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Who’s who? (l-r) Curtis and Lohan in Freaky Friday.

I Am My Mother
By Laura Leon

Freaky Friday
Directed by Mark Waters

What at first seems like yet another ridiculous remake of a pretty crappy original—the 1976 Freaky Friday starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris—turns out to be a pretty delightful movie. I was 11 when I first saw the original, and I remember thinking that it just plain looked drab and cheap, especially when the permed and frosted Harris “surfed” in what was so obviously a soundstage setting. The 2003 version, however, is fresh and snappy, thanks to an efficient script by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, a marked improvement in every possible way.

In a nutshell, a spell is cast on bickering mother Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) and teen daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan), which holds them hostage in each other’s bodies until they learn about selfless love. They spend an entire day trapped as each other, and trying hard to keep anyone from noticing while they figure out a way to break the spell.

Freaky Friday plays on the ultimately heartwarming idea that you don’t really know somebody until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. It’s a given that, over the course of this particular Friday, Tess and Anna will learn to appreciate each other and get over this nasty animosity that seemingly has existed since Dad died three years earlier. Anna greets every irritation from brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini) with a scream, and accuses Tess of taking his side in all disputes. She’s a lovely, wild child who dresses punk, plays in a rock band, and struggles with a dastardly teacher who makes her life more of a hell than Tess does. Oh, and she’s got the hots for Jake (Chad Michael Murray), a slack-jawed guy with a motorcycle. Mom would so not approve.

Tess, for her part, seems markedly efficient, juggling the kids, the home and a flourishing career as a psychologist and author. So what if she heeds the constant call of a half-dozen Palm Pilots and cell phones? She’s on the eve of her nuptials to kind, understanding Ryan (Mark Harmon), when disaster—in the form of a fortune cookie bearing that wacky spell—strikes.

The movie would be nothing without the excellent performances of Curtis and Lohan. Curtis is hysterically funny exuding teenage energy and spouting sarcastic sayings a la MTV’s The Real World. All this, of course, while trapped in her still-sexy, yet decidedly middle-aged body; upon realizing what has happened, Anna wails in the mirror “I’m Ohhllllldd” and declares herself the crypt-keeper. Curtis has always had a knack for comedy, and this little movie allows her trade on that ability rather than sell her oomph.

Even at her most aggravating, Lohan is endearing, able to key in the viewer to the fact that while Anna might be different, she’s a good kid. But as Tess, Lohan does great work, mostly via small visual cues and gestures that are a marked contrast to her performance as Anna. For instance, when talking to Anna’s friends about Jake, Anna/Tess nonchalantly pulls down her pal’s midriff-baring top to conceal her belly. This is done so much like a mom would adjust her child’s clothing, unconscious and deliberate at the same time, that I wonder whether Lohan thought it up herself or was directed thus.

The movie’s weak link is Jake, but then again, he’s really just a concept, someone that Anna can find cool and sexy, and that Tess can judge as not good enough. Jake cools on Anna when she’s Tess, but completely digs Tess when she’s Anna, which results in some very funny Mrs. Robinson-type subtext. But he’s simple enough to fall back in love with Anna when he thinks she’s playing a kickass guitar solo. Go figure. Freaky Friday isn’t about reality and it isn’t about complexity. But it is a very enjoyable, laugh-filled farce, perfect for late-summer viewing—and for forgetting that awful original.

Not-So-Special Forces

S.W.A.T.
Directed by Clark Jackson

S.W.A.T. is based on the 1975-76 TV show, a good-guys-bad-guys relic of the pre-Hill Street Blues era of police- procedural realism. And that’s what this workmanlike remake is banking on: nostalgia for a time when law enforcement was all good, a force for social rehabilitation inspiring ever-greater heights of crime-fighting efficiency. Helmed by Clark Jackson, an actor in, and director of, many a cop show, S.W.A.T. takes on almost the entirety of Los Angeles’ criminal element and barely breaks a sweat. And it barely races a pulse, either.

