Picks and Pans Main: Screen
THE WINTER OF OUR CINEMATIC DISCONTENT: THE SEQUEL Hang on, movie fans. True, the pickings are not exactly at their chubbiest these days, but this may be one of those rare instances where things are likely to get better before they get worse. At least the list of films scheduled to open during the next few weeks is ripe with big names: Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher in The 'burbs, Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett in See You in the Morning, Chevy Chase in Fletch Lives, Tony Danza in Daddy's Little Girl, James Woods in True Believer, Nick Nolte in Farewell to the King. And, yes, Police Academy followers, part VI will be coming up in March.
Tap-dancing is like flying a blimp, shooting two-handed set shots or heating leftovers in a conventional oven: There is something quaint and historical about it, but it also seems hopelessly old-fashioned. This film, essentially a 110-minute excuse for Gregory Hines to do some dancing, profits from the quaintness. And while nobody ever quite figures out how to get past the anachronism of having people try to tap to rock and roll, the movie is intermittently charming. Some of this is due to Hines's sheer strength of personality. An athletic, rhythmically charged dancer, he also has a part in a rare—for mainstream movies—upbeat black love story, with actress-dancer Suzzanne Douglas, a Chicagoan making the most of her first feature film appearance. Among the small corps of old-time tap-dancers in the supporting cast is Sammy Davis Jr., who is more than enough actor to win himself an Oscar one of these days when he finds the right script. This isn't it, since it forces him into such mindless dialogue as "Dancing is too much of who I am" and "If I'm going to die, I want to die with my tap shoes on." Davis plays Douglas' father, a crotchety old hoofer who refuses to admit his art form would be best consigned to old musicals featuring Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers (one of whom, Harold, appears in this film as one of Davis' cronies). He wants to lure Hines back into dancing and, in the film's best sequence, talks him into a challenge dance where everybody—Davis, Nicholas and a half-dozen other old-timers included—try to out step each other. Because his own father spent his life as a dancer and ended up broke, Hines has grown up bitter; he has gotten involved with a burglary ring and is just finishing a prison term as the movie opens. Whether he will return to a life of crime (Big Bucks! Glamour!) or give dancing another try (But I Was Born to Tap!) is the question, though it's not what you would call a real stumper. Director-screenwriter Nick (The Boy Who Could Fly) Castle strands Hines in a couple of hopeless situations. One is a dance number in which a crowd of people surges out of a nightclub into Manhattan's Times Square and starts dancing all over a construction site. The result is like some kind of nightmarish combination of Fame, 42nd Street and The Fighting Seabees. There is also a gimmick called Taptronics, in which the taps on Hines's shoes are electronically hooked up to a synthesizer. After a big buildup—the process is supposed to make tap-dancing more musical and revolutionize the form—it in fact sounds like someone with elephant-size feet stomping on a pile of boards. While it might have been an old-style big finish, the Taptronics number is kept mercifully brief. The film is best when Castle puts a lid on his modernizing notions and his dialogue ("All I ever needed was a place to dance and somebody to love me") and just lets Hines dance. When Hines and Douglas pay tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, to the tune of "Cheek to Cheek," it is very corny, very obvious and very lovely. The sequence honors the past without belaboring it, as the rest of this film might have done. (PG-13)
BUY & CELL
It's no use even asking if anything is sacred anymore, including that old foolproof escape device, the B-movie. Take this lame comedy, where those moviegoers who may be hoping to escape our money-mad decade for a couple of hours by going out to a happily inconsequential flick are liable to the influences of Ivan Boesky. As far as plot goes, Buy & Cell is a standard-issue drive-in movie with a depressingly up-to-the-minute twist. This time, the wronged prisoner is a yuppie white-collar criminal who sneezes whenever he hears the "i" word—investments. Played with ingratiating earnestness by Robert Carradine, the hero is the thirty-something version of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, which this wanna-be comedy could only dream of being. As a prison movie, it rounds up the usual suspects: an innocent thrown into a sleazy slammer, the cellmate who educates him and, of course, the corrupt warden who, in this case, wants bonds instead of blood. Instead of giving in to the authorities, our hero transforms his fellow inmates into stock market mavens. Buy & Ceill is a one-joke premise predicated on the notion that there's something intrinsically funny about watching hardened prisoners talk about profit shares. There isn't, despite the occasionally appealing presences of Carradine, who is framed in an investment scam, and Malcolm McDowell as the evil warden. Directed by Robert (Oxford Blues) Boris, whose work looks like he couldn't even afford to move the camera on his shoestring budget, Buy& Cell tries to lampoon big business, but it is, in fact, the movie equivalent of junk bonds. (R)
Those who tend to respond to that classic philosophical dilemma by seeing the glass as half full will be pleased to note that this film is nowhere near as dumb and demoralizing as Burt Reynolds' most recent debacle, Rent-a-Cop. However, the more pessimistically inclined will not fail to notice that this is at best the most routine kind of cops-and-crooks film. The plot, about a woman defense attorney trying to clear an innocent man of a murder rap, is freshly familiar from the much more entertaining Cher-Dennis Quaid vehicle, Suspect. Reynolds' character, a Boston cop who has been suspended for attacking his partner after his errant colleague shot an unarmed man, is awfully familiar too. Reynolds himself has played this rugged but righteous (and sometimes self-righteous) guy in a half-dozen movies. By Dirty Harry standards, he's only lightly soiled; he would just as soon crack a joke as some villain's jaw. Reynolds has, however, played too many variations on this notion in Sharky's Machine, City Heat, Stick, Malone, Heat and Rent-a-Cop. The charm has long since worn thin. Director Michael (The Great Train Robbery) Crichton at least keeps Reynolds' chronic offhandedness under control—every once in a while he stops being breezy and acts like someone who is facing a murder rap—and doesn't keep him onscreen all the time. The lawyer out to make her career by getting Reynolds off is Theresa Russell, best known for milling around her husband Nicolas Roeg's enigmatic films—among them Aria, in which she played an Albanian king. She often resembles a high school cheerleader more than an attorney as she leaps to Reynolds' defense. And, grossly overacted yuppie boyfriend Ted (Revenge of the Nerds) McGinley notwithstanding, she also starts to fall in love with her new client. There's a mild mystery surrounding the identity of the real murderer and some heavy-handed implausibilities, such as prosecuting attorney Ned Beatty personally leading an evidence-seeking raid on Russell's home right in the middle of the trial. The climactic shoot-out is not offensive. It's not too interesting either. Watching the movie in fact resembles eating a tasteless, slightly stale doughnut: No real harm is done, but it's not an experience that leaves one feeling refreshed and better able to face a challenging world. (R)
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