uneasy three: Witherspoon, Dempsey and Bergen in Sweet
By Ann Morrow
by Andy Tennant
Reese Witherspoon is the new Julia Roberts, which is a good
thing for Sweet Home Alabama, a cloyingly phony
romantic comedy conceived with more than a nod to Notting
Hill. Similar to that contrived blockbuster, Sweet
Home uses its setting—the Deep South and its good-hearted
hicks, rather than a quaint English bookstore and its plucky
hangers-on—as a kitschy theme park for the romance to play
against. The incandescent Witherspoon is Melanie Carmichael,
a fashion designer in the midst of her first big New York
City runway show.
The show is a smash, of course, Sweet Home Alabama being
at heart a Cinderella story (Tennant already commercialized
Cinderella’s story in Ever After). Viewed as a fantasy,
the movie is a mildly amusing vehicle for Witherspoon’s adorable
wattage, with an added dollop of cream in the form of hunky
Josh Lucas as her beer-guzzling ex-husband, Jake. Melanie’s
predicament is that she has two Prince Charmings, only she
doesn’t know it. On the night of her big success (and only
a fairy godmother could arrange fashion-world raves for Melanie’s
Jaclyn Smith-style clothing), Melanie’s high-society boyfriend,
Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the son of Mayor Hennings
(Candice Bergen), proposes marriage. In the middle of Tiffany’s.
With an entire staff of salespeople each proffering a counter
of diamond rings for her to choose from. It’s every Material
Girl’s dream come true.
Problem is, Jake won’t sign the divorce papers. Melanie hightails
it to Pigeon Creek, Ala., to coerce him into compliance before
the press gets wind of her real identity. Apparently, glamorous
Melanie is not, as she’s been telling her boho big-city friends,
the belle of an antebellum plantation: Previous to her escape
to New York, she was a backwoods beauty-pageant queen who
married a redneck right out of high school. Worse, her real
last name rhymes with “patootie,” and her Ma and Pa (Mary
Kay Place and Fred Ward) have tacky knickknacks all over their
paneled living room. While hiding her shame from the Hennings,
Melanie causes a sensation among her old acquaintances, who
react to her city-slick style as though they’d never seen
thigh-high boots before. Melanie barely disguises her disgust
at these perfectly average people (the film doesn’t have the
nerve to show any really trashy folk), while Tennant condescends
to their every clichéd tic, such as Pa’s pride in his almost-new
But while mulish Jake takes his time with the papers (apparently,
stubbornness equals masculinity), Melanie falls again for
his good-ol’-boy virility, which he’s been applying to a new
business venture. Sweet Home doesn’t waver from its
fairy-tale trajectory: Melanie may give up her “adventure”
as a successful career gal, but no way is she is going to
end up scrubbing diapers on a washboard. What saves the film
from its rising tide of insulting swill is the sharp writing:
Aside from several witty rejoinders, there are enough throwaway
jokes to show that writer C. Jay Cox had more on his mind
than just cutesy caricatures. Bergen gets to take a poke at
Murphy Brown, and a high-school friend asks Melanie if she
knows Jaclyn Smith. But with Tennant waving his Hollywood
wand with a heavy hand, even the cleverest one-liners go down
like a second helping of stale corn pone.
by Kevin Donovan
Whether charismatically bal-letic, ebulliently comic, cleverly
buoyant or ballistically charming, Jackie Chan’s endlessly
inventive stunts and physical business are the reasons we
go to his movies. In these days of digitized artifice, Chan
has always offered a refreshing, realistic alternative. We’ve
even been willing to excuse silly plots and simplistic dialogue
for the privilege of seeing Chan deliver his trademark set
pieces of human-scaled dynamism. Until now.
Tuxedo casts Chan as Jimmy Tong, a girl-shy taxi driver
whose daredevil driving skills lead to him to be pressed into
service as the chauffeur to a secret agent, Clark Devlin (Jason
Isaacs). When the latter is laid up in the hospital following
an assassination attempt, Tong dons his master’s specially-enhanced
tuxedo that gives him a mixture of superpowers. If you can
believe that a suit can think and puppet its wearer into defensive
and offensive actions, then this tux is tailored to your needs.
At first it seems like a good fit for Chan, who savors some
passable comic moments as he reacts incredulously to the gymnastics
the tux manipulates him into performing. But ultimately it
is a gimmick that frays.
Chan does what is expected of him as this sort of sorcerer’s
apprentice, but those expectations fall well short of his
most ordinary work. The real problem is that for the first
time in my experience of watching Chan, it seems obvious that
his work is being digitally enhanced. Such intervention, even
if only sporadic, breaks the spell Chan usually creates. It
is saddening and disappointing to see the master turned into
an effects-assisted apprentice. Chan has finally achieved
his dream of becoming a Hollywood star with big budgets, but
it is at the terrible price of the very uniqueness that originally
made him an international star.
