Kevin Bacon

JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

JFK is a protracted experience. It runs over three hours, it has no real narrative structure–the film opens with the Kennedy assassination and an introduction to the principal characters (and some of the possible conspirators, always played quite well by a guest star), then jumps ahead three years where it starts chronicling lead Kevin Costner’s investigation into the assassination. He’s the New Orleans District Attorney (there’s a reason for him to get involved–presumably true, JFK is based on the real life DA) and the film does culminate in a trial, but it’s not a courtroom thriller and it’s not a mystery. It’s a lecture. Director Stone delivers the lecture through endless–yet always well-acted–expository dialogue, beautifully filmed flashback scenes (cinematographer Robert Richardson does breathtaking work) and then lead Costner. Stone’s not good at the courtroom stuff. It’s about an hour of Costner talking. Costner does really well in it, but it’s just too much. Overall, JFK is just too much.

There’s lots of good acting, lots of great acting. Even Joe Pesci’s weird portrayal of one of the possible conspirators–Stone doesn’t assign much malice to the “villains” because he doesn’t want to get too bogged down in actual politics. JFK is simultaneously for the informed and the ignorant. Stone nods at respecting the informed, but he doesn’t care about the ignorant at all. There’s nothing but exposition in the film and never any to get the viewer into the ground situation. It ought to come with a viewer’s guide explaining the historical authenticity of each assassination detail. So while Pesci is a little much, he’s a wonderful contrast to too serious Costner.

The great acting comes from bigger name guest stars like Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman. The parts are sort of thin–caricatures again–but the actors figure out a reality to the scene and their character in it. It’s Stone’s direction. These people aren’t people, they’re subjects to be examined. The good acting is from the big name players in cameo parts–Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Donald Sutherland and John Candy don’t have great parts, but there’s some humanity to them because they’re supposedly real people so there’s some implied backstory. Stone leans a lot on what the viewer should be understanding. It’s annoying. Then there are some great smaller parts. The “regular” folk, like Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight. Rooker and Sanders both get a lot of material–Metcalf and Wayne Knight do not. Stone doesn’t give these actors real roles, just great scenes opposite Costner and each other. They’re on exposition duty. Stone clearly appreciates having such a good supporting cast.

The film follows the following general structure. 1963 assassination sadness, fast forward to 1966 for Costner to start his investigation. Then big final courtroom sequence. It’s well-acted but not a good courtroom sequence. And the film’s already shaky as the narrative drops guest star opportunities and filling in with Costner’s marital problems, which does give Sissy Spacek something to do as the wife, just makes it drag more. Costner might be playing a real person, but he’s doing it through caricature.

JFK sort of works out. Also has a rather outstanding John Williams score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia; music by John Williams; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by A. Kitman Ho; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Jim Garrison), Tommy Lee Jones (Clay Shaw), Kevin Bacon (Willie O’Keefe), Gary Oldman (Lee Harvey Oswald), Sissy Spacek (Liz Garrison), Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), Michael Rooker (Bill Broussard), Jay O. Sanders (Lou Ivon), Laurie Metcalf (Susie Cox), Wayne Knight (Numa Bertel), Brian Doyle-Murray (Jack Ruby), Beata Pozniak Daniels (Marina Oswald), Edward Asner (Guy Bannister), Jack Lemmon (Jack Martin), Walter Matthau (Senator Long), John Candy (Dean Andrews), Sally Kirkland (Rose Cheramie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill Newman) and Donald Sutherland (X).


Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham), the uncut version

There’s nothing wonderfully terrible about Friday the 13th. It’s not like any of the cast are bad in funny ways, not even Betsy Palmer who’s doing inept histrionics. Are any of the cast members good? Not really. Some are better than others. Kevin Bacon’s probably the most useless (and annoying, due to an affected Southern accent) and Jeannine Taylor is okay, which is strange since most of their scenes are opposite each other.

Inept is a good word to describe the film in general. Director Cunningham rips off a style or a device from another film and then changes it just enough to make it not work. Without Harry Manfredini’s omnipresent score, there wouldn’t be any tension in the film. Cunningham can’t direct for it and writer Victor Miller can’t plot for it. Friday the 13th is obvious at every moment; there’s no inventiveness.

