activist and the bureaucrat: (l-r) Weisz and Fiennes in
The Constant Gardener.
by Fernando Meirelles
Adapted from the John Le Carré novel about corruption in the
pharmaceutical industry, The Constant Gardener
is a provocative, moving, and visually arresting film that
eventually sinks under the weight of its own resignation.
Having built a tragically airtight case for the impossibility
of fighting transglobal profit mongering, the film nearly
negates everything it’s about: namely, the difference that
can be made by determined individuals. What carries this complicated
and sometimes overly fabricated plot to its powerful denouement
is its love story, a beautifully rendered account of a brief
marriage that embroils both spouses in a widespread conspiracy.
Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a low-level diplomatic bureaucrat
who is swept off his feet by a 24-year-old activist, Tessa
(Rachel Weisz), who convinces him to take her to Kenya with
him. When the film opens, Tessa and her driver are leaving
for a trip to Lake Turkana. Shortly after, an associate informs
Justin that Tessa and the driver were killed in an ambush.
The film then tells the story of their marriage in flashback,
until it catches up with the unsolved murders. Director Fernando
Meirelles, an Oscar nominee for City of God, peels
away the niceties of “foreign aid” in a dazzling, semi-documentary
style, exposing the little-seen realities of Kenya as a series
of burning images and nearly hallucinatory sequences of its
abject poverty and countless dangers.
Unbeknownst to Justin, Tessa and her colleague, Hubert Kounde
(Arnold Bluhm), are investigating an outbreak of fatalities
among African AIDS patients who participated in a drug trial.
The tests were conducted by the Three Bee Corporation, an
intermediary for an even larger conglomerate with ties to
the British government. The experimental drug was designed
to fight a superstrain of tuberculosis that’s expected to
reach epidemic proportions in the Third World. The drug is
also expected to have unprecedented sales potential, especially
if its possibly lethal side effects can be suppressed.
Justin’s superior, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston), is just one
of many dignitaries who consider Tessa to be a loose cannon.
A fiery, confrontational idealist, Tessa puts her activism
ahead of her marriage, and mild, introverted Justin allows
her to, fueling rumors that she is having an affair with Kounde.
It’s through Tessa’s eyes that we see the slums of Nairobi
and the pathetically inadequate clinics. The scorching, color-saturated
cinematography is so wrenching, it sometimes conflicts with
the rest of the story. In contrast, the Quayles’ marriage
is portrayed in dreamy, edgy vignettes that build suspense
as to Tessa’s real feelings for her conventional husband.
While Tessa becomes increasingly frantic, Justin takes refuge
in his gardening.
Weisz is a haunting presence, but it’s Fiennes who drives
the narrative. His self-effacing and soulful performance tells
us more about their relationship than the minimum of dialogue
we’re allowed to hear. With delicate nuance, he reveals Justin’s
conviction and devotion: After Tessa’s death, he picks up
the investigation where she left off, unraveling the staggering
reach of the conspiracy. One hapless participant is a dedicated
doctor (Pete Postlethwaite) barely keeping his clinic afloat
in the harsh countryside.
The moral ambiguity of the perpetrators (some of them African)
creates an ethical quagmire that is disturbingly without resolution.
And along with some sharp twists, there are incredulities
regarding the drug industry every step of the way. Even so,
the film makes a convincing case for the likelihood that the
strife in Africa is being exploited in ways that do not make
the evening news. The film’s harrowing central issue, as one
character puts it, is that the drug trials are not killing
anyone who wasn’t going to die anyway.
Just Can’t Move Like That
by Louis Leterrier
Directed by Hong Kong veteran Corey Yuen, The Transporter
was 2002’s tautest actioner. The Transporter 2 finds
Jason Statham’s enjoyably no-nonsense ass-kicker-for-hire,
Frank Martin, back behind the wheel. Frank is a professional
driver known for delivering the goods with no muss and no
questions asked, and he’s filling his downtime with a temporary
job in Miami. Driving an adorable tyke to school everyday
isn’t his usual gig, but then, the pay is probably in his
ballpark, since the boy’s father (Matthew Modine) is a billionaire.
