Coffee, Tea or Me? Paltrow Flies Low, Hits Turbulence

After so many different looks and dye jobs, Gwyneth Paltrow is back to basic peroxide in the alleged comedy View from the Top. Apparently, you can also get movies in a bottle. This one is labeled “Discard Immediately-Formula Has Expired!” It’s the one about the trailer-trash escapee who wakes up one morning, trips over the empty beer bottles, chucks her job selling luggage at the convenience mart, decides “There’s gotta be something better than this,” and rises to new levels of fame, adventure and success in her chosen career, only to discover that it’s lonely at the top. Shucks, true happiness was back in Dogpatch all the time. This is a job for Reese Witherspoon, but she already played the part in Sweet Home Alabama and enough is enough, even at these salaries. Still, that’s no excuse for Ms. Paltrow to take over, and no excuse to release View from the Top now, even in a cinematic drought. Why embarrass an Oscar winner who deserves much better? This clinker has been sitting on the shelf for two years, and looks it.

Hopelessly miscast and looking miserable throughout, Ms. Paltrow is too old for the role of Donna, a brain-dead bimbo with big hair from Silver Springs,Nev.,whocan’tgeta boyfriend. But she is inspired to push on by a famous flight attendant (Candice Bergen) on a talk show plugging her new book, My Life in the Sky , and signs up for short hops once a week to Fresno on a local airline where the pilots are drunker than the customers. Fueled by the drive of two stewardess roommates (Christina Applegate and Kelly Preston) to better themselves, Donna applies to Royalty Airlines, the best carrier of them all. Falling into the hands of a bitter, disillusioned, cross-eyed training instructor who never left the ground because he couldn’t pass the eye exam (Mike Myers, in one of his stupidest roles, which is saying a lot), Donna gets stranded in Cleveland. She falls for a nice, loyal law student (Mark Ruffalo), and it looks like even though she will never get to Paris and London in first-class, she just might find a happy ending in coach. Then Sally Weston, the rich and famous role model played by Ms. Bergen with tongue planted firmly in cheek, does some sleuthing. Apparently, any former flight attendant who has written a book can gain access to an airline’s secret employment records with one phone call. What she discovers is that Donna’s perfect exam was switched by one of her bimbo roommates. After a girlfight in the aisles before takeoff, Donna becomes an overnight sensation. But dinner in Paris can’t compare with pizza in Cleveland. Donna has only a few hours to get back to mend her fiancé’s broken heart, and guess who takes over her flight assignment? The glamorous, retired fairy godmother just happens to be in the airport, and … even at 87 minutes, the boredom and predictability will make you airsick. But maybe all that free caviar and Chanel is a small sacrifice: In the end, Donna is flying the plane herself.

The director is Brazil’s Bruno Barreto ( Bossa Nova ), who seems clueless when it comes to ways to make tired movies work. This one is so worn out, it even seems tired of itself. The characters have no wit or charm, the plot has no conflict or development, nothing happens for any reason other than script requirements. Why does Kelly Preston, the roommate who happens to be the most interesting actress in the film, disappear the minute she gets turned down by Royalty Airlines, while the one-note Christina Applegate keeps returning? Why does Ms. Bergen, famous on Oprah , pluck a group of unknown wannabes from training school and invite them to her mansion for dinner? It’s hard enough to look at Mike Myers under any circumstances, but a nerdy, unfunny, cross-eyed Mike Myers in horrible closeups requires a Tylenol. Why does the movie make so much of his role, which is nothing more than a bloated slapstick cameo, while Rob Lowe appears once in the cockpit and never appears again? Just how much of this mess ended up on the cutting-room floor? Not enough. Ms. Paltrow is in every scene, but if you’re in every scene of a movie this bad, wouldn’t half as much be more flattering? Her patrician class and acute sense of style are sabotaged by bad hair, garish makeup that adds age and wrinkles to her face, and outrageous clothes so ugly they’d make the Osbournes gag. Trying a change of pace with physical comedy is admirable, but there’s nothing funny or believable worth playing here, so her acting has no more dimension than the rest of this utterly cardboard movie. It’s probably not her fault. How can you play a girl who wants wings in a movie that, by Hollywood standards, doesn’t even have legs?

