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.

JUMP TOMORROW

C

It’s natural to be a bit more tolerant of small, independent films than of big-budget Hollywood productions: when filmmakers are working with fewer resources, there’s a tendency to assess the result of their efforts more leniently. Nonetheless in a spirit of critical balance one has to point out that if Joel Hopkins’ debut feature, a romantic comedy, were a summer studio release, it would be dismissed rather quickly as insufferably formulaic and overly precious. It’s just that old bit of fluff about a straightlaced guy, about to be married, who finally learns to loosen up when he encounters the girl who’s obviously meant for him. In this case, the hero is a rigidly controlled Nigerian immigrant who goes through a series of adventures on the road that persuade him to decline an arranged marriage and go after a vivacious Spanish girl he accidentally meets. Since it’s a low-budget flick made on a wing and a prayer, some will be generous to a fault and embrace it far more enthusiastically than it deserves. But honesty compels one to admit that while “Jump Tomorrow” has moments of charm, a few good lines and some attractive performers, its calculated quirkiness is wearisome, and it ends up feeling as limp and tired as “What Women Want.”

The picture, an expansion of a student film Hopkins made at NYU, stars Tunde Adebimpe as George, a ramrod-straight, suit-and-tie guy we meet as he prepares to greet his intended, who’s flying into the Buffalo airport. Our hero’s miscalculated, though: she actually arrived earlier and went on alone to Niagara, where they’re to be wed in a couple of days. At the terminal, however, George bumps into Alicia (Natalia Verbecke), who invites him to a party she and her fianc√© are hosting that night, and Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot), a highly emotional Frenchman whose marriage proposal has just been rejected by his girlfriend. George and Gerard are soon a team; they attend Alicia’s party together, and when Gerard insists on driving George to his wedding, they coincidentally pick up the hitchhiking Alicia and her beau, an arrogant Englishman named Nathan (James Whitby). Gerard, who finds Nathan a provincial boor, decides that George and Alicia are clearly meant for one another, and when they stop over at the girl’s homestead, her widowed mother Consuela (Patricia Mauceri) and grandfather get the same idea. (The widow, meanwhile, takes a liking to Gerard, a feeling that’s reciprocated.) The big question is whether George can break out of his highly structured role, reject the arranged marriage and win Alicia for himself. The outcome is not greatly in doubt.

There are serious problems with “Jump Tomorrow.” Apart from having a predictable trajectory, the script lays on the oddness too thick; some of the sequences in the first half-hour, in particular, go for an almost surrealistic mood that’s briefly intriguing but ultimately distracting, and most of the business set at Consuela’s is so determinedly cute and colorful that it almost falls into parody. (The device of George’s repeatedly fantasizing about himself as the hero in a Latin TV novella is also more than a bit broad.) Some of the characters are overdrawn (with Gerard and Alicia’s grandfaher the worst offenders), and Hopkins’ direction veers from self-consciously arty to simply flat; the last twenty minutes of the picture meander along haphazardly. (The idea was probably to mirror George’s gradual loosening up in the picture’s style, but while the notion’s a good one, the execution is flaccid.) Still, the actors breathe life into the piece, especially on the occasions when the writing is brighter than usual. Adebimpe shows real nuance in portraying George’s transformation, and Verbeke makes an engaging foil for him. Girardot is exaggeratedly exuberant as Gerard, but doesn’t become insufferable, and Wilby manages to make Nathan less one-dimensional than the script would have him. Technically the film is mediocre at best, but it does attempt to use color and composition imaginatively, even if the result doesn’t match the ambition.

Hopkins’ movie isn’t really preferable to most of the contrived, cutesy romantic comedies Hollywood churns out with depressing regularity, but at least it’s more modest than they are. That’s not saying much in its favor, but it’s something. Otherwise, this “Jump” is more like a stumble.

EVERYBODY’S FAMOUS (IEDEREEN BEROEMD!)

D

It’s frightening to think that Dominique Deruddere’s feeble fable was one of the pictures nominated for the best foreign-language film Oscar this year. The Flemish offering is a wafer- thin comedy about a father who will resort to anything–even kidnapping and blackmail–to get his daughter a shot at a singing career, and its combination of overwrought humor and sappiness is painful to watch.

One shouldn’t blame the filmmakers too much, though. “Everybody’s Famous” is merely the latest example of how wrong things can go when Europeans try to emulate the junkiest of Hollywood models. Deruddere has obviously studied American formulas in constructing his picture, and the result is that it represents the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, it’s meretricious and heavy-handed rather than authentic or astute (that’s the Hollywood contribution), and on the other it’s grubby and unkempt, without the slickness of our California product. It’s a double chore to sit through.

The central character is Jean (Josse De Pauw), a factory worker who conceives of himself as a tunesmith and his overweight daughter Marva (Eva van der Gucht) as a potential pop-music sensation. Over the protests of the unhappy girl and his wife Chantal (Gert Portael), Jean insists on entering Marva in grisly amateur shows in which she’s repeatedly humiliated. Then, after losing his job, our hero is presented with an opportunity to kidnap local TV star Debbie (Thekla Reuten). Enlisting a rather simple-minded co-worker named Willy (Werner De Smedt) to guard the captive, Jean blackmails her manager Michael (Victor Low) to write a song based on a melody he’s invented and then turn it into a smash sung by Marva. The big finale has lots of complications, including a predictable turn involving Debbie and Willy, a police raid and an unlikely triumph.

This silly scenario might have worked as a dark satire along the lines of Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” but Deruddere treats it as a charming fairy-tale, eschewing any edge or irony. The result is disastrous in virtually every respect. De Pauw turns Jean into a frenzied simpleton, but never makes him remotely likable. To make matters worse, Van der Gucht plays Marva as a self-absorbed, surly young girl, and it’s pretty much impossible to root for her even when she turns to sweetness and light at the end. (Her voice isn’t terribly good, either, and the supposed hit song she’s forced to sing over and over again is torturously bad.) Of the remaining cast members, only Reuten and De Smedt make much of an impression; they’re attractive, winning personalities, though they aren’t given much to do. In depicting the Belgian programs on which the singers are featured, however, the picture does provide one salutary lesson for American viewers: if these wretched “Star Search” clones are actually characteristic of television across the Atlantic, we have little reason to complain about what’s on the tube over here.

Thee’s one further point. “Everybody’s Famous” is bad, but its slavish adherence to American formula almost assures that eventually an English-language remake will follow, and it’s a virtually certainty that it will be even worse. One can already envision Robin Williams or Tim Allen maniacally kidnapping Britney Spears and turning her over to Ben Stiller while he blackmails oily Greg Kinnear; some newly-discovered ingenue, a contemporary equivalent of what Ann-Margret was back in 1963, will be chosen in a phony nationwide search to play the daughter; and the music will be inferior to that featured in “Josie and the Pussycats,” but will be portrayed as blowing the audience away through rotation on MTV (surely the inevitable Kurt Loder will be hired to do fake announcements of the girl’s rise to stardom). Some hack will direct. The picture will bomb, and the studio honchos won’t be able to understand why.

But all these horrors lie in the future. For now we need suffer only from the Flemish original. Despite the fact that it’s a stage father who’s the central character in “Everybody’s Famous,” this pathetic shaggy-dog tale is a picture only a mother could love.