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Adaptation (2002)

Dir: Spike Jonze

“Writing is a journey into the unknown”

How do you come up with a follow up to Being John Malkovich? For Charlie Kaufmann the answer lies in adapting the best seller The Orchid Thief. Except, like most movie based film-writers, Charlie has writers’ block. So starts Adaptation, a film about writing a film featuring a script about writing the script. Confused? Well fortunately, despite its multiple levels, the film never loses sight of its aims – despite it paradoxically being about losing sight of your aims. Adaptation is used not only in the sense of the screenplay adapting a book (with all the moral dilemmas facing a writer tackling someone else’s work) but also in the Darwinian sense. Indeed Darwin himself makes a couple of appearances and the narrative at times moves from the dawn of life right to the modern age. Structurally too the whole piece flits from one time frame to another, leaping around from the (filmically) present to the past and to events in the book, as we try and unravel the films mysteries. These mysteries essentially revolve a around gap-toothed orchid hunter and a New York journalist’s attempt to write a book about his compulsive and impulsive life (“One day,” the once-ocean obsessed horticulturist mentions “I said ‘fuck fish'”)

Chief stumbling point for Kaufmann lies in his inability to get across the concept of “flower” in film script terms. He is struggling to become the screenwriter as artist, eschewing the manufactured blandness of the Hollywood factory to the extent that words like “pitch” or “the industry” send him in paroxysms of rage. These matters aren’t helped by his less uptight twin brother who decides, apparently at whim, to become a screenwriter too. Only while Charles is becoming embroiled in a cycle of self-loathing (“I’m losing my hair, I’m fat and repulsive”) and dead-end ideas striving for artistic credibility brother Donald launches straight into a high concept serial killer film called The 3 with help from screenwriting seminars.

Rather like Being John Malkovich this is a strange and unusual film the likes of which you have never seen before. All the elements are recognisable but its skewed look on its subject makes it so fresh. Cage is great as both brothers (and the effects to have them interact on screen together are seemless – the best since Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers), abley supported by a top notch cast. Intelligent, indulgent and original – proof that Hollywood can still turn out a piece that is witty, left-field but not preachy or unduly complicated. Clearly a lot of effort went into making a film appear so effortless.

American Pie 2

Dir: J.B.Rogers

Scr: Adam Herz

St: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Owen, Tara Reid

Fresh from freshman year the five feisty fella’s fancy a fine summer of frolicking and fun with any fit female that falls their way. So, no change there then. And what better plan to fulfil their libidinous excesses than at a holiday beach-home funded by daytime painting jobs? For Jim this is the ideal time to brush up on his love skills in anticipation of Nadia’s imminent return, skills which in the words of band camp veteran Michelle “suck”. Not that he is alone in his inexperience…

American Pie 2The first films combination of character driven plot mixed with gross-out sexual humour in the Porkys/Lemon Popsicle mould made it a surprise hit with not just audiences but critics as well. This despite the fact that awful direction and a fuddy-duddy set of cuts by the MPAA saw off any merits in the screenplay or performances. Second time around and once again the screenplay tries to have its pie and eat it by providing its sexism in the post-politically correct mode, only this time the direction is merely bland. Unfortunately this leaves American Pie 2 feeling like the aforementioned Lemon Popsicle films by way of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, another inexplicably critically lauded film that sledgehammers “soundness” under the guise of gross comedy. Indeed the debt to Smith is apparent in the numerous sf references in the dialogue, the beach scene love of Jaws and the Star Wars lines (“The force is strong in that one”). But there the similarity ends – Smiths films tend to favour discussion of acts while American Pie et al like to show them (as much as an R rating will allow).

