Category Archives: Archived Movies

HANGING UP






The telephonic-themed title of Diane Keaton’s incredibly
irritating new comedy-drama makes it quite fair for one to
describe it as the cinematic equivalent of one of those calls
from a telemarker who interrupts your dinner and then won’t
take no for an answer. Shrill, sappy and sadly sitcomish,
“Hanging Up” works overtime to extract smiles and tears from
its viewers but achieves only groans and snores.

Loosely based, it would appear, on the family background of
screenwriters Delia and Nora Ephron (and on the former’s
book), the script centers on three sisters (Meg Ryan, Lisa
Kudrow and Diane Keaton) who must come to terms with the
illness of their increasingly demented (and, as flashbacks
make abundantly clear, alcoholic) father (Walter Matthau). The
sibling most directly affected is Ryan, who’s on site and must
simultaneously deal with the hospitalized old man while trying
to juggle her catering job and the needs of her family; the
other daughters, the one an actress and the other a glamorous
magazine publisher, are more distant, detached, and self-
absorbed, and communicate with the increasingly flustered Ryan
by omnipresent cell phone until they all get together for
sisterly arguments and the inevitable hugs at the end.

There may be a market for this alternately annoying and cutesy
bit of phoniness with a few viewers, but most will find it
barely tolerable. Ryan gives one of her worst performances as
put-upon Eve Marks, turning the poor woman into a twittering,
sad-sack caricature. Kudrow glides smoothly if unremarkably
through her portrayal of shallow Maddy, while Keaton seems
sadly in tune with the role of the coldly driven Georgia.
Matthau chews up the scenery as the supposedly lovable
curmudgeon Lou Mozell, who comes across as a fellow who thinks
he’s doing a perpetual Shriner’s Club roast. Adam Arkin and
Jesse James, by contrast, are nicely restrained as Ryan’s
long-suffering husband and son, and Duke Moosekian does a
pleasant turn as a physician whose car Ryan crashes into (the
“revelatory” sequence in which the doc’s mother, played by
Ann Bartolotti, advises Ryan to distance herself from her
troubles is, however, crushingly obvious and saccharine).

Maybe writing “Hanging Up” had some therapeutic value for the
Ephron sisters, but if so they might have had the good sense
to keep it to themselves and not inflict the piece on a hapless
cast and an unsuspecting audience. One can always say that
the proper response to the picture is Walking Out, but it
would be better to have a kind of cinematic Caller-ID system
in place, so that one would be warned not to answer its call
in the first place.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

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Subtlety may be scarce but laughs are plentiful in this
romantic farce about a mob hitman (Bruce Willis), newly
released from jail after turning state’s evidence against a
Chicago boss, whose relocation to Montreal has a decided
impact on the life of his nervous new neighbor, a dentist
(Matthew Perry). Before long the complicated plot has come to
involve the men’s respective wives (Rosanna Arquette and
Natasha Henstridge), the incarcerated boss’s son (Kevin Pollak)
and his beefy enforcer (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Perry’s
gregarious secretary (Amanda Peet).

Mitchell Kapner’s script is pleasantly convoluted, often
managing to capture the same sort of deadpan hilarity that
marks a film like Andrew Bergman’s “The In-Laws.” It does,
to be sure, lose some of its steam in the last twenty minutes
or so, when the desire to pile surprise upon surprise and tie
everything together in a happy conclusion goes to excess. But
it benefits from a cast working at the top of its form.
Willis’ smug smirkiness is perfect for the smooth, unruffled
ex-con, and Henstridge manages to catch a bit of Grace
Kelly’s cool sultriness as the spouse who has reason to fear
him. Duncan, freed from the saintly persona he was forced to
adopt in “The Green Mile,” is loose and charming as big Frankie
Figs, and Peet winning as a dental assistant with a strange
career objective. Even more amusing are Arquette and Pollak,
both of whom adopt marvelously absurd accents (hers
agonizingly French and his supposedly Hungarian) to give their
dialogue a genuinely funny twist. Pollak, in particular,
generates an unconscionable number of chuckles by simply
pronouncing “j” as “y” and happily inverting all his “v’s” and
“w’s.”

The real star of the movie, however, is Perry, whose earlier
attempts to move from “Friends” to the big screen (“Almost
Heroes,” “Fools Rush In,” “Three to Tango”) were miserable
failures. Here his sad-sack persona and hangdog charm are
wonderfully apt, and his considerable penchant for heavy
slapstick is perfectly utilized. If he finds material as good
as this in the future, he may become one of the rare TV
performers to make a really successful transition to features.

Of course, in the final analysis Perry must share the credit
with not only Kapner and his able co-stars, but also director
Jonathan Lynn. The co-creator of what might well have been
the best television series of all time–the BBC’s “Yes,
Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”–has had a checkered
cinematic career, most recently afflicted by such bombs as
“Sgt. Bilko” and “Trial and Error.” But with “The Whole Nine
Yards” he recaptures the knack for putting across broad humor
with a nimble touch that he exhibited in the 1992 smash “My
Cousin Vinnie.” It’s a return to form that one can only hope
will carry over into his future efforts.