering where my stolen car wound up.

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