Fantasy Island: A Horror Story!

Have you got a minute? Then don’t rush to see Six Days, Seven Nights , the so-called “action comedy” with Harrison Ford. A head of lettuce has a longer shelf life when you consider the stuff they’re spraying on produce. Contrived and preposterous, this summer time-waster will end up at Blockbuster before you turn around.

On one of those one-week travel getaways to the South Pacific, two stressed-out New York yuppies find their R&R ruptured when Anne Heche, playing an editor for a dumb magazine called Dazzle , is forced to fly to Tahiti for an overnight photo shoot, leaving her brainless boyfriend (David Schwimmer) behind at their luxury beach resort. Mr. Ford plays the seedy, over-the-hill cargo pilot hired to transport her in a plane the size of a telephone booth. On the way to Papeete, they crash-land on a deserted island, survive on roasted peacocks and breadfruit, and tangle half-naked in the surf like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity .

The odd-couple teaming of the arrogant Dazzle editor and the drunken beachcomber pilot must have been rejected 50 years ago by Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper as an idea whose time was already destined for the trash bin, but director Ivan Reitman treats it like Lucy and Desi in the shipwreck episode. Scorpions in Ms. Heche’s hair. A snake in her underwear. Inflating a rubber raft inside the wrecked plane that jams her face against the window and makes her look like a blowfish in a tank. There’s no end to the comic violence this movie subjects Ms. Heche to, and no end to the physical punishment, either.

Falling off cliffs, dragging heavy equipment across the sand, wading through swamps, scaling rapids and climbing trees, the stars go through the kind of hell that would wear down Sly Stallone. After an earthquake plunges her into an underground hole, Ms. Heche doubles up her fists and announces, “I’ve had about as much vacation as I can stand.” After surviving this movie, my need for one is just beginning.

While the stars are getting a Nautilus workout, the movie cuts annoyingly to her boyfriend and his bed mate (Jacqueline Obrados, a bus-and-truck Jennifer Lopez) doing torrid dances and drinking mai tais before they really get down and dirty. But it’s an odd thing. For all its sexual innuendo, nothing ever happens here that is even remotely suggestive or erotic. (It’s a Disney concoction, don’t you know.) When Mr. Ford finally plants a big wet one on Ms. Heche, he sees her engagement ring and recoils fast. The sexiest thing in the movie is Kauai, Hawaii, where I’d like to spend six days and seven nights myself some day, but not with any of the people in this movie.

Six Days, Seven Nights looks and sounds like the kind of lost-cause flick where they wrote each day’s scene minutes before it was shot. Ms. Heche has all the best lines and delivers them with snap. Mr. Ford, who is no comedian, looks like he’s suffering from jock itch. And Mr. Schwimmer has big eyes, big pecs, big lips and a big hole in the talent department the size of the Bermuda Triangle. Oh, did I forget to mention the pirates? This movie’s got everything. The problem is, the murderous pirates who attack the stars seem more like a gang of Hell’s Angels visiting Sea World. No cannons, no wooden legs, no barrel of rum. It’s a shame. This is one movie that could use a talking parrot.

Dinah Was Feisty; She Still Is

Here’s an amazing sight you don’t even see on the Great White Way: a star-spangled collection of glitterati that included Joe DiMaggio, Gloria Vanderbilt, Woody Allen, Dina Merrill, Jane Powell, Betty Buckley, Jason Alexander and Daisy Eagen piling into a converted movie house on East 23rd Street for the way-off-Broadway opening of Dinah Was , a musical with histrionics about soul queen Dinah Washington. They were all in better shape than the show. I remember the Gramercy Theater in its salad days when it ran second-run double features and art films with subtitles. I missed the popcorn.

