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So annoying together: (l-r) Dunst and Bloom in Elizabethtown.

Fiasco
By Shawn Stone

Elizabethtown

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe means well. The writer-director strives to create a heartfelt cinema of big emotions drawn from life. He tells stories about real people, not gadgets or special effects; people who are caught in the middle of human situations that, well, people tend to find themselves in. What kind of people? The kind who love and laugh and hurt and cry. He gives them quirky ways of talking, puts them in wacky situations, and has them fall in love. He helps them find themselves, and, in turn, the audience get in touch with their own humanness.

People like sports agent Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise), in the film of the same name, who is not a grasping slimeball, but a loving fellow. Or Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Almost Famous, who is emphatically not some groupie slut, but a willowy, innocent rock & roll muse. Or Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in Say Anything . . ., who is most certainly not a batshit-crazy stalker, but a devoted swain pursuing his lady fair.

Forgive the sarcasm, but Crowe’s latest film, Elizabethtown, is a total fiasco. Every sentimentalizing impulse he indulged in those earlier films is taken to a grotesque extreme in Elizabethtown. The characters are annoying, their motivations are sitcom-simple and the story so weighted with meaning as to be actor-proof: The actors can’t do a damn thing with it. It’s so off-key, so lost, so mushy, that it calls into question everything he’s done before. (Except Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was directed by Amy Heckerling. That’s still untouched.)

You need to know the plot of Elizabethtown to get a hint of why the film doesn’t work. Briefly, Drew (Orlando Bloom) designs a catastrophically defective running shoe for a Nike-esque company run by a quirky—there’s that word again—mogul (Alec Baldwin). Drew’s mistake will cost the company $1 billion; the fiasco results in the loss of his shallow (read: whore) girlfriend (Jessica Biel) and his plunge into the depths of a suicidal depression.

Then his dad dies.

At the behest of his spastic mom (Susan Sarandon), he goes down south to Kentucky, where his dad died on a family visit, to retrieve the body from those wacky—there’s that word again—rednecks. On the flight, Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a chatty flight attendant who immediately takes a shine to him. Her interest, in fact, seems to border on the unreasonably obsessive. It’s creepy.

Anyway, Drew meets up with the happy Kentuckians, who are as provincial as advertised (on the surface, natch); his goal is to negotiate a couple of days in redneckland, and then go back to his Pacific Northwest home to off himself.

Got that?

First, what in the hell could be so wrong with a sneaker that a multinational corporation wouldn’t catch the mistake in preproduction? Second, how are we supposed to believe that Drew is suicidal when Crowe can’t stop himself from being jokey about it? For a disciple of Billy Wilder, Crowe doesn’t have a clue about what black humor is, let alone how to put it into a scene. (Bloom, who is generally engaging here, clearly couldn’t play suicidal.) And the nutty family shtick is so tired it would embarrass Frank Capra. The film is tone-deaf on every level.

Speaking of tone deaf, someone has got to keep the anal-retentive filmmaker from cueing up every scene with some classic roots-rock number. It’s annoying, and kills the natural mood of the scenes. Crowe likes rock & roll; we freakin’ get it. Now knock it off.

The film goes on and on, turning into a road trip that incorporates visits to—I shit you not—the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (cue the U2 on the soundtrack), and the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Stupefying, offensive and 30 minutes too long, Elizabethtown is the worst movie of the year.

Slight of the Hunter

Domino

Directed by Tony Scott

In Tony Scott’s Domino, the tale of a pampered Hollywood princess turned bounty hunter in the bowels of Los Angeles, the first subtitle reads: “Based on a true story. Sort of.”

