All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

HELD UP






A skunk is featured in one of the sequences of this vehicle for
TV comic Jamie Foxx. It’s not a prominent part, but the little
critter’s influence can be felt throughout this stinker, a
stillborn, stagebound piece about a hip Chicago dude who gets
stranded at an isolated Arizona convenience store and becomes
a hostage during a failed robbery attempt. Most of the picture
is a tediously claustrophobic account of the supposedly comic
siege of the place by a lovably redneck sheriff (Barry Corbin)
and his hapless deputies (one of whom is a surprisingly
restrained Jake Busey); we’re supposed to chortle over Foxx’s
antic interaction with the gunman (Eduardo Yanez) as well as
with the other hostages–the store owner (John Cullum), a
stoic biker (Michael Shamus Wiles), and a local bride-to-be
(Sarah Paulson), but even the comedian’s most frantic efforts
can’t salvage the flimsy material. Toward the close the
script turns sentimental and sappy as the would-be robber’s
motives are revealed (leading to a “Russians Are Coming” sort
of happy denouement) and Foxx must rush to catch up with the
fiance (Nia Long) who’d abandoned him at the store in response
to his fiscally irresponsible ways.

Foxx is certainly an amiable presence, and his frentic, wise-
cracking persona could become a real hit on the big screen. But
“Held Up” provides him with little beyond a set-up; it’s
conceivable that something amusing could have been whipped up
around the notion of a small-town hostage crisis in which an
out-of-his-element city dude was involved, but the episodes
concocted by Jeff Eastin here are so limp and stale that the
performers appear to have been forced into desperate and
decidedly unfunny improvisation. To make matters worse, Steve
Rash’s direction lets everything plod on sluggishly; despite
occasional bursts of gunfire, the air of laid-back placidity
makes the whole film overwhelmingly soporific.

Fans of “Northern Exposure” might find it pleasant to see
Barry Corbin and John Cullum together again, but while both
men try to add a bit of the old series’ whimsy to their roles,
it’s a losing battle. It might be Foxx who’s the hostage in
“Held Up,” but by the time the static, feeble movie crawls to a
close it’s the audience that will feel trapped.

SCREWED






What sort of filmmakers could possibly think it a good idea
to title their picture “Screwed”? Don’t they realize the
critical comments they’re inviting?

In this instance, the perpetrators are Scott Alexander and
Larry Karaszewski, an intermittently successful writing duo
(they penned the excellent “Ed Wood” and “The People vs. Larry
Flynt,” but also the first two “Problem Child” pictures and
“Man in the Moon”) who are here taking a first stab at co-
directing, too. The result is an abysmally painful “wacky”
comedy about a put-upon butler (Norm MacDonald) who, with the
doubtful assistance of an inept buddy (David Chappelle), tries
to kidnap the pooch beloved of his grumpy old employer (Elaine
Stritch); when that fails, however, he pretends to have been
snatched himself, leading to all sorts of complications as the
cops get involved, the bumbling pair recruits a mortuary worker
(Danny DeVito, back in Full Penguin Mode) to provide a body
they can pass off as MacDonald’s, and Stritch’s corporate
underlings (Sherman Hemsley and Malcolm Stewart) seek to turn
the situation to their own corrupt benefit.

Obviously the intent was to fashion a wild, anarchically
amusing sort of farce, but nothing works. The situations pile
up chaotically, without the inner logic needed for an amusingly
complicated comedic situation to develop, and the cast
abandons every hint of subtlety in a futile attempt to generate
a few laughs. It’s hardly surprising that MacDonald and
Chappelle resort to such rabid hamminess, but it’s depressing
to see old pros DeVito, Stritch and Hemsley deliver shrill,
bug-eyed performances that are instantly irritating. (It’s
cruel, incidentally, to force the audience to observe both
Stritch and Hemsley in various states of undress at this
advanced stage of their careers.)

“Screwed” is also tonally way off, with surprisingly unpleasant
bursts of violence periodically punctuating the supposedly
comic antics. When one watches as gushes of MacDonald’s
blood splatter over walls when Stritch’s dog bites into his
hand during the initial kidnapping, the effect is about as far
from funny as one could imagine; it’s positively revolting.

Given the miserable quality of the picture, it’s hardly
surprising that the turkey’s been sitting on a studio shelf
for a couple of years; and as is usual in such cases, it’s
only gotten more fetid with age. There are signs that someone
tinkered with it prior to release–chunks of necessary
exposition (especially material related to MacDonald’s
girlfriend Sarah Silverman, who pops up without without being
introduced and then reappears without rhyme or reason
thereafter) are lacking, presumably lopped off by the blade
of some editor. Under normal circumstances one might grumble
that the attenuation impedes the coherence of the story, but
in this case it’s what’s been allowed to remain that’s a valid
cause for complaint; surely no one will want any more of
“Screwed.”