Central to American Pie 2’s success is the characters and it is to the film’s credit that it manages to balance such a large central cast with apparent ease. Jim’s dad is back with his own special blend of liberalism and inappropriate fatherly monologues, Jim still has problems with his sex life, Stifler is still a total animal, Finch is still lusting after Stifler’s mum to the extent of honing his tantric skills to a fine art and so on. Everyone slips smoothly back into character as though they’ve never been away and there in lies the sequel problem – too much like the first and it’s a rehash, too little and you alienate the base audience. American Pie 2 relies too much on its previous outing to win over any new admirers; characters constantly refer to Jim’s webcast, Nadia, band camp, Stifler’s mum etc in what ultimately is nothing more than a time wasting nod-and-a-wink to the in-the-know. And then there are the money shots of gross-out that are the bread and butter of the modern youth comedy. American Pie 2 has its fair share of these and a number are wince inducing in the way they are so painfully drawn out, most notably in the scene where three of the gang are playing an escalating game of sexual humiliation with two “possible lesbians” whose house they have broken into – a Chasing Amy style debunking of male fears/desires about homosexuality sadly thumped with all the subtlety of its inspiration. Just as cringe inducing, though far more enjoyable, is when Jim mistakes super glue for lubricant and is accosted by the police with a porno vid stuck to one hand and his member in the other.

In the final analysis American Pie 2 works far better as a feel good character drama than it does as a comedy with some of the funnier moments coming from small throw-away little incidents than the oft-touted set pieces. It’s not art, it’s not actually that good, it’s not all that funny but somehow it works adequately under the circumstances and is for the moment superior to its peers (Scary Movie , Road Trip et al). Either go out and see it with some tanked up student mates or wait for it to turn up on tele.

Angel Eyes (2001)

Sharon works for the Chicago Police Department, it’s a hard job that has meant hard decisions, including busting her own father for domestic violence ten years previously. Although she knows she did the right thing (her parents are to renew their wedding vows) it has led her to estrangement from her family, disillusionment about her life and a sense of sang froid about emotional entanglements. When a stranger, Catch, saves her from having her head blown off by a disgruntled gang member who has already let two rounds off into her jacketed chest it looks as though perhaps the two of them can make a go of it. But Catch has his demons too; he spends his days walking around the city helping unappreciative people without looking to help himself, he has shut out his past and lives his life in a barren room. The bond that is tentatively growing between them is rendered fragile by the grip of the past, a past that unites them as much as it keeps them apart.

The central male may well wander the streets of a major American city helping people and moping about in a trench-coat agonising about a past he is trying to erase or atone for, but this is no Buffy spin-off, despite the occasional “head down in a dingy alley” shots. No instead Angel Eyes is one of those heart-wrenching tales of two traumatised souls requiring redemption from themselves and absolution for moments in their lives that have permanently scarred them. Both are incapable of tears; Sharon by out-drinking her buddies and beating up criminals and Catch by his “angel of mercy” routine that sees him perform such deeds as turning off car headlights to save their battery (the owners naturally thinks he’s going to nick it) or rescuing stray dogs. As the film progresses he weans off the Samaritan bit, gets a little bit better at shaving and finally starts the nightmare of sorting out his pad with flat-pack furniture, while she tries to confront her fear of her oafish father, while curtailing the temper that she has inherited from him. But all this is futile – this is a film where people trying to do the right thing or victims get psychologically traumatised or abused while the perpetrators walk around unscathed and unchallenged.

Rather like Sweet November the outcome is perhaps not entirely as you would anticipate and better for it but ultimately Angel Eyes comes burdened with a number of issues that renders it average at best. Lopez gives a fine central performance (as indeed does everyone else, the acting is believable throughout) especially when in gutsy “Dirty Harriet” mould, but the whole tale is wallows in everyone’s self-misery to such an extent that it’s hard to care that much. Her family hate her for being a cop but she doesn’t confront the very thing that makes her that cop, as Catch points out “Do you ever think about how many people are walking around this town because you saved them?” He fares little better while virtually everyone incidental in the picture (with the exception of the virtually abandoned little boy who lives down the hall from Catch and Sharon’s long suffering police partner) are selfish people living miserable self-centred lives. Now it’s not that life is a bed of roses or anything, but the sheer turgid futility of it all gets wearisome so that by the time you finally reach a scene of any emotional content you are too numb to respond. This linked with the very opening scene justifying some co-incidental bond between Sharon and Catch at the very moment of loss to him seems a trite device that isn’t required for their relationship to progress. This is a shame as at least the film-makers are trying to create a romance out of the squalor and psychological damage of modern life, but in the end its claustrophobic structure offers little beyond the miserable lives it portrays. See it on telly when you need the comfort of watching people more screwed up than yourself because frankly Angel Eyes is the anethema of enjoyment.

