Co-Stars Who Pass at
These are no longer the
dog days, the silly days, the stop-time days of movies. These are the
death days. January and February are already ready for a memorial service.
Every movie that has opened in 2001 (with the exception of the brilliant The Pledge , with Jack Nicholson) has an
expiration date. Now, as we enter the third month of a new season, there is no
hope of relief in sight. Do we really have to wait through 10 more months of
famine until some benevolent soul throws us an intelligent bone in the two
weeks before Christmas? No wonder more people are staying home watching
television. Even the requisite daily installment of the martyred Clintons
facing lions and gladiators in the Washington arena, or a pitiful fiasco like These Old Broads -with ga-ga Elizabeth
Taylor matching dead brain cells with cadaverous über- bitches Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins
(all lit, mascaraed and photographed like Quasimodo)-is more fun than what
we’re getting at the movies.
This week, the marquees change, but even the lure of star
power like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts can’t save The Mexican . This convoluted twaddle, about two flaky bores and a
gaggle of mobsters battling each other for
possession of a valuable antique gun, is a head-scratching cross between
The Maltese Falcon , a violent Sam
Peckinpah epic and Rocky and Bullwinkle .
As a caper comedy, it makes no sense and serves no purpose. As a contrived
vehicle for a pair of today’s prettiest celluloid commodities, the two stars,
teamed for the first time, look dirty and awful.
He’s a nitwit named Jerry who rear-ends a mobster’s car
while there’s a body in the trunk. Because his stupidity is the reason the big
boss goes to prison, Jerry becomes an indentured servant to thugs who force him
to pay off his debt doing illegal odd jobs. His latest assignment: travel to
Mexico, retrieve an ancient pistol that looks like a prop in an old Roy Rogers
western and comes with a legendary curse, and return it and the mobster’s
grandson safely to L.A. without screwing up. As a gringo with “sucker” stamped
on his forehead, Jerry finds himself up to his blond, all-American shag
hairstyle in mayhem.
Meanwhile, en route to Las Vegas, his girlfriend Sam (Ms.
Roberts, looking rained on) is kidnapped and held hostage by a hit man named
Leroy (James Gandolfini) who is big, burly, homicidal and gay. Jerry’s
adventures on the lam in Mexico and Sam’s new role-playing Cupid to the hit man
and a gay postman they pick up on the road-are interspersed with monochromatic
flashbacks illustrating conflicting versions of the cursed pistol’s violent
history. While she acts as amateur matchmaker between the hit man and his boyfriend,
the gay psycho-killer becomes, in turn, a relationship counselor for Jerry and
Sam. As the deadly, mixed-up, dangerous but charismatic Leroy, the bear-like
Mr. Gandolfini (who plays Tony Soprano) easily steals the film. When you have a
subsidiary character stealing a film from Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, you have
a film that is definitely having a nervous breakdown. It all ends badly, with
everyone hysterical and splattered with blood and mystified about what they’re
doing here in the first place.
Slobbering fans in a spasm over the thought of seeing two
contemporary heartthrobs together for the first time will be sadly
disappointed. We’re not talking Clark Gable and Ava Gardner here, but Brad and
Julia are about the best we’ve got in what passes for movie stars these days.
Alas, they seem to be in two different movies simultaneously. Except for one
scene in the beginning, where she throws him out of the house, and a screwball
sequence at the end, when she arrives south of the border to save him, their
roles are even played out in two different countries. The love story hidden
somewhere in the cactus is treated only glancingly.
The Mexican is a mess, haphazardly written by J.H. Wyman and more or less
“directed” by somebody named Gore Verbinski, whose previous film was the
idiotic Nathan Lane vehicle Mouse Hunt .
Both of them are graduates of the Coca-Cola, Nike and Budweiser school of
cinematic art. It shows. For a movie that is not about much of anything, The Mexican is full of short “takes,”
red herrings, false identities and a follow-the-dots trail of tangential twists
that aren’t interesting enough to analyze. It starts, re-starts, backfires,
runs out of gas, grinds to a halt, then starts again so many times you wonder
if it will ever end. It is obvious that nobody connected with The Mexican has ever heard of a
Brendan Fraser Really
It gets worse. After agonizing through the moronic
indignities of a horror called Monkeybone ,
disasters like The Mexican start to
look good. The gifted but misguided Brendan Fraser plays a doofus cartoonist
who creates “America’s most disturbed comic strip” starring Monkeybone, an
obnoxious character named after his first adolescent erection. Naturally, a
pubescent society fueled by marketing greed and already choking on the raunch
of South Park demands a TV series.
Before he can finish the pilot and marry his long-suffering girlfriend, Mr.
Fraser lands in a coma and gets transported to a nightmarish world of
live-action, stop-motion and computer-graphics animation, a hell ruled by
Whoopi Goldberg and her brother (Giancarlo Esposito), who is half-goat. With
only six hours to go before the hospital pulls the plug on his life-support
system, Bridget Fonda, a sleep-disorder doctor, injects nightmare juice into
the comatose cartoonist to shock him awake, while Monkeybone steals his exit
pass and returns with the body of Brendan Fraser and the brain of Monkeybone.
