“Crude,” “lewd” and “shameless” are three words that pretty accurately describe Adam Sandler movies in general, and 50 First Dates in particular. Like his 1998 valentine The Wedding Singer , this alleged new comedy pairs the liverwurst-faced Saturday Night Live alumnus with fizzy, wide-eyed Drew Barrymore, who makes a nice leavening agent for the ugly, abrasive and creepy persona that Mr. Sandler (and an always baffling fraternity of misguided movie critics who feed on tastelessness) probably calls style. Still, the usual jackass gags and sickening, sophomoric sentimentality are here in abundance: gay jokes, savage beatings, old senile people who talk filthy, and the pathetic coterie of social and medical misfits who treat Mr. Sandler’s portfolio of stock moronic slackers like champs and heroes.
The nonexistent plot reworks Harold Ramis’ 1993 movie Groundhog Day , in which Bill Murray played a cynical weatherman doomed to relive the events of Feb. 2 over and over until he learned to become more empathetic toward the Punxsutawney rodent looking for its shadow. If his character was stuck in purgatory, Drew Barrymore’s character, Lucy, is condemned to limbo. A medical phenomenon who lives only in fractured time, she’s an arts teacher who suffered a head injury in a car accident. Now she loses her short-term memory every night and wakes each morning believing it’s the day of the accident all over again, which is also her father’s birthday. For reasons you don’t want to know, her hateful dad (Blake Clark), steroid-pumped brother (Sean Astin) and various native hula dancers (did I neglect to mention it all takes place in Hawaii?) go along with the gag, even watching a nightly rerun of The Sixth Sense and feigning shock and surprise every time Bruce Willis turns out to be a ghost. When the delusion therapy bores, Mr. Sandler enters as a marine veterinarian and conqueror of lady tourists named Henry. He falls for Lucy the minute he spots her in a diner, making a house out of a stack of waffles. She likes to sniff his fingers because they smell like mackerel. That’s just the nauseating clean part. The nauseating dirty parts assault what’s left of your own brain faster than you can say “Farrelly Brothers.”
In every Adam Sandler movie, fun is poked at gays, senior citizens, paraplegics, people in loony bins and wheelchairs. But isn’t it curious that the only person who looks damaged and sub-mental in all of these movies is Adam Sandler himself? In the obnoxious 50 First Dates , his deficiencies seem even deadlier than they did in the numbingly pretentious Punch-Drunk Love . While the lame script by George Wing pads itself to an unendurable feature length of 95 minutes with a series of never-ending dates in which Lucy thinks she’s meeting Henry for the first time, the repetitive kiss-and-cuddle scenes are offset by director Peter Segal’s commitment to gross-out overkill. At each stage of the romance, the movie digresses into so much scatology and puerile adolescence that it seems to have been directed by Mr. Segal with a finger down his throat. Mr. Segal is the man responsible for Anger Management and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps , among other imbecilic disgraces, so nobody is likely to enter this crypt in search of subtlety, freshness or style.
But even by Hollywood standards, what kind of mind slam-dunks you with a combination of this much toilet humor and physical abuse at the same time? Prepare yourself for gruesome kindergarten bits about bruised testicles, a walrus that vomits profusely and a near-hermaphrodite. (Wouldn’t one or the other have sufficed?) Lucy’s father cruelly imitates and mocks his son’s speech impediment. (Aren’t the young man’s exaggerated pecs enough?) We’re all encouraged to laugh uproariously at a brain-damaged mental patient, and a sick joke about Gary Busey’s near-fatal real-life motorcycle accident falls as flat as elephant dung. Then there’s the hammy, overwrought performance by perpetual Sandler repertory sidekick Rob Schneider, as a Hawaiian dope addict with dark skin and pidgin English who keeps finding new ways to tear open the wounds on his stomach from a shark bite.
Stupid, coarse and abysmally unfunny, this is the kind of movie that makes you pray a real live tiger-tooth would show up in the middle of a scene and do some permanent damage of its own. Now there’s a cruel joke that would really leave me in stitches.
For all of the hype and controversy surrounding its kinky sex and full-frontal male nudity, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a movie that sweats to command-but fails to hold-attention. It’s ponderous and irksomely unsexy. Intoxicated by cinema and the Kama Sutra , Bertolucci has, in his last few films, abandoned the hormones with which he drove Marlon Brando, in Last Tango in Paris , to demonstrate the only use for butter that never occurred to Julia Child. But in The Dreamers , set in Paris during the turbulent spring of 1968, Mr. Bertolucci returns in his dotage to his three favorite subjects-sex, movies and politics. All three were in full throttle then, fueling the revolutions of the chaotic 60′s. The year was a time of strikes, student protests, political scandals and furious, chain-smoking hedonism, when Henri Langlois was ousted from the halcyon halls of the Cinematheque Française in Paris and mobs of rioting cinema buffs chained themselves to the gates with New Wave icons like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Simone Signoret. Newcomer Bertolucci, a former assistant of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s who joined the sacred ranks after his first film in 1962, was there, and the adrenaline of memory is obviously still surging through his brain. It’s the last time enough people were so influenced by the philosophy they encountered onscreen that they were willing to storm the barricades and battle police wielding clubs and tear gas to defend the films of Nicholas Ray.
