On The Town With Rex Reed

She’s Fat, But Not Funny

Gwyneth Paltrow

is rumored to have made $10 million for her

role in the Farrelly

Brothers’ new obesity farce, Shallow Hal .

I certainly hope so. It really is the only acceptable explanation for the

appearance of a patrician Oscar winner of her stature in such a sophomoric

piece of trash. For Shakespeare in Love ,

she probably got carfare. For 10 big ones, a girl can be forgiven almost

anything; for 10 big ones, there is no such thing as deplorable.

Too bad the same thing cannot be said for Shallow Hal . Writers-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly

are the envelope-pushing amateurs whose stomach-turning junk films, such as Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary , are to the

cinematic experience what four pounds of tainted pork are to the alimentary

canal. This time they examine the tired axiom “Beauty is in the eye of the

beholder.” In the opening scene, a man dying in an intensive-care unit leaves

his porcine 9-year-old son Hal with parting words of sage advice: “Don’t settle

in life for average poontang-hot tail is what it’s

all about.” The little porker grows up to be a fat gnat head, played by

somebody named Jack Black, who exhibits all the charm of a recycled Goodyear

tire. Hal is so shallow, he devotes his life to

hitting on girls because of the size of their bodacious ta-tas.

To alter his misguided libido, a self-help guru in size-16 shoes hypnotizes him

in a stalled elevator. From that moment on, Hal encounters the world’s most

grotesquely hideous women and sees only beauty.

Enter Gwyneth

Paltrow, who plays Rosemary, the humongous daughter

of Hal’s boss, played-for no reason-like a thug with a Scottish Highlands

accent by veteran movie mobster Joe Viterelli. When

Hal is with Rosemary, Ms. Paltrow’s the golden-haired

babe we all know and love. When everyone else sees her, she’s a 300-pound

female rhino. Even Hal’s best friend (Jason Alexander), a fat cretin who sprays

fertilizer on his head to make it look like he has more hair, thinks he’s

dating her to win over the boss, adding that all the women Hal is suddenly

attracting are dogs. “Who says they’re ugly?” “Bausch and

Lomb.”

This is a one-joke movie

dragged out for two painful hours, interrupted occasionally by Mr. Alexander,

who urges people to enter the bathroom to inspect the contents of the toilet

bowl. Then the humor turns from nasty to ghoulish when the guru removes the

hex, and Hal sees the women of his masturbatory fantasies for what they really

are and goes schizo. Not only is Rosemary a clunking

blob of varicose-veined ectoplasm, but the beautiful children in the pediatric

ward where Rosemary works turn out to be deformed burn victims, and the

athletic hunk Hal is jealous of turns out to have a head full of psoriasis that

covers his shoulders with skin scabs. In time, the shallow guy realizes beauty

really is only skin-deep, but it’s too late for messages or morals. The humor

has already leaked like slow flatulence from a movie that was, from the

beginning, desperately in need of a bottle of Beano.

The sight of glam-goddess Gwyneth

wolfing down cheeseburgers and chocolate malts has a mildly humorous effect,

but once she’s slathered in latex prosthetics, the sight of all that

pulchritude is oddly, disingenuously unfunny. I didn’t crack a smile at the

burn victims, or the poor creature with the deformed spine who

crawls around on his hands and knees, either. And while this movie pretends to

lift the veil on the superficial values of horny men in society who make fun of

homely females, its attitudes toward the afflicted and disenfranchised are

offensively cruel. Everything about it is superficial, including Mr.

Alexander’s coming to grips with an extended vestigial bone at the bottom of

his own spine, which he learns to wag proudly like a puppy dog’s tail.

The Farrellys, who peddle bad taste on a massive scale to appeal to the basest instincts

of a brainless teenage audience that laughs uproariously at laxatives, and

semen for hair gel, call this their “most emotional film” to date. This is the

most genuine laugh connected with Shallow

Hal . It is shallow to the core, and crammed with 29 vomit-inducing rock

songs strung together for a soundtrack CD to prove it.