A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) (2001)

Dir: Stephen Spielberg

Jude Law in AIConsider the situation: you are parents incapable of having further children and your solitary offspring has got himself banged up in hospital with slim chances of recovery. What do you do? Wrong! You get a prototype robo-kid, activate his “genuine love ®” module to let him pour out feelings and then dump him like a piece of trash when real boy recovers, leaving the distraught robo-boy to wander around the creepy forests, get tied up in the seedy underworld of android prostitution and develop an obsessive Pinocchio complex to compensate for maternal rejection. Parents: one. Robo-brat: nil. Armed only with a walking teddy-bear the love-filled simulacrum sets about on his quest to become a real boy without ever realising (big sniffy Kleenex time) that he is more human than humanity itself.

Roll up! Roll up! It’s the slag off Spielberg show as once again the “last great hope” for Hollywood cinema spectacularly pulls off another class A irritant of a film. Before the vitriol and disbelief flies it should be made clear that AI is by far the best film Spielberg has directed since Empire of the Sun. The opening act is designed in line with 1970’s sf films and photographed to match with particularly impressive use of focussing. After the dubious exposition at the beginning things really settle down into family drama mould – the “when shall we turn him on” dilemma’s, the adjustments to family living and finally the reintroduction of their “real” son. The last event triggers one of the films most memorable images as the misunderstood android stares wide-eyed from the bottom of his parents swimming pool – his time with his adopted family coming to an end. Rejected by the mother he is befriended by bot-on-the-run Gigolo Joe, complete with his Jiminey Cricket heel clicking and queasy listening in-built stereo. The two descend into a world half Wizard of Oz and half Hell. This middle section is a visual delight running from the neon excesses of Total Recall’ls Mars to post-Apocalyptic Mad Max arenas. In this later segment we are treated to one pointless bit of air-punching as a crowd of violence seekers are convinced not to axe a child robot but its a minor point – there’s a teddy-bear robot that (wait for it!) is not a saccharine companion, magical quests, demolished cities and a fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be. The acting is superb (especially from Jude Law), the music is spot on and the whole piece is filmed with an air of assured maturity that has been lacking in sf cinema for far too long. A triumph for Spielberg up to the very last frame?

Ah, but there’s a rub. The “fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be” unfortunately does not come at the end of the film. Oh no. And if you were one of the many people incensed at the lacklustre conclusion of this years Planet of the Apes (what did you expect, a sudden about face from the rest of the film?) this one will have you enraged. Close on two hours of quality film-making are thrown away on an ill-advised, over-long, feel-good piece of extra-terrestrial nonsense that seems to exist only to provide a happy conclusion of monumental crassness and to showcase some whizzy special effects for no good purpose. Up until this point the effects had been dictated by the story and relatively underplayed despite their complexity but suddenly we have Close Encounters of the Turd Kind tacked on and the whole thing gets flushed down the pan. The only thing that can make you sit through the end credits is the stunned disbelief that yes, he really did screw it up that badly and that once again you parted with your hard earned cash to be pissed off by Mr Spielberg.

Unforgivable.

Black Dahlia (2006)

Brian de Palma adapts James Ellroy’s exhausting and meticulous novel about one of Hollywood’s most notorious and gruesome murders. The cold exacting text of the semi-fictionalised book would be difficult to pull of cinematically whilst maintaining any audience identification so Josh Friedman’s screenplay centres on a few key players and necessarily has to come to some kind of closure. The results are always watchable but the film is uneven.

