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Posts Tagged ‘Drew Barrymore’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published March 27th 2003:

The abiding image that’s remained with me from George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is of a Japanese Elvis impersonator singing ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ on the soundtrack, whilst Julia Roberts and Sam Rockwell wrestle a recently-assassinated corpse into a well. The really worrying thing is that in the context of the movie this seems entirely reasonable and actually a little bit moving.

One of the good things about being the undisputed global hegemon is that you can release bio-pics of obscure pop-culture figures abroad (i.e., here) and still expect them to make money. Man in the Moon, about the almost-unknown-in-the-UK Andy Kaufman, was one, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is another. (Although knowing the British Film Council it’s only a matter of time before the life story of, say, Graeme Garden, hits the multiplexes from Tallahassee to Bakersfield to near-unanimous indifference.) The subject on this occasion is Chuck Barris, another total unknown over here (though his progeny have wreaked their insidious influence upon our cultural landscape for decades).

Based on Barris’ unauthorised autobiography, the movie boldly depicts the young Barris (played by Sam Rockwell) as a sex-crazed loser with an ambition to get into television any way he can. Along the way he hooks up with the sweet and uninhibited Penny (Drew Barrymore) who inadvertently gives him the idea for the TV game show that launched his career, The Dating Game (which is still running in the UK under the title Blind Date). But also around this time, Barris is approached by CIA agent Jim Byrd (a deadpan, moustachioed Clooney, supporting my thesis that actors directing for the first time always cast themselves) who recruits him as an assassin for the government. But as Barris’ TV shows (culminating in the no-talent contest, The Gong Show) go from strength to strength, the dangers involved in his double life become greater and greater, as does the strain of keeping them separate…

Well, Barris claims this is all true, but no-one really seems to believe him. Many of Barris’ real-life friends and colleagues appear and express their doubts on the subject, and the film keeps its tongue firmly in cheek. (Barris himself, still alive and still sticking to his story, appears in a mute cameo at the end of the film.) But the truth or not of the story doesn’t really matter as the film it’s inspired is hugely entertaining.

This is, first and foremost, an absurd, deadpan black comedy. The central conceit – producer of trash TV by day, government killer by night – is a ridiculously winning one and the script (by current golden boy Charlie Kaufman) wisely pitches the whole film at a stylised, fantastical level, avoiding the temptation to make Barris’ ‘real’ life too naturalistic or his spy exploits too far-fetched. But the characters of Barris and Penny are carefully drawn and fully rounded, and apart from the opening section, which seems a little insubstantial and over-pacy, this is an extremely classy screenplay.

It’s directed with enormous energy and a great sense of fun by the debuting George Clooney. He does a very stylish job – perhaps a little too stylish in places – and shows a good deal of promise should he decide to do this on a regular basis. He’s also managed to attract a first-rate set of actors – Brad Pitt and Matt Damon appear very briefly, but further up the cast list we find Rutger Hauer, who in the course of a quite small part dispels all memory of the rubbish he’s done lately and reminds you of just how damned good he can be. Julia Roberts sends herself up winningly as a femme fatale spy, and Drew Barrymore affectingly provides the film’s emotional centre. (Clooney’s pretty good too, though I suspect the director shot every scene in his favour.) But the film really belongs to Sam Rockwell, who gives a superb performance in a challenging and complex role. It’s only through the nuances of his acting that we get any clue as to what we’re supposed to believe in this film, or what it’s actually about.

And, without spoiling it too much (I hope), this film is really about not a dangerous mind but a mind in the throes of crisis. It is entirely understandable that a man whose main achievement was originating the format for Blind Date would want to embroider his life story just a little – or more than a little in this case. This is the story of how the dreams of youth transform into the fantasies of middle age. On the surface this is an absurd, deadpan comedy, but it has a dark and serious heart. The whole package is sharp, intelligent, and tremendous fun. Recommended.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 24th 2003: 

Odd things occasionally happen to foreign movies when they reach the west – the original Godzilla had thirty minutes of wholly superfluous Raymond Burr edited into it, for example – so it’s hardly surprising that strange fates sometimes befall English language cinema when it ventures abroad. Most commonly these take the form of eccentric re-titling: in Hong Kong, A View to a Kill was renamed The Indestructible Iron Man Fights The Electronic Gang, and the Lancaster/Douglas comedy Tough Guys got the less succinct moniker Archie And Harry, They’re Too Old To Do It Anymore. But the most famous of these occurrences is the South Korean version of The Sound of Music, which the distributor decided was far too long and, in a stroke of genius, shortened to a more acceptable length by cutting out every last one of the songs.

