(On Cable TV, March 2017) It’s sad when capable actors are stuck with dull material, and The Wedding Planner is a case study in how that happens. Here, the always-appealing Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey (in the early rom-com phase of his career) do their best with a script that combines dumb situations with uninspiring dialogue. Their natural charm (plus good contributions from the always-interesting Judy Greer and Justin Chambers) is just about the only thing that keep the film together as it moves through the usual story beats of the romantic comedy formula. The first half-hour is quite a bit better (as in; interesting, less predictable, quirkier, looser, hotter) than anything that follows—it eventually becomes a romantic comedy so cynical that it practically forgets about the romance, so preoccupied it is with ritually moving its plot pieces through the expected episodes leading to the climax. The Wedding Planner is not much of a comedy and it’s not much of a romance either—at best, it does the strict minimum, lets its stars carry the film and calls it a day. Too bad.
(In French, On TV, September 2016) There’s something unusual in seeing Oliver Stone delivering a small-town crime thriller like U-Turn: Stone usually takes on wider-scale topics, even in movies like Natural Born Killers where the crime spree is an excuse to talk about violence as a social phenomenon. Here, we’re down to a man (Sean Penn, not bad) unwillingly stuck in a small desert town and getting embroiled in the simmering madness of its inhabitants. Of course, this being a nineties Stone film, it’s quite unlike anyone else’s take on the same topic. Even as a small-scale dark crime comedy, it’s handled with multiple film stocks, quick cuts, impressionistic directing and a dream-like effect. It’s as if Stone reused the Natural Born Killers bag of tricks in service of a B-grade thriller just to see what would happen. As a result, U Turn may not be a classic, but sure holds our attention. It helps that there’s some terrific casting here. Billy Bob Thornton is menacing as a mechanic with uncommon power over our protagonist; Nick Nolte is imposing as a man willing to have his wife killed; Clare Danes and Joaquin Phoenix show up as a dangerous couple, while John Voigt pops up as a blind Indian beggar. But the film partially belongs to Jennifer Lopez, cranking up the heat as a femme fatale. (Being arguably miscast as a Native American doesn’t matter much given the craziness quotient of the film.) As a sunny noir thriller, U-Turn is wild, expressionistic, exploitative and overwhelming, but it’s never dull.
(Video on Demand, July 2015) I’m not sure what’s inadvertently funnier: Jennifer Lopez in a role where she gets romantically involved with a much younger man (this is one instance when knowing the tabloid persona of the actor is detrimental to the film) or seeing the filmmakers bend themselves in pretzels pretending that this is a so-called “erotic thriller” when this isn’t much more than a schlocky fatal-attraction horror film. The Boy Next Door’s plot feels intensely familiar, as a middle-aged mom sleeps with a young man and find herself the object of his unwanted attention. It doesn’t take long for family, friends and pets to be threatened by a psychotic caricature of an antagonist, all the way to a bloody confrontation. Not a lot separates The Boy Next Door from countless cheap made-for-cable thrillers, other than having Lopez’s bankable name on the marquee. It certainly skirts the so-bad-it’s-good category, as nearly every minor jolt is underscored in the bluntest way possible. (There’s a classroom sequence that’s, ahem, special.) Lopez looks good, but otherwise there isn’t much to play here –and having seen her in a similar role a dozen years ago in Enough is, well, enough. The film does have an entertainment value at odds with its qualities, but that’s the kind of compliment that leaves you guilty the next morning.
(On TV, April 2015) I’m usually a good audience for romantic comedies and/or anything featuring Jennifer Lopez, so imagine my disappointment at my disappointment for this film. A fairy-tale recast in modern setting (i.e.; a Manhattan maid in disguise as a wealthy guest catches the eye of an up-and-coming politician, leading to romantic complications), Maid in Manhattan seems intent on self-destructing before it ends. It is, of course, about class issues… but doesn’t offer much in terms of criticism beyond a pat “work hard and you too can become part of (or marry into) the upper class.” It never properly convinces audience of the perfect match between the two leads. It doesn’t offer much to do for Jennifer Lopez, who seems to have been cast almost solely on the basis of finding an attractive Latina with name recognition. It meanders through a series of obligatory scenes whose point is painfully obvious even when they begin. Poor Ralph Fiennes seems to wander in the film, lost and confused as to what he’s doing there, never credible as a rising political star. Even Stanley Tucci is stuck in a caricature and can’t escape the irritating mediocrity of the result. By the time the stock ending is assembled out of the obvious plot-pieces, it feels more like a relief that the entire film is over more than any heartfelt affection for the reunited characters. Maid in Manhattan classifies as a comedy on the basis that it’s not much of a drama and certainly not a tragedy –but you’d be hard-pressed to find laughs here. Neither will you find anything else worth remembering.