Boxing policeman Bucky and Lee find themselves tackling the gruesome case of Elizabeth Short – an actress found dissected, disembowelled and horribly mutilated. Their investigations lead them into a complex labyrinth of property dealers, prostitution and porn flicks, of vice, drugs and misery.

The Black Dahlia makes a valiant attempt to keep together the huge mountain of facts and sub-stories that encircle the case – like real life the clues don’t necessarily relate to the case in hand, there are diversions, red herrings and personal problems to deal with. Elizabeth Shorts death is but one of the multitude of issues and cases that affect Bucky and Lee but it seems to be the catalyst. Like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks Elizabeth Short is dead before the films timeline begins, and like her the presence of her dead body is always the focus of apparently disconnected events. Everything from a police pay rise to a modern painting seems inexorably linked but everything always comes back to Elizabeth.

De Palma relies on his usual arsenal of long steadicam shots and occasional operatic set pieces to tell this bloody tale. What he does do though is shy away from the sheer horror of Elizabeth’s death, focussing instead on the repercussions of it. It’s probably a wise move – he shows enough to let us know that we don’t want to see more but doesn’t shy from the murder or wallow in it, it’s sordid enough as it stands.

The washed out, sepia tinged cinematography shows off the set designs to great effect. Like The Untouchables The Black Dahlia looks to real events in a fictional context but unlike that films sense of jour de vivre The Black Dahlia is a more sombre piece.

Cats & Dogs (2001)

More a dog of a film than a cat.

“Cats Rule!”

Dir: Lawrence Guterman

St: Jeff Goldblum, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Perkins

Cats & Dogs (2001)For thousands of years they have been fighting. Of course as mere humans you’d only know the surface of it; dogs don’t like cats – cats don’t like dogs. Until now the balance has been even but that could all change and the scales are set to tip in favour of the dogs all thanks to the blindingly daft research carried out by Prof. Brody at his family home. Brody is working on a drug to make dog allergies a thing of the past, a move that will mean a dog in every household and the complete subjugation of feline kind. In order to protect their interests those cunning canines have appointed a highly trained field-operative to protect the developing formula from the clutching paws of their fur-ball making adversaries – appointed but instead got Louie, a clumsy but enthusiastic puppy. Meanwhile, in his mansion home, top cat Mr Tinkles is dispatching his best international agents to thwart the poochy plans once and fur all. Oh, and take over the world of course…

Prime Concept Pitch #382: It’s like Toy Story meets Small Soldiers … with pets.

Cats & Dogs (2001)It must have seemed like a good idea at the time and, to be fair, Cats and Dogs is at least mildly amusing, but sadly the execution doesn’t live up to the concept or the hype. At least its 87 minute running time means that it doesn’t outstay its welcome but this comes at the expense of what appears to be a number of gaps in the film, gaps that were they filled would probably hold back the pace (a prime example of this is the sudden lurch from pre to post “soccer” trials that would help the later kidnap attempt by Mr Tinkles to work dramatically but would slow the action considerably – so presumably out it went). And at least pace is in its favour with plenty of choppy editing and orchestral oom-pahing to drive everything forward. The editing also does a reasonable job of hiding the occasionally ropey effects and gives the film much of its live action cartoon fun. Sadly though this is not enough as the net result is that of a rushed film (see also Planet of the Apes), a film that needed to cash in on the summer holiday box office spree instead of polishing the edges for a Christmas release.

It’s not all bad though, at least it’s sporadically amusing and the world domination plan suitably insane in its ingenuity but clearly the mutt-centric nature of it makes it less balanced than the advertising would lead you to believe. Despite this pooch bias the cats are most definitely the stars of the show as the dog heroes are just sooooo dull and serious (the vaguely interesting one is also the only female, but her homeless character is sidelined and virtually edited out of the picture – one for the boy dogs then, all of whom have homes to go to after their heroics). Jeff Goldblum’s dumb scientist routine has been “enhanced” by apparently swallowing too many Rick Moranis pills, taking things down another notch.

