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November 1999

One to see

movie reviews of American Beauty, Mystery Men and Random Hearts

American Beauty**** Guns and roses The American dream is really a nightmare. Husband Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is bored with his job and the spark is gone from his marriage. Wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is frustrated but hides her fears and dissatisfaction behind her permanent smile. Their teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is counting the days until she can move out. When she introduces a sexy classmate (Mena Suvari) to her parents, Lester is given a bizarre new lease on life. The young girl becomes the object of fantasies so strong that Lester blackmails his boss into giving him a lucrative severance package, starts lifting weights to buff up and smokes joints with the adolescent boy next door (Wes Bentley). The boy, in turn, has his own private hell in right his living room, courtesy of his ex-Marine father (Chris Cooper). Lester leaps into a mid-life crisis of monumental proportions, frightening his insecure wife and shocking his cynical daughter. Nothing good can come of this. American Beauty is a rare film that integrates exuberant humor with heartbreaking pathos. Vividly portrayed characters put in interesting situations make the story fresh. The tragic comedy is so full of scathing, biting social observations, it’s almost too painful to watch. However, it features the most gifted performances given in recent years, particularly those of Spacey, Bening and Cooper. Such high-caliber acting coupled with the fabulous direction of Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman’s pulsating soundtrack ensures that this film is destined for greatness. At next year’s awards, American Beauty will certainly come out smelling like a rose. Random Hearts* An affair to forget Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) is an earring-wearing, Washington, D.C., internal affairs cop. Kay Chandler (Kristen Scott Thomas) is a first-term congresswoman facing a tough reelection bid. The only thing the two have in common is that each is happily married. When a commuter plane dives into the Potomac River, Dutch and Kay are shocked to learn that their spouses died in the crash. What’s more, the investigation reveals that the deceased were sitting together: as man and wife. Having discovered the unthinkable — a long-term affair — Dutch and Kay begin to explore their late spouses’ infidelity. The search for resolution awakens a growing, if unlikely, passion for one another. This just isn’t director Sydney Pollack’s year. With a small role in the forgettable Eyes Wide Shut, at least he had Random Hearts to fall back on. Oops. Based on Warren Adler’s novel, Random Hearts is over two hours of pure tedium. Action-hero icon Ford doesn’t seem comfortable with romantic dramas, and Scott Thomas, now the English actress of choice for aging actors’ love interest, can barely manage a pulse. Supporting players Charles Dutton, Dennis Haysbert and Bonnie Hunt don’t have large enough parts to pick up the slack. A Random Hearts tagline reads: “In a perfect world, they never would have met.” In a perfect world, this movie never would have been made. Mystery Men* Comic book capers In Champion City, superhero Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) has rid the city of evildoers. Without a super villain to oppose him, Captain Amazing, who wears more product endorsements on his uniform than a race car driver, stands to lose money. He releases his rival Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) to have a worthy opponent again, but the plan backfires and Captain Amazing is captured. The city’s only hope is a collection of wanna-be superheroes, the Mystery Men: The Shoveler (William H. Macy), Mister Furious (Ben Stiller) and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), old friends who soon realize they are outgunned. They recruit Spleen (Paul Reubens), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) and The Sphinx (Wes Studi) to counter evil. As the avengers prepare for the great test of their abilities, Frankenstein prepares to unleash a deadly weapon of mass destruction on the citizens of Champion City. Mystery Men has the potential to be a good film, but suffers from a sagging mid-section and too much being crammed into its two-hour running time. Rookie filmmaker Kinka Usher, whose claim to fame is creating commercials with a talking Chihuahua, succeeds in sustaining the noise and action much like a cartoon, and he treats his characters in a cartoonlike way. The best of this impressive cast is Garofalo. She appears on the scene just in time, partly rescuing Mystery Men with a cynicism that would seem to be a heroic commentary on a lame movie trying so desperately to be hip. <<<

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