For a few years, I was a film reviewer for The Sunday Age, and on radio. It was a sweet gig. Lots of free films and I set my mark as being: “I don’t know much but I know what I like.” My idea was that most reviewers, including The Sunday Age’s resident reviewer, Tom Ryan, were incredibly knowledgeable and could write with authority on film. Therefore, I wouldn’t. I’d approach it from a perspective of: “Should your average punter pay hard-earned money to see this film or not?”

I got away with it for a few years and it was fun while it lasted. I randomly rolled through the archives and grabbed a few of the more memorable kickings or bouquets I came up with in that time. I find this stuff interesting now, because I was developing a voice as a writer, even within papers. Using fake dialogue or landing jokes to make points. (The funniest moment of all was when an educational textbook company asked if they could use one of my reviews as an example of the perfectly structured review. I was looking for ‘Australia’s Funniest Home Videos’ hidden cameras on that one.)

Let’s start with as big a kicking as I ever gave anything in papers … I regret nothing.

NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS (2000)

(half a star, M, 107 mins)

By Nick Place

Oh my god! What were they thinking? How could this happen? Doesn’t the Geneva Convention cover atrocities like this? If it doesn’t, it should. Add a clause right now: Eddie Murphy and co. must NEVER be allowed to revisit the Nutty Professor, or his family, the Klumps.

This film is bad. How bad? Bad enough that now it’s opened, I think the State Emergency Service should be placed on full alert, ready to evacuate traumatized cinema audiences, if anybody makes it to the closing credits. Don’t stop there either: Film Victoria should set up a 24 hour counseling service for those who wake up screaming at the horrors they have witnessed.

Oh. My. God.
Oh. My. God.

You think I’m over-reacting? Well, try sitting through almost two hours of self-indulgent, joke-free Klumpsville. In the first Nutty Professor film, the Klumps were an okay one-joke scene, all sitting around the table being unpleasant and breaking wind. Whoever thought that scene could be expanded into an entire film should be made to pay for his or her crimes against humanity.

The Nutty Professor II sees Eddie Murphy again playing the entire Klump family, from Professor Sherman Klump’s deeply unpleasant father and brother to his mildly annoying mother. Murphy as the Klump’s sex-mad grandmother is only bearable because she clearly hates most of the family and therefore may, just maybe, be on our side.

Of course, Buddy Love (Murphy as the sleek, brash alter-ego of Prof Klump) is back in town and just to prove I wasn’t in a bad mood or resistant to humour when I sat down to watch this turkey, I will say that the scenes where Buddy was a victim to dog-like urges were okay. Raised a smile, even.

Which is more than you can say for the rest of this mess. There are deeply unfunny fart jokes inexplicably based around Deep Impact, which is a couple of years old, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. We suffer Eddie Murphy as Mr Klump and Murphy as Mrs Klump suffering a marriage crisis because Mr Klump can’t deliver in the bedroom. We have Murphy as surly brother Ernie being rude to everybody and training his kid to be just as anti-social. We have scenes where Murphy as Grandma gets graphically sexual with Murphy as Buddy Love. Meanwhile, we have Janet Jackson strutting around, trying to pass off that she loves Sherman for his mind, and doing nothing else but smile sweetly as the carnage unfolds.

Maybe it’s just me but the idea of watching Murphy try to find a way to have sex with himself, or overcome the problem that one of his alter-egos is sexually disinterested in, umm, him, freaked me out, just a touch. Even a few stray guinea pig jokes, presumably left over from Doctor Doolittle, couldn’t save the day. If the movie had been FUNNY, I might have been able to go with the concept, but Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps was so lacking in intelligence, so devoid of wit or one liners or even an interesting plot, that it was remorselessly depressing.

The ending, where Clarence must stop Buddy Love and try to retrieve his intellect, was so laughably thrown together that it was embarrassing. In all, Murphy should be placed on a Hollywood good behaviour bond and have all future projects vetted by independent experts for megalomania, or – at the very least – attempts to have sex with himself. For now, if you see a poster for this – the worst film of 2000 – on a cinema near you, clear the area and just hope nobody you know made the mistake of buying a ticket.

