Rotten movies directed by music-video hacks I’ve never heard
of starring people I never want to see again are such a daily ritual in this
business that I rarely expect anything better. But when mature stars I admire
and rely on for sanity, symmetry and vision turn out incomprehensible gibberish
like the catastrophic Town & Country ,
all hopes are dashed. This labored, charmless mess has been gathering dust on
an editing-room shelf for three years, for reasons that become painfully
obvious in a matter of minutes. Directed by Peter Chelsom, from an unfinished
script by Buck Henry and Michael Laughlin-all of whom appear to have been miles
from the 1998 location shooting, where the original $44 million budget was
being wasted (expenditures are rumored to have doubled faster than the Dow
Jones)-it’s supposed to be a sex farce about adultery that sums up the American
experience in bed. Sigh. The humorless and numbingly pointless result lacks all
rationale, except the wrecking of as many careers as possible.
In the careening farrago of broad sex jokes and disconnected
plot lines that form the disjointed trajectory of Town & Country , four witty, smart, rich, successful, sexy
people become semi-paralyzed by too much technology and information as they
bounce back and forth from Park Avenue and the Hamptons to Mississippi and the
ski slopes of Sun Valley. The first third of the movie is about affluence and
infidelity. Returning from their 25th wedding anniversary in Paris, Porter
Stoddard (Warren Beatty) and his addled wife (Diane Keaton) find their daughter
is living with someone who can’t speak English, their son is shacking up with a
freak with a stud through her tongue and their housekeeper has taken up with a
creep the size of a Sumo wrestler, who has just arrived from a jungle tribe in
a country that doesn’t seem to have yet been discovered-all under the couple’s
Mr. Beatty plays a sort of upscale Dagwood Bumstead (he even
has the same occupation-architect!) to Ms. Keaton’s career-obsessed Blondie.
When they’re not struggling to understand the 21st-century noise and anarchy at
their dining table, they’re piling into their ugly S.U.V. and heading for the
Hamptons, where their quaint country cottage is overrun with Japanese fabric
designers. Meanwhile, their best friend (Goldie Hawn) discovers her own husband
(Garry Shandling, never believable for a moment as an antiques dealer) is
having an affair with a mysterious redhead who turns out to be a transvestite.
Poor Dagwood can’t even have a quiet bowl of Rice Krispies in the middle of the
night without the sounds of sex emanating from every room. It’s only a matter
of time before he gets himself a bang of his own, with both his best friend
(the adorable Goldie) and a pregnant cellist (Natassja Kinski). Who can blame
him? He should have left home years ago.
The movie shifts gears, and the middle section turns into a
Looney Tunes cartoon for no purpose except to drive the budget into the
stratosphere. While the wives go ballistic and head for the divorce court, all
of the characters disappear from the movie except Mr. Beatty’s and Mr.
Shandling’s, who head for Idaho. Struggling to survive the snow and cope with
the sexual innuendo that results from sharing the same bed, Mr. Shandling’s
character hooks up with a hardware saleswoman (Jenna Elfman), and the
I’m-already-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown architect played by Mr. Beatty
falls into the horny clutches of a spoiled rich bitch (Andie MacDowell, whose
comic technique is clueless) and her insane parents. But in the most
embarrassing cameos in this trash wallow, Charlton Heston demolishes his
integrity as a right-wing gun lobbyist by chasing everyone with a 12-gauge
shotgun, while the dignified Marian Seldes crashes into the furniture and
breaks everything in sight screaming filthy obscenities that cannot be quoted
in print. It’s no wonder Mr. Beatty hides in a polar-bear costume.
The third section of the
movie is a soap opera staged during a New York awards dinner, in which all of
the women turn up in the same ladies’ room, unaware that they are all sleeping
with the same men. Ms. Keaton spills red wine on her white pantsuit, and the
repulsive Mr. Shandling announces in front of everyone you read about in Suzy’s
column that he’s gay! None of this makes one bit of sense, and the unresolved
ending seems to have been made up on the spot in time for the release date. The
only thing that makes this debacle watchable is the desperation of a highly
paid group of middle-aged talents trying to turn a boiled egg into a soufflé.
They’re adrift without a compass, and they know it.
When in doubt, Ms. Hawn shows as much of her skin as the
shopping-mall trade will allow and proves she doesn’t live in those Hollywood
gyms for nothing. Ms. Keaton falls back on an arsenal of engaging
mannerisms-stutters and assorted defense mechanisms that make her look like
she’s appearing in an altogether different film. They fare better than the men.
