Video Views Column: September 28

Action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme’s star fades a little more with this direct-to-video revenge flick, more than a step down for the former lead of “Universal Soldier.” Directed with little flair by Danny Mulroon and featuring a paint-by-numbers screenplay by Tim O’Rourke, “Desert Heat” is no more than a ninety-minute programmer that would be happy on the bottom half of a drive-in feature. Van Damme plays a mysterious loner (are there any other kind) whose quest to find solace in his meaningless life is interrupted by a vicious gang who steal his motorcycle and leave him for dead. With the help of an old friend, Eddie Lomax (Van Damme) gathers his strength and seeks revenge. There’s lots of pedestrian action, but not much more. (Columbia-TriStar)

What could I possibly say that would make a difference to Monty Python fans? Nothing. It would be impossible to try and sum up here what Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin have done for comedy. Brilliant writers and performers (and eventually directors), the Monty Python troupe redefined British humor. They took the starch out of the stuffy shirt approach to comedy and infused their humor with biting wit and daring. Monty Python never shied away from provocative or controversial subject matter. From their television show to their films, Monty Python found humor in hypocrisy and everyday life. They took on religion with a fervor, upsetting the apple cart every chance they got. Their “Monty Python and the Life of Brian” literally created mass hysteria in churches worldwide. No strangers to controversy, the Monty Python troupe seldom went for the cheap shot. Even though they tackled topical subject matter, they did it with satirical writing and a certain “wink wink, nudge nudge” approach that kept the censors at bay. The first time I saw “Monty Python” was on KCET, a public television station broadcast out of Los Angeles. They used to play the series late Friday Night without cuts. That meant we got to see all of the dirty little bits. (A&E)

Walking corpses, flesh-eating bugs, fire from the sky and enough Saturday matinee serial close- calls make “The Mummy” such a giddy, fun-filled adventure. Not for one second do you believe any of it, but this remake of the 1932 horror film is such a good time you’re willing to give in to its big screen charms. “The Mummy” has that distinctive old Hollywood feel, with glossy sets, colorful costumes, roguish heroes and smart heroines, and a monster that makes the old “Mummy” look like one of George Clooney’s bad “E.R.” pranks. Some may find this style a bit insulting, but for those of us who cherish it will come away more than pleased with the effort expended. As written and directed by Stephen Sommers, whose last film was the splashy “B’ monster movie “Deep Rising,” “The Mummy” has obviously been pieced together by all that came before it. It’s one part “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” one part “Lawrence of Arabia,” one part “Ten Commandments,” and one part “Jason & The Argonauts.” While it never reaches the heights of those films, “The Mummy” manages to entertain quite nicely on its own level. It’s a grand throwback to the original series, but thanks to some truly dazzling visual effects, the film manages to make the best of both worlds. (Universal)

You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to appreciate the madcap antics in director J. Todd Anderson’s quirky comedy co-written by Ethan Coen. Cohen, half of the “Fargo” and “The Big Lewbowski” filmmaking team (along with brother Joel), paints a very bizarre landscape filled with eccentric people and even more eccentric motivations. Michael Rapaport stars as the title character, a chiropractor by day and a professional wrestler by night. Michael Jeter plays the shady pharamcist who sends his world crashing down, forcing him to take his act out of the ring and into the streets. Off-beat and off-the-wall, “The Naked Man” arrives as an unexepcted delight that tackles chiropractors, wrestling, and an Elvis cult. (Polygram)

There are several jobs, for one reason or another, I would never take. Teacher at an inner-city high school. Shelley Winter’s gynecologist. Roberto Benigni’s interpreter. Martha Stewart’s cleaning lady. And an air traffic controller. I’ve never been inside an actual air traffic control tower, but I have seen my fair share of documentaries and movies to understand that it takes a special breed of person to juggle hundreds of planes every day. It’s the kind of job where one mistake is one too many, and the consequences are tragic. The stress alone would be enough to kill most people. Sometimes it does. Then, in movies like the current “Pushing Tin,” there are people like Nick Falzone, who revels in his ability to get the job done without going postal. Falzone is a master of what he does, and doesn’t mind being the cock of the henhouse, which is TRACON, the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control center. He understands his place in the universe and accepts it. (Fox)

Geez, talk about a slow burn. It’s been 23 years since Carrie White torched her prom and made life a living nightmare for classmate Sue Snell. 23 long years. A lot can happen in 23 years, but not if you’re trapped in movie hell. Everything old is new again, but not necessarily better in “The Rage: Carrie 2,” a belated sequel that can’t seem to shake off the original 1976 film directed by Brian DePalma. Not so much a sequel as a rehash, “Carrie 2” so desperately clings to the original that it actually includes clips of the horrific moments from that film. It’s a cinematic short cut, a device that works against the film. Every time “Carrie 2” director Katt Shea uses a clip, it makes you realize that you’re watching an inferior film. The screenplay by Rafael Moreu (he also wrote the derivative “Hackers”) isn’t nearly as sharp, witty or scary as “Carrie,” which greatly benefitted from Lawrence Gordon’s masterful reworking of Stephen King’s novel. Shea, a product of the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, makes the big leap here from low budget exploitation to large budget exploitation, and her tenure on such films as “Poison Ivy” has prepared her for task. Even at it’s most clumsy, “Carrie 2” is still a competently made film. You just wish it was a better film, or even a different film. Just not a retread of the first film with some obvious modern references thrown in to make it hip. Teen horror movies are hip right now, and “Carrie 2” seems like an obvious attempt to capture some of the “Scream” overflow. Unlike that film, there’s little to scream about in “Carrie 2.” (MGM)

Nicely etched portrait of the former heavyweight champion, well played by Jon Favreau (“Swingers”). Favreau does a good job of evoking the spirit of the former boxer, who rose from his simple roots in Brockton, Massachusetes to become a sports legend. Director Charles Winkler keeps the film from becoming too heavy handed, and deals with the controversial elements of the boxers life with respect. The fight scenes are a little theatrical, but they do convey the electricity and energy expected. Decent supporting cast included Penelope Ann Miller, Judd Hirsch, and Tony Lo Bianco, who played Marciano in a 1979 mae-for-television movie. The Showtime presentation delivers the goods. (MGM)

(c) John Larsen

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