An exceptionally glib satire about reality TV, by writer-director Daniel Minahan, that puts most of its effort into looking as much as possible like a real TV showone that offers a cash prize to the survivor among several contenders picked at random to kill each other. We’re carried through several episodes of death dealing in banal suburban locations, the last a shopping mallthough the film as a whole mercifully lasts only 86 minutes. With Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, and Richard Venture. (JR)
Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are movie stars, so regardless of whether you find their screaming at each other amusing or their characters full of contradictions (he’s a rube sent on a mission by the mob who keeps turning efficient and street-smart, she’s a world-weary hysteric) you should be able to manage, especially if you keep going out for popcorn. For that matter, a seemingly mad dog that periodically turns into a well-trained pet and the title Mexican, an antique pistol that occasionally inspires a heavenly choir, offer even more contradictions and alternate back stories. J.H. Wyman’s plot-heavy and corpse-ridden script gives us a fresh twist every ten minutes or so, on the assumption that we’ll get restless otherwise, the result being that we wind up relatively indifferent to the characters and what happens to them (though James Gandolfini, who isn’t a movie star, manages to be quite touching at times as a gay hood, and Roberts certainly gives it her all, acting up a storm in a vacuum). Directed by Gore Verbinskithe same guy who directed Mouse Hunt, here offering the standard greasy Mexicans favored by Hollywood (who don’t inspire heavenly choirs)with sinister cameos by Bob Balaban and Gene Hackman. 123 min. (JR)
This exciting existentialist road movie by Monte Hellman, with a swell script by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Corry and my favorite Warren Oates performance, looks even better now than it did in 1971, although it was pretty interesting back then as well. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are the drivers of a supercharged ‘55 Chevy and Oates is the owner of a new GTO (these nameless characters are in fact identified only by the cars they drive); they meet and agree to race from New Mexico to the east coast, though side interests periodically distract them, including various hitchhikers (among them Laurie Bird). (GTO hilariously assumes a new identity every time he picks up a new passenger, rather like the amorphous narrator in Wurlitzer’s novel Nog.) The movie starts off as a narrative but gradually grows into something much more abstract–it’s unsettling but also beautiful. 101 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown; film scholar Hank Sartin will introduce the film and give a lecture after the screening. Gene Siskel Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, February 27, 6:00, 312-443-3737.
This brooding chamber piece (2000) about a love affair that never quite happens is so minimalist that it succumbs to the law of diminishing returns–yet for some reason it sticks in my gut. Director Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong’s most romantic filmmaker, is known for his excesses, and in that sense the film’s spareness represents a bold departure. Claustrophobically set in adjacent flats in 1962 Hong Kong, where two young couples find themselves sharing space with other people, it focuses on a newspaper editor and a secretary at an export firm (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the sexiest duo in Hong Kong cinema) who discover that their spouses are having an affair on the road. Wong, who improvises his films with the actors, endlessly repeats his musical motifs (including a melancholy violin theme and three familiar ballads sung in Spanish by Nat “King” Cole) and variations on a handful of images, rituals, and short scenes (rainstorms, cab rides, stairways, tender and tentative hand gestures), while dressing Cheung in some of the most confining (though lovely) dresses imaginable, with collars like neck braces. This isn’t among my favorite Wong Kar-wai features (in a pinch I’d pick Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, and Happy Together), but that doesn’t mean my eyes weren’t glued to the screen. 98 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.
Chris Rock plays an aspiring stand-up comic who dies in an accident and is permitted by the authorities in heaven (Eugene Levy and Chazz Palminteri) to temporarily occupy the body of a middle-aged white millionaire. Then he falls in love with an activist (Regina King) who regards the millionaire as the enemy. This is a remake of a remake (Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, which remade Here Comes Mr. Jordan), directed by the Weitz brothers (Chris and Paul), whose previous feature was American Pie. It’s slight but likable, and diverting enough as light entertainment. Rock worked with Lance Crouther, Ali Le Roi, and Louis CK on adapting a screenplay by Elaine May and Beatty; also in the cast are Mark Addy, Frankie Faison, Greg Germann, and Jennifer Coolidge. 87 min. (JR)