“Inspired by” would’ve been more accurate. The inspiration is Domino Harvey, the daughter of 1950s heartthrob actor Laurence Harvey. According to Scott’s version, it’s not so much Harvey’s death while Domino is a young girl that turns her into a borderline sociopath, but the demise of her goldfish shortly after. When the goldfish goes belly up, Domino (Kiera Knightley) decides not to feel anything again. She becomes a bounty hunter so she can do the nasty with lowlifes and kick ass legally. But since this version of her life was written by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), she will recover her humanity in an overwrought and unbelievable manner that ignores the fact that the real Domino died of a drug overdose earlier this year.

Scott tells her story—make that his story—in the form of flashbacks that occur as Domino is being interrogated by a tough FBI agent (Lucy Liu). Domino is obviously in seriously deep shit, and as she tells all, the depths of it are dredged in Scott’s ultra-flashy fashion. The “huge clusterfuck” that she’s in custody for is actually a double deal turned airborne-quadruple-axle spin. Dismemberment is used as a pressure tactic, and at one point, Tom Waits will show up and kiss Mickey Rourke. Rourke plays Eddie, the legendary bounty hunter who is Domino’s mentor and father figure, and he’s the most authentic and interesting character in the movie. Knightley is feisty, as usual, but lacks the brink-of-madness intensity that one would assume drove the real Domino.

It’s her maniacally honed skill with nunchucks, knives and assault rifles that convinces Eddie to take her on, even though he already has a sidekick, Choco (Edgar Ramirez), an orphan from South America who became pathological in the juvenile justice system.

The unrequited sexual tension between Domino and Choco causes friction in the already simmering trio. Then the bail bondsman they work for (Delroy Lindo) assigns them to a shaky recovery deal involving an armored vehicle with $10 million and four thieves dressed as First Ladies. The heist will ensnare fraternity delinquents, DMV clerks, mobsters, the FBI, two washed-up Beverly Hills 90210 actors, and an Afghan explosives expert, for no apparent reason. Despite Scott’s graphic-novel stylization, in the form of subtitles and annoying dialogue echoes (possibly a failed attempt to represent Domino’s overheated brain), the movie is more recognizably in debt to Brit- American hybrid crime capers and the falsely ballsy attitude toward violence most associated with Oliver Stone.

This juiced-up mix is entertaining, at least for a while, and some of the dialogue is blackly witty and observant. But the human pathos that supposedly drives the action never gels. How people get hardened, what it does to them, and the ways in which they form alternative family groups for support is the movie’s running theme, and eventually, it runs away with Domino’s story. And the question that Domino asks herself throughout—live or die?—is cheated in the end. The real-life Domino’s drug addiction answered that one before she bagged her first bail jumper.

—Ann Morrow

A Bad Fit

In Her Shoes

Directed by Curtis Hanson

Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a sleazy, selfish party animal who uses her sex appeal to obtain what she wants—like free drinks in pricey restaurants. Her older sister, Rose (Toni Colette), is a responsible, dowdy lawyer with a collection of sexy shoes she never wears. After an extended, exploitive stay at Rose’s, Maggie commits an unforgivable act of one-upmanship, and Rose throws her out. Desperate, Maggie travels to a retirement community in Florida to mooch off the grandmother she never knew (Shirley MacLaine). While separated, the sisters grapple with their respective dysfunctions and the exposure of the family tragedy that no one talks about.

Yes, In Her Shoes is unabashedly a chick flick, drenched in the sensibilities of both Oprah and Sex and the City and directed by Curtis Hanson with a sure hand for contrivance. But for its first half, the film rolls up its sleeves and gets into the messier aspects of the sisters’ lives with humor and chutzpah. Diaz ably flaunts her attributes to create a slyly repellent character, and Collette carries the film with her more internal portrayal of a woman who allows herself to be stepped on due to her insecurities. MacLaine, of course, holds her own as the no-nonsense grandmother who takes Maggie in hand with casual aplomb. But just as it seems that Maggie will get what she deserves, the film slows into a mushy trudge toward the predictable Happy Ending for all concerned. Though In Her Shoes is almost redeemed by its witty repartee, the final sequence requires a strong stomach for schmaltz.

—Ann Morrow


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