Terrible Tapeworms

Just when you say, “I’ve seen the worst movie ever made,” and I respond, “No, I’ve seen the worst movie ever made,” the garbage truck rolls around again, dumps off a horror called Dreamcatcher and makes liars of us all. One of the most pathetic things I witness in this job is so-called movie critics who knock themselves unconscious trying to analyze incoherent babble (even when they clearly despise it) just because it’s written or directed (usually both) by people with inflated reputations. These jerks always land in quote ads, and as sure as there’s Christmas and taxes, you can bet some deluded ticket-buyer will shell out good money just to see how “fantastic” or “beyond belief” it really is. Like a two-headed donkey, Dreamcatcher is that kind of freak show. Among the people I write for, I can’t think of anyone self-loathing enough to sit through this lumbering piece of imbecilic swill. It’s my job to tell you about these things, and sometimes this job, as the kids these days and all of the characters on TV sitcoms are so fond of saying, really sucks the big one.

I like the reviewer from The Hollywood Reporter who called Dreamcatcher a movie “about a plague, an alien invasion, a perfect storm, a terrible worm, a body snatcher, a mad colonel, and an idiot savant.” Can’t top that. But the movie is worse than it sounds. Since it doesn’t know whether it’s a horror flick, a comedy or a science-fiction chronicle, there is no point in beating the bushes searching vainly for a plot.

The reasons I didn’t bail after 10 minutes are simple: It’s based on a book by Stephen King, it was written by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan, and it was directed by Mr. Kasdan. All three of these guys have turned out their share of trash, but despite their bloated reputations, they have also been responsible for enough serious film work to pay attention. So I approached with a bit of respect and a great deal of cautious curiosity. The beating I got in return was not deserved. Only a 12-year-old on crack could tell you what this rotten movie is about. All I can do is tell you what I saw.

Four friends since childhood named Henry, Pete, Jonesy and Beaver, who have failed at everything in their grownup lives, meet every winter in a snowbound hunting lodge in the Maine woods to get in touch with their flagging testosterone levels and kill things. They learned to read minds 20 years earlier, when they belonged to a gang called the Scooby-Doos. Sometimes they sing the Scooby-Doo song. They hang an Indian talisman over their beds to ward off nightmares, but they only do that so the movie will have a title: They have so many nightmares you never know if what you’re seeing is real or just another dream from hell. For reasons too ludicrous to mention, they get separated. Jonesy and Beaver discover a wandering snowbound survivor who falls into an interminable farting and belching marathon, then gives birth to a humongous tapeworm with shark’s teeth that explodes from his bleeding rectum. Somewhere in the howling blizzard outside, Pete and Henry find a bleeding lady in the same condition. Suddenly the landscape is filled with flesh-eating eel-like monsters more gruesome than anything in the Alien movies, and they waste no time gashing and chewing three of the stars to raw jerky. Enter Morgan Freeman, a demented military gonzo who is herding everybody in Maine into concentration camps for being infected by the worms, who are creatures from outer space spreading a fungus-like disease through the alimentary canals of humans. This fungal virus, called “Ripley,” is named after Sigourney Weaver. Hello, are you still with me? More, you say? O.K., here goes: Provoking more laughs than thrills, the worms with mouths full of carving knives castrate Pete, take over Jonesy’s body, and ask directions to Massachusetts, where they plan to poison the reservoir.

While the colonel, who has gone mad from hunting aliens for 25 years, exterminates everyone in sight, Henry (Thomas Jane), the handsome psychiatrist who hankers to commit suicide when all this is over, rounds up the retarded kid he and his pals saved from a gang rape 20 years ago-a bizarre little troll called Duddits, who gave them their magic powers. It’s one hour and 45 minutes before we see the grown-up and dying Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), whose mother sends him out into the blizzard in the terminal stages of leukemia and says, “Be a good boy-go save the world.” Their mission: find Jonesy, whose body is now the host receptacle for an evil alien, before they poison all the tap water in Boston. What do you mean you’ve had enough? I haven’t even gotten to the part about Morgan Freeman’s glue-on eyebrows the size of caterpillars, or the mouths that come out of the toilet, or the toothpick massacre ….

Talk about overstuffed, overblown, overrated reputations. What are these people smoking? Most of the characters just pass gas from both ends and smirk, but the Goldman-Kasdan dialogue forces Mr. Freeman to roll his eyes like Stepin Fetchit and say, “Some kind of shit is gonna hit the planetary fan.” All attempts at character development, cohesive narrative, cinematic metaphor and just plain sense have been trashed, making way for a flotilla of flatulence and vomiting. Gibberish must be believable to sustain interest, even in comic books. Mr. Kasdan’s subplots, flashbacks and surrealism are so confusing and pointless that his numbing direction is the cinematic equivalent of a blackout. This movie is all over the place and nowhere at the same time. Stupid, sophomoric and moronically silly, it leaves you with the feeling that you might welcome shock treatment just to get your brain back. All quite odd, really, for two writers who seem to have flatlined already.