Well, except for the special effects, which are a little too slick for the film. Cunningham tries to make an exploitation picture, but does it with a little too much budget and not enough understanding of how to actually be affecting while terrorizing your audience. He and Miller try for “scary” things because it distracts from their inability to form a connect with the viewer. Friday the 13th doesn’t use any of the viewer’s brain cells, unless he or she is counting shockingly obvious moments for later review.

The single surprise–the ending scare is really well-executed (thanks to Manfredini’s cheap, obvious and effective music).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham; screenplay by Victor Miller, based on a story by Cunningham and Miller; director of photography, Barry Abrams; edited by Bill Freda; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Virginia Field; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Pamela Voorhees), Ronn Carroll (Sgt. Tierney), Adrienne King (Alice Hardy), Harry Crosby (Bill), Peter Brouwer (Steve Christy), Laurie Bartram (Brenda), Jeannine Taylor (Marcie Cunningham), Kevin Bacon (Jack Burrel), Mark Nelson (Ned Rubinstein), Robbi Morgan (Annie), with Rex Everhart (Enos, the Truck Driver) and Walt Gorney (Crazy Ralph).


Footloose (1984, Herbert Ross)

Footloose isn’t so much awful as dumb and obvious. Some of it is awful–the scene where Kevin Bacon, fed up with the small town getting him down, just has to go to an abandoned mill and dance it out–that scene is awful. So are most of the courtship scenes between Bacon and Lori Singer.

But the relationship between Singer and father John Lithgow? While really obvious and thin, the actors do okay with it. Singer’s not good, but she’s convincingly angry. Lithgow’s the emotionally wounded reverend who tries to fix the world through his sermons, only to learn the townsfolk he’s trying to save are perverting his message. It’s just Footloose’s way not condemning the religious in the audience, just the ones who don’t like rock music. Though it does a really bad job of it.

Some of the problem is Dean Pitchford’s script. It’s dumb and often bad, but Pitchford really doesn’t shy away from difficult scenes. The ones between Lithgow and Singer, the ones between Lithgow, Singer and Dianne Wiest (as the quietly suffering preacher’s wife), they’re really good. But Pitchford doesn’t know how to work them. The most important conversation in the film–between Bacon and Lithgow–doesn’t even occur on screen.

It’s not like director Ross does much good. He probably can’t make Bacon look any younger and most of the performances are blandly acceptable, but the idiotic dance interludes are Ross’s fault.

Footloose is often marginally competent, but never any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Herbert Ross; written by Dean Pitchfork; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Paul Hirsch; production designer, Ron Hobbs; produced by Lewis J. Rachmil and Craig Zadan; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kevin Bacon (Ren), Lori Singer (Ariel), John Lithgow (Rev. Shaw Moore), Dianne Wiest (Vi Moore), Chris Penn (Willard), Sarah Jessica Parker (Rusty), John Laughlin (Woody), Elizabeth Gorcey (Wendy Jo), Frances Lee McCain (Ethel McCormack) and Jim Youngs (Chuck Cranston).


Diner (1982, Barry Levinson)

I’ve probably seen Diner ten times but I still don’t know where to start with it. Barry Levinson sets the present action between Christmas and New Year’s, so one probably could sit down and chart out what happens on each day. There’s a big basketball bet driving some of the narrative, but mostly just for Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin, but also for Kevin Bacon.

And Levinson leaves so much of it unresolved–Bacon, for example–while concentrating (for the finish) on the things he didn’t pay much attention to throughout the film. The film often has this great fifties soundtrack going, which masks its quietness. Even though Levinson writes these amazing dialogue exchanges, the most telling moments for the cast–even at the beginning (Levinson and Stu Linder cut together these amazing sequences from the very start, Peter Sova’s photography helping out a lot, of course)–isn’t what they’re saying. It’s the moments where the characters are silent and thinking.

All of the acting is outstanding. Rourke and Barkin are the best, then Steve Guttenberg and Kevin Bacon… then Tim Daly and Daniel Stern. Not because Daly and Stern are bad, but because Stern has the least to do. Daly has a little more, but Levinson sort of dulls the focus off him as the film progresses. The choices Levinson makes regarding what characters get attention and when are more of his brilliant ones in Diner.