Cats and Dogs is a missed opportunity of a film – there is enough there to enjoy but given the high cost of production these days surely just a little more time and effort could have been put in to make it a finished film.

Alice The Cat On Cats And Dogs

We asked Alice the Cat to give her inimitable précis of the film. Be warned though, some of her views are quite controversial. Views expressed by Alice do not necessarily reflect those of Colin and Mitch.

Guterman’s Cats and Dogs represents republican Bush-ian ideology in the guise of a family film, re-emphasising concerns about international diplomacy, a paranoia about non-US-centric policies and a reaffirmation of the capitalist ethos. In a Hollywood system that is generally seen as fiscally republican but artistically democrat Cats and Dogs plants both its paws soundly in the Bush camp. The film shows dogs as the heroes of this world order; all American, all willing to obey orders without questioning, all male. All female dogs are strays – it is a phallocentric dictatorship hiding under the guise of patriotism. The misguided need to protect humanity is just misdirection to justify a heinous goal – the dominance over another species. That only male American dogs are seen as capable of upholding international law and making monumental decisions is shown in the canine UN sequence – all the other countries’ dogs are ineffectual and bickering, leaving it to US hounds to unilaterally dismiss international diplomacy in order to have their way. The cats, on the other hand, are shown as a desperate band of multi-nationals under the strategic leadership of Mr Tinkles. The international nature of the feline resistance is not shown in the film’s mise en scene as a positive collaboration but as a Stalinist attack on the dog democracy (a democracy providing you comply), whilst providing racial targets for the film to exploit; Russian cats are hardened KGB brutes, Japanese cats are ninjas with, paradoxically, Chinese martial arts skills and so on. The implication is clear – do not trust foreigners.

Technologically the film correlates the power of money with patriotism and security. The dogs have the finest military hardware imaginable, huge computers, tracking devices, radar, underground war rooms, networks of cameras, advanced communications facilities on so on while the cats are burdened with outdated equipment and a reliance on personal ability over financial backing. Normally a film sides with (for want of a better term) the underdogs overcoming adversity, the ‘against all odds’ scenario, but Cats and Dogs revels in the glory of technological supremacy and rewards its canine protagonists for being rich and selfish. Rather than side with the brave rebels valiantly fighting the rich, regulated empire that threatens to homogenise the universe (the Star Wars film scenario) we side with the oppressors that stamp on politically diverse ideals in order to maintain world order at the expense of individuality (the Son of Star Wars project scenario). Art and ingenuity, creativity to overcome adversity, these are not ideals preached by Cats and Dogs – the temple of hard cash, the dollar, is the films idol that we are meant to bow to. The message is: if you are poor and oppressed it is because you deserve to be.

Cats and Dogs is reactionary canine propaganda that purports to be family entertainment. Instead it is insidious indoctrination into proto-fascism; installing consumer greed-capitalism and cultural imperialism in order to homogenise a world under the yoke of syndicated supremacy. Don’t be fooled. Cats Rule.

Charlies Angels (2000)

Once Upon A Time There Were Three Little Girls Who Went To The Police Academy…

… except this time round they missed out on the police training and met up to fight crime for millionaire boss Charlie who keeps in touch by regular phonecalls via the inscrutable Bosley. This time they’ve got a humdinger on their hands, a piece of software that can fingerprint voices and pinpoint anyone, anywhere using a satellite phone has been appropriated by the sinister Red Star clan. The engineer behind the program, Knox, has also been kidnapped and it’s up to the Angels; Natalie, Dylan and Alex to get both him and the software back into safe hands.

