Category Archives: 2001

Rat Race (2001, Jerry Zucker)

If you had told me there was a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as a plot point (a positive one), I don’t know I would’ve believed it. But if there is going to be a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as in a positive cameo… it’s going to be a movie like Rat Race. Rat Race is a big budget situation comedy masquerading as a madcap comedy adventure. Cleese is a Las Vegas casino owner who sends six or seven or twelve random people on a race from Vegas to New Mexico. Whoever gets there first gets two million dollars. Little do the contestants know Cleese has arranged the whole thing as a bet for a group of high owners at the casino.

Though it wouldn’t matter much because the stuff with Cleese and the high rollers is just for interlude gags.

The main race contestants are Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jon Lovitz. Maybe not in screen time (but maybe in screen time, it’s not worth counting), but definitely in extreme gags. Gooding at one point has stolen a charter busload of “I Love Lucy” Lucy cosplayers and Lovitz kind of kidnaps his family to go on the race with him (he doesn’t tell them about the race because he’s Jon Lovitz and it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a liar). Then there are the couples. Breckin Meyer is a pointlessly straight-laced young lawyer (his character details don’t matter at all) who gets helicopter pilot Amy Smart involved in the race; he’s crushing on her, she’s not crushing on him. Whoopi Goldberg was at the casino to meet long-lost daughter Lanai Chapman; not long-lost but Goldberg gave her up for adoption. Again, the character details don’t end up mattering at all. Once the couples are paired, they’re paired. Like idiot brothers Seth Green and Vince Vieluf (who apparently dropped his agent for not getting him more face time on Rat Race promotional material, but should’ve sued him for letting him do the role, which has him suffering from an infected tongue ring piercing and unintelligible the whole time—Andy Breckman’s screenplay never goes cheap or obvious when it can do both at once). Green’s the weasel, Vieluf’s the dumb lug. Evil George and Lenny, basically. They talk about splitting up for about a half hour of the film’s near two hour runtime but never actually get around to it. Breckman’s script also has its red herrings to fill runtime.

Because somehow it matters Rat Race goes on for near two hours? Like the runtime is going to give it legitimacy.

The last contestant is Rowan Atkinson, who appears to have done Rat Race in yet another attempt to breakthrough in the Colonies. Snideness aside, Atkinson’s great. Everything he does is great. Even when it’s in his dumb subplot involving jackass ambulance driver Wayne Knight and a transplant heart.

Rat Race is kind of a catch-22. The subplots are so bland, you need someone as bland as Meyer do one of them. And, frankly, Smart too. They’re both middling. She’s a little better, but only because Meyer’s unable to appear to listen or think. Green and Vieluf do a lot of terribly executed, large scale physical humor. Director Zucker isn’t necessarily really bad at the giant sight gags, it’s just he’s using CGI and it’s poorly done. And Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is bad. It’s more often less competent than competent. So you don’t care Green and Vieluf are one-note because the scenes are so perfunctory, even when they’re effective. Zucker’s got a couple good shots in the movie—establishing shots for the large-scale sight gags—and they’re the same shot. It’s like he has one good shot, but only two opportunities to use it. The rest of the time… middling direction.

Cleese too. He’s really funny. Especially with those fake teeth. But it’s a movie where the joke is John Cleese in some obviously fake fake teeth.

Dave Thomas has a really small part and, much like Atkinson, is able to get away successful. Goldberg isn’t bad, she’s just not successful. The movie ditches her and Chapman pretty quick, after one really funny sequence.

Gooding and Lovitz are both… inoffensive, while managing to also be the least sympathetic characters in the film. Maybe because Gooding’s supposed to somehow be inherently sympathetic because he’s a victim of unfair public shaming and because Lovitz is supposed to be saddled with an annoying family (wife Kathy Najimy wants to see David Copperfeld instead of gamble and spend time with husband Lovitz because… harpy?; the kids are just annoying, but end up being sympathetic because Lovitz is… Lovitz). I already said Atkinson is great. Who else is there… Green and Vieluf. Vieluf’s more likable than Green and probably better. Green just mugs.

Last thing. The music. Not the Smash Mouth performance, which sucks, but the “score” by John Powell, which reuses familiar classical ditties like In the Hall of the Mountain King and some also La Traviata. Trust me, you’ve heard the music. Probably in television commercials because it’s effective music. Just culturally rote. And that music ends up in some big set pieces, so it’s unclear what Powell’s actually bringing to the film other than making it sound consistent with a television commercial.

Rat Race is cheap and obvious but occasionally funny and usually inoffensive.

And Atkinson is exceptional.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Zucker; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Tom Lewis; music by John Powell; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Sean Daniel, Janet Zucker, and Jerry Zucker; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Owen Templeton), Jon Lovitz (Randy Pear), Rowan Atkinson (Enrico Pollini), Breckin Meyer (Nick Schaffer), Amy Smart (Tracy Faucet), Seth Green (Duane Cody), Vince Vieluf (Blaine Cody), Whoopi Goldberg (Vera Baker), Lanei Chapman (Merrill Jennings), Kathy Najimy (Beverly Pear), Wayne Knight (Zack Mallozzi), Dave Thomas (Harold Grisham), and John Cleese (Donald P. Sinclair).


