of evil: (l-r) Chabert, McAdams, Lohan and Seyfried
in Mean Girls.
of the Jungle
by Mark Waters
You have to love the occasional old-school Hollywood plot
gimmick, such as: What would happen if you took an intellectually
bright, emotionally well-adjusted teenager raised in isolation,
with absolutely no socialization in her peer group, and dropped
her into a “typical” American school setting?
That’s the premise of the latest vehicle for teen queen Lindsay
Lohan. She’s Cady Heron, a sweet 15-year-old raised in Africa
by her anthropologist parents who finds herself the “new meat”
in a vicious American jungle, aka a suburban Chicago high
Viewed with sympathy by a pair of outcasts, goth chick Janis
Ian (Lizzy Caplan)—nice in-joke—and “too gay to function”
Damian (Daniel Franzese), Cady is given the Reader’s Digest
condensed guide to the school hierarchy. You will recognize
these teen movie archetypes: stoners, math geeks, assorted
insular ethnic groups, art freaks and, crucially, “the plastics.”
The plastics are the wealthy, physically “ideal” teen queens
universally (and paradoxically) loathed, desired and feared
by the rest of the student body.
The melodramatic ’80s epics made by John Hughes loom large
over the entire genre, and, as described, Mean Girls
uses almost the same social background as any movie ever made
starring Molly Ringwald. Except that the class roles aren’t
rigid in Mean Girls—Lohan is herself enough of a “hottie”
to become a plastic, which both opens up the emotional claustrophobia
of a character trapped in her place (good) and gives the story
the currently popular fairy-tale quality (not quite as good).
So she becomes a plastic. At first, this is at the urging
of her outcast pals, who want to subvert the plastics’ hegemony
from within. Though this plan proceeds nicely, the lure of
being loved and feared brings out Cady’s Machiavellian side.
She becomes the monster she at first abhorred.
What you’re wondering is, is any of this any fun? Absolutely.
Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey wrote the screenplay,
from a book by Rosalind Wiseman, and she didn’t create one
bad scene or hit one false emotional note. (OK, the jokes
about the Vietnamese girls and the track coach seem forced.)
The woman-power preaching is, believe it or not, thoughtful.
The jokes are funny. The characterizations are acid. Best
of all, the script has a genuinely nasty tone, with a couple
of shockingly violent sight gags. The only failures are in
the direction, which could have been more subtle, and the
music: Cady’s from Africa, and the school’s another kind of
jungle. . . . Lay off the “jungle drums” in the score. Please.
We get it.
The acting is also first-rate, especially the plastics: Regina
(Rachel McAdams), the queen bee, and her followers Gretchen
(Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried). They are comic
evil personified, running the gamut from childish to cruel
The film wouldn’t work without Lohan, however. She has the
acting chops to seamlessly make the transformation from innocent
and bright to mean and stupid, and manages it in a limited
time. She is so good, in fact, I almost didn’t notice. Let’s
hope she can transition out of the teen-queen stereotype in
shrill: Moore in Laws of Attraction.
by Peter Howitt
It starts out promisingly enough, what with its Blake Edwardsy,
1960s-styled credit roll and a creamy score by Edward Shearmur,
but Laws of Attraction, the supposed romantic comedy
starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, quickly descends
into banality, the likes of which is about as intriguing as,
well, reading a legal brief in a securities-fraud case.
Brosnan is Daniel Rafferty, a rumpled but charming divorce
lawyer, whose no-loss streak comes to a halt when he encounters
opposing counsel Audrey Woods (Moore) in a high-profile Manhattan
split. Audrey instantly despises this man, or, rather, comes
undone by his uncanny ability to pierce through her take-no-prisoners
facade. Tellingly, he immediately spies the crumb of a Hostess
cupcake, furtively sneaked in the ladies room before the trial
begins, on her lip, and here is where the script’s light touch
ends. As written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling,
this romance, which should simmer, is instead a series of
setups written solely for the purpose of being “cute,” not
as a means to discovering Daniel’s and Audrey’s personalities,
their growing admiration for each other, and their undeniable
mutual attraction. Viewers of the Hepburn-Tracy classic Adam’s
Rib will well recall how, in that movie, the characters—lawyers
on opposite sides of an attempted murder case—absolutely relished
their adversarial day jobs, as if the legal warfare were an
intoxicating form of foreplay, leading to what we just knew
was a jolly good time back at home.