In the jabberwocky that follows, Mr. Fraser makes simian
faces, hops around on all fours, jumps on women in a form of monkey lust, hangs
from grids and rafters, and makes a total ass of himself, while the real Mr.
Fraser is locked in a cell in hell shared by Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden,
Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. (The presence of the latter two is a joke:
Mr. King, who plays himself, has given his
exit pass to Cujo, and Mr. Poe’s is being used by a raven. Ha, ha, I’m
clutching my kneecaps with laughter.) At this point, I gave up praying for
coherence and just concentrated on the outrageous costumes and rampant
Directed by Henry Selick, Monkeybone displays none of the imagination of his previous film, The Nightmare Before Christmas . This one
is frantic, embarrassing and witless; it is also trashy, scatological and
beyond salvage. The central recurring joke is flatulence, and there is entirely
too much of it. To promote this offense to the I.Q., the filmmakers have
commissioned and posted an Internet game in which a zoo monkey scores points by
hitting passersby with its own doo-doo. This is what movies have come to, guys.
Only a sadist would send a child to see Monkeybone .
It’s a nightmare from start to finish-too vulgar for kids and too vomit-making
The worst nightmare of
all is the heartbreak of watching Brendan Fraser trash his own career. He spent
a year buffing up for George of the
Jungle , then turned into a walking pudding. Time to go back to the gym,
fellow. You’re too young to look so puffy, bloated and baggy-eyed. After this
intolerable garbage, one is reluctantly forced to surmise that either the
sensitive performance he gave in the brilliant Gods and Monsters was just a fluke, or Mr. Fraser should fire his
agent and save his career.
Treats For Tired
In cabaret, two exceptional musical treats await your
enjoyment: At Feinstein’s at the Regency, the irresistible, irrepressible Nell
Carter ain’t misbehavin’ when she calls her new show “Something for Everyone.”
A pinch of country, a throbbing soupçon of Brazil, a raucous rack of rock, a
lusty jigger of jazz and a snifter of blues are among the house specialties
she’s serving through March 3. Her fine Duke Ellington tribute features the
most syncopated “Take the A Train” since Betty Roche, a haunting “Solitude” and
a swinging, double-barreled arrangement of “I’m Beginning to See the Light”
that bounces off the walls and soars through the doors all the way out onto
Park Avenue. Accenting every fifth note on “Rio de Janeiro,” she investigates
the bossa nova with a finesse I never thought possible. And her lovely,
transcendental job of acting and phrasing on the celebrated “One for My Baby”
makes you turn around to see if there’s really a bartender named Joe behind
Of course, the highlight is the brassy, blushingly direct
medley of Fats Waller songs with which she stopped the show nightly on Broadway
in Ain’t Misbehavin’ . They sound
brand-new. She’s such a versatile, broadly funny actress that it’s easy to
forget what a good singer she is. This is not really an “act” in the sense of
the scripted bores that are cluttering up cabaret these days. Her patter is
refreshingly improvised, the songs are carefully selected treasures she likes
to sing, and her style is as accomplished as it is eclectic.
Everything seems personal and intimate and sincere; at the
same time, she gives herself room to breathe and grow and share. Nothing feels
forced or directed or shaped by somebody else’s ideas of what a cabaret act
should be. And the talent is abundant. She has an impressive range and a
multitude of feelings, and there’s a chorus line doing the time step in her
larynx. You go away with the feeling that you’ve been royally entertained while
getting to know an extraordinary performer better. Nell Carter is the real
At the Algonquin’s fabled Oak Room, don’t miss Dave
Frishberg, a groovy singer-pianist-songwriter and icon to hip vocalists
everywhere, who is appearing through March 10. This is a rare opportunity to
see and hear the sophisticated composer of such classics as “Peel Me a Grape,”
“I’m Hip” and “Do You Miss New York?” in an intimate setting. An accomplished
musician who can play stride piano, fluffy riffs or pretty chords when ballads
demand, he’s a treat for tired ears weary of the same old routines. In this
solo performance, he sings in a unique voice reminiscent of Bob Dorough
cross-pollinated with Mose Allison, and peers over the top of his grand piano,
owlish and balding with steel-rim spectacles, like a kindly college professor
who, after a daunting composition class, just might offer his best students a
Treating the Algonquin like his living room, he shares works
in progress, revives old favorites like “My Attorney Bernie,” and offers
musical tributes to Marilyn Monroe, saxophonist Zoot Sims and comic-strip
supersleuth Brenda Starr, pouncing on the keys not like a kitten but more like
a puma. There’s even the world premiere of a brand-new song, co-written with
the great arranger Johnny Mandel, called “Little Did I Ever Dream” that’s based
on a legendary Stan Getz recording, “Hershey Bar.” From the way all the singers
in the room were leaning forward to catch every word, I think it will turn up
on a number of future CD’s. It’s heartening to hear accessible jazz played with
heart and soul and minimal intros, without 5,000 words on the history of the
song or the era in which it was written. In fact, it’s a relaxed and rewarding
privilege just to hear Dave Frishberg in any room in New York. He should visit
more often, and stay much longer.
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