Seventies retro mania reaches its logical conclusion with an update of the iconic US series Charlie’s Angels. The show’s confusing blend of outright sexism (Charlie himself the unseen patriarch handing orders to his women while being surrounded by half naked bathing beauties) was tempered with the empowering figures of three women who could more than easily stand up to any heat. For every accusation of the women being exploited as Charlie’s playthings there was the counter argument that all the men in the series were ineffectual compared to the might of the Angels – it was they who could think on their feet and with their fists. So now we find ourselves in the post-modern Noughties, a land where Hollywood has allegedly purged the un-PC spectre of the Seventies when in fact all that’s happened is that the focus has shifted a bit. Charlie’s Angels has done big bucks in the States so, how does it stand? Well, for fans of cheesy sexism, body suits zipped down to the navel and chicks who get their guy by the swish of their hair in slow motion you’ve found your film, all elements present and (politically in)correct. For those of you who prefer a feisty heroine that can seriously kick butt, jump out of planes and survive humungous explosions with n’er a scratch you’ve also found your movie. Charlie’s Angels manages to be true to the spirit of its forebear but this isn’t the world of Seventies action television, this is Hollywood action cinema, and for that to succeed you need to be loud, big and very stupid. Fortunately Charlie’s Angels manages to be all three but director McG manages to throw in as many visual references as he can get his hands on. Drew Barrymore is Hollywood’s Ms. Post-modern and this is another vehicle to propel that image. From the opening pastiche of Bond films (with a nod to Mission Impossible) including a faked long shot and some outrageous special effects and stunt work the film gets into the swing with a widescreen pastiche of the original programme, complete with dayglow colours, silhouettes and a welcome return to split screen (long absent outside of Brian De Palma films or Boogie Nights). If the pace then slows down a tad it’s due to the sheer enjoyment of these opening minutes. There are nods to virtually every camp Seventies film from Private Benjamin to Saturday Night Fever, Shaft and even The French Connection. More up to date though is the reliance on The Matrix to advise the madcap wirework martial arts sequences and a flashback slow-motion bullet time sequence as well as MI2 posturing and crashes. Fortunately the effects of a Tom Cruise lead and a studio PG-13 requirement have not dampened the squib here. This is the Angels’ film pure and simple, while Murray makes an ideal Bosley he is little more than the damsel in distress to the Angels’ knights in shining armour.

Yes it occasionally pushes the boundaries of taste (when the three first indulge in a major punch up the soundtrack blares out The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”) and the plot twists are Hannah and Barbera signposted (“I’d have got away with it if weren’t for you pesky Angels” you could almost hear the lead villain say, who is by the way… ah but that would be telling) but its got thrills, spills, car crashes, explosions, computer gobbledegook, daring missions, cunning disguises and dumb jokes. Best no-brainer popcorn movie of the year by far; the car stuff is better than Gone In 60 Seconds, the missions more impossible than MI2 and the martial arts more striking than Romeo Must Die.

Dr Doolittle 2 (2001)

“Do it for the animals”

Dir: Steve Carr

Fame has its price. Animal chatterer Doolittle is constantly besieged by the media and by any creature with an ailment to alleviate, the result of which is a decline in his esteem where it counts the most – back home. His daughter has just turned sixteen, dates the Domino’s pizza boy and can only be reached on her cell-phone – that’s even when she’s in the house. His wife is getting tired of the whole animal thing and even the new pet chameleon is having trouble blending in, if you catch my drift. To add to his woes local not-the-Mafia-at-all big cheese The Beaver (a, wait for it, beaver) has requested an audience. The Beaver’s request is simple – save their forest home from the evil lumber corporation. Doolittle is the only man for the job, even if it means cancelling the family tour of Europe. But how can one man stand up to the might of a huge corporation with Republican backing? The solution seems trivial, get two endangered bears to mate in the forest, hence halting the development plans. Trouble is there’s only one bear there so it’s down to Doolittle to convince performing city-bear Archie to brush up on his charm and survival skills in order to woo the girl (not an easy task as Ava, the girl in question, points out categorically that “I don’t talk to bear pimps”) and save the day. A tall order as Archie’s skills seem to consist only of poor karaoke and limited co-ordination.

