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Late Summer 2006 Capsule Catch-Up Reviews:

Miami Vice 

  Rated R | 134 mins

     There’s a scene in Michael Mann’s Collateral, a film which I was originally apathetic towards but have come to respect upon repeat viewings, in which vicious coyotes ravage a nighttime Los Angeles cityscape amidst the director’s trademark style of grainy digital-video set to a heavy musical score. The passage perfectly summarizes the narrative-tension looming in the plot at the given moment; as Tom Cruise’s antagonist’s evil reaches its crescendo, such is epitomized in the primal nature of the behavior of his animal counterparts. Mann’s vision for Collateral worked perfectly because it was able to support the film’s tightly-constued storywork.
     Miami Vice draws upon the same visual and auditory techniques as its predecessor, but this time around, all of Mann’s tricks are out of place. What enhanced Collateral diminishes this odd-ball TV-show remake’s quality because of the lack of developmental support displayed by the story. Here, there isn’t any character development or coherant plot to speak of; the only bone in Miami Vice’s body yearning to show the audience something is that which is embodied by Mann’s sweeping, turquoise, island-fever-esque visuals. And, unfortunately, with few other inspired elements to hold these in place, they only serve as deceptive marketing-assets that were used in making titilating trailers to lure a crowd into see the film only to come out disappointed. The same goes for the performances of leads Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx (Gong Li, on the other hand, is inexcusably awful); their worthy efforts are drowned out in the nonsensicality of Miami Vice’s whole. Had he not written the script, one may have been able to forgive Mann for merely choosing a braindead screenplay to adapt, but that isn’t the case. This is a complete and utter failure for the filmmaker, who audiences have rightly come to expect more from given his seasoned body of work.

John Tucker Must Die

  Rated PG-13 | 89 mins

     John Tucker Must Die is the first blockbuster I know of to be released that feels as though it was made by a member of its target audience.  Assembled with the same cheery tone and glamorized view of its cast of bubble-gum-popping characters that saturate hundreds of junior-high video-projects each schoolyear, one would assume its writer/director to be a fourteen-year-old girl rather than the middle-aged Betty Thomas (I Spy, 28 Days). As a result, I was never quite able to enjoy it—I belong to pretty much the polar-opposite moviegoing demographic—but I sort of admired Thomas’ intentions at the same time. Why tip-toe around the idea of making a film for a specific group of people when such is a clear motivation in bringing a given script to life? It would be elitist of one to pretend that any motion-picture has the ability to appeal to everyone.
     However, while I can’t fault its selective aspirations, I can criticize John Tucker Must Die’s uninspired enactment of a recycled story. The plot: a group of girls who were all cheated on by two-timing high-school-basketball-star John Tucker decide to lead a mean-spirited plan of revenge to publically humiliate him. Then…well, that’s about it—tried and true, clichéd and conventional. There are a few admirable elements of the film: in addition to Thomas’ breezy direction, I enjoyed some of the cast-members’ performances, especially that of lead Brittany Snow. Otherwise, the movie’s unoriginality permeates through its surface, causing it to be an entirely ho-hum experience for both its well-intended target-audience (or at least the reasonably-intelligent portion of such) and everyone else. I suppose John Tucker Must Die represents a minor milestone because of its upfront, respectable intentions, but it’s also about the stalest, most unoriginal milestone I’ve ever seen.

The Boynton Beach Club

  Not Rated | 89 mins

    Going into The Boynton Beach Club, a little indie making its way around the country, I knew that its plot would be every bit as shallow and lighthearted as it looked on paper. The film centers on the lives of several members of a Florida retirement community coping with loss and rediscovering love and passion in their lives. Its premise is entirely elementary, to be sure. But, before seeing it, I had the hope that The Boynton Beach Club would be able to shed some much-needed cinematic light on the pleasures and pains of old-age. As recycled as its ideas may have been, perhaps it would be able to seize upon the freshness of a rare-explored demographic of characters—I thought to myself.
     Unfortunately, the movie is as typical as Frozen Cherry Pie. It is the same old romantic-comedy that mainstream movie-going audiences have been bombarded with for the past decade, the one that they keep slapping themselves for paying ten dollars to see for the bigillionth time. The characters in The Boynton Beach Club may be elderly, but they’re every bit as shallow, hollow, and conventional as those in any movie that has ever starred Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, or Julia Roberts. I suppose viewers of the same age as the characters might be able to identify with the film, but does anybody really need to watch another jumbled, syrupy picture about finding oneself? Save yourself the time, which is better spent watching re-runs of “Oprah” covering the same territory anyway.

The Night Listener

  Rated R | 82 mins

     Patrick Stettner’s The Night Listener is a deceivingly and maddeningly simple movie. The plot involves radio-show host Gabrielle Noone’s (Robin Williams) interest in one of his biggest fans, an abused and critically-ill boy who has written about the ways in which tragedy has struck his life. Gabrielle bonds with the boy, named Pete, over the telephone, but he begins to question Pete’s existence when he realizes a series of shocking coinsidences involving Pete’s social-worker and guardian, Donna (Toni Collette). From the get-go, the premise had me hooked in; I was ready for The Night Listener to take on a Hitchcock-esque frame and offer a suspenseful, twisty experience at the movies. Unfortunately, the film proved to do the opposite of such; the narrative is just about as straightforward as they come. I suppose screenwriters Stettner, Armistead Maupin, and Tery Anderson were admirable in their intentions to allow the story to acurately live up to its claim that it is “Based on True Events,” but the material becomes uninteresting as a result. The film’s script spells out everything that’s going to happen in the third-act beforehand and every bit of such foreshadowing rings true. The set-up could’ve lended to a thrillingly rewarding final-product, but instead The Night Listener ends up being a frustratingly basic motion-picture.
     Perhaps the reason I saw such promise in the material was the film’s dramatic flare in areas outside of its central-plotline. Had the cast-members’ performances and Stettner’s direction been as blasé as the goings on of the story, then I probably wouldn’t have recognized the screenplay’s inability to seize upon the potential of its premise. In the lead-role, Williams offers a subdued, fascinating portrayal of the miffed Gabrielle. Collette is equally as captivating as the mysterious Donna, a character who would’ve been bettered by a more narratively-developed personality. Stettner’s knack for tapping into the two great performers’ work gives The Night Listener an eerie, shadowy tone that glazes over the audience; it’s truly a shame that the picture wasn’t better supported by twistier storywork. As it is, I’m even tempted to recommend it because of its abundance of inspired elements, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t come out of it disappointed in the path taken by the narrative. This is an okay movie that could’ve rather easily been a lot better one.

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