Teri Hatcher

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996, Phil Joanou)

I probably read Heaven’s Prisoners, the novel, about eighteen years ago; I don’t remember it. But I’m sure this adaptation is faithful to the events of the novel because this movie is a mess and there’s no good reason for it.

The novel can have space for a mystery and a character drama, but–at least under Joanou’s exceptionally bad direction–there’s no way the movie can have enough room. A decision needed to be made, whether they wanted to make a mystery, an alcoholism drama or a revenge thriller and no one seemed willing to make it. So instead of Heaven’s Prisoners, the film, succeeding, it fails.

It’s not a complete failure. Alec Baldwin is a problematic lead, but decent enough. Had he and nemesis Eric Roberts switched roles, the film would have been amazing, Joanou or not. Roberts is still great as a bad guy.

Also phenomenal–a word I rarely use–is Mary Stuart Masterson, who really gets the short end of the adaptation stick. In order to match the novel’s conclusion, the screenwriters fail her character. It really is one of the worst adaptations… the narrative structure, an abridging of the novel, is disastrous.

Bad acting from Kelly Lynch and laughably awful from Teri Hatcher make for painful scenes, but they don’t really do more damage than the direction.

Joanou somehow manages to suck the life out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s swamps, making them incredibly boring.

Inappropriate and bad music from George Fenton hurt it too.

It’s still worthwhile.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, based on the novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by William Steinkamp; music by George Fenton; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Leslie Greif, Andre Morgan and Albert S. Ruddy; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Dave Robicheaux), Kelly Lynch (Annie Robicheaux), Mary Stuart Masterson (Robin Gaddis), Eric Roberts (Bubba Rocque), Teri Hatcher (Claudette Rocque), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Minos P. Dautrieve), Badja Djola (Batist), Samantha Lagpacan (Alafair), Joe Viterelli (Didi Giancano), Tuck Milligan (Jerry Falgout), Hawthorne James (Victor Romero), Don Stark (Eddie Keats), Carl A. McGee (Toot) and Paul Guilfoyle (Det. Magelli).


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).


Resurrecting the Champ (2007, Rod Lurie)

The biggest problem with Resurrecting the Champ, besides Rod Lurie, is the Champ himself. Not Sam Jackson, who’s actually the least irritating he’s been since Loaded Weapon or so, but the character and his function in the film. At some point during the late second act, Champ is a decent movie about a guy growing up, realizing he’s got to take responsibility for his actions and realizing it isn’t going to be easy. If anyone can screw up an easy story like that one, it’s Rob Lurie, who demphasizes the finally (after the first ninety minutes) interesting relationship between estranged married couple Josh Hartnett and Kathryn Morris, who have a ludicrous backstory detailed in expository dialogue, but actually develop a rather tender relationship–albeit one centered around disappointment–by the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s a previously uninteresting aspect of the film made interesting, much like Hartnett’s actual journalistic pursuits. The scenes between him and Jackson, with the ominous something in their futures, are mostly okay. Boring, but okay. Jackson is doing an impression of an Oscar-hungry role here, shuffling around, not yelling, maybe not even swearing. The problem with his performance has little to do with the actual performance… he’s not believable as a former boxer. Especially not when there’s that constant, Lurie-friendly use of flashback. Lurie is the most overly melodramatic, goofily sentimental director working today–The Contender, The Last Castle, and now Resurrecting the Champ. He’s insincere, so much so, any viewer can tell.

None of these problems phase Hartnett, however, who turns in an excellent lead performance. Hartnett always shone in ensembles or as the sidekick, but Champ gives him a whole lot to do. The script’s obvious and mediocre, but Harnett’s acting is not. It might help Lurie managed to fill the cast with good actors (except Teri Hatcher, who under-stays her welcome by three seconds… any more and it’d have been intolerable). Except the film never works with it. Alan Alda is good as Hartnett’s boss and there’s some great stuff between them, but it’s hardly in there. Alda being the only one, besides Morris, who can tell Hartnett’s without content. By the end, filled with the lame friendship with Jackson and some convenient inner turmoil over his relationship with his father, Hartnett finally gets some really good scenes, those family scenes. Even if the kid playing he and Morris’s son is bland enough to be in a Mentos commercial.

As a visual director, Lurie actually isn’t terrible. There are some well-composed shots, maybe even thirty percent of them. Still, the film looks too crisp, like poorly lighted DV (did I mention Hatcher was terrible already?), and it’s real impersonal. The characters spend more time outside than they do in; the most effective scene at Hartnett and Morris’s house is in the backyard, when the age difference gets to play well into the story, instead of being vanity casting.

Lurie wrecks the film’s third act. The film’s actually in decent shape and he and the screenwriters go after it with a baseball bat. A lame voiceover (big shock from Lurie) almost undoes Harnett’s performance, but it can’t. It’s a great performance; it’s a shame it’s in such a lame film.

Oh, and the Peter Coyote scenes (Coyote’s in a ton of makeup) are great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Lurie; screenplay by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, from an article by J.R. Moehringer; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupe; production designer, Ken Rempel; produced by Brad Fischer, Marc Frydman, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Bob Yari; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Erik), Samuel L. Jackson (Champ), Kathryn Morris (Joyce), Alan Alda (Metz), David Paymer (Whitley), Rachel Nichols (Polly), Dakota Goyo (Teddy), Teri Hatcher (Flak), Ryan McDonald (Kenny), Harry J. Lennix (Satterfield Jr.) and Peter Coyote (Epstein).


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