Where Mr. Shandling’s reputation as a laugh-maker came from is anybody’s guess,
and it’s a matter of historic cinematic record that Mr. Beatty’s forte has
never been comedy. But in fairness, I must admit he has some amusing moments. Nervous,
irritable and scratchy as an infant with diaper rash, he’s still looser than he
was in the calamitous Bulworth . As a
man wrestling with guilt, confusion and apoplexy to see if he still has a
testosterone level after the age of 60, he’s a poster boy for Viagra. Maybe he
should only tackle comedy when he’s not directing himself at the same time. The
fatally miscast Mr. Heston and Ms. Seldes, who are definitely old enough to
know better, are as funny as gunshot wounds. My reaction to them all is one of
profound humiliation. But what the hell-they’ve survived worse assaults.
They’ll survive Town and Country .
Overheard on the way out: One critic says, “It’s about
mid-life crisis,” and the second critic, scratching his head, says, “For the
characters, or the actors?” Anyone for bringing back canasta?
More Suffering From
Nobody survives The
King Is Alive . This pretentious bilge is by Danish director Kristian
Levring, one of the four wackos who founded Dogma 95, a laughable manifesto
dedicated to “stripping the superficials of modern filmmaking and getting back
to the essence of story making.” This deranged notion is responsible for the
brain-dead works of Lars von Trier, including Björk in last year’s Dancer in the Dark , the worst movie I’ve
ever seen-until The King Is Alive .
The Danes wouldn’t know how to tell a story or strip filmmaking of
superficiality if eight tons of raw film stock fell on their heads in the
middle of a strawberry-rash festival.
In this abomination, 11
bus passengers, stranded in the African desert with nothing to eat but tinned
sardines, stage a production of King Lear
while they are starving to death. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is terminally drawn
to this kind of septic waste, gets raped and poisoned and dies bleeding and
vomiting on a mud floor. Before this horror concludes, everyone joins her, and
not a moment too soon. The tedium is as fatal as the rusty sardine cans, so I
spent most of the time reading the production notes, which are so dry they must
have been translated from Danish. It’s astounding what you learn from those
jolly chaps: ” The King Is Alive is
not a filmed version of the Shakespeare play and, in fact, the choice of the
play was essentially irrelevant. However, King
Lear is undoubtedly an exceptional family drama.” There is more, but I’m
feeling benevolent enough to spare you. Boring, diabolically unwatchable and
dead on arrival, this candidate for everybody’s list of Worst Films of All Time
was shot in a deserted mining town called Kolmanskop, Namibia. It looks it.
About One Night : Just Forget It!
One hour of One Night
at McCool’s is too much. One night is unthinkable. Liv Tyler has more
cleavage than competence in the role of Jewel, a trashy bimbo who will stop at
nothing, including murder, for a house with wall-to-wall carpeting. Matt Dillon
plays a hunky, doofus bartender at a sleazy saloon called McCool’s. One night
when he’s closing up, he rescues her from a staged setup which he believes to
be a near-rape in the alley and, oblivious to bad acting, takes her home for a
soothing nightcap of tap water in a dirty jelly glass. Anyone who saw Kathleen
Turner in Body Heat can spot trouble
in a red dress, and sure enough, after a round of rough sex with the bartender,
her rapist and partner in crime shows up to rob the place. But, fueled by
dreams of redecorating Mr. Dillon’s rundown shack with venetian blinds, she
kills the scuzzy intruder and her horny host pleads guilty to protect her.
She moves in and
immediately charges a new mattress to his credit card. After what seems like
hours of predictable ho-hum time-wasting exposition, she turns him into a
burglar to acquire more household appliances, breaks up the marriage of his
yuppie lawyer cousin (Paul Reiser), transforming him into a kinky sex slave,
and reduces the cop investigating the case (John Goodman) to the status of a
justice-obstructing stalker. Between the double-entendre jokes about phallic
hot dogs and the running gag of a wino priest, the corpses of Jewel’s victims
pile up, punctuated by a ceaseless stream of noisy, intrusive pop-rock songs by
Caleb, Jungle Brothers and Johnny Cash, and there’s a massive shoot-out while
the Village People scream “YMCA.” In a far cry from Traffic , Michael Douglas, of all people, shows up as a hit man with
a 20-pound pompadour, a hideous paisley nylon shirt, a gruesome gold neck chain
and a passion for bingo. Hired to knock off Jewel, he falls for her, too.
With four wasted morons now competing for her sexual favors
in a state of slobbering lust, the hopelessly incompetent, baby-talking Ms.
Tyler points her bosoms toward new horizons. The hired killer may be old enough
to be her Daddy, but he also owns a DVD player. Reba McEntire is wasted as the
lawyer’s perpetually appalled shrink. They should all fire their agents. This
nasty, sniggering, mean-spirited farce, with sex and violence galore, was
produced by Michael Douglas (a sorry thing to contemplate) and marks the
unwelcome directorial debut of Harald Zwart, another dismal convert to feature
films from commercials and music videos. It could only happen in Hollywood.