Tag Archives: C-

FREQUENCY

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C-

Drector Gregory Hoblit seems to specialize in pulp trash
movies. Fortunately for him (and us), his first effort,
“Primal Fear,” was trash raised to a transcendent level by the
amazing debut performance of Edward Norton as the murder
suspect defended by Richard Gere. Hoblit’s sophomore feature,
“Fallen,” unhappily, was just “Omen”-derived trash unredeemed
by any special quality. Now he offers his third picture,
essentially a time-travel tale redolent of old “Twilight Zone”
episodes, and it proves to be more akin to “Fallen” than
to “Fear.”

“Frequency” is what you’d get by taking “Back to the Future”
and making it slow and schmaltzy. The foundation is an idea
Rod Serling might have wisely shelved: a down-on-his-luck
cop (Jim Caviezel) finds the ham radio once operated by his
late dad (Dennis Quaid), a fireman who was killed years before
in the line of duty, and gets it running again. By some
miracle, which we’re apparently meant to associate with the
occurrence of the aurora borealis at an unusually high level,
he makes contact with his father–and darned if pop doesn’t
happen to be broadcasting on the night immediately before his
scheduled death some thirty years earlier! After some jabber
and incredulity, our contemporary flatfoot manages to save
his father’s life, but–in one of the staples of the genre–
doing so “changes history,” and involves the decades-separated
duo in a rushed attempt to end the career of a serial murderer
from 1969 called “The Nightingale Killer.” And wouldn’t you
know that the wife-and-mother of our intrepid heroes just
happens to be in the medical services industry?

I won’t go into the complications which result from all this;
suffice it to say that a series of efforts are needed to
end the family drama so as to exclude any unhappy demises and
also to bring about a proper resolution to the serial-killer
subplot. The problem is that in order to work, this kind of
convoluted time-changing tale requires a script so tightly
constructed that it lends the story a sort of logical
inevitability (“Back to the Future” had it, which is what
made Robert Zemeckis’ flick such a satisfying hoot). As it
lurches from episode to episode, however, “Frequency” (written
by a fellow who just happens to be the president of the
production company’s music division–surely a coincidence as
great as any in the film) grows increasingly messy and
arbitrary. You’re left wondering why, if a change in history
alters one fact, it doesn’t alter a lot of others, too; and by
the frenzied denouement, when both father and son are
imperilled, the whole thing has ceased to make a great deal
of sense.

The cast doesn’t help matters much. Quaid is enthusiastic, but
his Queens accent is way overdone, while Caviezel plays the
whole film in a funk which makes him an awful bore. (It’s
not a benefit to the duo that they’re forced to do lots of
scenes hunched over their ham radio, yakking endlessly to
explain the contortions of the plot.) Andre Braugher, who
was so fine in TV’s “Homicide” (and fun in “Primal Fear,” too),
is compelled to wear much unconvincing makeup to play the
paunchy, middle-aged version of Quaid’s close buddy thirty
years later, when he’s the son’s partner. And Shawn Doyle,
as the serial killer, doesn’t begin to match Norton’s creepy
turn in “Fear.” (The horrible wig he wears in the 1969
sequences is an embarrassment, too.)

A few weeks ago we enjoyed John Cusack’s comedy “High
Fidelity.” Perhaps as a complement to that, we should think
of this shaggy-dog tale as “Low Frequency.” But whatever you
call it, it’s a seriously dumb and, to make matters worse,
unconscionably mawkish movie.

BLACK AND WHITE

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C-

Rumor has it that a good deal of James Toback’s new film was
improvised, and from the end result it certainly seems that way.
Not that “Black and White” is technically inept; it looks good,
and the cinematography is entirely professional. But in terms
of narrative and plot construction, the picture is messy and
ultimately pointless.

Toback’s script boasts entirely too many themes and too many
characters. At various times it’s about (1) white kids who
imitate gangsta culture, (2) a local hood who’s trying to break
into the music business, (3) a college basketball star who’s
enticed by an undercover cop into fixing a game and then set
up to betray an old friend, (4) a D.A. dad who’s bribed to
help his on-the-street son, who’s cajoled into committing a
murder, (5) two oddball documentary filmmakers (the wife is
straight, her hubby gay), and (6) Mike Tyson offering advice–
among a variety of other things. A formidable cast slips in
and out of these various interrelated plot threads, but there
seems to be little rhyme or reason behind their presence or
absence; figures who appeared to be central during the first
half-hour have virtually disappeared by the close, without any
explanation. One begins to wonder whether Toback wasn’t
emulating Ed Wood here, filming sporadic scenes with actors as
they might be available and then just editing in other stuff
when their story lines couldn’t be completed because they’d
moved on to other things. The outcome is a movie that wants
to be some sort of meaningful collage of incidents but seems
a chaotic grab-bag instead.

Under the circumstances none of the cast make much of an
impression. Power has some presence as mob leader Rich, but
his acting is generalized and his diction sloppy. Brooke
Shields and Robert Downey, Jr. are embarrassing as the camera
duo (the latter appearing to be in a perpetual drug haze),
while Joe Pantoliano registers briefly as the D.A. (Scott Caan,
however, overdoes things as his wayward son). The worst work
probably comes in the basketball-themed subplot. New York
Knicks player Allan Houston is awkward as the misled hoopster,
while Ben Stiller goes through a lot of stilted shtick as the
weird cop who entraps him; and Claudia Schiffer is so stiff
as the girlfriend whom, as it turns out, they both share that
she appears to be a mannequin.

Amazingly enough, the performer who comes off best is Mike
Tyson, who, in a brief cameo playing himself, tweaks his own
personality and past foibles (including his hitch in jail).
When, in response to a come-on, Tyson protests that he’s on
parole, it’s one of the few lines in the picture that strike
the viewer as both authentic and amusing.

If you do go to see “Black and White,” be advised that the
picture opens with a scene in Central Park involving Bijou
Phillips as a gangsta wannabe that’s very explicit and
unpleasant; but after that deliberately shocking introduction,
the picture becomes much more guarded and less offensive. The
trouble is that it diesn’t get a whole lot better in the
process.