Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep

The movie, thank goodness, is better than the book. What's more surprising is that The Bridges of Madison County is an accomplished piece of moviemaking, one that has many honest, emotional moments and almost manages to triumph over the inherent limitations of its source material: Robert James Waller's tremendously successful but, to many, terribly cloying 1992 novel about a supersensitive, globe-trotting photographer (Eastwood) who finds the love of a lifetime, if only for four days in 1965, with an Italian war bride turned Iowa farmwife (Streep).

Bridges, directed by Eastwood, is a movie to wallow in, a big sweeping romance, but it is also—and this is when it works best—an intimate, two-character piece. Eastwood and Streep, either separately or together, are on-camera in almost every shot; what the movie gets exactly right is a woozy sense of middle-age lust and passion. Watch how Streep and Eastwood heat up her kitchen when she invites him over for dinner—her husband and kids are off showing a steer at the state fair—and, as the hour grows later, she gets this wonderful, slightly out-of-focus look in her eyes as she half-listens to Eastwood's prattle while coming closer, with every pull on her beer, to admitting to herself that she's going to bed this man.

Yet prattle it is. The film's chief deficiency is that Eastwood's character is one big overstuffed laundry bag of pompous, vacuous clichés. Every time he launches into one of his Meaning of Life speeches, you start wondering if it isn't time to harvest the corn.

The performances by the two stars couldn't be better though. Streep creates a touchingly vulnerable character who is both richer and more specific than the fantasy figure in Waller's book. It's a busy performance—she kicks the refrigerator door shut with a foot, tugs at her hair, flutters her fingers about her face when she blushes—but she knows, as does her director, when to drop the fussing and just let the camera roam over her face. Eastwood, his voice more whispery than ever and his skin gone to leather, has a leaner acting style, but the two mesh just fine. Also worthy is Annie Corley as Streep's adult daughter who posthumously discovers her mother's journals recording the affair. It is she who gets the movie's best line: "Who knew that, in between bake sales, my mother was Anaïs Nin?" (PG-13)

Keanu Reeves

In this action adventure, written by cyberhero William Gibson, the young Mr. Reeves—he of the high cheekbones and hollow voice—plays a 21st-century data "courier," who smuggles top-secret information by means of a computer chip implanted in his brain. On his latest mission, which involves a pharmaceutical company, the Japanese mafia, Dolph Lundgren and a fake-looking dolphin, Keanu has uploaded more bytes than his chip can handle. His brain threatens to blow a gasket.

The audience will be able to sympathize. Johnny Mnemonic, directed by multimedia artist Robert Longo, is a violent jumble. A couple of computer-animated segments are done well enough to offer some visual relief. But (rhetorical question) why is it that so much computer animation uses tunnel imagery? You get the feeling that we are dealing with a strong urge to return to the womb. Get over it. (R)

Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Nancy Travis, Max Pomeranc, Comet the dog

PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Actors, that is—ought to come down hard on this convoluted, often inane dog movie which condemns Modine, Stoltz and Travis to silly supporting roles behind Comet, a golden retriever dyed brown to look like a mongrel.

The movie implies, none too clearly, that when people die, their spirits enter animals—in this case, dogs.

Modine died in a car crash while racing on a Georgia highway with Stoltz, and his soul has migrated into a street dog named Fluke that leads mass escapes from a pound and an animal-testing lab and then starts hanging around Travis and Max Pomeranc, Modine's widow and son.

This is a movie in which dogs can communicate with each other telepathically, read English, open door handles and jump right through plate-glass windows, so it's no wonder Comet can embody all of Modine's memories and emotions, including vindictiveness toward Stoltz, who has become involved with Travis. Comet even licks Travis's face and jumps in bed with her.

Pomeranc, the under-appreciated young discovery from Searching for Bobby Fischer, has a nice and natural rapport with the pooch. But this is less your classic boy-with-dog film than it is a wishful thinking tract of the Ghost and Chances Are school. (PG)

Documentary

Lady Bunny, a buxom, blonde drag queen whose false eyelashes are thick and sooty enough to pass for caterpillars, is on the phone with a city official. Would it be possible, she wants to know, in honor of Wigstock, the annual daylong Manhattan gathering of downtown drag queens and their fans, to put a big ol' wig on the Statue of Liberty, "but only for about eight hours"? The official hangs up.

It is one of the few really amusing scenes in Wigstock, a freewheeling documentary featuring various drag queens lip-synching and dancing their way through vintage '60s and '70s songs at the '93 and '94 Wigstocks. There also are interviews with the participants on such topics as when they began dressing up ("It started the day I graduated from high school and I walked across that stage in a black gown," says one), on being gay ("It's kind of hard to have a girlfriend when you know your legs are better than hers," says another) or simply proselytizing on behalf of drag ("I recommend that everyone within the sound of my voice should go out and get a wig, a pair of high heels, panty hose if you will, and strut your stuff, girlfriend," exhorts RuPaul, drag's biggest crossover star).

A little of this goes a long way and, even at just 86 minutes, Wigstock seems, pardon the expression, padded, (not rated)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Ralph Novak.