I’ve never seen this promising-sounding edit but I was reminded of what it might be like while recently watching Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, which resembles nothing so much as an hour and three quarters of MTV with all the actual music excised. And most of the plot, too, now I think of it. Like its predecessor, this is un film de McG.

This kind of misappropriation of the possessive credit is usually one of those things I get oddly irritated by but in this case it seems very nearly justified as without McG’s frenetically glossy direction there wouldn’t actually be a film to review. The plot is gossamer-thin gibberish, kicking off with Cameron Diaz riding a mechanical bull in a Mongolian bar and concluding with Demi Moore swooping through the streets of Los Angeles in a bat-winged frock, rather like the Wicked Witch of the West. In between there’s a lot of to do about some rings with secret info on them (McG probably stands for McGuffin), not that it matters much or makes any kind of sense.

What this film is all about is outrageously flashy camerawork and editing, and manoeuvring our three fully emancipated heroines into as many different improbable disguises and situations as possible – vets, wrestlers, nuns, lap dancers (this bit isn’t dwelt upon nearly enough, if you ask me), motocross racers, car-wash attendants, rodeo riders, and surfers, to name but most of them – before forcing them to engage in fight sequences from the Gerry Anderson school of kung fu. Even then the movie is utterly shameless in going off on wild tangents to incorporate a wide range of guest stars – Luke Wilson, Carrie Fisher, surly popstrel Pink, Matt LeBlanc, Bruce Willis, the Olsen twins – or engage in sledgehammer satire of other action movies, or even just grind to a halt for a dance routine paying homage to MC ‘Reverend’ Hammer. John Cleese plays Lucy Liu’s father, and Bernie Mac plays Bill Murray’s brother: that’s the level of credibility we’re operating on here.

Personally I found it all rather enjoyable: this is a film with no pretensions to depth or art whatsoever, but everyone involved is clearly giving of their best. McG’s hyperactive direction has no truck with things like sense or credibility, just as his action sequences ignore trifling concerns like logic or the laws of physics: one startling shot has the three butt-naked Angels erupting out of a marble frieze within which they have somehow secreted themselves, only – seconds later – to have found themselves sturdy yet stylish T-shirts and jeans, ready for the next bout of ass-whuppery. Bullet-time, slo-mo, impossible zooms, ridiculous wirework – yup, they’re all here and the film rather profits from trading style for substance.

Of the leads, Producer Angel Drew Barrymore appears to have pulled rank and secured for herself virtually all the serious dramatic material that the film possesses, while Blonde Angel Cameron Diaz once again displays a hugely impressive talent for self-mocking ditzy slapstick. Quite what Ethnic Diversity Angel Lucy Liu brings to the mix, I’m not certain: her role is rather akin to that of Emile Heskey in recent England sides, in that it’s not really clear what she’s doing, but one is certain it’s in some way fundamental to the whole success of the undertaking. She does get the film’s funniest scene, breathlessly recounting her latest escapade to an appalled Cleese, who – understandably – is under the misapprehension his daughter is a high-class call girl.

Most of the guest stars acquit themselves fairly well – Justin Theroux’s terrible Oirish accent notwithstanding – but a few words about one in particular seem justified. Ever since her mid-90s heyday I’ve followed the career of Demi Moore with a kind of appalled fascination. Her movies have been one creative train-wreck after another, yet she has always emerged with her profile and salary somehow boosted. Her relentless pursuit of stardom, powered only by sheer willpower and the efforts of her personal trainer, inevitably elicits my horrified respect. Here she turns in another performance carved of the finest Formica, but she does get a kung fu fight with Diaz, and if you’re not going to go to the cinema to see that, what are you going to go and see? You will probably be pleased to hear that the ‘Demi, if it was artistically justified, would you consider keeping your clothes on in a movie?’ joke is still not past its use-by date.

Full Throttle really turned out to be pretty much what I was expecting it to be – a bizarre amalgam of Carry On film, live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon, and hair-care products commercial. The cinematic equivalent of drinking a crate of Bacardi breezers and then pummelling yourself into a coma with a glittery handbag: it may seem like fun at the time, but in the long term it surely can’t be healthy.

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