Elisabeth Shue

The Saint (1997, Phillip Noyce)

The Saint is a delightful mess of a film. Director Noyce toggles between doing a Bond knock-off while a romantic adventure picture. Val Kilmer’s international, high-tech cat burglar falls for one of his marks, Elisabeth Shue’s genius scientist. Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick’s script, even when it puts Shue in distress, never actually treats her like a damsel. She’s in her own movie, one where she’s this genius scientist and she falls for the international, high-tech cat burglar who rips off her science thing.

It’s not just any science thing, The Saint is from the late nineties, so it’s cold fusion. So Shue gets to play this oddball scientist, full of eccentric behavior, only somewhat contained. Shue’s so excited by her adventure in the film–she’s so full of energy during the extended chase sequence in the second act, it’s almost like Kilmer has to hold her back. He gets to do makeup and voices, but he doesn’t have the thrill for it. She does. He’s got the thrill for her. It’s just lovely. I mean, it’s the thing Noyce never lets get screwed up–the romance. And the comedy, though the comedy is an afterthought for too much of the film. It probably would’ve been better to embrace it a lot earlier but there’s all the Bond knocking off to do.

And it’s fine international chase and action intrigue. It’s a fine Bond knock-off. Terry Rawlings’s editing could be better, but Phil Meheux’s photography is always solid, sometimes something more. The film’s enamored with Shue. Kilmer can easily handle this international thief thing. It’s not a tough part. The tough stuff is the accents and stage makeup and he excels at it. But the weight of the film’s conceit falls on Shue. She has to be a genius, she has to be a practical slapstick romantic interest, she has to be the damsel in distress. And her performance embraces the first two and rejects the third. Noyce and Kilmer just have to catch up with her. It’s gleeful.

Graeme Revell’s music is sometimes really good, sometimes really not. Again, he never screws it up for the romance.

Awesome supporting turns from villains Rade Serbedzija and Valeriy Nikolaev. Serbedzija and Kilmer only get a couple scenes together but they’re fantastic ones. They both want to chew on the scenery but they’re not willing to step on the other’s toes. And Nikolaev, as Serbedzija’s son and chief thug, doesn’t get many lines, he just gets to be mean. He’s excellent at it.

I’ve been putting off watching The Saint again for at least a decade. I can’t get that time loving it back. It’s a really special film. It’s not a success because it’s way too confused as a production, but Noyce sees what Shue and Kilmer are doing and he throws in with them, concept be damned.

The Saint’s lovely. And Shue is amazing. Kilmer’s got some really outstanding moments and he’s real strong doing this intentionally ill-defined lead, but Shue is better. It’s a truly singular performance.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Hensleigh and a character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by David Brown, Robert Evans, William J. MacDonald and Mace Neufeld; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Simon Templar), Elisabeth Shue (Dr. Emma Russell), Rade Serbedzija (Ivan Tretiak), Valeriy Nikolaev (Ilya Tretiak), Michael Byrne (Vereshagi), Henry Goodman (Dr. Lev Botvin), Evgeniy Lazarev (President Karpov), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Teal), Charlotte Cornwell (Inspector Rabineau), Lev Prygunov (General Sklarov) and Irina Apeksimova (Frankie).


The Karate Kid (1984, John G. Avildsen)

James Crabe’s photography gets The Karate Kid through the rough patches. The film’s incredibly uneven–Bill Conti’s score initially seems like it’ll be a plus, ends up being a minus, and the editing is strange. Director Avildsen, with two other editors, can’t seem to figure out how to cut the climatic fight sequence. Like many sequences in the film, it’s set to a pop song (only one of those sequences works out), but it’s almost like Avildsen didn’t consider how to cut the film together when shooting.

But, like I said, Crabe’s there to make up for Avildsen’s questionable composition. There are a few times he goes for painfully obvious symbolism–poor Ralph Macchio dejectedly walking away alone–but mostly Avildsen goes for pedestrian. Crabe’s photography and William J. Cassidy’s production design give the film most of its personality.