As for the unassisted stunts, there is nothing here that ups
Chan’s ante. He seems to have covered this territory before,
and even if he hasn’t, we feel as if we’ve already seen it.
The newest American to be paired with Chan in the tired odd
couple formula is Jennifer Love Hewitt, but while she is his
prettiest American sidekick to date (the obnoxious Chris Tucker
tried to upstage him in the Rush Hour films, while
Owen Wilson offered better support in Shanghai Noon),
she is no match for Michelle Yeoh (Supercop), who remains
the only costar to have offered a legitimate match to his
particular talents. Hewitt plays a high-kicking operative
who is obviously not the real thing; at least she doesn’t
steal screen time from Chan.
It would take another Chan—Charlie—to figure out why anyone
thought this synthetic, threadbare material would amuse.
This Just Fantasy?
Directed by Julio
Some movies, like Nine Queens, succeed at being the
cinematic equivalent of a Chinese box, sort of a puzzle within
a puzzle that is unveiled slowly, teasingly, to finally convey
the ultimate surprise. Sex and Lucia is not one of
these movies, although it’s clear that director Julio Medem
really wanted it to be.
The movie’s thin plot centers around waitress Lucia (Paz Vega),
who, hearing that her lover, blocked novelist Lorenzo (Tristan
Ulloa), has been struck by a car, hightails it to the magical
island where Lorenzo once trysted with Elena (Najwa Nimri).
Unbeknownst to Lorenzo, Elena bore his child, Luna. Unbeknownst
to Lucia, her island landlady is Elena. Unbeknownst to Elena,
Lorenzo was fooling around with Luna’s babysitter the night
the little girl was attacked by a dog. The coincidences go
on and on, but none of them does much to bring cohesion to
the story, which flirts with the question: Where does fantasy
end and reality begin? Is what we’re watching actually happening,
or is it the product of Lorenzo’s imagination? And do we really
Medem has a very weak grasp of how to make these ideas work.
Let’s just say he’s no Borges. When in doubt, he parades nude
actors across the screen, and here again, there are times
when the viewer isn’t sure if the sex he’s watching is going
on for real or if it’s just something Lucia is reading off
Lorenzo’s laptop. The sensuality that Medem and company try
hard to exude is largely stylistic, a matter of soft blue
lighting and supple skin shots. Mostly, however, Lucia, Elena
and babysitter Belen represent various icons from typical
male fantasies—the wild party girl, the ethereal goddess,
the naughty teen—whereas Lorenzo, both as a character and
a sexual being, is rather vague, a fact which no amount of
erection shots can balance out. Like so many other imports
that tout themselves as original, Sex and Lucia is
really a vehicle to titillate American art-house audiences
with a Euro version of Porky’s.
Wife Is an Actress
by Yvan Attal
Wife Is an Actress begins with a stunning black-and-white
photo montage of legendary screen actresses—Greta Garbo, Clara
Bow, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich—while Ella Fitzgerald
wails on the soundtrack. It’s all downhill from there in this
dismal French comedy about a movie star, Charlotte (Charlotte
Gainsbourg), and her insanely jealous husband Yvan (Yvan Attal).
Yvan is bugged by every aspect of his wife’s profession: make-believe
“playing,” autograph-seeking fans, intimate on-screen love
scenes with suave actors, and separations caused by long weeks
of filming in foreign locales. He’s tortured by strangers
who insinuate that she must be sleeping with her co-stars.
The latter irritant comes to the fore when Charlotte goes
to London to shoot an Airport-style drama with John
(Terence Stamp), a distinguished, older English movie star.
Writer-director-star Attal attempts to mine much humor from
the ensuing separation anxiety; whenever Yvan suffers pangs
of jealousy, “London Calling” blares on the soundtrack and
the character hops the next Eurostar train from Paris to London.
(The Eurostar is featured so prominently, one wonders if this
is a large-scale example of product placement.) It’s not very
funny, however. The problem is that Attal refuses to have
Yvan seem like a fool, especially when he’s acting exactly
like a fool. The audience is always supposed to be sympathetic
with this unsympathetic jerk.
Gainsbourg is sufficient in the little she is asked to do,
but the filmmaker’s real crime is the underuse and misuse
of Terence Stamp. We are never sure if his character is supposed
to be sincere, pretentious, or something in-between; the result
leaves the actor hanging and the audience confused. This really
unbalances the film, as Stamp has more presence and style
than Gainsbourg and Attal combined.
There is a subplot involving Yvan’s bickering, pregnant sister
and her husband. It is more amusing than the bits involving
the leads. This provides the context for a number of Jew-gentile
jokes, and the set-up for the story’s dreary payoff.
This was the longest 95 minutes I’ve spent at the movies all
year. One can only hope that the real-life marriage between
Gainsbourg and Attal is less tedious than the one they embody
in this film.