BEING JOHN MALKOVICH

Directed by Spike Jonze

Because this is a dark comedy (the last act and the wrap-up are on the dank side, with a surprising swatch of bathos woven into the fabric), somebody has to suffer. In this sense, the movie is in sync with its contemporaries; its verdict (and the escalating drama leading up to it) feels forced, reactionary and a bit unjust. The movie sweeps this aside, however, with its fascinating theme of puppetry, with everyone yanking someone else's strings. Taken allegorically or literally (we get both perspectives), this mad craving for control propels the narrative through an impressive and inventive obstacle course.

A secondary premise, blatantly spelled out in the poster art, is silly science-fiction malarkey, but it's still a fair sight more imaginative than most material in studio films, which is why, despite its glitches, Being John Malkovich is so refreshing. Imagine if this brand of whimsy were to catch on in Hollywood -- there could be sequels! Say, perhaps, Being Geena Davis or Being Jackie Chan or (why not?) Being Rupert Murdoch. Not only could John Cusack abandon grooming for good and ride the series until he croaks, it's simply a frontier of limitless potential.

Well, we can always dream.

Opens Nov. 12 at the Tivoli.

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