Adapted by Gilbert Adair from his novel, The Dreamers chronicles the experiences of Matthew (Michael Pitt), a lonely, naïve American student and insatiable cinephile who hangs out at the Cinematheque night and day. With a touch of brandy and a twist of fate, he meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), exotic French twins whose eccentric parents have gone on an extended holiday and left the siblings alone in the cluttered, spacious and slightly screwy family apartment. Within two days, the brother and sister move Matthew’s things out of his hotel and into their flat, where they flirt, fascinate, romance and seduce him into a ménage à trois that changes his entire life. Here is a polite, soft-spoken, clean-cut American from San Diego with a background of green lawns, station wagons and Brooks Brothers button-downs, whose sexual propriety is gradually diminished by an incestuous brother-sister act eager to initiate him into the bohemian games of their own unconventional sexual revolution. It’s as much a film about film as it is about copulation. Since the oversexed trio’s references to life’s experiences are all restricted to scenes from movies they’ve seen on the screen, Bertolucci cuts to film clips of Chaplin, Garbo in Queen Christina , Fred and Ginger and, of course, every American’s indelible first impression of Paris-Jean Seberg selling the International Herald Tribune on the Rue l’Opera in Breathless . Matthew wafts into a secular existence of incestuous decadence, giving himself over to every sexual experiment with total surrender, until the adventures in the riot-torn streets outside overtake the awakenings in the beds inside, and the road to maturity and self-discovery ends in separation. Matthew realizes at last that there is more to life than nonspecific gender orgasms. The question posed is: What about a sequel, where he puts his horny transformation to the test back under the palms of San Diego?
There’s plenty of sex, but most of it is tenuous and none of it is very pulsating. The actors are almost red with a rash of embarrassment, and with the exception of Eva Green-who moans with simulated lust like a porno queen-nobody seems to be very turned on. Mr. Pitt, an intensely awkward actor from Brooklyn with wheat-colored hair and swollen lips, bares his butt and his johnson, but he’s too scrawny and prissy-mouthed to work up much of a fever. The baroque Paris atelier where youth acts out its fantasies gives the film a lovely, muted quality that rarely ventures into daylight, but this is a myopic subject that Bertolucci is not entirely successful in extending beyond his own personal vision. The French political climate of 1968 is not a subject that many people are curious about in 2004, and the sex is no more erotic than Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl. It’s a film about youth and passion that seems old and passionless.
Can-Can , the first “Encores!” production of 2004, dispelled the myth that this popular series of staged concert versions of old Broadway musicals has outlived its usefulness and popularity. You wouldn’t know it from the screams of approval bouncing off the balcony beams of the City Center. One question nags, however. The original purpose of “Encores!” 10 years ago was to reprise shows that nobody had seen for years, mounted without sets or costumes, with the entire cast carrying books and librettos in their hands and performing neglected, often-forgotten scores worthy of a second look. Does Cole Porter’s frothy but vacuous Can-Can qualify? Maybe it hasn’t been seen much since it opened in 1953 to decidedly mixed reviews, with a cast that included Lilo, Peter Cookson, Gwen Verdon and Hans Conried, but it ran for two years and won Tony Awards for Gwen Verdon and the choreography by Michael Kidd, so who would call it obscure? And we can go to our respective corners of the ring right now and come out fighting over whether or not it is “worthy” of ever being staged again. Abe Burrows’ book was always flat, but in 50 years it has grown hair. And despite their time-resistant durability, hit songs like “I Love Paris,” “C’est Magnifique” and “It’s All Right with Me” have always been among my least favorite entries in the Cole Porter catalog. On top of that, I find Michael Nouri a lox made of cypress, and I have always been completely allergic to the screeching of Patti LuPone.
Having said all that, I must now bite into a large slice of humble pie and admit that I had a perfectly fine time at Can-Can . The one-dimensional plot about a battle that turns into a love affair between an uptight judge named Aristide, who vows to uphold the censorship laws of 1893 by banning all suggestive public dance exhibitions that might encourage or nurture the base instincts of naughty Parisians, and the saucy La Mome Pistache, owner of the notorious Bal du Paradis cabaret in Montmartre, where the illegal can-can is a nightly draw, is as disposable as ever. Everything leads up to the trial, where in the courtroom, only one thing will change the law, sway the jury and melt the icy hearts of the judges: Bring on the can-can! It’s corny beyond description, with an intrusive quadrille, “Garden of Eden” ballet and torchy apache dance that were all merely perfunctory. But there were also a few undeniable pleasures: The second-banana plot about Boris, a pompous, starving Bulgarian artist, and his long-suffering girlfriend Claudine, a can-can dancer, was hugely enhanced by the raffishly charming Reg Rogers and the libidinous, long-legged Charlotte d’Amboise. And as the buxom Pistache, Patti LuPone finally found a role that filled her voice and her corset. She was the worst Annie Oakley I have ever seen, and as an ill-fated Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes , I couldn’t understand a word she said (or sang). But in Can-Can she was a belle époque cupcake who owned the stage. Her singing soared without being brassy or flat, her salty acting convinced without being edgy or sharp. Whenever she was waiting in the wings, you could hear the audience losing attention. When she returned, striding but not strident, everyone came to full attention, ready to salute. This is a cut-and-paste production, professionally directed by Lonny Price, of a show that I can easily advise, in the lyrics of Cole Porter, to allez-vous-en . I never want to see or hear Can-Can again, but as a rare showcase to spotlight the best qualities of Patti LuPone, the song title “C’est Magnifique” came startlingly true.
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