It’s an exceptional motion picture. One appreciates its sublimeness more on each viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Stu Linder; music by Bruce Brody and Ivan Král; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Steve Guttenberg (Edward ‘Eddie’ Simmons), Daniel Stern (Laurence ‘Shrevie’ Schreiber), Mickey Rourke (Robert ‘Boogie’ Sheftell), Kevin Bacon (Timothy Fenwick, Jr.), Tim Daly (William ‘Billy’ Howard), Ellen Barkin (Beth Schreiber), Paul Reiser (Modell), Kathryn Dowling (Barbara), Michael Tucker (Bagel), Jessica James (Mrs. Simmons), Colette Blonigan (Carol Heathrow), Kelle Kipp (Diane), John Aquino (Tank), Claudia Cron (Jane Chisholm),Tom Tammi (Howard Fenwick) and Sharon Ziman (Elyse).


Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, John Hughes)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is probably most impressive technically. The narrative is problematic but not a bad narrative, it’s just a problematic one. Director Hughes can’t decide if he wants Planes to be a comedy with John Candy or a comedy about Candy. Candy’s able to be sympathetic while still being unbelievably annoying–his performance is the film’s finest–but Hughes doesn’t know how to use him. Planes is Steve Martin’s picture or it’s Martin and Candy’s, but it’s never just Candy’s. Though Hughes pretends otherwise.

As for the technical qualities. Donald Peterman’s photography and Paul Hirsch’s editing are sublime. Peterman and Hirsch turn Hughes’s often mediocre composition into beautiful visuals. Ira Newborn’s score, which has some ill-advised eighties remix, also creates these amazing moments more appropriate for a film in the Cinéma du look movement. They’re some of the most memorable scenes in Planes and are startling to see in an American buddy comedy.

The narrative’s also peculiar because Hughes puts the big blow-out between Martin and Candy early in the picture. The later minor ones are still funny, they just don’t resonate. The choice probably hampered Hughes’s narrative pacing, but it deepens Planes.

In the supporting cast, Edie McClurg is obviously the standout. Dylan Baker’s real funny too. As Martin’s wife (Hughes plays with juxtaposing the stories, then drops it), Laila Robins is perfect–though the filmmaking might have more to do with it than her acting.

Planes is a fine time; its singular scenes near transcendence.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by John Hughes; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John W. Corso; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Neal Page), John Candy (Del Griffith), Laila Robins (Susan Page), Michael McKean (State Trooper), Dylan Baker (Owen), Carol Bruce (Joy), Olivia Burnette (Marti), Diana Douglas (Peg), Martin Ferrero (Second Motel Clerk), Larry Hankin (Doobie), Richard Herd (Walt), Susan Kellermann (Waitress), Matthew Lawrence (Little Neal), Edie McClurg (Car Rental Agent), George Petrie (Martin), Gary Riley (Motel Thief), Charles Tyner (Gus) and Kevin Bacon (Taxi Racer).


Apollo 13 (1995, Ron Howard)

While Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon’s characters are the only ones in danger in Apollo 13, they remain calm for almost the entire runtime. There’s no point to panicking, something Hanks points out in dialogue. Instead, director Howard focuses on an exceptional assortment of character actors–as the NASA Mission Control–for the dramatic parts. Even Kathleen Quinlan, as Hanks’s wife, has to keep it together for the most part.

Otherwise, regardless of how it actually happened, the film’s dramatics wouldn’t work. Apollo 13 isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a science and engineering drama. Howard creates a genre with the film; I don’t think anyone has attempted to follow in his footsteps.

There’s no history synopsis at the start, so unless an unknowing viewer paid attention to the opening titles, the finish might be a surprise. Howard has to keep up the tension for both kinds of viewers, informed and not. He and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill probably had a hell of a time putting the film together; they make it appear seamless and organically flowing

Wondrous photography from Dean Cundey and fine music from James Horner assist.

Hanks and Bacon have the most to do, with Paxton and the earthbound Gary Sinise providing sturdy support. Great work from Quinlan. Ed Harris binds the Mission Control scenes.

Of the outstanding character actors, Loren Dean, Clint Howard, Gabriel Jarret and Christian Clemenson stand out.