(Nick Note: Eddie Murphy threatened Nutty Professor III, reports even said he was writing it, but thank God, I don’t think it ever made it to theatres.)

FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)

(half a star, R. 88 mins)

By Nick Place

Make it stop. Please, make it stop.
Make it stop. Please, make it stop.

First things first: Tom Green is categorised as a comedian in the United States where he has his own TV sketch show (also here on cable’s The Comedy Channel). Green specialises in being “out there.” He trades on his unusual take on life and the world. You might have seen him in brief and gloriously whacky cameos in Road Trip and Charlie’s Angels.

Freddy Got Fingered is a whole new ball game. Somebody in Tinseltown was obviously convinced that Green’s following was so strong that he should be given total creative control over his own film. Green light baby, all the way … resulting in this film that Green co-wrote, directed and headlines. In other words, he got 88 minutes of celluloid to do with as he would. Big mistake.

After a gratuitous sequence where Green shows how good a skateboarder he is by riding through a shopping centre, we get down to business. His character, Gord, is driving from Oregon to Los Angeles when he sees a horse with an erection and feels moved to screech to a halt and physically masturbate the animal, yelling: “Look daddy, I’m a farmer, I’m a farmer!”

From there, it’s just one long assault on taste and where you draw the line between comedy and disgust. A friend breaks his leg – bone through the skin – and Gord inexplicably licks the wound. A handicapped girlfriend is good for jokes about fetishes and fellatio. When cornered in a family argument, Gord falsely and publicly accuses his father of “fingering” and assaulting his little brother. The family is destroyed and the 25-year-old little brother forcibly taken to a home for the sexually molested. Are you on the floor, holding your ribs, laughing yet? I was simply thinking that Gord needed serious help.

You physically squirm when a woman in hospital reveals she is about to go into labour and the scene is everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. And we haven’t yet got to elephant erections, Gord “getting inside animals” or Larry Sanders’ Rip Torn – why Rip, why? – baring his butt and daring his son to have sex with him.

Hollywood's finest.
Hollywood’s finest.

In other words, this film is not about to carry the promotional banner: “Five stars of family fun”. In fact, I’m still scratching my head as to how it got made and how the crew must have felt, standing around, doing whatever key grips, lighting technicians and other crew members do, as the director/writer/star jerked off a horse or chewed through an umbilical cord. “How’d work go today, dear?” “Oh great, I filmed Tom Green slicing open and then wearing a piece of road kill … God, I love my job.”

By now, Green fans will be sniffing: “You just don’t get it!” and they’re probably right. This film is being released at one cinema, and confirmed fans will probably love it. My point is that Green’s whole shtick is based around wild leaps and sudden non sequitur twists for his characters or scenes … but it’s not CLEVER. Okay, Tom, you got me, I certainly didn’t spot that you would gyrate on the conveyer belt of a cheese sandwich factory, or switch the film to Pakistan but, sorry, you have to be more than unpredictable to be funny.

There are entire scenes where Green does bizarre, totally unfathomable acts but you only laugh nervously and in confusion, you don’t laugh for the humour of it. Yes, there were a couple of times that he landed a genuinely funny line or made a scene sing but, God, the stuff in between. The words: “Fans only” should be stamped on every ticket.

I’ve included Eyes Wide Shut out of sheer nostalgia because this is one that other reviewers spent a long time harrumphing about. I wrote this one for The Age’s Friday entertainment supplement, ‘e.g.’, which meant my deadline was Tuesday, after a Monday preview. So I belted it out and it was gone … just before the other reviews started appearing on David & Margaret, then in the Thursday papers … everybody agreeing it was a FIVE star genius film-making masterclass from Kubrick, the legend going out (he died days after showing the final cut to the studio) at the top of his game. I couldn’t believe I had gotten it so wrong; a real Emperor’s New Clothes moment. Thankfully, away from the review crowd, people I knew and respected told me they were relieved somebody had had the guts to call it out as crap. Who can say who was right? It’s the fun part of being a reviewer: everything is subjective; you can’t be wrong. But then again, sometimes you’re more right than others. 

EYES WIDE SHUT

(R, 159 mins)

Two and a half stars

Kubrick's last stand.
Kubrick’s last stand.