Dr Doolittle 2 (2001)Another sequel for the currently prolific Eddie Murphy (although less said about Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps the better) Dr Doolittle 2 sees him reprise his updating of the perennial character who can “talk to the animals”, replacing Rex Harrison’s studio crippling Edwardian with a contemporaneous version that is surprisingly old fashioned in his own personal moral outlook. Whatever the proliferation of excrement and mating gags may suggest Dr Doolittle 2’s driving themes are those of parental concerns about their offspring and the harmful effects of capitalism on the environment. The latter theme could not be more timely in the light of the Bush administration’s rejection of the Kyoto agreement for Dr Doolittle 2 works as a plea for American democratic environmentalism, indeed the twin enemies of the film are a capitalist and a republican (“I took on the democrats, I can take on a bunch of animals”). That Doolittle himself is having a hard time coming to terms with his daughter’s burgeoning sexuality (a point that Mrs D doesn’t seem to address at all, although she does take issue with her husband’s “walk the walk, talk the alpha male talk” chat with a downcast Archie) makes his character a comforting conservative. This is necessary because we need to relate to his inherent human-ness as most of his on-screen interaction occurs with the anthropomorphised animals. Murphy’s generosity as an actor shows, he may have his name before the credits but it is plain that he is straight man to the considerable number of animal leads (indeed the film itself is narrated not by Doolittle but by his dog Lucky). Rather like Babe these animals are not exaggerated in their looks but in their mannerisms, superbly realised by special effects that make the whole thing look effortlessly natural. There’s the drunk French monkey back from part one, as well as new beasts ranging from wolves through to bees and even a squadron of guano-dropping bomber pigeons. Where the film lacks however is in the comedy department; there are a number of chuckles along the way but the belly laughs are notable by their absence. That said matters do pick up considerably towards the film’s animal revolt climax but it’s too little, too late. Dr Doolittle 2 does, as its name suggests, little but is a satisfactory time diverter. If only they had paid as much attention to the script as to the effects it could have been a whole different story.

Evolution (2001)

Dir: Ivan Reitman

Stars: David Duchovny (Ira Kane), Julianne Moore (Allison), Orlando Jones (Harry Block), Sean William Scott (Wayne)

Evolution (2001)Wayne is a waiter at a country club but has aspirations to be a fireman. Sadly though his future career prospects are sharply curtailed by the arrival of a meteor which wrecks his car and his ability to perform at the next day’s fireman exam. These minor personal problems pale into insignificance when it is discovered the meteor contains organisms of extraterrestrial nature, organisms that have the ability to evolve as a frightening rate turning millions of years into mere hours. The first scientists on the scene are Harry Block, a volleyball coach and part-time professor, and Ira Kane, the disgraced ex-Pentagon scientist forced to teach chemistry at the local college. Naturally the government ascertain the importance of the situation and put an end to Harry and Ira’s dreams of a Nobel prize, blocking off the meteor crash site for their own hi-tech tests. Before long it becomes apparent that the super evolution of these alien organisms threatens not only the state of Arizona but the United States and the whole world, for as the alien cultures climb the Darwinian ladder from flatworms to primates it is clear that the human race faces possible extinction. Even the initial hurdle of being unable to breathe oxygen is quickly overcome as tens of millions of years zip by in an instant. Who can possibly save the human race? Can the army contain the problem? Will Ira find true love? Will Harry’s volleyball team ever make it to the major league? The whole make-up of the future of the world was decided in petri dish and sealed by man’s inability to realise the danger in time…