Although crisply executed, the sequel is a letdown compared
to the original, which was driven by the kick of Statham’s
iron-willed, iron-muscled, and stiffly British persona. Here,
he’s just as unflappable (both movies were co-written by Luc
Besson), but Frank’s personality barely matters amid the ridiculous
Frank’s easy-money job gets a lot more complicated when the
boy, Jack (Hunter Clary), is kidnapped by a gang of psycho
criminals with a larger agenda. The gang includes Lola (model
Kate Nauta), a lingerie mannequin-cum-homicidal maniac who
is mistress to the gang’s boss, Gianni (an over-the-top Allesandro
Gassman). Gianni is an international terrorist-turned-businessman,
but business must be slow, since apparently he can’t afford
to buy his mistress waterproof mascara: Lola spends most of
the movie with dripping raccoon eyes. Or maybe that’s just
the director’s way of making her look more lethal, even though
she guns down a least a dozen people without breaking a stiletto.
Brit character actor Jason Flemyng makes an appearance as
a mad Russian scientist, just to keep things utterly preposterous.
Since one of Frank’s rules is to never make a promise he can’t
keep, and because he promised Jack he would protect him, “Mr.
Driver” goes into high gear to return to the boy unharmed
to his mother (Amber Valetta). That she comes on to him in
a moment of vulnerability—Frank turns her down cold out of
sheer professionalism—doesn’t quite add to the situation’s
poignancy, although it does provide another role for a model
(always an important criteria in a Besson production).
The estimable Yuen has been replaced by Louis Leterrier, assistant
director on the first Transporter. Whereas Yuen’s improbable
action sequences suspended disbelief while making the most
of Statham’s brute force, Leterrier goes in for totally unbelievable,
Bond-type gimmicks, such as a sedan that flies into the air
and flips around like a trained dolphin. There’s plenty of
inventively farfetched combat (choreographed by Yuen), utilizing
an iron pipe and a fire hose, among other handy objects, but
the transporter himself is just a prop.
by Marcos Siega
Moviegoers who found Nick Cannon so appealing as the troubled
but talented drummer in Drumline will be hard-pressed
to figure out what’s to like in his latest flick, Underclassman.
Seemingly tailored to usher the Nickelodeon star’s transition
from teen idol to manhood, the film is a series of tired clichés
riffing on everybody from Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills
Cop to Will Smith in any number of his badass-but-cute
Cannon plays Tracy Stokes III, a third generation cop itching
to move from bike patrol to detective. His chance comes when
a preppie at ritzy Westbury High is found dead; suddenly we’re
in 21 Jump Street territory with Tre going undercover.
This translates into scenes of Tre injecting seemingly much-needed
blackness into white-bread suburbia, particularly when it
comes to basketball (do black filmgoers ever object to the
notion that all of them are innate tremendous hoops stars?),
rugby, smartassing in classes and flirting with the midriff-baring
Spanish teacher (Roselyn Sanchez) with such no-fail one-liners
as “You’re the gangsta-est teacher I ever had!” Tre’s target
is class prez Rob (Shawn Ashmore), who looks as if he’s taken
one too many rugby balls to the head (both as a character
and an actor). The plot, such as it is, involves stolen vehicles,
narcotics and several chances for Tre to shoot up, blow up
or just all-out destroy a number of gasoline-powered objects.
Cannon’s apparent attempts to find himself are all over the
place, with the only constant being obnoxiousness. I almost
rooted for the prep kids to bust his ass, so much did his
character need a leveling tonic to his rudeness. Cheech Marin
tries hard to pass unnoticed as Tre’s boss, and Kelly Hu,
who gamely braved serpents, flaming arrows and the Rock in
The Scorpion King, here is asked to provide makeshift
toilet paper to a fellow cop in, er, dire need, thus breaking
up a supposedly suspenseful surveillance and providing our
“hero” with yet another chance to shoot a gun, fail, and then
blame the universe for his failure. Cannon’s got better opportunities
in his new MTV series, as well as in the promising-looking
Roll Bounce; until then, interested parties should
avoid Underclassman at all costs.