Firstly, let’s clear up a misunderstanding. If you’ve been sucked in by the advertising campaign to think this is basically the hottest celebrity sex film since Pammy Anderson and Tommy Lee discovered video and Viagra in the same week, think again.

In fact, the scene where Nicole Kidman is topless in the mirror is as hot and steamy as she and real-life hubby Tom Cruise get, at least together. Strangely, despite the promotional campaign, Eyes Wide Shut is more a thriller than an exploration of eroticism within and without a marriage. At least, I think it is. Kubrick once raved about the beauty of not spelling out a story’s meaning, although the last line of this film, which is a beauty, seems to the point.

Tom and Nicole play Bill and Alice Harford, a rich, young doctor and his beautiful but bored wife who live in a swish Manhattan apartment with their seven-year-old daughter. We meet them as they are heading off to a party where Alice gets drunk and is immediately targeted by a Hungarian pants man who is one part European royalty and three parts Pepe Le Peau. Meanwhile, Bill has a couple of models throwing themselves at him with all the subtlety of the Ricki Lake show. In other words, it’s a fun party.

But the next night, over a joint, Bill and Alice start wondering about each other’s faithfulness and the movie briefly hits its straps. Alice admits that she once had lustful fantasies about a naval officer and Bill is so shaken by this that he launches into a one-night-only personal exploration of the dark and seedy underworld of New York.

At this point, the movie loses its way. While the early exchanges between Bill and Alice have the intimacy and intelligence of a stage play, once Bill heads off for his one man buck’s night, we suddenly find ourselves in Kubrick Does Wild Orchid, or maybe 2001 meets Nine and A Half Weeks.

Rumour had it that Kubrick made Kidman do the creepy nude stuff over and over again.
Oooh, saucy. Rumour had it that Kubrick made Kidman do the creepy nude stuff over and over again.

Bill’s routine house call to the daughter of a long time patient, lately deceased, turns into a scene from Carry On Doctor. Then Bill meets the most beautiful and kind-hearted hooker since Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Then he ends up at a private, umm, party where everybody wears Venetian masks and hooded cloaks, although the female sex objects wear a lot lot less. By now, we are really into B-grade soft-porn territory, symbolism or not.

Strangely, for all the perfect female bodies that Kubrick has wandering around the mansion and for all the full frontals and sex scenes, the movie remains about as erotic as a convention explaining the fundamentals of the GST.

The film is much more powerful when it stays in the character’s heads, rather than down their pants. The second half, when Bill finds himself out of his depth and in combat with potentially sinister post-orgy forces, is sharper although, by then, the intellectual debate between Bill and Alice has all but evaporated; Kidman reduced to child-minding duties.

As you’d expect from Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut is technically brilliant, from the lighting and attention to detail in settings and street scenes to the delicate camera angles (notably savoring Kidman’s face when she reveals her sailor fantasy). Symbolic imagery flies at you from all directions, jarring with the cold, bleak landscape of the whodunnit B-plot. But the direction is also overly ponderous at times, and hangs around some images for far too long. You start to wonder if characters are building atmosphere or waiting for a bus. Worse, Kidman spends most of her key scenes either drunk or stoned and signifies both … by … talking … like … this, which means she takes about 15 minutes to say hello. That gets old fast.

The film falls down in several areas. Although both Cruise and Kidman give their all (he has the larger role but she gets more room to move), Cruise is badly cast in the role of Bill. With his undeniable looks and studied charm, the Cruiser doesn’t ring true as a man who has apparently never had a stray sexual hook land in front of his nose in nine years of marriage.

It’s eminently watchable but the central plot premise, where Bill reacts so strongly to the hardly amazing revelation that his wife actually thought about sex with another man, is stretching the audience’s credulity. Wouldn’t it have been more remarkable if somebody married for almost a decade hadn’t fantasised about sex with a total stranger? Or is that just me?

DEEP BLUE SEA

(105 mins, M).

ONE AND A HALF STARS

By Nick Place

Here’s big screen irony for you. Deep Blue Sea is a $100 million blockbuster featuring sharks that have been genetically engineered so that they have five times their usual intelligence. Yet, the producers held back on letting one of these super sharks take care of the script so that we end up with a film cobbled together by a bunch of humans, with the resulting movie so astonishingly stupid that you end up kind of liking it.

