Though a caper comedy that runs for only 95 minutes is welcome, this movie manages to go from funny to formulaic in considerably less time than that. Martin Lawrence plays a professional Boston burglar, and Danny DeVito is the sleazy billionaire he burgles. When Lawrence is caught, DeVito takes his revenge by stealing a ring from Lawrence that his new girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo) gave him; the remainder of the movie is a protracted grudge match between the two, told with absolutely no sense of urgency. Screenwriter Matthew Chapman, adapting a Donald E. Westlake novel, does a pretty good job of stuffing comic grotesques into the crevices of the plot, but director Sam Weisman doesn’t handle them with much grace. With John Leguizamo, Glenne Headly, Nora Dunn, and William Fichtner. (JR)
This is David Mamet’s own adaptation of his first play, an autobiographical and somewhat hokey account of the Summer He Became a Man, by working aboard a steel freighter on the Great Lakes while in graduate school. It’s also the first feature directed by one of Mamet’s best actors, Joe Mantegna, and the whole production can be described as a sort of family affair, with Mamet’s kid brother Tony playing the young hero and still another Mamet, Bob, in charge of the music. But the most striking thing here is a performance by Robert Forster, as one of the older men on the boat, that’s so terrific everything else in the picture pales beside it. (It’s a part one can imagine Mantegna playing, so maybe that’s why he’s so adept at directing Forster in it.) Otherwise, I’d call this fairly routine coming-of-age stuff, borderline juvenilia hampered by awkward flashbacks in black and white but enlivened from time to time by a good cast that includes Peter Falk, Charles Durning, an uncredited Andy Garcia (as the night cook whom the young hero replaces at the last moment), J.J. Johnston, Denis Leary, Jack Wallace, and George Wendt. 98 min. (JR)
Three hours and three minutes of guff and goo about the nobility of killing and/or being killed for arbitrary reasons, whether you’re an American soldier or a Japanese. This is the Star Wars view of the U.S.’s entry into World War II (enemies are invisible and bloodless), which means that even though much of the story takes place in Hawaii, Hawaiians are deemed inconsequential, and the only ordinary Japanese we ever see apart from a few old soldiers are passing details in two shots: kids in the distance flying a kite and a couple of nice ladies in kimonos, both viewed beforenot during or afteran air attack. If you decide to hit the concessions stand (where you’re bound to have lots of company), I’d suggest going out for popcorn during either the first hour or the third, because the second features some pretty good big-screen effects involving planes, ships, and explosions. (This is from the same team that brought you The Rock and Armageddon.) The lead characters are fairly interchangeable jocks and nursesa bit like the characters in Starship Troopers but without the irony, aside from Jon Voight under tons of makeup striking presidential poses as FDR. (When he struggles out of his wheelchair like Dr. Strangelove to make a point, we aren’t supposed to laugh.) We also get Cuba Gooding Jr. as a cook in the segregated army who finally gets to shoot at Japs just like the heroes (Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett), whowould you believe it?are in love with the same nurse (Kate Beckinsale). Michael Bay, who coproduced with schlockmeister Jerry Bruckheimer, directed the pedestrian Randall Wallace script; other cast members include Tom Sizemore, Colm Feore, Alec Baldwin, and Dan Aykroyd. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (May 10, 2001). — J.R.
It seems scandalous that Charles Burnett, the most gifted black American director offering purely realistic depictions of black urban life, was able to make this 1990 feature only because Danny Glover agreed to play a leading role. Harry Mention (Glover), an old friend from the rural south, arrives on the doorstep of a Los Angeles family, wreaking subtle and not-so-subtle havoc on their lives. The family is headed by a retired farmer (Paul Butler) and his midwife spouse (Mary Alice), whose two married sons (Carl Lumbly and Richard Brooks) are in constant conflict. Burnett’s acute and sensitive direction is free of hackneyed movie conventions; even something as simple as a hello is said differently from the way you’ve heard it in any other movie. All of Burnett’s features have the density of novels, rich with characters and their interplay, and this one is no exception. 102 min. (JR)