The rest of the personality comes from Macchio and Pat Morita. Robert Mark Kamen’s script is far from great (and not particularly close to good either), but Macchio and Morita’s relationship does keep the film together through its lengthy runtime. Kamen and Avildsen prefer telling the story in summary, which makes it hard to care about Macchio right off. They seem to understand and loose William Zabka to mercilessly bully Macchio from the second or third scene.

There are some nice moments, eventually–not for a while–with Elisabeth Shue and Macchio.

Macchio’s performance is more appealing than good, ditto poor Morita (who’s basically playing Yoda). A better finish would’ve helped.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John G. Avildsen; written by Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by Bud S. Smith, Walt Mulconery and Avildsen; music by Bill Conti; production designer, William J. Cassidy; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ralph Macchio (Daniel), Pat Morita (Miyagi), Elisabeth Shue (Ali), Randee Heller (Lucille), William Zabka (Johnny) and Martin Kove (Kreese).


Back to the Future Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future Part II, while front heavy with special effects, ends up being a small picture. The first half or so deals with the sequel setup from the first movie’s finale but then Part II tells a side story set during the first film. Time travel franchises can be, it turns out, rather economical.

Unfortunately, these economies mostly just show off how Bob Gale’s creatively bankrupt script. The film is reductive, not expansive, with most of the cast wasted. Christopher Lloyd, for example, disappears for large sections, occasionally popping up for a comical line reading. Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson are the whole show and neither do well. Neither are bad, but both have all new character quirks to incorporate. These incorporations are a tad difficult… since the original film looms over this one. And not just because whole sections of the first film’s footage is reused or because the second half involves Fox acting “alongside” himself.

Gale and Zemeckis continue to waste female talent. Elisabeth Shue actually has some decent screen time in the first half, being the viewer’s entry into the future of she and Fox, but then she literally gets knocked out for the rest of the movie. Lea Thompson shows up for a few scenes, does a lot better than Shue (who mugs constantly), before evaporating.

Gone are the first film’s likable characterizations. Part II is an ugly film; nastiness is apparently easier to write. The abject lack of story is shocking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Neil Canton and Gale; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Marty McFly Jr / Marlene McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen / Griff Tannen), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly) and Charles Fleischer (Terry).


Hollow Man (2000, Paul Verhoeven), the director’s cut

Is Hollow Man the last of the “for CGs’ sake” blockbuster attempts? In the nineties, post-Jurassic Park Hollywood assumed doing genre standards over with CG would get big grosses. Hollow Man feels like one of those.

There’s nothing nice to say about the film, except one has a lot to mock. Incompetent screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe doesn’t just write insipid dialogue, he also doesn’t know the difference between MDs and PhDs. Apparently neither does director Verhoeven since he let the line pass.

Speaking of Verhoeven (to get it over with), Hollow Man lacks any personality. Sure, Elisabeth Shue acts a little trampier than one would expect, but in her only good acting move, she never lets it get explorative. Verhoeven’s composition is competent, I suppose, but boring. He really likes CG-assisted helicopter establishing shots. Not exactly an exciting directorial flourish.

Watching the film, which does have some good special effects and inventive uses of invisibility, one can just marvel at Kevin Bacon’s terrible performance. While both he and Shue are bad (so are Greg Grunberg and Joey Slotnick), Bacon has to be seen to be believed. Marlowe’s dialogue is atrocious, but William Devane can manage it. Bacon’s attempts at scenery chewing are disastrous.

Only Josh Brolin and Kim Dickens escape with some dignity (besides Devane, of course).

Jerry Goldsmith recycles a lot of his old stuff for the score; it’s not terrible though, just redundant.

Hollow Man would be loathsome if it were competent. Instead, it’s immediately dismissible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Andrew W. Marlowe, based on a story by Gary Scott Thompson and Marlowe; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Ron Vignone; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Douglas Wick and Alan Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Linda McKay), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Caine), Josh Brolin (Matthew Kensington), Kim Dickens (Sarah Kennedy), Greg Grunberg (Carter Abbey), Joey Slotnick (Frank Chase), Mary Randle (Janice Walton) and William Devane (Dr. Howard Kramer).


Back to the Future Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)

Apparently, all Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale needed for a Back to the Future sequel was a story. Part III, unlike the second installment, has a lot going on and it’s not all tied into the original’s storyline. Instead, Michael J. Fox finds himself in the Old West, trying to save Christopher Lloyd.