Ivan Reitman returns to the comedy world of Ghostbusters that made him a force to be reckoned with by introducing us to another team of scientific misfits facing insurmountable odds with a bizarre array of home-made gadgets. Instead of facing the supernatural, this time the threat is of extraterrestrial origin, brought to Earth via a meteorite. Also unlike Ghostbusters the team take the majority of the running time to get together leaving Duchovny and Jones to hold most of the movie. Unfortunately the pair lacked the manic intensity of, say, Bill Murray and at best invoke mild smiles rather than out and out belly laughs – the template used here is that of the ostensibly similar Men In Black. Throughout the film the comedy is too little and too lame, its origin as a serious science-fiction horror film is all too clear, the addition of a variety of arse gags may well place it in the current trend towards gross comedy but does little to inspire audience enthusiasm. Where the film does succeed is in its prime concept and in the execution of the major monsters on show; rather like the pantheon of beasts that litter the Ghostbusters films these range from the mildly scary to the strangely doe-eyed, and do at least provide a fair modicum of jumps and some diverting set pieces. Ultimately though the tired sexism and cliched ending (despite featuring a most bizarre use of product placement) take its toll and the end result is nothing more than 90 minutes of diversion. File under “must try harder”.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

I live my life a quarter mile at a time
Dir: Rob Cohen
Str: Van Diesel, Paul Walker

The Fast and the Furious (2001)The world of underground illegal car racing. Engines get souped up, NOS is the injected high of choice and speed is the name of the game. Head of the game is Dominic (he’s got a last name but he can’t pronounce it). Pretender to the crown is Brian, new kid on the block with a car to his name and little cash. Brian is roundly defeated in a street race and forfeits his car, a car Dominic would be happy to use were it not for the bullet holes that riddle its surface prior to the NOS tanks exploding – a wake up call from rival driver Johnny Tran. Still it means Brian is now a more acceptable face in the Dominic camp but perhaps falling for Dominic’s sister is not a sensible thing to do. Still with the big money desert based Race Wars on the horizon and a devil may care gang of truck robbers on the loose Brian’s got a lot on his mind.

A mainly male testosterone fuelled world where the thrill of the sport is all and the financing of the sport comes from daring heists. A world where to be accepted means to have no fear. Not a world for an undercover cop. Sound familiar? Swap surfing for car racing and banks for trucks and voila, Point Break with wheels. In a Summer filled with average blockbusters The Fast and the Furious proved to be the mid-budget sleeper hit due to strong word of mouth and an easy-win combination of cars, chicks and thrills. Certainly when viewed bumper-to-bumper with last years terminally tedious Gone In Sixty Seconds The Fast and the Furious leaves its higher profile brethren struggling to get into second gear. It’s not big, it’s not clever but it is solid, undemanding entertainment that is sporadically exhilarating in a way few recent car chase movies have managed. The first race between (among others) Brian and Dominic is a case in point; the camera judders at the speed, cars are sharply focussed against a blur of background colour, the straining of the engines, the need to win, the NOS adrenaline injection rush of speed. After this the film tries to live up to this narratively simplistic but brilliantly executed scene but never quite gets there, like poor ADD addled Jessie it’s a case of reaching for the nitro button too soon and hitting the finishing line fast, but not fast enough. The rest of the film, even the obligatory (and faintly dispointing) climax, never reaches the same heights as what is effectively a sport rather than the life-or-death situations to come. Chief though among the films niggles are the truck heists that provide the raison d’être for Brian’s undercover work – they just don’t feel plausible in the way that, say, the Ex-President’s bank robbing escapades do. Instead an insane combination of harpoons and jumping onto moving trucks is their modus operandi. Barking. Also, despite the grudges, the races, the crimes and the Uzi’s matters seem a lot less dangerous than they could, but these are minor nit-picks.

Even though the screen at times appears hosed down in industrial strength testosterone (there’s one token female driver, the rest are there purely to wear tight tops and drape on the arms of winners) the basic nature and straight-faced earnestness of the proceedings make for great undemanding viewing. Its well shot, pacey, the acting’s better than you could rightly expect a no brainer to be (again c.f. Gone In Sixty Seconds) and the pounding techno/thrash soundtrack makes sure that the rear speakers get a decent airing. It may well be more accurately described as The Quick and the Miffed but then again hyperbole has never hurt marketing a film.