Been There, Dumped Her … Bond-ish but Boorish

Been There, Dumped

Her

So many attractive

thirtysomethings populate the new romantic comedy Someone Like You that it’s easy to be distracted from the fluff

factor lurking beneath the polished veneer. Ashley Judd does her most solid

screen work to date, and there’s so much snappy, sexy dialogue that you don’t

notice at first you’ve wandered knee-deep into Sex and the City territory. Still, to pass it up on the grounds

that you’ve been there and done that would rob you of the chance to spend a

pleasant time with some most agreeable people.

Ms. Judd plays Jane Goodale, a career-driven talent booker

for a New York tabloid talk show hosted by a foxy, ambitious host (Ellen

Barkin) who will do anything for a rating. Jane seems to have it all-a

challenging job, a great Rolodex and a budding romance with the show’s groovy

new executive producer, Ray Brown (Greg Kinnear). As things heat up, Jane

ignores the warnings of her womanizing co-worker Eddie (Hugh Jackman) and her

been-around-the-mall-a-few-times friend Liz (Marisa Tomei), a cynical editor

for a men’s magazine, and gives up her career-girl apartment to search for a

co-op love nest with Ray. But this is a woman’s picture, in which men are all

animals, so Ray suddenly gets cold feet, leaving poor Jane devastated, deserted

and without a zip code.

As a last resort, Jane

moves into the spare bedroom in Eddie’s bachelor loft, despondently beginning

her own research project on the mating similarities between men and four-legged

beasts. Liz becomes so intrigued by the results that she offers Jane her own

pseudonymous advice column. Exploring her own heartbreak in terms of animal

husbandry, Jane becomes the talk of the town. Before you can cross GQ with The View , Jane’s double life turns her into the “ungettable guest.”

Needless to say, Jane

has a full plate of problems to solve. In addition to the dilemma of how to

produce herself as a guest without blowing her cover, she suddenly arouses

renewed lust from not only the devious Ray but from her promiscuous roommate

Eddie, too. Meanwhile, Jane goes neurotic. The Hollywood ending, I must add,

raises the eyebrows and curls the lower lips of every male animal in the

audience and leaves the women cheering.

Someone Like You comes equipped with buzz words and phrases like

“Establishment of Intimacy” and “The Bliss of Mating” that flash across the

screen like subliminal subheadings. While Elizabeth Chandler’s feminist script

bases its antics on the theory that bulls never mount the same cow twice, it is

doubtful that she has checked any barnyards lately. More amusing is the way

actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn explores the mating rituals of upwardly

mobile New Yorkers, with obnoxious cell phones surgically attached to their

ears, who spend every waking moment jockeying for DINK status (“Double Incomes,

No Kids,” to the uninitiated).

In the process of acting

hip without shrillness, Mr. Goldwyn’s talented cast goes into maximum

overdrive. Ellen Barkin may be the TV newshen from hell, but what neck wouldn’t

grovel at the opportunity to submit

with ecstasy to the hickeys she can

produce? As a post-feminist guru syndicated in 300 newspapers, Ms. Judd

demystifies sex with charm, looking crisp in her new Juliette Binoche hairdo.

And Hugh Jackman, the Australian heartthrob who made an auspicious American

debut in the otherwise moronic X-Men ,

has the rare, unbeatable combination of wry, sartorial humor and raw

pornographic danger that can only be called debonair rough trade. He is

definitely a star in motion.

The point of Someone Like You is that men get dumped

and they become sluts; women get dumped and they become experts. In either

case, you can still find love where you aren’t even looking. The point is

predictable and oversimplified, but not without fascination, and the actors

infuse it with so much intelligence and sophistication that its pleasures are

durable.

Bond-ish but Boorish

There is nothing pleasant or memorable about The Tailor of Panama , a rusty spy yarn

lazily directed by John Boorman and based on a dull book by John le Carré that

is both confusing and inert at the same time. Pierce Brosnan finally gets a

chance to parody the kind of James Bond image he’s been trapped in for much too

long and makes practically nothing of the opportunity.

A low-tier British spy

banished to a demeaning position in Panama after getting caught with his pants

down in the bed of a minister’s wife, Mr. Brosnan finds himself one of 200

British expatriates in what is left of the place after America lost control of

the Panama Canal in 1999. Rooting for some action amid the nasty money

laundering, drug trafficking and other assorted crimes, this oversexed

reprobate finds an ally in an easily blackmailed Cockney ex-con (Geoffrey Rush)

who has prospered as a tailor under false pretenses (no Panama Hattie jokes,

please) and knows where all the bodies are buried. While Mr. Rush sells Savile

Row suits with 400 years of tradition, he also amasses secrets which he sells

to Mr. Brosnan while the Brits forge political liaisons to take back control of

the canal.