of Attraction has none of that zest, or humanity, going
To be sure, Brosnan and Moore are both mostly appealing, and
we desperately want to root for them. But the plotline, which
follows them to enchanted Ireland, where they get married
in a drunken stupor, feels empty and without spark. Supporting
characters like Audrey’s artifice-loving mom (Frances Fisher)
and a couple on the skids, rocker Thorne Jamison (Michael
Sheen) and his fashion-designer wife Serena (Parker Posey),
breathe momentary life into the proceedings, but are not integrated
into the story in a way that makes the whole thing work. Thinking
again of an old film, I can’t help but recall how in Pillow
Talk, Doris Day’s maid (Thelma Ritter) and Rock Hudson’s
best friend (Tony Randall) were integral parts of the fun,
not just comic relief. As the movie progresses, we can’t help
but wonder why Daniel would be so enthralled with Audrey,
who, through no fault of Moore’s, is written as a fragile,
sheltered neurotic nutcase. What passes for comedy is shrill
histrionics; what is presented as romance is only slightly
See Dead Box-Office
by Nick Hamm
Noooo, don’t go there . . . is an appropriate response to
a horror flick, but for Godsend, a thriller about medical
science, that audiences may find themselves hunched down in
their seats in dread has nothing to do with suspense or frightfulness.
It has everything to do with the film’s astoundingly predictable
twist: You never know what’s lurking in the petri dish. As
these murkily stylish, empty-headed kinds of things tend to
do, Godsend starts off promisingly, with a subdued,
Shyamalan-like tone and intimations of grief-stricken hubris.
Halfway through, Godsend will have viewers screaming
all right—for a refund.
The evening before Adam Duncan’s 8th birthday, his loving
parents Jessie (Rebecca Romijin-Stamos) and Paul (Greg Kinnear)
have a party for him. Director Nick Hamm establishes a dank
atmosphere that’s light on dialogue and heavy on clever camera
work: As Paul hurries home on this dark and rainy night, a
shot of umbrella tops dissolves into the balloons of Adam’s
dimly-lit birthday party. (This is either a portent of doom,
or an indication that Duncans use only 40-watt bulbs.) The
next day, Adam (Cameron Bright) is killed in the street while
his mother watches in horror.
Just as the Duncans are making funeral arrangements, brilliant
fertility doctor Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) shows up to
make a hard sales pitch. He wants the devastated couple to
sign up for a clone of their dead child. Having made millions
from his genetic research, Wells is ready to take his in-vitro
procedures an illegal step further. After some initial, cheaply
tear-jerking reluctance, the Duncans agree, and nine months
later, Adam II arrives. Eight bland years go by before the
new Adam starts exhibiting bizarre symptoms, creeping out
his dad with cryptic warnings such as “Something bad is going
to happen” and hanging out in an old toolshed. Although Jessie
admits she’s always had a feeling they wouldn’t get away with
it, the couple is maddeningly slow to catch on that any child
as robotic as Adam must have something wrong with him. Godsend,
however, is maddeningly slow for no reason other than it has
nowhere to go. And yet on and on it goes anyway. The only
mystery is how the film could’ve missed all the mind-bending
elements that can be derived from recent news stories on human
Hamm fills the downtime with silly jolts and ridiculous red
herrings until a climactic fire-in-the-old-spooky-church scene.
(You play God, you burn in hell. Duh.) But that’s not the
end, or even close to it. No, the actual ending is so lame,
it’s as though the screenwriter couldn’t be bothered to write
one, and so the director simply stopped filming when even
he got bored. You have to wonder how they got away with it.