Apollo 13 is assured, masterful work all around… but especially from Howard.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, based on a book by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (Gene Kranz), Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Jean Speegle Howard (Blanch Lovell), Tracy Reiner (Mary Haise), David Andrews (Pete Conrad), Chris Ellis (Deke Slayton), Joe Spano (NASA Director), Xander Berkeley (Henry Hurt), Marc McClure (Glynn Lunney), Ben Marley (John Young), Clint Howard (EECOM White), Loren Dean (EECOM Arthur), Tom Wood (EECOM Gold), Googy Gress (RETRO White), Patrick Mickler (RETRO Gold), Ray McKinnon (FIDO White), Max Grodénchik (FIDO Gold), Christian Clemenson (Dr. Chuck), Brett Cullen (CAPCOM 1), Ned Vaughn (CAPCOM 2), Andy Milder (GUIDO White), Geoffrey Blake (GUIDO Gold), Wayne Duvall (LEM Controller White), Jim Meskimen (TELMU White), Joseph Culp (TELMU Gold), John Short (INCO White), Ben Bode (INCO Gold), Todd Louiso (FAO White), Gabriel Jarret (GNC White), Christopher John Fields (Booster White), Kenneth White (Grumman Rep), James Ritz (Ted) and Andrew Lipschultz (Launch Director).


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).


X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn)

When the best thing in a 132-minute movie is a thirty-second cameo… it’s not a good sign.

X-Men: First Class is self-important dreck. The four credited screenwriters do a bad job with everything except the one-liners; they do some of those quite well.

There are a lot of goofy sixties details. Bad guy Kevin Bacon has a submarine he travels around in like a Bond villain, but Vaughn doesn’t know how to direct it like a flashy Technicolor picture. His direction’s adequate, nothing more.

Except his direction of actors. It’s terrible. Zoë Kravitz, January Jones, Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Till are all atrocious, though their roles are small. Well, except January Jones, she’s exceptionally bad in her somewhat larger part.

But Jennifer Lawrence has a big role and, while she’s not as bad as the rest, she’s too weak to carry it. Nicholas Hoult is pretty good.

Still, the acting’s not all bad. Bacon’s having a great time. The two leads are mostly good. Michael Fassbender gives a great performance for a lot of the film, but then awkwardly adopts a Welsh accent in the last few scenes. James McAvoy’s sturdy, but never anything more.

Poor Rose Byrne (a mildly competent screenwriter would’ve known to tell the story from her perspective) is wasted.

The endless character actor stunt casting gets old fast, though it’s nice to see them working.

Henry Jackman’s music might be worse than anything else in First Class. Even January Jones.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthew Vaughn; screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Eddie Hamilton and Lee Smith; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Singer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven), January Jones (Emma Frost), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy), Lucas Till (Alex Summers), Zoë Kravitz (Angel Salvadore), Caleb Landry Jones (Sean Cassidy), Edi Gathegi (Armando Muñoz), Álex González (Janos Quested), Jason Flemyng (Azazel), with Oliver Platt (Man In Black Suit) and Hugh Jackman (Man In Bar).


Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard)

Once upon a time (in Hollywood), there was a bald director (who always wore a cap) who first got famous on television as an actor, then as a director of comedies, who then started making excellent mainstream Hollywood pictures. Then he started making mainstream crap and then it got worse.

The question of Frost/Nixon is the question of Ron Howard’s (mainstream) artistic solvency. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so simple–oh, Howard does a fantastic job and would certainly be on the road to a new artistic period if it weren’t for a couple things. First, the trailer of his Da Vinci Code 2 played before this film. Second, if Howard could always turn off the crap-production–if he could recognize good material for the screen (he and writer Peter Morgan were on NPR talking about how Howard jetted to London for the play’s opening and snapped up the rights immediately), if he could not use scripts from Akiva Goldman–why hasn’t he done it before now? Did the critical drubbing of Da Vinci force him to prove he was competent? These are all valid questions, but they do distract from the film. So enough.

Frost/Nixon finds Richard Milhous Nixon, as usual, to be a fantastic character for examination. During the film’s third act, with Nixon laid bare–Frank Langella’s performance is so utterly captivating, talking about it in depth might get boring–creates one of cinema’s greatest antiheroes. His humanity–his recognition of his shortcomings and his bottomless regret–it makes Frost/Nixon a significant achievement. There’s a great argument scene–between Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Oliver Platt–early on about the goal of the interview–to make Nixon look sympathetic or to make him accept responsibility for Watergate. The beauty of the film, which I suppose anyone familiar with the interviews would already know, is Nixon is never more sympathetic than when acknowledging his criminal culpability. And that early scene never foreshadows that possibility. Howard keeps the film surprising from each scene to next, even though–until the coda–the direction is muted.

As Frost, Sheen oscillates between being the film’s protagonist and a passenger. This transition happens at odd times too–the film is never, after the first fifteen minutes, about David Frost… it just takes the film a while to recognize it. But that condition is one Sheen works with beautifully. He can be the lead, he can be supporting, he can be off-screen. He’s fantastic. The most stunning part of Sheen’s performance is when the film gets to the interviews, watching his on-camera persona and trying to reconcile it with the off.

