Bamboozled

Good intentions aside, Spike Lee’s latest film backfires. It’s difficult to sit through “Bamboozled” without wondering what Lee was thinking. It starts off with a promising idea, but by the time Lee is done, the film loses all of its strength. Damon Wayans is good as a Pierre Delacroix, a talented, Harvard-educated writer working for a fledgling network. Delacroix already feels enough pressure being the only African-American on staff, but when his boss demands that he develop a hip, urban show or he’s out, he panics. His desperation leads Delacroix to create a modern day Minstrel show featuring African-Americans in black-face.


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It’s outrageous and filled with offensive stereotypes, just the sort of thing he hopes will get him fired. Instead, the show becomes a hit, forcing Delacroix to reexamine his life. “Bamboozled” features a wonderful cast of characters, all trying to make sense of Lee’s vision. You never know when he’s being serious of winking at the camera, and in the end, the film feels like nothing more than the stereotypes it’s attacking. Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson deliver brave performances as the show’s stars, while Michael Rapaport, a Lee regular, feels at home as the Delacroix’s boss. Interesting idea, bad execution. (New Line)

BILLY ELLIOT (R)

billy elliottFather-son stories always have a fond place in my heart, especially ones told with the sincerity of “Billy Elliot.” The story of an English youth who would rather dance than learn to box marks the film debut of acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry, who perfectly captures the local color of the story and characters. Set in 1984, “Billy Elliot” stars Jamie Bell as the title character, an 11- year-old who lives with his father, brother and grandmother in Northern England. While his father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven) strike against the local mines, Billy seeks out instruction from ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Julia Walters). Conflicts abound in “Billy Elliot,” all addressed with thought and resolution by screenwriter Lee Hall. Great cast in a great little movie. (Universal)

HAMLET (R)

Inspired update of Shakespeare’s drama of revenge and treachery stars Ethan Hawke (“Gattaca”) as Hamlet, an aspiring filmmaker who is troubled by the recent death of his father. Even more upsetting is the fact that Hamlet’s mother has just married his father’s brother, the very man suspected of killing his father. The story is pretty much the same, yet the way writer-director Michael Almereyda plays out the tragedy makes for riveting viewing. Almereyda has chosen a stellar cast to tell his story, which even in it’s abbreviated version, still packs a punch. Diane Venora and Kyle MacLachlan play his mother Gertrude and uncle Claudius, whose sudden marriage opens the floodgates for all sorts of mayhem. Bill Murray pops up as Polonius, Claudius’s trusted advisor, who daughter Ophelia (Julia Stiles) is seeing Hamlet. The names are the same, but their attitude is totally modern. I liked this film, especially Hawke as the brooding Hamlet with much on his mind. (Miramax)

LADIES MAN, THE (R)

Tim Meadows expands his “Saturday Night Live” sketch character into a feature-length film, and while the big screen allows him more freedom, it also exploits how wafer thin all of this is. Meadows is fine as Leon Phelps, the self-proclaimed “Ladies Man” who uses his late-night radio show to dispense his views on love and sex. When he goes too far, Phelps finds himself out of a job. Desperate for money, he follows up on a mysterious letter that leads him down a trip through memory lane. The jokes are appropriately randy, and director Reginald Hudlin understands Meadows and his motives, yet there’s really not enough here to make this more than it is: an extended sketch. The supporting cast is fun, especially Billy Dee Wiliams as the films narrator. (Paramount)

LOVE, HONOR & OBEY (R)

Occasionally amusing, frequently violent goof on modern day gangster films stars Jonny Miller as a parcel courier who dreams of a more exciting life. He gets it when his friend (Jude Law) invites him into the family business, where Jonny (Miller) he makes a name for himself. Jonny’s desire to keep the fires burning between his new family and another London mob ignites a full-scale war. The writing-directing team of Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis fashion themselves as London’s answer to Quentin Tarantino, and while their film does feature off-beat characters, cinematic flourishes and black humor, it lacks focus. The filmmakers have a hard time reconciling the action with the comedy. The script also relies heavily on cliches, depriving the actors of any real emotion. (Trimark)

PLAYING MONA LISA (R)

Playful, lightweight romantic comedy starring Alicia Witt (television’s “Cybill”) as a young woman whose seemingly simple life comes crashing down around her. Witt is in great company, surrounded by some fabulous co-stars who really help elevate the material above the ordinary. Poor Claire Goldstein. The 23-year-old piano prodigy loses her boyfriend, piano lessons and apartment in succession, forcing her to move back into her parent’s home to reevaluate her life. She doesn’t get much chance when she finds herself surrounded by eccentric family members and party-hearty friends (Johnny Galecki and Brooke Langton). The supporting cast features Elliott Gould and Marlo Thomas as Claire’s parents, while Molly Hagan completes the dysfunctional family as the perfect daughter and older sister. Estelle Harris (“Seinfeld”) is hilarious as Claire’s aunt who can’t help but meddle, while Ivan Sergei (“The Opposite of Sex”) plays a fish market heir who catches her eye. Director Matthew Huffman keeps everything light and breezy, while the cast seem to have a good time. (Touchstone)

RANGERS (R)

More hogwash from low rent director Jim Wynorski, masquerading here as Jay Anderson. No matter what name he uses, Wynorski still can’t direct, and the proof is in the pudding. Glenn Plummer suffers through this mess playing a CIA agent who is captured by Middle Eastern terrorists after a botched kidnap attempt. When he’s finally released, Plummer returns home seeking vengeance against those who left him behind, completely unaware that he’s being used as a patsy by his captors. Silly dialogue, paper thin performances and bargain basement special effects and production design make this movie much worse than the artwork on the box. (Fox)

SPACE COWBOYSspace cowboys

While watching “Space Cowboys,” I kept trying to figure out which was older: the combined age of the stars or the jokes they’re forced to tell. “Space Cowboys” is one of those movies that flies solely on the charms of its cast, and even they aren’t enough to keep this gossamer from sinking like a lead weight. The stars look as tired as the vehicle they’re trapped in, an Edsel of an epic about four geriatric pilots who get to realize their unfulfilled dreams when they are sent into space to repair an old Russian satellite. It sounds like a good idea, one that probably got an immediate green light when director-star Clint Eastwood recruited Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner to play his fly boys. Unfortunately, writers Ken Kaugman and Howard Klausner fail to do anything with the material except the obvious. It’s sad watching the stars go through the motions when they deserve much better. Please click on title for complete review. (Warner)

TIGERLAND (R)

tigerlandGetting back in touch with his roots, director Joel Schumacher directed this potent boot camp drama on 16mm film and a shoestring budget. “Tigerland” wasn’t a big hit in theaters, but it does feature a big, star-making performance from young Irish actor Colin Farrell, who stars as a Texas Army recruit in 1971. Make that a reluctant recruit. The war in Vietnam still rages on, and Roland Bozz (Farrell) finds himself in line to fight for his country. His final training comes at a Louisiana camp known as Tigerland, which has been designed to look like the jungle in Vietnam. It’s there where Bozz decides to do whatever it takes to get kicked out. He has no desire to go to Vietnam, much less crawl through the jungle muck. Like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” Bozz delights in breaking the rules and pissing off those in charge. The battle of wills eventually begins to take its toll on Bozz, his best friend (Matthew Davis) and their superiors, who need fighting men and not cowards. Even when the film travails familiar territory, the cast and director make it seem vital and fresh. Farrell is amazing as Bozz, a man who makes things harder than they have to be, while Davis excels as his best friend. You may not have heard of “Tigerland,” but you will never forget it. (Fox)

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