Burt Reynolds

Bean (1997, Mel Smith)

I’m trying to imagine how Bean would play to someone unfamiliar with the television show. Depending on one’s tolerance for bland family comedy-dramas, it might actually play better. Because Bean, the movie, removes a lot of Bean, Rowan Atkinson’s character, and instead fills the time with Peter MacNicol and his problems.

His job is on the line and his wife of presumably sixteen plus years has decided their marriage is on the rocks because of those problems with his job. Pamela Reed plays the wife and she’s exceptionally unsympathetic in her anger. Screenwriters Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll don’t just do a hatch job with the characterizations, they keep it going and going.

Some of the problem is director Mel Smith. He resists ever shooting the film from Atkinson’s perspective, except in the longer slapstick sequences, but he also doesn’t direct the film around him well. Harris Yulin especially stumbles around looking for direction. The supporting cast is mostly indistinct, though Burt Reynolds gets a smile or two and Larry Drake gets an actual laugh.

With all the celebrity cameos, Bean should feel bigger. But Smith doesn’t know how to direct it big. Or small. Until the ludicrous finish, the script’s tolerable. Tepid, but tolerable. The finish is atrocious though.

So why’s Bean all right, even with the finish? Because Atkinson is really, really funny and he never acts like there’s anything wrong with the film. He’s fully committed, even though his character’s constantly changing.

The film shamefully fails him.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Smith; screenplay by Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll, based on characters created by Rowan Atkinson and Curtis; director of photography, Francis Kenny; edited by Chris Blunden; music by Howard Goodall; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Peter MacNicol (David Langley), Pamela Reed (Alison Langley), Harris Yulin (George Grierson), Burt Reynolds (General Newton), Larry Drake (Elmer), Chris Ellis (Det. Butler), Johnny Galecki (Stingo Wheelie), Richard Gant (Lt. Brutus), Danny Goldring (Security Buck), Andrew Lawrence (Kevin Langley), Tom McGowan (Walter Merchandise), Sandra Oh (Bernice Schimmel), Tricia Vessey (Jennifer Langley) and John Mills (Chairman).


Switching Channels (1988, Ted Kotcheff)

In Switching Channels, Kotcheff attempts two styles he’s inept at directing—madcap and slapstick. He’s got Ned Beatty, who can act in both those styles, and Beatty does okay. He’s not any good, but one can’t hold the film’s failings against him.

But for his other buffoon, Kotcheff uses Christopher Reeve. The audience is supposed to dislike Reeve because he’s vain, wealthy and a nice guy. One of the biggest laughs in the film is supposed to be at Reeve’s expense, when he’s in an acrophobia-induced fit. Reeve’s got some decent moments (particularly at the beginning of the film), which makes it all the more unfortunate.

The hero of the film is Burt Reynolds, who doesn’t so much give a performance as audition for his subsequent sitcom. He and Reeve are rivals for Kathleen Turner’s affections… though not really. Turner and Reynolds have zero chemistry, making any romantic possibilities laughable.

If the film continued where it opened, with Reeve and Turner meeting and romancing in a tranquil Montréal resort, Switching Channels probably would’ve worked. Turner’s good. She’s just not the film’s protagonist and so, when it pretends she’s important to it, the film fails.

The film—and Kotcheff—do her and Reeve the most disservice.

Though set in Chicago, it’s a very Canadian one. City hall is apparently in an office park.

There’s some good supporting work from Henry Gibson and George Newbern’s endearing as Reynolds’s flunky.

Between Reynolds’s non-acting and Kotcheff’s awkwardness, it doesn’t have a chance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Jonathan Reynolds, based on a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; director of photography, François Protat ; edited by Thom Noble; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Martin Ransohoff; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Kathleen Turner (Christy Colleran), Burt Reynolds (John L. Sullivan IV), Christopher Reeve (Blaine Bingham), Ned Beatty (Roy Ridnitz), Henry Gibson (Ike Roscoe), George Newbern (Siegenthaler), Al Waxman (Berger), Ken James (Warden Terwilliger), Barry Flatman (Zaks), Ted Simonett (Tillinger), Anthony Sherwood (Carvalho), Joe Silver (Mordsini) and Charles Kimbrough (The Governor).


Hustle (1975, Robert Aldrich)

Leonard Maltin calls Hustle pretentious. I think he’s referring to the spotlights Aldrich shines in people’s faces for close-ups. I think Maltin’s wrong about those shots and their pretense. Aldrich isn’t being pretentious, he’s just totally incompetent when it comes to directing a movie like Hustle.

But I’m not talking about the story content–it’s a really poorly written character study of Burt Reynolds’s uncaring cop and Catherine Denueve as his call girl girlfriend–but the production. Ernest Borgnine plays Reynold’s boss (the movie’s hilariously loose with police ranks and their responsibilities) and through Borgnine’s office windows is the city of Los Angeles. Well, a picture of the city. In black and white. Clearly in black and white.

The movie looks like it was shot on a bunch of cheap TV sets, with Joseph F. Biroc’s cinematography less artful than episode of the Adam West “Batman” show. It’s not all Biroc’s fault, Aldrich doesn’t have a good shot in the film. It looks like he’s directing a poorly budgeted television show, one with a great cast and an awful script.