Zemeckis and Gale finally reward Lloyd for his time with a good part in this one. Fox’s story is boring–he’s up against Thomas F. Wilson again (Wilson is utterly fantastic)–but Lloyd’s romancing Mary Steenburgen while playing cowboy. There’s also a nice bit for Lloyd set after the first movie. This entry really makes it clear Zemeckis and Gale don’t know what works in these movies.

They include some more nonsense details, with Fox playing his ancestor. Lea Thompson shows up for a scene or two as Fox’s great-great-grandmother or something… it’s unclear if the filmmakers mean to imply the family tree has crossed branches. Probably not; Part III, until the awkward ending (it’s an ending to Part II, not this one), is rather genial.

The Dean Cundey photography is great and editors Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt do excellent work, especially on the unbelievably tense finale. Unfortunately, Alan Silvestri’s score is either repetitive or weak. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise excellent production.

There are nice minor performances from Matt Clark and James Tolkan.

While it finishes the series, Part III does show what works in Future sequels–tight writing, inventive setting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Seamus McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton), Thomas F. Wilson (Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen / Biff Tannen), Lea Thompson (Maggie McFly / Lorraine McFly), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), Matt Clark (Chester the Bartender), Richard Dysart (Barbwire Salesman), Pat Buttram (Saloon Old Timer), Harry Carey Jr. (Saloon Old Timer), Dub Taylor (Saloon Old Timer), James Tolkan (Marshal James Strickland), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly) and Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly).


Adventures in Babysitting (1987, Chris Columbus)

If it weren’t for the acting, Adventures in Babysitting would probably be more interesting as a cultural document than anything else. The way the film treats race is probably worth a couple sociology articles. Black people aren’t scary as much as foreign beyond belief. Space aliens would have more in common with the suburban kids than the room of black people they find themselves in a room with. Working class whites, actually, are far more scary.

So I guess, as a Chicagoland filmmaker, Chris Columbus is less racist than mentor John Hughes. Spielberg must have rubbed off on Columbus a little.

The film’s finely acted. Elisabeth Shue’s great in the lead. As her charges, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp are all good. Brewton and Coogan are sort of best (Coogan has some rather difficult scenes). Calvin Levels is excellent as the car thief who helps them out, as is John Ford Noonan as the first scary guy they meet. George Newbern and Bradley Whitford are both good as Shue’s romantic interests, though Whitford’s got more to do.

In the film’s silliest role, Vincent D’Onofrio has a hard time not laughing.

Penelope Ann Miller starts out strong, but the film eventually requires everyone to laugh at her and dismiss her as silly. Otherwise, she has some of the strongest line deliveries.

John Davis Chandler is weak as the lame villain.

Columbus does a better job with actors than composing shots.

Babysitting‘s moderately amusing, its parts stronger than the whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Columbus; written by David Simkins; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Debra Hill and Lynda Obst; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Chris Parker), Maia Brewton (Sara Anderson), Keith Coogan (Brad Anderson), Anthony Rapp (Daryl Coopersmith), Calvin Levels (Joe Gipp), Vincent D’Onofrio (Dawson), Penelope Ann Miller (Brenda), George Newbern (Dan Lynch), John Ford Noonan (Handsome John Pruitt), Bradley Whitford (Mike Todwell), Ron Canada (Graydon) and John Davis Chandler (Bleak).


Piranha (2010, Alexandre Aja)

Aja opens Piranha with a pretty deft reference to the original film and follows it immediately with a rather big Jaws reference. The original, ostensibly a parody of Jaws, is absent any kind of reference… so it’s strange to see here. But it’s hilarious. And it might be the funniest of Aja’s other homages to the original, which tend to be on the subtle side.

His approach–to remake Piranha by maintaining the tone of the original, only amplified and modernized (and streamlined quite a bit)–makes it incredibly successful. The 3D is something of a red herring, though effectively used and often rather amusing… but it’s not essential. In fact, when the film does get a little long during a few sequences, it’s because Aja relies on 3D effects (the camera ogling the spring break coeds) too much.

