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Father and child reunion: (l-r) Brosnan and Vavasseur in Evelyn.

Of Pints and Parenting
By Laura Leon

Evelyn
Directed by Bruce Beresford

Watching Bruce Beresford’s Evelyn, a movie based on the real-life tale of an Irish father’s legal fight to regain his children following the desertion of their wife and mother, I couldn’t help but recall I Am Sam, in which Sean Penn plays a retarded man fighting for custody of his daughter. While the Irish father, Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan), isn’t mentally handicapped, he displays much of Sam’s dogged determination and, less admirably, his willful disregard of when he’s acting as his own worst enemy. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh on Sam, since he’s obviously mentally impaired, but to watch too many scenes of Doyle—bereft of his two sons and eldest child Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur)—drinking yet another pint at the pub instead of getting his butt in gear finding a job and a lawyer, is a mite insufferable.

Playing completely against type, Brosnan goes for broke as the modest yet proud painter and decorator whose quest set a precedent in Ireland, which heretofore had required that motherless children be sent to Catholic orphanages. Try as I might, I could never warm up to Brosnan’s performance, which seems like something out of a decent high school play and falls far short of a mesmerizing characterization of a tormented man of limited means. For that matter, I could never warm up to any of the other performances, save that of Vavasseur, who displays a natural sweetness combined with pious resolution despite the best efforts of Paul Pender’s script to not develop her character beyond that of a stock Shirley Temple type. Julianna Margulies is completely wrong as Bernadette, the aspiring chemist, love interest and sister of Michael Beattie (a botoxed Stephen Rea), a lawyer who initially refuses Doyle’s case. Aidan Quinn, playing a barrister who agrees to argue the case before the country’s Supreme Court, is shockingly wooden, but again, in no small thanks to the script’s two-dimensional depiction of him. Incidentally, it’s a sad day when neither of the love interests in a triangle (in this case, Brosnan, Margulies and Quinn) create any spark, let alone generate heat. Finally, the long-missed Alan Bates is forced to play the stock disillusioned, hard-drinking lawyer who equates life to a masterful, if typically rough, game of rugby.

With such wooden characters, it’s hard to work up any interest for the Doyle family’s plight, no matter how inclined we are to believe that the children should be with their dad. The movie compounds our ambivalence by showing that (aside from one cruel nun) Evelyn and her little brothers don’t fare that badly at their religious schools. Evelyn, in particular, seems to thrive on the structure and incorporates her faith into daily living (it’s ironic that, in a court scene, Evelyn’s recitation of a prayer evokes slaps on the back for Desmond, who heretofore seemed an unlikely tutor of religion). Beresford wrings every bit of sentimentality out of as many scenes as possible. There’s the moment when his camera lingers slightly longer than usual on Doyle’s dad, a sure portent of an impending death, as well as the backdrop of overwrought melodies to scenes in which the characters refer to their guardian angels. He throws in weird scenes—like a race at the dog track—that seem intended to add salt to the lives of his characters but instead seem like outtakes from another film. In the end, what’s more shocking than Ireland’s former laws is that the maker of Breaker Morant is unable to get his audience to muster even a little compassion for his subjects.

Can Anybody Fly This Thing?

View From the Top
Directed by Bruno Barreto

This movie could have revital-ized the disaster genre. Instead, it’s simply a disaster. Gwyneth Paltrow could have played the heroic flight attendant who saves a 747 chock-full of Hollywood almost-weres, maybe-will-be-yets and has-beens (more about that later). Instead, Paltrow can’t even save herself.

As is, View From the Top is crap. It is a schizophrenic blend of farce, romantic comedy and drama. It’s also an offensively classist version of family values. Donna (Paltrow) had the misfortune to grow up in a trailer with her ex-showgirl mom, somewhere in the Nevada desert. Mom’s four hubbies all swilled beer. She finishes up in a suburb of Cleveland, in blissful love with a scion of upper-middle-class perfection. Most of the picture is taken up with the time she kills as a stewardess—before Prince Charming arrives—a career we’re at first led to believe is the central dream of her existence. Nothing, we’re assured, is more tantalizing that being a flight attendant on the loose in Gay Paree. Until, of course, Mr. Right, who will become a rich, high-powered lawyer, comes along to prove that Lake Erie has it all over the Seine.

View wants to be feminist and still have the boy and girl live happily ever after—after she gives up her career. This doesn’t work. It’s a ’60s stewardess flick packaged as a story about an empowered flight attendant. It wants to have romance and pathos, yet make the audience laugh with a bit of Austin Powers-style farce from Mike Myers. (At least Myers is funny for most of his limited screen time.) It wants to have the glamour of the ’60s and the grungy style of the ’70s, and yet be set in our decade. View tries to make the airline industry seem like a promising career option. (OK, to be fair, the film was shot in summer 2001 and has sat on the shelf ever since; whether this is because of Sept. 11 or the picture’s inherent lameness is open to interpretation.)