RELATED

Advertisements

Disco Pigs (2001, Kirsten Sheridan)

Disco Pigs might not be the best title for Disco Pigs, but it’s hard to imagine any other title for it so an imperfect one is better than a wrong one. Maybe disco had some appropriate cultural Irish relevancy. Or maybe playwright Enda Walsh, who adapted the screenplay himself, couldn’t think of anything else either.

The film opens with an unborn baby–who will grow up to be lead Elaine Cassidy–with Cassidy narrating her thoughts about being born. Writer Walsh gets in some foreshadowing during this narration, kind of some sore thumb foreshadowing, only it takes a long, long time for it to come out in the narrative.

The film quickly fastforwards to Cassidy at sixteen years, 348 days. In her crib at the hospital, she meets another baby in the adjoining crib. That baby grows up to be Cillian Murphy. He too is sixteen years, 348 days, when the present action begins. They live next door to one another and have been their entire lives. Their rooms are mirrors of one another, each with a secret window between so they can hold hands as they sleep each night.

Disco Pigs is the story of their seventeen days until their seventeenth birthday.

For the first third of the film, about ninety percent is Cassidy and Murphy together. They’re so wrapped up in one another–and have been for so long–they don’t seem to form outside relationships as individuals, just as a unit. They have their own shorthand language, somewhat fantastical, with the rest of the world utterly detached.

Director Sheridan keeps a bit of distance, occasionally developing Cassidy separate from Murphy–though Murphy’s the one who gets the eventual big scene in the first act. Even though they’re teenagers, surrounded by teenagers doing teenage things, there’s a chasteness to their relationship. Physical romance is still something for a giggle, not a fantasy. Until it becomes clear Murphy’s moving away from the giggling to the fantasy faster than Cassidy and even though they have their own language, it’s a child’s language, without the words they need to communicate now.

Their respective home lives reveal some more differences. Murphy’s mother, Eleanor Methven, finds him more of a laugh than a concern. She’s got another kid, a younger sister (presumably from a different dad, but it’s never mentioned). Meanwhile, Cassidy’s parents–Geraldine O’Rawe and Brían F. O’Byrne–are far more concerned Cassidy’s future. So they let the school talk them into sending her away.

The middle portion of the film is Murphy’s quest to find her juxtaposed against Cassidy socially developing away from him. It’s also when it becomes clear Murphy’s not just missing his best friend, he’s severely mentally disturbed. While Cassidy’s section quickly becomes affable (thanks to the influence of roommate Tara Lynne O’Neill), Murphy’s half is harrowing.

The third part of the film is the birthday, which director Sheridan and editor Ben Yeates methodically pace. It retains some of that harrowing momentum, only cut loose of any expectations, both from the viewer’s perspective and Cassidy’s.

Both Cassidy and Murphy are exceptional. It’s a toss-up who’s better; even though they start from similar positions, Walsh’s narrative gives them entirely different character arcs. There’s a relative staticness to the roles in the beginning, something Murphy retains, only it becomes clear entropy is affecting him as well. And he’s aware of it; it’s never part of the script, but it’s always present in Murphy’s performance.

Sheridan’s direction stays calm, even after she closes the narrative distance. There’s seemingly a greater sympathy with Cassidy, yet in hindsight–and after some foreshadowed backstory gets covered–it’s there with Murphy as well. The third act really is about integrating the various styles Sheridan’s been working with–that joint first act, which develops stress fractures, and the separate, wildly different second act. It’s all got to come together.

Great photography from Igor Jadue-Lillo. Great music from Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer.

Disco Pigs is difficult, terrifying, and lovely. Cassidy and Murphy give breathtaking performances.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kirsten Sheridan; screenplay by Enda Walsh, based on his play; director of photography, Igor Jadue-Lillo; edited by Ben Yeates; music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer; produced by Ed Guiney; released by Renaissance Films.

Starring Elaine Cassidy (Runt), Cillian Murphy (Pig), Tara Lynne O’Neill (Mags), Brían F. O’Byrne (Runt’s Dad), Geraldine O’Rawe (Runt’s Mam), Eleanor Methven (Pig’s Mam), Darren Healy (Marky), and Michael Rawley (Foxy).


RELATED

Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

Ghost of Mars has a lot of earnestness going for it. Director Carpenter needs quite a bit his cast and he supports them even when they’re clearly not able to succeed–especially lead Natasha Henstridge. He takes the project seriously, his cast takes it seriously. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s not from lack of effort.

Some of the problem is the editing. Carpenter and editor Paul C. Warschilka do these crossfades, which might be an attempt to obfuscate the low budget. And Carpenter pushes with the crossfades at the start. Then he drops them once the action gets going. They’re only for the lead-up to the action, when Ghosts is more horror than action. At least in terms of strange creatures lurking in the night and Carpenter trying to disturb the viewer instead of enthrall them. In a strange turn, instead of tasking cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe with hiding the low budget and instilling mood, Carpenter relies on Warschilka.

