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1.21.05

In Good Company Hotel Rwanda Are We There Yet? The Assassination of Richard Nixon Racing Stripes

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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In Good Company
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Can a corporate takeover be a religious experience? Not sure if it ever is in the real world, but for some of the characters in the world of In Good Company, it is.

Globecom has just taken over the magazine where 52-year-old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) heads the ad department, and a man half Dan’s age is taking his job and becoming his boss. So it’s definitely not a religious experience for Dan, especially when you consider that his wife has just informed him that’s she’s pregnant.

But for Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), the man who’s taking Dan’s job, this is a religious experience (at least in the beginning). He’s full of ideas (mostly wacky ones), and he’s just ecstatic that Teddy K. (Malcolm McDowell), Globecom’s leader, has entrusted him with the top ad slot.

Carter struts into the company wide-eyed and quite naïve about human nature and the ruthlessness of business. He reassures the old guard that things will be better, no one will be fired, and he sings the praises of Teddy K. like a choirboy singing the praises of Jesus.

But soon the trials of life press down on both main characters. Carter’s wife leaves him, and then he discovers that none of his inspirational speeches can prevent people from being fired. In the meantime, Dan learns he’s got to grin and bear the degradation and put loyalties to his old crew on a back burner, because his family depends on his checks, plus there’ll soon be a new Foreman to feed.

Screenwriter and director Paul Weitz brings a lot of humor and warmth to tale about managing life’s big changes and about the almost religious fervor that can exist in the management of some corporations. Some of the people in the company rave about an expected visit from Teddy K. like expectant disciples raving about the second coming of the Lord. Teddy K., the takeover king, is seen as the savior of his corporate victims (that’s the message his minions push anyway).

One of the most surprising facets of this film, however, is the beauty of the camera work. There are several long shots (one of Dan and his daughter in the foreground, for instance, with a long stretch of cityscape in the background) that serve as fitting visual reminds that the characters are very small compared to the forces they confront (such as, the corporation).

In Good Company does, however, glide over the surface of its subject matter and come to a halt right at the Hollywood ending, where most things work out for everyone’s good. But the ride is an entertaining one. (PG-13) Rating: 3


Hotel Rwanda
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The enormous human tragedy of the recent tsunami that claimed over 200,000 lives has generated an outpouring of generous assistance from around the world. The response has largely been due to the heavy news coverage of the disaster.

In 1994, genocide occurred in Rwanda and more than a million people were systematically murdered. Partly because of the lack of news coverage, the world stood by and did nothing.

That catastrophe is at the heart of Hotel Rwanda, the true story of a heroic hotel manager named Paul Rusesabagina. Amidst the horrors surrounding him, he quietly saved the lives of over 1,200 people.

The conflict in Rwanda was an ethnic one that pitted the Hutus against the Tutsis. (The film implies that the European colonialists are ultimately to blame for the bad blood between the two tribes.) With military might behind them, the majority Hutus took revenge against the minority Tutsis for years of perceived persecution.

Kansas City native Don Cheadle (Ocean’s 12) gives a riveting performance as Rusesabangina, a Hutu married to a Tutsi (Sophie Okonedo). Mild-mannered, tactful and discreet, he is ideal for his management job at Kigali’s ritzy Hotel Des Milles Collines, a remnant of the former Belgian regime.

The skills that made him a competent hotel manager are the same ones that he uses to save the lives of Tutsis fleeing the Hutu onslaught. After the United Nations troops (led by a colonel played by Nick Nolte) back off under orders not to interfere in this internal affair, the massacre comes to the doorstep of the hotel. Showing both strength of character and diplomatic savvy, Rusesabangina protects the hundreds who take refuge with him.

Writer/director Terry George (Some Mother’s Son) is a Northern Irish filmmaker, so he knows a thing or two about ethnic conflict. Most of his output as a screenwriter (In the Name of the Father, The Boxer) has to do with the clash between the Catholics and the Protestants. The animosity between the Rwandan tribes is something he can certainly relate to.

That empathy is evident as the film comments on the greater Rwandan tragedy while focusing on the particular experiences of Rusesabangina and his family.

Heartfelt and moving, Hotel Rwanda is both a strong movie and a potent commentary on the world community’s failure to respond. Like The Killing Fields, it is a timely reminder and a serious admonition that we surely deserve. (R) Rating: 4


Are We There Yet?
Reviewed by Deborah Young

When we first meet Nick Persons (Ice Cube), he’s just bought a shiny black Ford Navigator with a white interior, and he loves it. He cruises through the streets with his head high, a smile on his face, and his buddy, Satch (a Satchel Paige bobble head) on the dashboard. Everything seems to be going well for him. The evidence: He can afford the great ride. Plus, he owns a sports memorabilia shop, a business he seems to enjoy.

But that’s about all we learn about Nick, aside from the fact the he hates kids. We learn that early on when he has a run-in with two obnoxious young customers. Shortly after that, Suzanne (Nia Long) comes into the picture, and Nick decides he’s got to have her (even though she is, as he puts it, “a breeder” with two kids).

Unfortunately, we don’t get a chance to learn much about Suzanne either. We mostly see her in a series of accelerated scenes in which she’s getting in or out of the Navigator, with Nick carrying boxes for her or just simply opening or closing the door for her.

