The Supporting Actress Curse Plagues Mira Sorvino … Gary Oldman’s It’s a Terrible Life

Supporting Actress: Curse Holds True

Nothing else makes any sense in the movie business, so why should Mira Sorvino’s career? In one baffling disappointment after another, she’s proving that the old jinx about the best supporting actress Oscar just may be true. In a nightmare called The Replacement Killers , she’s not alone. Her paralyzing lack of screen charisma is evenly matched by her co-star, a Hong Kong action star named Chow Yun-Fat, who is not bloody likely to become a household name in Wichita. Or, for that matter, even in Zabar’s.

In this sorry attempt to make an American-style kung-phooey epic in the Bruce Lee tradition, he plays a hired Oriental assassin working for a modern-day Chinese warlord in some American city that looks like the dark side of Mars. When his new assignment involves the murder of a cop’s son, he gets cold feet and turns into Mr. Nice Guy. With a contract out on his own head, he’s desperate to get out of the country and return to Guangzhou to save his family from death, but he needs travel documents. Ms. Sorvino plays the trashy bimbo who specializes in fake passports and automatic weapons. Now they’re both moving targets. So much for plot. The rest of this noisy yawn with chopsticks concerns itself with imitating the one-two-three-kick style of Asian blast-‘em-off-the-screen flicks, without the substance.

Shortly after the movie begins, somebody threw the script in the shredder, and all that is left is a bunch of grim-faced killers slugging it out with the two hopelessly mismatched stars in a senseless farrago of violence and mayhem. There are shootouts in a car wash, a penny arcade and even a movie house full of children watching a Mr. Magoo cartoon. Thugs with scallion breath snort cocaine from hunting knives while helicopters descend to blow everybody off rooftops at every conceivable camera angle. There’s so much slaughter and carnage, you don’t know who is getting blown apart, or why, while Ms. Sorvino never breaks a fingernail, changes her expression, or runs out of bullets. The result is cinematic chop suey.

Chow Yun-Fat mystifies me. He comes across like a puffy, road-company Jackie Chan with a double chin. But Ms. Sorvino is even more puzzling. After winning that Oscar for Woody Allen, she played second fiddle to an army of cockroaches. This time she’s in a movie that hits rock-bottom with such a thud, it’s a miracle if she hasn’t suffered a concussion in the fall. There’s no chemistry between the leads; They’re as wooden as sawed-off tree stumps. Best line in The Replacement Killers : “Don’t confuse luck with skill.” It’s a watchcry Ms. Sorvino should memorize while working the job market with her Oscar in hand.

Gary Oldman’s It’s a Terrible Life

Murky and depressing, Nil by Mouth is a writer-director debut by actor Gary Oldman that will predictably send audiences heading for the exit doors in droves. It’s a stark, brutal, ugly and violent portrait of Mr. Oldman’s own dysfunctional family of lowlifes in south London that made me wonder how Mr. Oldman survived long enough to grow up in one piece and play Dracula. Produced by French director Luc Besson, who got it into last year’s Cannes festival through political pull, it’s a nauseating, darkly photographed and virtually plotless assignation with no commercial appeal whatsoever, and one of the few films ever made with Cockney accents so broad and thick you need subtitles.

In this grim and repellent study of working-class smackers and wankers, there’s a long-suffering mother whose son is a $100-a-day heroin addict shooting up in public toilets and whose daughter is married to an alcoholic sadist who beats her half to death, then kicks her unconscious with steel-toed jackboots while she’s six months pregnant. The dialogue is a barrage of filthy slang, and the unrelenting violence quickly becomes as ponderous as the close-ups of hypodermic needles. Eventually, Mr. Oldman conjures up some sympathy for the pathetic women trapped in a morbid existence from which there is no escape, and there is one stark and eloquent performance by the director’s own sister, a real-life lorry driver working under the stage name Laila Morse, who plays the slatternly mother of these lunkheads.

The jerky cinéma vérité camera work is as confusing as the criminal behavior and the incoherent script, and if you can figure out the title (something about a hospital sign forbidding oral medication), you should apply for a job as a translator. Filmed in grainy shadows and hazy black and white, Nil by Mouth looks like an unwashed armpit and smells like one, too. Why aren’t these actors content just playing Dracula? Do they have to live it, too?

George Clooney: You Stink

Seen any bad movies lately? While the rest of Hollywood gears up for-and succumbs to-Oscar fever, another body of voters is currently sending out ballots for the 20th annual Stinkers awards. This is not a joke. The Stinkers have real ballots, and the public is invited to participate. If you want to vote, look them up on their Web site, http://www.thestinkers.com, or request a ballot from the Stinkers, P.O. Box 91114, Pasadena, Calif. 91109. Entries postmarked by Feb. 21 must include $1; those postmarked after Feb. 22 must include $5. The winners (or is it losers?) will be announced March 15 (one week before Oscar night) on the sidewalk in front of the world-famous Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. All proceeds will be donated to charity.

What is going on here? This happening began 20 years ago when co-founders Mike Lancaster and Ray Wright worked as ushers in a Pasadena movie house. They saw more than 100 rotten films that year and scribbled out their first worst-film list on a napkin during the 1979 Academy Awards telecast as a way to kill time during commercials. “It just sort of mushroomed into an annual event,” says Mr. Wright, now 36. “If you had told me 20 years ago that we’d be getting requests for ballots from all over the country via the Internet, I wouldn’t have believed it.” To kick off this year’s Stinkers campaign, the group handed out ballots to more than 15,000 overnight campers at the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Eve. The thing is now so big that all entrants are automatically entered into a drawing to win “cool movie stuff” like video copies of past winners and current nominees, as well as the worst movie collectibles imaginable.

Former winners include such bombs as Dune, Howard the Duck and Spaceballs . This year’s fiascoes sound like I compiled the list myself. George Clooney’s disastrous Batman and Robin has more nominations than anything else, but slugging it out for the year’s other worst-film dishonors, I was delighted to find The Postman, The Fifth Element, Lost Highway and Starship Troopers . Hey, guys, what happened to Men in Black and G.I. Jane ? Top contender for worst actor is again Tom Arnold, who was also last year’s winner. Good choice, since any Tom Arnold movie is always a contender for worst something. Sharon Stone has won more worst actress awards than anyone else, but for the first time in the group’s history, Alicia Silverstone gets the dubious distinction of being nominated in both the worst actress and worst supporting actress categories-for two different flicks.

There’s a Most Unwelcome Direct-to-Video Release category (the uncontested winner has to be Pamela Anderson Lee’s homemade porno tape), a Worst Screenplay for a Film That Grossed Over $100 Million category (using Hollywood math) and a special punch in the nose for Most Annoying Fake Accent, which I would personally declare a tie between Richard Gere and Brad Pitt for playing around with blarney that was thicker than an Irish coffee. For worst on-screen couple, I vote for Mark Wahlberg and his 13-inch rubber appendage in Boogie Nights .

Recalling their salad days as movie ushers, Mr. Lancaster and Mr. Wright insist, “Most of the movies we saw were so bad that even though we got in for free, we felt like we had been cheated.” Fellas, I know exactly what you mean.