The Score Times

Two

Another Oscar winner goes slumming in Heist . This time it’s Gene Hackman, in a

movie with a one-word title that pretty much says it all. This one comes on the

heels of The Score , with practically

the same identical plot. It’s the old cliché about the crafty veteran thief who

gets betrayed by the ambitious, greedy, smartass

younger thief in one last heist before retirement. This time Mr. Hackman plays the older thief that Robert De Niro played in The

Score ; the brilliant Sam Rockwell takes on the role Edward Norton had in

the earlier film; and toadstool-sized Danny DeVito is

the crooked fence Marlon Brando

played in the style of Truman Capote. The

only difference is that Heist

has two heists for the price of one, neither of them plausible or convincing,

and the preposterous, self-conscious dialogue is written by the dumbfoundingly overrated David Mamet.

But even with lines like “She could talk her way out of a suntan,” a heist is a

heist is a heist.

Mr. Hackman, who dresses up a lot of

bad movies these days, plays the crook who wants to retire after one final job

to his fishing boat in the tropics-a role that was so old it was hairy even

when Humphrey Bogart played it in film after film in the 1940′s. After the

tiresome jewel heist, filmed in detail but still incoherent, the slimy little

fence (Mr. DeVito) cheats Mr. Hackman

out of his half of the precious gems-unless he pulls off one more job. The

second robbery involves stealing a fortune in gold from a cargo plane on the

tarmac in broad daylight. This one is foiled by the fence’s cocky, oversexed

nephew (well played by the versatile Mr. Rockwell), who makes off with the gold

and the old guy’s hard-boiled wife (Rebecca Pidgeon).

Relax. Even in the big shootout, Mr. Hackman has a

backup plan. Like The Score , the

point of a contrived underworld potboiler like Heist is simple: You can’t teach an old dog new

tricks, because old dogs already know every trick in the book.

It doesn’t take long before you forget all about the dynamics and

start listening to the dialogue. David Mamet is not

half the director he and his investors think he is, but as a writer he can

always be relied upon for fast, funny and completely pointless dialogue-which

means words that are in love with themselves, and lines that exist for no other

purpose than to be quoted. Since the whole movie is about repartee, here are

some examples:

“He’s so cool that when he goes to bed, sheep count him !”

“Nobody lives forever.” “Frank Sinatra

gave it a shot.”

“Ain’t

you a piece of work?” “Yeah, I came all the way from China in a matchbox.”

“He’s quiet as an ant pissing on cotton.”

“How long has he been with that girl?” “How long is a Chinaman’s

neck?”

Typical Mamet-speak.

Tough and talky and fueled by testosterone, but hardly

original and ultimately pointless. I want more, but in hard times, this

is what passes for filmmaking.

Travolta’s Back As Good Guy

John Travolta’s rumpled-collie

sincerity carries a lot of weight in the believable, slickly made but

less-than-gripping thriller, Domestic

Disturbance . The story line is simplicity itself, the trajectory

straightforward, and the realistic direction by the always reliable Harold

Becker ( Malice, City Hall ) serves the

material carefully. But where is the suspense?

Divorced nice guy Frank

Morrison (Mr. Travolta), who builds old-fashioned

wooden boats on the coast of Maryland, becomes alarmed when his already troubled

12-year-old son Danny (terrific newcomer Matthew O’Leary) tells him he’s

witnessed a murder committed by his new stepfather, Rick (Vince Vaughn). Rick

is a rich, nattily dressed newcomer in town whose philanthropic heroics have

quickly established him as a pillar of the community. Now Frank’s ex-wife is

his new bride, with another baby on the way. But at the garden wedding, Rick

comes nervously unhinged when an old buddy named Ray shows up to unbalance the

domestic bliss. Ray is even creepier than he looks, which is no small feat

since he’s played by Steve Buscemi, a punchy actor

from the James Woods sleazoid school who specializes in douche bags. Sure enough, he’s an

old fellow inmate from Rick’s secret days in prison who has arrived to

blackmail him. Rick murders Ray and burns his corpse in the oven of a brick

factory, and Danny is the accidental witness.

Nobody believes the kid except his dad, and Mr. Travolta finds himself in his most sympathetic role since Phenomenon . After disastrous turns in Battlefield Earth and Swordfish , it’s reassuring to see him

play a father who has never failed his son, trapped in a world that is falling

apart while he tries to defend him against an entire town. Vince Vaughn is

equally fine as the handsome Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year who hides

deadly secrets behind a baby-faced grin. Production values are first-rate and

attention never waivers. But there is never any doubt as to how this obvious

domestic disturbance will turn out. The time passes entertainingly-and

considering the alternatives, you could waste your money in worse ways. But

like filling Chinese takeout, you may not remember much about it the morning

after.