Tag Archives: C-

DIANA

Despite an aristocratic pedigree—it’s about royalty, after all, and between them director Oliver Hirschbiegel and star Naomi Watts have rightly been nominated for lots of awards—“Diana” is rather tacky.

Not visually, of course: the locations are lovely, the interiors plush, and the costuming first-class all the way. Production designer Kave Quinn, art director Mark Raggett, set decorator Niamh Coulter and costume designer Julian Day have all done their jobs well, and their work has been set off attractively by cinematographer Rainer Klausmann.

Nor can one fault Watts. Though she doesn’t really resemble Diana very much, she gets the voice and mannerisms right in a turn that one might compare to Helena Bonham Carter’s as Liz Taylor in BBC America’s “Elizabeth and Richard.” Neither seems the best choice, but each does remarkably well under the circumstances.

No, the basic problem lies in the script, fashioned by Stephen Jeffreys from Kate Snell’s 2001 book “Diana: Her Last Love,” which depicts a two-year affair between the princess and Hasmat Khan, a Pakistani-British surgeon, which began in 1995 and ended shortly before her death in 1997. In this telling, Diana’s short involvement with Dodi Fayed was little more than a rather sordid attempt to make Khan jealous in order to overcome his reluctance to commit to marriage with her, largely because he couldn’t cope with the damage wedding such a very public person would do to his medical career (and to the privacy of his extended family back in Lahore).

Perhaps a trenchant story of a woman scorned by her husband who seeks romance elsewhere could be fashioned from this basic material, but Jeffreys has turned it into a “poor little rich girl” tale with Diana portrayed as a naïve, needy young woman hurt by estrangement from her husband, limited access to her children, William and Harry, and public criticism but buoyed by attention given to her charitable activities, especially her campaign to outlaw land mines. Her

Most of the attention is devoted, however, to her relationship with Khan (Naveen Andrews), whom she meets “cute” during a visit to his hospital to visit the ill husband of her confidante Oonah Shanley-Toffolo (Geraldine James). Soon they’re a secret item, with him sneaking into her residence for dinner and her donning a black wig to go out to a jazz club with him. Unfortunately, Andrews proves a stiff presence as the man the royal guards at the residence get very familiar with, and the dialogue Jeffreys provides for his scenes with Watts—presumably created out of whole cloth—Is so forced and banal that it sounds as though it had been written for a 1940s melodrama.

Though it sounds a bit cruel to say so, the film that “Diana” might remind you most of is Anthony Asquith’s 1960 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess,” with Sophia Loren a wealthy but unhappy heiress romancing an Indian doctor, played by Peter Sellers with a thick accent. Of course, in that case the picture was intended to be a comedy. This one is likely, because of its heavy-handedness, to provoke snickers inadvertently.

A humorous song that Sellers and Loren recorded to promote their picture bears a title that could well represent a proper reaction to this one. It was “Goodness gracious me!”

RUNNER RUNNER

Like his previous film “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Brad Furman’s latest is a piece of lurid pulp. But the Matthew McConaughey picture was clever and fun; “Runner Runner” isn’t. Partially that’s because it’s so reminiscent of the Jim Sturgess-Kevin Spacey casino-based thriller “21.” In fact, the similarity to “21” is so striking that it should really be titled “Rerunner Rerunner.” But that’s only the start of its problems.

Here Justin Timberlake, seeming a bit more at ease in front of the camera than he has in the past, plays Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student who, like the MIT undergrad Sturgess played, is strapped for tuition money. (He was once a Wall Street highflyer, but was a casualty of the 2008 meltdown.) His solution is to raise the cash by acting as an agent for on-line gambling sites (precisely how is never explained), which we’re told in a jumbled credit montage are increasingly popular on campus, but the scheme is quashed by the crusty old dean. Desperate Richie decides to try turning his remaining seventeen grand into big bucks by playing poker online himself, but he loses it all and, with the help of his math buddies, proves that the site cheated him.

Armed with the evidence, Richie doesn’t go to the cops but rather to Costa Rica, where the website’s founder Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) lives the life of Riley away from the tentacles of the federal government, bribing local officials to host him and his glitzy crew. Naïve Richie not only believes Block’s protestations that a few bad apples—since fired—were responsible for his loss, but is seduced by Ivan’s offer of a job as his aide-de-camp that will quickly bring him an eight-figure salary.

Soon Richie’s living the high life too, though threats from a hot-dog FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) who wants to turn him into an informant against Block cause him concern. In time, though, he comes to realize that Ivan’s a cold, calculating guy with a decidedly malevolent streak; rather than a misunderstood businessman, he’s knee-deep in bribery, strong-arm tactics and a willingness to sacrifice others to promote his own interests. The only question is whether Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), Block’s right-hand lady, is on the level when she takes a liking to Richie or is just a spy for the boss.

It turns out, of course, that Block is manipulating Richie for his own very nefarious purposes, just as Kevin Spacey did Sturgess in “21,” and the poor boy has to find a way out of the mess he’s gotten himself into—something made more difficult when Ivan gets the lad’s father (John Heard, looking convincingly dissolute) under his thumb. The last reel offers some contrived twists to end things on the proper fictional note of punishment for the guilty and exoneration of the relatively innocent.

But that Sting-like denouement symbolizes a basic problem with the entire movie: though it belabors some crushingly obvious points about the plan Furst concocts to save himself, overall it’s not successful in explaining how it all goes down. Similar blank spots occur throughout. We’re told that Block is scamming his customers, for instance, but it’s never made clear precisely how, except that he’s running a “Ponzi Scheme”—a phrase that’s basically a verbal MacGuffin. It probably would have been laborious to lay out how his operation actually works—after all, the details of the operation to beat the casino in “21” were rather exhausting—but surely we could have been given a better understanding of the process.

Moreover, though there are lots of supposed surprises in “Runner Runner” and plenty of characters involved in them, in the last analysis the plot isn’t much smarter than Richie is. It’s just a tale of an eager but immature fellow who’s taken in by an ostentatiously bad guy but then turns the tables on him. One longs for some of the cunning of “The Lincoln Lawyer,” but it never comes; the script just follows an inordinately predictable course to close just as you knew it would.

It doesn’t help matters that one of the leads is so lightweight. Timberlake evinces energy, but he remains a bland fellow, his reactions showing little depth. Affleck is a lot more fun, racing through Block’s rants with a cynical smirk and a gleam in his eye, and he certainly makes the character the sort of creep you can love to hate. But Arterton is given little to do but look pretty—which she does easily enough—while Mackey’s flamboyance doesn’t conceal the hollowness of the agent he’s playing. Nobody in the supporting cast, save for Heard, makes much of an impression.

But Puerto Rico does, standing in for Costa Rica and photographed by Mauro Fiore to look alternately alluring and threatening. (One can understand why Costa Rica itself would have demurred at hosting the production, since it’s portrayed as a seedbed of corruption and violence.) The remaining technical contributions are okay but unexceptional, with Jeff McEvoy’s editing sometimes going lax, and Chrisophe Beck’s score is nondescript.

The result is a picture one should run from, not toward.