Dinah was many things-warm, generous and giving one minute, then a bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, coldhearted bitch the next. She spent most of her life battling racial intolerance and career typecasting. She was a fighter who was tired of fighting-for love, respect, equality and star billing. She married seven husbands, abused alcohol and prescription drugs, and died before she was 40. Two years ago, she finally ended up on a postage stamp. That’s all I know, and that’s all you’ll find out from Dinah Was , clumsily written by Oliver Goldstick and routinely directed by David Petrarca. Obviously, there was more to the life of this vivacious performer than meets the eye here. The show plays ping-pong with the few facts it does display, bouncing all over the place in a series of confusing time frames with awkwardly staged vignettes, beginning with her headliner status in Las Vegas and her refusal to use the kitchen entrance to the stage while she perched on her luggage in the lobby of the Sahara Hotel, waiting for a room. Between chugs of whiskey and attention-getting tantrums, we flash backwards to her early beginnings in Chicago as 17-year-old Ruth Jones, a girl unwilling to settle for a solo spot in her mother’s church choir. We get glimpses of early gigs in Detroit, her love affair with a trumpet-playing soldier, her domestic problems, and her struggle to reach the pop and jazz charts in a recording industry dominated by white disk jockeys. There are flashes of humor that reveal her flamboyance (buying mink toilet seat covers) and desperation (donning a blonde wig to compete with Doris Day), but it’s a familiar story, and not a very interesting one. Every performer of color ambitious to reach a wider, whiter audience in the 1950’s experienced the same humiliating rejections. But there is one thing nobody can contest. Drunk or sober, Dinah Washington was a dynamic and powerful singer, and so is Yvette Freeman. When she sails into hit songs like “What a Difference a Day Makes,” the rest of Dinah Was just seems like wooden, sketchy interludes between tunes.

Joan Ryan Arrives Downtown

Poised, sophisticated and singing like a passionate angel, the lovely West Coast actress and song stylist Joan Ryan is making her first East Coast appearance in 15 years, down at the Greenwich Village club Eighty-Eights, with the polish, panache and professionalism of a seasoned Broadway veteran. I was first decimated by her talent at this year’s 14th annual Southland Theater Artists Goodwill Event benefit at California State University in Los Angeles, where she shared the bill with an all-star cast that included Janis Paige, Shirley Jones, Brock Peters, Charlotte Rae, Betty Garrett, Patrick Cassidy, Davis Gaines, Donna McKechnie and a galaxy of other show-stopping headliners. They were all great, but it’s her volcanic rendition of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” I remember best. It’s in her current act, and you can see and hear for yourself what all the applause was about.

Ms. Ryan’s first outing in the jungles of Manhattan is a welcome respite from the usual fare of turgid divas. She’s confident, she trusts the material, and she has a strong alto that could stop traffic on the George Washington Bridge. Her repertoire includes standards (“I’m Flying” from Peter Pan and a uniquely tempoed “Shall We Dance” from The King and I ), as well as contemporary surprises. “Strangers Once Again,” by Lindy Robbins and John Bucchino, wistfully examines how you think you know someone and how you think you’ll die without them before love lies, time flies, hearts heal and you’re “strangers once again.” “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind” is a cleverly constructed, wittily delivered spin on today’s mores, when we’ll put up with the worst crap on earth (cigars, sushi, skiing, poker) if we really love someone. Using her vibrant upper register, she brilliantly fuses Jose Feliciano’s throbbing “Once There Was a Love” with a theme from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ haunting Bachianas Brasilieras to show how the voice can be used effectively as a musical instrument to convey a depth of emotion. (I can’t think of many cabaret artists today who can duet with a flute.)

Whether she’s singing about the pain of old relationships or the optimism of new ones, Joan Ryan slides up and down the scale of her powerful range with accuracy, grace, style and a healthy, restorative crack of California sunshine. Where has she been all my life? In a wonderful act directed by the brainy, accomplished, full-of-ideas David Galligan, Joan Ryan is such a special new addition to our town I wish she’d hang around forever. There’s a Broadway musical waiting in the wings with her name on it.

Comments

  1. Shanna Bialik says:

    Great blog! Sorry to get off subject, but since Nashville is getting a lot of press lately, I’m looking for a great Nashville sushi restaurant or Japanese restaurant. Have you heard of any good ones? There’s a new one called Nomzilla Sushi Et Cetera, but I’ve only seen a few reviews. Here’s the address of this new Nashville Sushi Restaurant , 1201 Villa Place, Suite 101 Nashville, TN 37212 – (615) 268-1424. Let me know your thoughts! Thanks!