There’s some kind of

bogus plot afoot to finance an underground opposition to overthrow the

Panamanian government which Mr. Brosnan uses to make a personal fortune for his

retirement from the spy business, and Harry the Tailor is torn between the

rebels who work for him, the government big shots who are his clients and the

American military. It’s the kind of incomprehensible sound without fury that

only a John le Carré fanatic can decipher, and sleep-inducingly boring in the

bargain.

Mr. Boorman’s

reputation, based on old movies like Deliverance ,

has cemented his power to lure actors to his projects without reading the

scripts, but Mr. Brosnan and Mr. Rush are as animated as carpet tacks, and

Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t register at all in the nothing role of the tailor’s

wife, who never knows what’s going on anyway. For some unknown reason, the

British playwright Harold Pinter visits the tailor from time to time as the

ghost of his Uncle Benny. The political fracas over the Panama Canal is not

entirely credible, given the film’s lush romanticism; the script by Mr.

Boorman, Mr. le Carré and Andrew Davies is enervatingly composed; and the

pacing is flaccid. This is not likely to be a movie that will appeal to anyone

who expects more than a tranquilizing effect from movies. If Mr. Boorman tried

his hand at a mini-series, it would probably look something like The Tailor of Panama , but why bother?

There’s enough tedium on television already.

Three Shows, One

Coward Hit

After a dreary misfire

in its opening production of A

Connecticut Yankee , the popular Encores! series of staged concerts of old

Broadway musicals at the City Center regained its customary stature with the

obscure 1944 Harold Arlen–E.Y. Harburg musical Bloomer Girl . This show, about suffragettes, slavery, women’s right

to vote and the Civil War, has always been problematic, and not all of the

incohesive elements found themselves wrinkle-free in the direction of Brad

Rouse and the miscasting of several principals.

The year 1861 was

suggested on the concert stage by an array of hoop skirts, and Rob Fisher

conducted the Coffee Club Orchestra with more than his usual panache, but the

updated Agnes de Mille Civil War ballet was clumsy, the staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was silly, the bland

Kate Jennings Grant (in the role of Evelina that made Celeste Holm famous)

seemed like a blur, and “Tomorrow”-a song with which the great Joan McCracken

originally stopped the show for more than 600 performances-was amateurishly

croaked under the hokey hamming of Donna Lynne Champlin.

But Kathleen Chalfant

was a larky old Medusa of a bloomer girl, and dashing Michael Park was an

outstanding leading man as the Southern slave owner who falls for an

independent, liberal Yankee gal. As usual, the songs were the real surprise.

Why “Right as the Rain” hasn’t become a true-blue standard is inconceivable,

and Mr. Park sang it warmly, with a rich, manly vulnerability that is rare

among Broadway baritones these days. Another soaring Arlen classic, the anthem

for freedom sung by a runaway slave called “The Eagle and Me,” was a superb

centerpiece for Jubilant Sykes, a classically trained singer with the power and

passion to lift music beyond the upper balcony into the stratosphere. Set

during one war and staged during another, the intrinsic values in Bloomer Girl still have a political

timelessness worth revisiting. Its curiosity value is undiminished. Too bad it

isn’t seen more often.

While on the subject of

the theater, I have read the critical broadsides leveled against the new

Roundabout revival of Design for Living

and found them enlightening. Nothing, however, nulled the delicious sense of

perverse fun I had watching Jennifer Ehle, Alan Cumming and Dominic West living

it up as Noël Coward’s most famous ménage

à trois . These are bohemians for any age, especially the one we’re in,

where everybody is sleeping with everybody else, in all combinations, and the

hell with inconveniences like gender. The acting is polished and first-rate,

the sets are lavish, and instead of being appalled at the liberties taken by

the three sexy cast members, I think if Sir Noël were around today, he’d want

to sleep with all three.

I had a much finer time

at Design for Living than I had at

Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby ,

as pretentious and overhyped an example of the emperor’s new clothes as I’ve

seen in ages. Since none of it makes one lick of sense, I will spare you the

plotless details. But if money is no object, do see it for Marian Seldes’

colossal physical contortions and vocal pyrotechnics. With a voice like warm

honey and a flickering tongue planted firmly in the cheekbones of Venus, her

eyes square off in a trapezoid of mystery as she dares you to pay attention to

what is true and what isn’t. It’s tricky, that Albee stuff, and she dares you

with querulous intensity. She swoops down, snatching words like a condor, her

reactions as priceless as her verbosity is juicy. Here is a grand and generous

actress at the top of her game, and when she throws herself into a mock

crucifixion on the word “mercy,” you know you’ve been to the theater. Been There, Dumped Her … Bond-ish but Boorish