Piranha works for the traditional reasons–a good director, a knowing script and a great cast. I don’t think there’s a bad performance in the entire film–sure, Elisabeth Shue can do the sheriff slash mom role in her sleep and Christopher Lloyd’s a great scientist (slash bait shop owner), but Adam Brody’s fantastic as Shue’s understated heroic sidekick–but there are still some surprises.

Jerry O’Connell’s hilarious as a sleazy softcore porn producer and Kelly Brook’s unexpectedly great as his leading lady. Piranha gets how to establish characters quickly.

Steven R. McQueen, playing Shue’s son and the lead, is solid too.

It’s a really fun, really smart, dumb good time.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alexandre Aja; screenplay by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Baxter; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff, Aja and Grégory Levasseur; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Julie Forester), Steven R. McQueen (Jake Forester), Jessica Szohr (Kelly), Adam Scott (Novak), Jerry O’Connell (Derrick Jones), Kelly Brook (Danni), Christopher Lloyd (Mr. Goodman), Ving Rhames (Deputy Fallon), Riley Steele (Crystal), Brooklynn Proulx (Laura Forester), Sage Ryan (Zane Forester) and Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Boyd).


Soapdish (1991, Michael Hoffman)

Zany. Soapdish is zany. At its most amusing, it’s a rapid-fire, carefully scored (Alan Silvestri’s score is essential, given how it establishes the movie’s mood) set of fast scenes with decent laughs. Garry Marshall is hilarious, Carrie Fisher is even funnier. Cathy Moriarty is terrific. So where’s the big problem? Well, Soapdish‘s most amusing parts are not its best parts. There’s an inconsistency, as the best parts are those with Sally Field and Kevin Kline. There’s not quite enough “good” parts for Soapdish to be anything but a zany comedy about soap operas. It is not, for instance, really a good soap opera about soap operas. It’s very aware of itself and its limitations.

I’m not sure a movie with Soapdish‘s melodrama would work as a straight story, so the zany approach isn’t a bad one, it just allows for some mediocre and broad performances. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, has a funny character. Even if it were someone else, the character would still be funny. When it comes to the zaniness, Soapdish is real cheap. Fisher and Marshall, it’d be hard to replace. Downey, anyone could do it. Whoopi Goldberg’s character tends to span both sides and she does a good job and immediately establishes herself as vital. But Elisabeth Shue? I’d forgotten she was in the movie. She can’t hold her own in the scenes with Kline and Field, since Kline’s so good in general and Field’s very self-aware as a trapped TV star. Shue just doesn’t bring anything to the film. Her character on the soap is mute and, basically, so’s Shue.

The movie’s not unsuccessful, it just isn’t deserving of what Kline and Field bring to it. It’s ninety-five minutes of missed opportunities. The movie’s constantly changing tone and pacing and there’s never a chance to believe the characters. Teri Hatcher–who’s actually kind of good–switches from a villainous role to a good one for no reason other than… she needs something to do. The script needs an agent and she’s it.

There’s also a lack of comedic payoff with one major subplot at the end and the movie sort of fades out on earlier smiles. Had the movie really gone for the concept, it’d have been a better result. But at a certain point, it’s just clear–for example–there’s nothing to Downey’s character. He’s not smart, he’s not ambitious, he’s one-dimensional and he’s kind of boring. The movie coats itself in absurdity, trying to disguise it’s never going to suspend the viewer’s disbelief… but then it stops (rather than ends) and it’s very clear it didn’t quite work.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; screenplay by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman, based on a story by Harling; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by Garth Craven; music by Alan Silvestri; produced by Aaron Spelling and Alan Greisman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sally Field (Maggie), Kevin Kline (Jeffrey Anderson), Robert Downey Jr. (David Seton Barnes), Cathy Moriarty (Montana Moorehead), Elisabeth Shue (Lori Craven), Whoopi Goldberg (Rose Schwartz), Teri Hatcher (Ariel Maloney), Garry Marshall (Edmund Edwards), Kathy Najimy (Tawny Miller), Paul Johansson (Blair Brennan), Arne Nannestad (Director Burton White), Sheila Kelley (Fran) and Carrie Fisher (Betsy Faye Sharon).


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