Rockwell, Macfadyen and Platt are all excellent. Rockwell’s got the most to do–and the film’s most difficult task of turning a boring character into an engaging one throughout. Rebecca Hall, who has a thankless female role–she’s only in it so Diane Sawyer isn’t the only female character–is so great, she makes it seem like an essential facet. Kevin Bacon’s good. Toby Jones has a fine small part.

I can’t ignore Langella any longer. His performance is heartbreaking. The complexities he achieves, in a role rife with laughter-producing dialogue (I don’t think anyone’s ever portrayed Nixon with more self-aware humor… in fact, he’s usually portrayed without it), are amazing. See, I told you it’d be boring.

I left Frost/Nixon elated. It’s great mainstream Hollywood cinema, something it seems this century has been, so far, lacking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on his stage play; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer, Howard, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Frank Langella (Richard Nixon), Michael Sheen (David Frost), Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jr.), Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Matthew Macfadyen (John Birt), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick), Rebecca Hall (Caroline Cushing) and Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar).


Tremors (1990, Ron Underwood)

Tremors is a unique film. Even with the derivative setting–the isolated desert town reminds of 1950s Universal sci-fi pictures–and whole “Jaws with giant worms” aspect, it’s a monster slash thriller slash comedy. It starts a comedy and ends one, with S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock’s script full of comedic dialogue, in addition to all the thriller elements. The attention to character is important, but the entire production is high on itself. From casting Michael Gross, who–at this point in his career–was singularly familiar as the “Family Ties” dad, as a survivalist to the ornate effects (the use of miniatures is incredibly well done), it’s certainly under appreciated (and I make this statement about a film popular enough on video to spawn a television series thirteen years after first release).

Wilson and Maddock’s script is economical–if it weren’t for director Underwood’s use of crane shots and the special effects, one would think Tremors was an independent production. The film runs a little over ninety minutes and I’d guess the monsters are hinted at, then revealed, then encountered in the first twenty. Maybe twenty-three. But in the same amount of time, the script introduces all of the film’s characters and establishes the rather important rapport between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. Bacon’s probably the lead (since he’s the one incompetently romancing Finn Carter to humorous effect), but Ward’s just as important. Their back and forth makes Tremors enjoyable.

The characters–not just Gross and Reba McEntire’s survivalists, but also Victor Wong’s store owner and Bobby Jacoby’s incredibly obnoxious teenager (the film never really addresses how Jacoby’s living on his own or where his parents are, which gets a little distracting on repeat viewings)–are all perfect. They’re fun to spend time with (Tremors is one of those Tarantino “hang out” movies).

Underwood keeps his camera moving a lot of the time, creating a frantic tone. The viewer and the characters discover things at the same pace and Underwood facilitates it well. In the quieter, static scenes, Underwood’s comedic touches come out. But he can also get in the grandiose landscape–Tremors occasionally feels like a Western, or at least like it’s supposed to feel a little like a Western. Cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski and composer Ernest Troost really help Underwood in making Tremors feel bigger than a lower budgeted, ninety minute monster movie. The film really draws the viewer in and holds him or her for the running time.

Tremors is a modern classic. It occurs to me the “modern classic” might not be based so much on box office gross or artistic import, but on rental returns. Tremors was a video hit. Strangely, DVD hits don’t produce “modern classics,” as Netflix has stamped out the communal video store atmosphere where film discovery could still occur.

But Tremors is a good film and it’s more important for its quality than its footnote in film history (even if it’s got one of the last PG-13 uses of the f-word).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, based on a story by Wilson, Maddock and Underwood; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Ernest Troost; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by Maddock and Wilson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Bacon (Valentine McKee), Fred Ward (Earl Bassett), Finn Carter (Rhonda LeBeck), Michael Gross (Burt Gummer), Reba McEntire (Heather Gummer), Bobby Jacoby (Melvin Plug), Charlotte Stewart (Nancy Sterngood), Tony Genaro (Miguel), Ariana Richards (Mindy Sterngood), Richard Marcus (Nestor), Victor Wong (Walter Chang), Sunshine Parker (Edgar), Michael Dan Wagner (Old Fred), Conrad Bachmann (Dr. Jim) and Bibi Besch (Megan).


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