As the leads, I guess Reynolds and Denueve aren’t terrible. When Hustle is just the two of them sitting around the sitcom set they call home, it’s just this incredibly boring character piece. It’s like a misfired play, but it’s not awful. Once they leave, however… trouble begins.

Worst is Ben Johnson in some ways–he’s almost good, but his character is so poorly written, he’s awful.

Hustle stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich; screenplay by Steve Shagan, based on his novel; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Michael Luciano; music by Frank De Vol; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Burt Reynolds (Lieutenant Phil Gaines), Catherine Deneuve (Nicole Britton), Ben Johnson (Marty Hollinger), Paul Winfield (Sergeant Louis Belgrave), Eileen Brennan (Paula Hollinger), Eddie Albert (Leo Sellers), Ernest Borgnine (Santuro), Jack Carter (Herbie Dalitz), Colleen Brennan (Gloria Hollinger), James Hampton (Bus Driver), David Spielberg (Bellamy) and Catherine Bach (Peggy Summers).


Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Boogie Nights is so well-made, so stunningly made–I’m not even thinking about Anderson’s wonderful, lengthy steadicam sequences, I’m thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman alone in his freshly painted car–it’s hard to think about anything else while watching it. The omnipresent soundtrack–Nights is a combination of American Graffiti (the prolific use of songs), Goodfellas (the way music is used to move a scene) and Saturday Night Fever (the general feel of the first hour… and look for the Staying Alive reference in the film’s second half)–the soundtrack draws so much attention to the way the film looks, it’s almost like Anderson is telling the viewer the story doesn’t matter too much. It matters a little–the audience is supposed to be horrified by somethings, laugh at others, dismiss others (the way the overdose scene is handled, for instance, isn’t so much sickening as it is amusing)–until everything changes.

The first half of Boogie Nights introduces the characters and spends a lot of time amusing the viewer. Save the sequence with Joanna Gleason as one of the worst screen parents in history–and the abuse Heather Graham endures in high school–the first half of the film is almost always upbeat. When Don Cheadle’s boss makes fun of him for wearing a cowboy outfit… yeah, the viewer’s supposed to be sympathetic to Cheadle… but also be aware the cowboy thing is dumb.

There aren’t any smart principals in Boogie Nights. Arguably, Burt Reynolds plays the film’s “smartest” character… but he’s not particularly bright. Cheadle, Mark Wahlberg, especially John C. Reilly–these are dumb guys. It’s hard to tell if Julianne Moore’s den mother was at any point intelligent–even as the film starts up with her, she’s nosediving into a suffocating drug dependency. Wahlberg and Reilly’s bromance is hilarious and engaging and it’s kind of amazing how much time Anderson gets away spending on it. Essentially, it’s just treading water in terms of an overall narrative, but Boogie Nights is so perfectly produced, it doesn’t matter.

At the halfway point, Boogie Nights makes a drastic turn. Nothing good happens for a long, long time. Bad things happen over and over. Part of the characters’ joint stupidity is believing in their own rhetoric–the scene with Cheadle getting denied for a bank loan (everyone else in the film, if Anderson gives them enough time, understands the principals’ delusions) is devastating. Cheadle gives the film’s best performance, in one of the film’s only truly sympathetic characters (Anderson basically only rewards two characters and Cheadle is one of them). Anderson takes the inverse of Verhoeven’s Robocop. Instead of tossing the people into the burning pit first thing to garner concern, Anderson makes the viewer like the characters with comedy (and a knowing appraisal of their intellectual limitedness), brings everything negative to the fore, then roasts them until they’re sweating humanity. And he almost gets away with it.

In the end, Boogie Nights comes up with a workable, loopy philosophy and, mostly because of the filmmaking and the torture he’s put the characters through, Anderson gets away with some of it. It’s not a complete success (he drops Moore once her story gets too difficult), but it works. Except–and I remember this from the theater, not from the DVD–not getting to see Reynolds’s face when he embraces Wahlberg (because of the resolution) hurts the scene.

There’s a lot of great acting–Reynolds is fantastic, as is Reilly. William H. Macy is great in his small part, as is Ricky Jay (especially when they’re together). Moore’s good, but her character’s too big for the part she has in the film and there’s chafing. Wahlberg’s solid in the lead role. He’s kind of perfect for it, because he’s so great at being a dimwit. In smaller roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Thomas Jane and Alfred Molina are amazing–especially Jane, who rattles off some great Anderson dialogue better than anyone else in the picture. Luis Guzman’s awesome.

Boogie Nights has a lot of friction of its own, in terms of what Anderson’s doing. Is the film most honest during the Cheadle scenes or the Hoffman scene in the car… or is it most honest when Anderson’s just executing a perfectly constructed scene. It’s a stunning film, but the narrative lacks. It somehow ties Anderson’s hands, like he can’t act contrary to the formula.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Michael Penn; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Anderson, Lloyd Levin, John S. Lyons and JoAnne Sellar; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mark Wahlberg (Dirk Diggler), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), Burt Reynolds (Jack Homer), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), Don Cheadle (Buck Swope), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Luis Guzmán (Maurice TT Rodriguez), William H. Macy (Little Bill), Robert Ridgely (The Colonel James), Ricky Jay (Kurt Longjohn), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty J.), Nicole Ari Parker (Becky Barnett), Melora Walters (Jessie St. Vincent), Thomas Jane (Todd Parker), Joanna Gleason (Eddie’s mother) and Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson).


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