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People Top 5
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- May 22, 2000
- Vol. 53
- No. 20
Picks and Pans Main: Screen
Failure doesn't come cheap. It reportedly cost at least $70 million to make a movie as egregiously awful as Battlefield Earth. The end result is a science-fiction saga so incoherent, so ugly and so pointless that you have to wonder why Warner Bros, is even bothering to distribute this embarrassment.
The reason, obviously, is John Travolta. Battlefield Earth is based on a 1982 sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology—a religious group to which Travolta belongs. The actor had long dreamed of bringing Hubbard's tale about noble earthlings battling evil aliens to the screen and serves as a coproducer on the film. Travolta cast himself not as the movie's stalwart hero—that role goes to Pepper—but as the bearded leader of the alien invaders, a sneering fellow who looks like a cross between a Klingon and a Wookie, struts about in platform boots and a leather codpiece and periodically emits a hyenalike braying, "Heh, heh, heh," to show contempt for his perceived inferiors.
If Battlefield Earth, as haplessly directed by Roger Christian (who worked as a set decorator on the first and third Star Wars movies and as the second-unit director on last year's chapter), features subliminal messages advocating Scientology (Travolta has said in interviews that it doesn't), they are buried so deeply as to be undetectable to nonfollowers. Equally inscrutable are the finer points of the film's murky plot. Set in the year 3000, when much of Earth is a wasteland, the film lurches from scene to scene, most of them shot in intense close-up, at odd angles and in dark colors. As far as one can make out, Pepper (a standout as the American sniper in Saving Private Ryan) is enslaved by Travolta but is then inspired to lead a rebellion of the other human slaves after finding a dusty copy of the Declaration of Independence in the ruins of the Library of Congress. Our Founding Fathers never intended this. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Travolta's travesty
Ethan Hawke, Diane Venora, Kyle MacLachlan, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber
To paraphrase one of the better known soliloquies from William Shakespeare's triumph, what a piece of work is Hamlet. Directors and actors can twist it, pummel it and gussy it up, and still the beauty of the play's language and the power of its story shine through.
This latest Hamlet is a case in point. Director-adapter Michael Almereyda's film deposits the dialectical Dane (Hawke, who is sullen and flat, proving yet again that he is best at projecting hurt) in today's money-mad Manhattan. This Hamlet is a video artist who dresses in black and is hell-bent on solving the murder of his business-mogul father (Sam Shepard), who headed the mighty Denmark Corporation. The happy surprise is how well Almereyda's hypermodern concept works, making you rethink and rehear the play. This shouldn't be anyone's first Hamlet; the text is too abridged, and most of the performances are undistinguished (though Murray excels as Polonius, playing him as a corporate weasel). But for those already familiar with the tragedy, the change in setting makes revisiting the sweet prince all the sweeter. (R)
Bottom Line: Dane-omite!
Amanda Schull, Zoë" Saldana, Susan May Pratt, Ethan Stiefel, Sascha Radetsky, Peter Gallagher
As high as the dancers in Center Stage leap, it takes an even mightier jump to buy into this hackneyed backstage drama about a trio of baby ballerinas competing to rise en pointe in New York City. Then again, teenage moviegoers who have not seen the movie's many celluloid forebears, including Flashdance, Fame, A Chorus Line, The Turning Point, Marjorie Morningstar, The Red Shoes and 42nd Street, may just go for its clichéd characters and plot. Such are the advantages of youth.
Stage's central teen trio consists of a sweet, gullible blonde (Schull) from Indiana; a streetwise Latina (Saldana) with a bad attitude but toe shoes full of talent; and a snooty Manhattanite (Pratt) saddled with a pushy stage mother and covert bulimia. They all suffer mightily for their art, as will most viewers.
Of the three, Pratt, a jangly bundle of nerves, is the superior actress. The best dancer is none of the above but rather the gravity-defying Stiefel, who swaggers through the movie as a bad-boy dancer-choreographer and is in real life a lead dancer with American Ballet Theatre. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Tutu predictable
John Simm, Lorraine Pilkington
Like 1996's Trainspotting, this comedy about club kids drugging the weekend away in Cardiff, Wales, isn't really about substance abuse. It's about youth's explosion of energy and exuberance—and the searching for an outlet, no matter how hellish. But Traffic overdoses on cuteness. Its narrator, Jip (Simm), keeps thrusting his close-cropped head at the camera, grinning and yammering on like some hopped-up sock puppet. I hated him.
Writer-director Justin Kerrigan, who's only 25, creates one brilliant montage: The kids, freed from workaday reality by hits of Ecstasy, drift in a whitish haze, their gazes as blissfully blank as that of the 2001 fetus. Other than that, Kerrigan owes his entire generation an apology. (R)
Bottom Line: Agony, not ecstasy
>Frequency Affecting time-travel tale in which a cop (Jim Caviezel) talks with his dead dad (Dennis Quaid) via a ham radio. (PG-13)
Gladiator Thumbs up. Russell Crowe is magnetic as the sword-swinging hero of an entertainingly brawny epic set during the Roman Empire. (R)
I Dreamed of Africa Someone forgot to add a plot to this beautifully shot borathon about a woman's adventures in Africa. Kim Basinger works hard but for naught. (PG-13)
Love & Basketball Appealing romantic drama about a hoopster (Sanaa Lathan) in love. (PG-13)
Time Code Cool stunt. Director Mike Figgis and his cast shot four interconnected stories simultaneously in real time, and all four are shown on a screen divided into four quadrants. Works surprisingly well. (R)
U-571 Watership down. World War II submarine drama has lots of action but is weak on characters. Matthew McConaughey stars. (PG-13)
Where the Heart Is Lachrymose melodrama about a young woman (Natalie Portman) whose beau abandons her, literally barefoot and pregnant, at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma. (PG)
- Tom Gliatto.
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