Only watch this one if drunk.
Only watch this one if drunk.

It was just one scene, about an hour in, that swung me completely around from hating this film to masochistically enjoying it. To say exactly what happened would be unfair, but it was a scene where Samuel L. Jackson gives the most pathetic attempt at a pep speech in cinema history. The words and events onscreen were so deliciously ludicrous that the realisation finally dawned that director Renny Harlin and everybody else involved in this film HAD to be in on the joke.

Sure, you could argue that 100 million is a lot to spend on a high camp comedy, but that’s how it would appear to be. Because, if the opposite is true, and Harlin and co. aren’t in on the joke, then may the sharks take us all.

The only way Deep Blue Sea will enjoy any cinematic longevity is to become a cult classic, akin to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. In one scene, a character stands, up to his waist in water, looking nervously around, as a door silently opens and shuts behind him, supposedly signaling the fact that a five-metre multi-tonne super shark has just entered the room. Meanwhile, these ultra-intelligent sharks apparently have an innate knowledge of everything from firearms to ventilation systems. Short of a cutaway of the shark reading a book: “Physics for Beginners”, they couldn’t have made it any more silly.

The similarity to Jaws is the first thing you notice. Girls and boys having a water-based party on their catamaran, lots of shots from below, feet dipping invitingly into the water … everything but the familiar dum-dum dum-dum dum-dum soundtrack.

Then the sheer hokiness of the dialogue is revealed. It never ceases to amaze how these Hollywood extravaganzas can spend untold millions on computerised special effects, more millions on some big names, yet apparently throw the script together in the last five minutes.

Deep Blue Sea is so bad in its plotting and its dialogue that you laugh out loud within the first five minutes. It’s one of those films where you wonder how actors of the calibre of Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport and Samuel L. Jackson can remain straight-faced as they deliver such cringingly bad lines. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the producers had to get such good actors. Anybody else would have sniggered.

A fool-proof formula: women who look good in wet underwear and giant motherfucker sharks trying to eat them.
A fool-proof formula: women who look good in wet underwear and giant motherfucker sharks trying to eat them.

“Hey, the ice killed the world once and it got a taste for murder!” says Jackson’s character at one point. “Did somebody order the fish?” is the film’s idea of a snappy one-liner. The attempts at emotional bonding scenes are too horrible to even go into. Rap star LL Cool J plays a preacher-chef so that there’s an awful attempt at religious undertones. (Of course, he also performs a rap closing number, a la Will Smith. Roll on the merchandise.)

It’s not just the dialogue, either. The starting premise is that Dr Susan McAlester (charisma-free Saffron Burrows) is pleading with her financial backer, Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) not to pull the financial plug on her experiments. This guy has apparently already poured $200 million into her remarkable sea-based scientific laboratory in an effort to cure Alzheimer’s disease. Yet Dr McAlester feels compelled to tell him the entire “Science for Dummies” version of the basis of her research in a plodding and clumsy plot-fill monologue. Wouldn’t he already know a little of this, having poured so much money into the project?

It gets better. When he remains unconvinced, she walks over to the window, stares moodily out and says (very dramatically): “Have you ever met anybody with Alzheimer’s, Mr Franklin?” Samuel pauses (also very dramatically), then says: “Why, no.” Oh, please!

This is before we even get to the sea station. Upon arrival, we witness the full cast of walking cliches. There’s the blonde, dedicated marine biologist (McKenzie), the angry loner (Stellan Skarsgard), the genius but nervous engineer (Rapaport) and let’s not forget the beautiful but driven, over-ambitious leader (Burrows).

Of course, all of this is just a slow, cumbersome set up for the special effects, aka sharks. The monsters themselves aren’t bad but don’t totally convince. It takes 40 minutes for the first real gore of the movie but from there it’s just one human versus shark scene after another.

Some nifty plotting gets Burrows down to a white, soaked bra and panties, while the rest of the cast find themselves predictably separated and hunted. It’s predictable but watchable and if you suspend all disbelief and just go with it, you might not regret paying the price of your ticket.

ENDSPLACE

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