It actually might be for the best, given the acting.

So Henstridge. While she’s not good and she’s sometimes bad, she tries hard at playing her part. She’s a badass future cop on Mars who has to save the day, teaming up with Ice Cube’s outlaw. Cube’s all right. He maybe gives the best lead performance, but he doesn’t have much competition. Jason Statham isn’t any good, though he eventually becomes likable. Clea DuVall is in a similar situation. She’s not good–her part is even worse than Statham’s–but she’s immediately likable. Thanks to the editing. Joanna Cassidy’s probably the best performance and she’s very supporting. Pam Grier sort of troopers through it. She knows how to do the material, she knows how to direct attention.

But then there’s the narrative construction. Carpenter doesn’t waste time establishing the characters as sympathetic, instead he uses a framing device to interest the viewer in the story. Again, it’s somewhat effective just because it covers Henstridge’s acting failings. It also shakes up the narrative a bit. Carpenter’s not as interested in being interesting as encouraging interest. Not just in terms of the rising action, but in the ground situation. Ghosts of Mars goes out of its way to be unique, even when it doesn’t help the narrative or the character development. The setup for the Mars society is all unnecessary filler. It distracts and just gives the actors problems.

Overall, Ghosts of Mars isn’t a success, but it’s a decent enough diversion. Carpenter and the cast put enough into it to get over the many bumps in the production. It’s more of an accomplishment, given its constraints, than anything else.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Larry Sulkis and Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Paul C. Warschilka; music by Carpenter; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Sandy King; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Natasha Henstridge (Lieutenant Melanie Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho Butler), Pam Grier (Commander Helena Braddock), Clea DuVall (Bashira Kincaid), Liam Waite (Michael Descanso), Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) and Rosemary Forsyth (Inquisitor).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 4: THE MUNDANE YEARS.

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001, Kaneko Shûsuke)

While watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, I had a daydream. I day dreamt Craig Armstrong, composer of The Incredible Hulk score, had been brought in the redo the score of Attack for the U.S. home video market. He did not. Instead, Ôtani Kô actually did compose the score for the film I was watching, meaning director Kaneko okayed that music. Because the music is where Attack forecasts its eventual problems. The music goes from undistinguished but fine to godawful. Shorting after the music goes to godawful, the film starts its slide down from the not insignificant heights it had reached.

Kaneko’s approach to Godzilla, the monster, is to make him a villain again. Kaneko’s approach to a Godzilla movie is to make the viewer the victim. Kaneko makes every giant monster attack visceral. Introduce a couple disposable characters, identify with them as giant monsters threaten their lives. It’s occasionally successful and at least once pretty fun, but it’s a contrived approach. Kaneko’s not trying to tell the story, he’s trying to make the viewer like the movie. Two very different things.

Some of the problem is that story. It’s light. Godzilla is a soulless monster (with grey devil’s eyes), the other monsters are all Japanese folklore creatures who are coming back to save Japan from the invading monster. They just didn’t help at any other time. And there’s some historical and political things thrown in because Kaneko and the script want to appear edgy. But it’s not edgy. It’s silly. As Attack progresses, the film descends into narrative absurdity, even lower than when the film started with wisecracks about the crappy American Godzilla remake.

Attack should still be better. Kaneko does a fabulous job for the first half of the film. The first monster fight is outstanding. He just flops on the final one, when there’s multiple magical resurrections and so on. But that flop isn’t about pacing, which is bad, or about the effects, which are good, it’s about the narrative. The script goes slack at the end. The last twenty minutes are tedious and the coda is awful.

Better humans–and better human stories–would help. Niiyama Chiharu is an intrepid faux news reporter who decides to cover the giant monster story. No other reporters are covering it. Luckily her dad is the Navy admiral in charge of hunting Godzilla. Uzaki Ryûdô plays the dad. Neither of them are particularly good, neither of them are particularly bad. Niiyama gets annoying in the second half when she’s telling everyone to trust in the giant monsters.

So much potential, so much technical talent, such a bad second half. Kaneko figured out the beginning of a movie and then got lost he was done setting up.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shûsuke; written by Hasegawa Keiichi, Yokotani Masahiro and Kaneko; diretor of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; edited by Tomita Isao; music by Ôtani Kô; production designer, Miike Toshio; produced by Honma Hideyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Niiyama Chiharu (Tachibana Yuri), Uzaki Ryûdô (SDF Adm. Tachibana Taizô), Kobayashi Masahiro (Takeda Teruaki), Sano Shirô (Kadokura Haruki), Nishina Takashi (AD Maruo Aki), Minami Kaho (SDF Intelligence Capt. Emori Kumi), Ohwada Shin’ya (SDF Lt. Gen. Mikumo Katsumasa), Murai Kunio (SDF HQ Secretary Hinogaki Masato), Watanabe Hiroyuki (Hirose Yutaka) and Katsurayama Shingo (SDF Intelligence Maj. Kobayakawa Tokihiko).


RELATED