Are We There Yet? is not really about Nick or Suzanne, a relationship between them or even a relationship between Nick and Suzanne’s two children (Lindsey, played by Aleisha Allen, and Kevin, played by Philip Bolden). Instead, it’s a wacky road trip movie, one that’s on cruise control most of the time.

The children pull one prank after the other in an attempt to scare Nick out of the idea of dating their mother. In essence, it’s Problem Child times two. And these problem children aren’t endearing in the end, mostly because their roles seem to call more for caricatures of children than real kids.

Just like the courtship of Nick and Suzanne, the transformation of these children from hostile to caring happens at breakneck speed. One minute they hate Nick, the next they love him, and we only get superficial justifications for their actions.

But the worst part is that Are We There Yet? strays so far from reality that it’s just not funny most of the time. The best humor starts at reality and then drives to the outskirts of it. This film starts on the outer edge of reality and winds up in a mine-laden fairy tale. (PG) Rating: 1


The Assassination of Richard Nixon
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The Assassination of Richard Nixon wants very badly to be the Taxi Driver of the new millennium. The fact that it emulates it so much only points out its weaknesses.

“Inspired by a true story,” the film by first-time director Niels Muller (screenwriter of Tadpole) tells the tale of a disturbed loser, a man who sees the inequities of American society circa 1974 as the force responsible for his own failures.

Sean Penn stars as Samuel Bicke, a forlorn fellow separated from his wife (Naomi Watts) and unable to keep a job. His biggest problem seems to be self-delusion. He’s hell bent on making disappointment a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Chafing under any governance by authority, Bicke has alienated his wife and kids as well as his well-heeled brother, the owner of a tire store. His only friend is an African-American garage mechanic (Don Cheadle) he hopes eventually to go into business with. (He can relate to minorities. They, too, are underdogs.)

Working as a furniture salesman, Samuel perceives the sales tactics of his boss (Jack Thompson) as ethically repugnant. In his mind, his employer personifies all that is wrong with the world. The emphasis on money and all the mendacious scheming that takes place on the sales floor brings Samuel to the conclusion that he is morally superior. As such, he can’t possibly participate.

So, who is really to blame for all his misery? Naturally, it must be the corrupt capitalist system, so he feels impelled to cut the head off of the snake by killing the president.

Penn is terrific as usual, creating a believable, full-blown portrait of a psychopath. His Samuel is a man who would implode under any system. If he were in a socialist country, he’d find debilitating flaws with it, too. Thanks to his solid performance, the film has merit as a character study.

But Muller’s film seems to want to be more. The problem is, we’re never sure just what. Is it a social commentary, a lightly veiled attack on a corrupt system? Are Muller and co-screenwriter Kevin Kennedy drawing parallels between Samuel and Nixon himself? (This is an intriguing possibility, but if this is their intention, they haven’t fleshed it out adequately.)

That leaves us with Penn as the film’s sole attraction. His performance is good enough to help elevate The Assassination of Richard Nixon. Unlike its model, Taxi Driver, it lacks the narrative power to drive home its theme of alienation. (R) Rating: 3


Racing Stripes
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Just what is a “family film?” One would assume that such an enterprise would have elements that would appeal to all ages.

Racing Stripes is heavily promoting itself as a family film. Silly, sophomoric and utterly uninspired, it has nothing that would appeal to anyone over the age of six. Let’s call a spade a spade. This isn’t a family film. It’s a kiddie flick.

Racing Stripes wants desperately to be another Babe (yes, that film had enough charm to appeal to the entire family), but is simply desperate.

A live-action fantasy that, like Babe, features talking animals, Racing Stripes tells the tale of a zebra named Stripes (voiced by Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz) who is accidentally abandoned by a traveling circus and is raised by a former racehorse trainer and his spunky daughter.

Growing up next to thoroughbred ranch near a racetrack, Stripes believes he is a horse and wants to run with the other equines he sees during their daily workouts. Just as Babe was ridiculed for wanting to be a sheep dog, Stripes is taunted by most of the other horses. The only one who likes him is a filly named Sandy (Mandy Moore) who admires his spirit.

The gaggle of friends that decide to help Stripes train for a big race include Tucker the Shetland pony (Dustin Hoffman), Franny the nanny goat (Whoopi Goldberg), a pelican named Goose (Joe Pantoliano), Reggie the rooster (Jeff Foxworthy) and Lightning the hound dog (Snoop Dog).

Most egregiously annoying is a couple of wisecracking flies named Buzz (Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (David Spade). They exist to make jokes about farting and eating poop, the kind of humor most of us outgrew after kindergarten.

The human cast is wasted, including Bruce Greenwood and Hayden Panettiere as Stripes’ caretakers, Wendie Malick as a nasty racehorse owner and M. Emmet Walsh as a track bum.

Everything about Racing Stripes is forced. The humor (as it is) is trite, the sentiment is phony and the inspirational message is straight out of a bad Hallmark ad. None of this will matter to very young tots, of course, who may be entranced by the talking animals.

It took a committee to come up with the derivative script (David Schmidt, Steven P Wegner, Kirk De Micco and Fredrick Du Chau) and the direction by Du Chau (a cartoon helmer who gave us Quest for Camelot) is ham-fisted.

Heed this advice: Drop the kids off for this one. (G) Rating: 1; Posted 1/15/05


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