What a film it could have been, however. A few generations have come along since the Airport movies, which gave birth to the Airplane parodies; a straight disaster film might have worked. View From the Top certainly has the cast for it: Paltrow, Candace Bergen, Myers, Mark Ruffalo, Rob Lowe, Chad Everett, Stacey Dash, Kelly Preston, Christina Applegate and, crucially, George Kennedy. Kennedy—also, like Paltrow, an Oscar winner—appeared in every single Airport flick. If they put this weird crew up against some crazed terrorists, the filmmakers would have had something. Something lousy, no doubt, but certainly no worse than the unfunny misfire they made.

—Shawn Stone

Intestinal Distress

Dreamcatcher
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Sleep is a better alternative to catching this nightmarish mess based on Stephen King’s novel. While his nonhorror work has fared decently (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me), the record of effective screen adaptations of King’s horror fiction is notoriously bad, with Carrie and The Shining (both versions) being exceptions to the plethora of rubbish. Still, I had hopes for director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who once proved adept in genre work such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and whose recent Mumford was charming. The presence of William Goldman as the co-adapter only increased positive expectations.

Dreamcatcher attempts to digest too much of King’s overwritten book about aliens and the alienated, and it comes across as a puerile pastiche of ideas, styles and genres. It is only remotely successful in the genre of adolescent bathroom humor with its fixation on farting, bowel movements, urination and the penis. But this only derails one’s suspension of disbelief, a fatal flaw in a horror film, and scuttles the film’s ability to generate suspense. All that remain are gross-out shocks appended to scatological jokes. If your idea of a good time is seeing people develop nasty rashes and bleed out through their rectums, then this butt-happy bummer is for you.

The exposition, about four buddies who develop telepathic powers as the result of their encounter with a retarded boy, is slow and sloppy. The ensuing story, about an alien invasion in backwoods Maine (where else?) that is being monitored by a special military unit, is incoherent. The acting, from the four buddies (now bumbling grownups) to Morgan Freeman’s inanely quipping military commander, is unbelievable or, in Freeman’s case, caricature. The aliens, looking like smaller toothsome cousins to the worms of Tremors (a far better blending of humor and terror), are effective but needlessly gory. One could do without the repeated shots of young worms being turned into sickening goo that sticks to the soles of their assailants’ shoes.

Only Tom Sizemore, as a conflicted military officer, begins to grasp what is required to make the genre work. But he is undone by the insipid dialogue and a silly hairpiece.

The film does boast excellent production values, and the photography is first-rate, particularly scenes of snow falling on a hushed landscape. Surprising shots of an exodus of animals from the forest are reminiscent of early Disney animated features and effectively jar with the repugnant scenes. Only one episode grips momentarily, but that may be due to an obviously unintended reference to America’s gung-ho warring spirit as Freeman and Sizemore lead a genocidal helicopter assault on a colony of frightened and fleeing aliens who disguise themselves to look like benign relatives of a Spielbergian E.T.

To come down to its own usual level, however, the film is a stew of vomit and diarrhea in which a search for discernable morsels of substance is ill-advised.

—Ralph Hammann

In All the Wrong Places

Boat Trip
Directed by Mort Nathan

In the category of Oscar winners who rebound from lousy movies done for money, Cuba Gooding Jr. (Snow Dogs) is unlikely to be keeping company with Michael Caine and John Travolta. Actually, considering the abysmal inanity of his latest bad choice, Boat Trip, the likeable Gooding may be a goner for good. Directed and co-written by Mort Nathan, cowriter of the Farrelly Brothers’ appalling Kingpin, Boat Trip is a fossilized feel-good comedy with aspirations to Farrelly-style puerility, sans the nervy wit. Set aboard a hedonistic cruise ship, the film is too timid to qualify as stupid humor, and too stupid to register as anything else, other than boring.

Gooding is Jerry, a not-so-macho straight man recently dumped by his emasculating girlfriend (Vivica A. Fox). Desperate for sex, his roly-poly buddy, Nick (Horatio Sanz, an alumnus of the execrable Tomcats), talks him into spending a week on a singles vacation. The two would-be womanizers are accidentally-on-purpose booked on a gay cruise, but after the first evening of fear and loathing, they decide to make the best of it. Nick plays poker with “the girls” and Jerry pursues the ship’s female dance instructor, Gabrielle (Roselyn Sanchez). Because Gabrielle is hostile to being hit on, Jerry pretends to be gay, soliciting tips from a Latino drag queen who teaches him to lip synch to the ’70s disco hit “I Will Survive.” Never mind that a Christina Aguilera song would be a bit more current: At the same time, Nick is enlightened about homosexuality by his poker pals, who include a doctor, a lawyer and a baker (but no candlestick maker). Is this otherwise 21st-century character really supposed to think that all gay men are hairdressers and interior decorators?

Farrelly regular Lin Shaye is on hand as a horny, middle-aged suntanning coach with the hots for Nick. Nick’s plumpness also catches the fancy of a rich retiree (Roger Moore, more droll than the role deserves). Contrived scenes of witless titillation ensue, and the grand finale finds Jerry skimpily clad in gold lamé and a plumed headdress. Let’s just say that the sight of Gooding in pink frosted makeup is not going to add much momentum to his career.

—Ann Morrow


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