(On Cable TV, November 2013) Jason Statham can act quite a bit better than his usual screen personae allows, and while I do like his stock character a lot, it’s a shame that we don’t see him attempt more ambitious movies than cookie-cutter efforts such as Parker. It’s not that Parker is badly made: Director Taylor Hackford knows what he’s doing and gives a nice gloss to his visuals –especially once the action moves to Miami Beach. Statham is his usual gruff-but-charming self, while Jennifer Lopez gets a few comic moment as a desperate real estate agent. But Parker really can’t rise above its generic nature: Not only has the “left for dead good-guy criminal seeks revenge” shtick been done to death, it has often been executed in far more economical fashion: For a film with such as straightforward plot, Parker overstays its welcome at nearly two hours –Lopez, nominally billed as one of the two lead characters, doesn’t show up until mid-movie. It’s a bit of a shame that this first titled adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels is so generic: I recall Mel Gibson’s 1999 vehicle Payback with a lot more fondness. (It’s not the only late-nineties to be favorably compared to Parker – it’s hard to see Lopez in this film without thinking about Out of Sight.) The dead-end romantic subplot doesn’t help, and there’s a sense that much has been wasted in this hum-drum effort. Ironically, the best reason to see Parker remains Statham himself –even in the most generic of vehicles, he remains curiously compelling.
(On Cable TV, February 2012) Reviewing some movies can also be about taking stock of one’s place in life, and I mention this solely because I suspect that as a new dad, I’m a bit more receptive than usual to a slightly-sarcastic comedy about pregnancy. Here, it’s almost a relief to see Jennifer Lopez take a step back from being a celebrity gossip object to focus on a roundly comic role as a baby-crazy woman who ends up meeting her perfect match shortly after artificial impregnation. This being said, The Back-Up Plan isn’t a particularly good film: The plot threads are obvious, the scenes plays out as they’re expected to, socially-acceptable morals are reaffirmed and cute animals are used as plot devices. But viewers with recent experience with pregnancy may want to tilt their appreciation upward, if only in sympathy. Even as an over-romanticized romantic comedy about people enjoying vast New York apartments and lifestyles on unclear financial footing, The Back-Up Plan is innocuous and even compelling at times. Lopez turns in a good comic performance, and some of the supporting players earn their shares of laughs. Not great, not bad, but a whole lot better if you’re rocking a newborn in your arms as you watch at low volume.
(In theaters, August 2000) I can usually forgive a lot of silly stuff if the offending film is willing to push the envelope of cinematic audacity. Certainly, the trailers to The Cell will try to tell you that you’re about to see An Event, a film which will show you things you’ve never seen before. While it is not deceptive advertising, it is at least far too enthusiastic; one of the mixed reactions I had at the end of the film has that despite the pretty pictures, The Cell wasn’t nearly as innovative, nor as strange as it wanted to become. But that’s not the most offensive thing about the film: That would be the simplistic script used to string along these pictures. Consider: Serial killer is apprehended but fails to reveal location of latest victim, police investigator interrogates killer and gets crucial clue, policeman frees victim before she dies, the end. Nowhere in this plot summary is any mention of the character played by the nominal “star” of the film, Jennifer Lopez. That’s because she may be incredibly hot, but her character does absolutely nothing to solve the case, save get captured and require rescue by the policeman. Ouch! Fortunately, there are still a few pretty pictures to look at thanks to director Tarsem Singh’s passion for visuals. But they’re not enough.