Instead of taking a cue from recent events in New York City and Baghdad and mining the rapidly blurring line between police and military enforcement, Jackson opts for escapist fakery that lacks even the retro-cool squareness of the new Dragnet. What the big-screen S.W.A.T. does have is a true-blue confidence in its Special Weapons and Tactics, as well as complete confidence in the ballistic charisma of its stars, Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson. Farrell is in the Robert Urich role as Jim Street, an absurdly talented but respectful young Swatter who is demoted to the “bat cage” after his disorderly partner (Jeremy Renner) wings a hostage during the opening crisis. This melee of paramilitary bank robbers, LAPD choppers, media ambulance chasers, and high-tech gizmos sets up the plot with one sentence: “We’re sending in a special unit.”

The new special unit is put together by Sgt. “Hondo” (Jackson), a representative of “old-school S.W.A.T. ass-kicking.” Hondo enlists the disgraced Street, plus some other really cool guys, including LL Cool J as a tough beat cop and Michelle Rodriguez as an even tougher traffic cop. Our hero Street, a former S.E.A.L. who has all the answers and who can see trip wires even in the murk of a sewer tunnel, is played by Farrell as a milder version of his absurdly talented agent in The Recruit—which works well enough, since the training sequences of the two movies are interchangeable.

The unit’s make-or-break assignment comes when a slippery international arms dealer (French heartthrob Olivier Martinez) uses his live-news airtime to offer $100 million to anyone who can spring him from jail, inspiring every criminal, gangbanger and wacko in Los Angeles with an escape plan. He is then transferred out of lock-up without extra security precautions. Many direct-to-video-game chases ensue, featuring a stream of pop-up perps and a so-so jetjacking.

The film’s cheery veneer of TV-style cheesiness—complete with a medley of scenes from the characters’ off-duty lives—wears thin quickly, especially the canned anti-authority swagger of Jackson’s Hondo. And the film’s strenuously multiculti attitude is as fake as Farrell’s SoCal accent: The “Frenchie” villain is cheekily referred to as “the frog” (if the bad guy were Asian or Hispanic, would the use of “chink” or “spic” be given quite the same prominence?), yet Rodriguez—no slouch in the charisma department herself—is relegated to single-mom window dressing. As for any romance between her Hispanic cop and the S.E.A.L. hero, it might as well be 1975 all over again.

—Ann Morrow

Boy Meets Girl, Blah Blah Blah

Jet Lag
Directed by Danièle Thompson

At least the filmmakers are up-front about their intentions. Jet Lag begins with a black screen, and a voice-over by Rose (Juliette Binoche) in which she wishes that for just one day life could be like a Hollywood movie. Rose wants a happy ending, and it’s obvious that director Danièle Thompson (who also cowrote the screenplay) is damn well going to give her one.

The story begins with Rose at an airport in Paris, fleeing a brutish boyfriend. There’s a hitch, though, as France’s entire public sector is on strike and the planes aren’t flying. (This seems to be a political dig at unions, but the nuances are lost in translation.) Lucky for her, she loses her cell phone down a toilet. She then must borrow a cell phone from Felix (Jean Reno), who, because he is played by the only other movie star in the cast, will become the means to her desired Hollywood happy ending.

Felix, a chef turned entrepreneur, is plagued by dizzy spells and heart palpitations, which, we are helpfully informed (in flashback), are strictly mental in origin. Rose (the daughter of communists, and named after Rosa Luxemburg) is a beautician with an addiction to too much rouge. They are both recovering from failed relationships. They both have amusing quirks: She cries watching political documentaries, and he’s obsessive about food (“The pig died for nothing—this ham is terrible.”)

The pleasure is mostly in the acting, however. Reno, adorned with a rakish hair appliance, is gruff neurosis personified, while Binoche, cast as the opposite of the nurturing types she usually plays, suffers with great enthusiasm. Their characters are both resigned to shallowness and misery: A professional chef can’t be proud of his line of faux-fancy frozen foods, and Rose can’t really be happy with an abusive boyfriend. (The possibility that Rose may be troweling the makeup on out of habit, to cover up bruises—which at least would have been a reasonable explanation—is completely missed by the filmmaker.)

To sum up, they rush around the airport for 30 minutes, insult each other at the hotel for 30 minutes, reveal deep personal secrets for 30 minutes and then, l’amour. Nothing new, but thoroughly pleasant.

—Shawn Stone


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