Film Openings

Week of March 13, 2002

Harrison's Flowers. Elie Chouraqui. Precious and cloying, this project from Chouraqui (The Liars) sets out to prove itself a story of hope and human endurance but swiftly deteriorates into a terribly obvious melodrama and rough-hewn vanity project for lead actress Andie MacDowell. (One can almost hear the echoes of her shouting to her agent: "Hey, Meg Ryan landed a search-and-rescue picture, so where's mine?") Although its primary setting -- the Serbo-Croatian war, circa 1991 -- deserves somber consideration, this fictional account is predictable and tedious. MacDowell plays Sarah, a dutifully loving American housewife who can't stop proclaiming the name of her husband, Harrison. For most of the story, as Newsweek photojournalist Harrison (David Strathairn) goes missing -- and presumed dead -- somewhere in Croatia, MacDowell is toted through hostile territory by Harrison's photojournalist peers: family friend Yeager (Elias Koteas, increasingly grizzled), young punk Kyle (Adrien Brody, plying his tantrums) and Stevenson (Brendan Gleeson of The General), whose defining characteristics seem to be that he's Irish and kind of nice. Together they brave bullets and bombs in search of their beloved Harrison, who -- as the title suggests -- happens to like flowers. Fortunately, the movie's not without a few strong scenes, which nudge it slightly away from being retitled Harrison's Cheese Sandwich Open March 15 at multiple locations. (GW)

Ice Age. Carlos Saldanha and Chris Wedge. A cross between Three Men and a Babyand Monsters, Inc. with a dash of Lion King(and Dinosaur, gads) thrown in and out: Ray Romano, all Jersey monotone, plays a mammoth named Manfred who refuses to migrate to sunnier climes with the other primitive mammals; he's a sulky beast possessing a tragic secret he keeps to himself. Along the way, Manny picks up unwanted company: Sid, a jibberjabbering sloth voiced by John Leguizamo like an outtake from one of his one-man shows; and Diego (Denis Leary), a sabertooth tiger seeking a lost little baby's blood as revenge. The scenes in which these three unlikely partners raise their new child -- Pinky, as they refer to it -- work best; they display a rare, welcome tenderness. But the trio lacks the playful camaraderie of Monsters, Inc.'s Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Where Pixar's offerings dazzle without overdoing it, Ice Age goes the opposite direction: Its look is almost boring. So, too, is much of its story. If only it didn't feel the need to keep us laughing, the sad plight of the big-studio cartoon, it might have kept on moving. Opens March 15 at multiple locations. (RW)

Mean Machine. Barry Skolnick. Skolnick's remake of 1974's The Longest Yard never gets as amusing as its opening sequence, a fake sneaker commercial in which soccer thug Vinnie Jones, playing soccer thug Danny "Mean Machine" Meehan, spoofs James Bond. It took three writers to adapt the Burt Reynolds vehicle about an incarcerated football player forced to assemble a team of convicts to play the guards, and the writers do so by recreating certain scenes almost verbatim, changing the sport to soccer (rugby would've been a better choice), adding in the requisite Britspeak and attempting to update the material. Although they no doubt think they've made a grittier film, theirs is actually the tamer version, less funny than the earlier film but lacking its racial and homosexual tension. And Jones' Meehan is made far less likable than Reynolds' Paul "Wrecking" Crewe. For one thing, he thoroughly deserves to be in prison, whereas Crewe, though a major ass, was partially set up by a scorned girlfriend. Meehan isn't as smart, and he's also selfish, willing to consider throwing the final game for his own benefit, whereas Crewe was willing to do so only to spare his fellow teammates from further abuse. Given that both movies expect us to root for convicted violent felons over those assigned to protect us, we need every bit of sympathy the cons can muster, and this time around it isn't much. Opens March 15 at the Chase Park Plaza. (LYT)

Monsoon Wedding. Mira Nair. Opens March 15 at the Hi-Pointe and the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

Resident Evil. Paul W.S. Anderson. Fan reservations can be cast aside: Mortal Kombat director Anderson (not the Magnolia director) has created an R-rated, entertaining and faithful addition to the saga begun by Capcom's series of zombie-infested video games. Anderson turns out to be a genuine fan of the games, so after an obligatory opening sequence in which the zombie-creating T-Virus is unleashed, we settle on Alice (Milla Jovovich), a pretty, naked girl in the shower; she finds herself in a large mansion, completely unaware of who she is and how she got there. Forced to don a revealing dress that seems to be the only available clothing, she does what any good game player would do and starts exploring the place. To reveal too many plot specifics would spoil the fun, because the slow-reveal style of the game is imitated well. Suffice it to say that before long, Alice, along with a local police officer, is dragged alongside a team of high-tech commandos into a compound 800 feet below ground known as the Hive. Naturally, zombies and other nasties await. Though costar Eric Mabius is as cheesy as the first game's English dub, Jovovich regularly alternates among shock, nudity and ass-kicking, which is really all we ask from movies like this one. Best video-game adaptation so far, for what that's worth. Opens March 15 at multiple locations. (LYT)

Showtime. Tom Dey. Opens March 15 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

 
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