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.

SHANE WEST ON “WHATEVER IT TAKES”

Shane West, the young co-star of ABC-TV’s new dramatic hit “Once and Again,” makes his lead feature debut in the new teen romantic comedy “Whatever It Takes.” He plays Ryan Woodman, a high school senior who, in a plot reminiscent of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” helps campus jock Chris (James Franco) get a date with his best friend Maggie (Marla Sokoloff) in return for Chris’ help in setting him up with the girl of his dreams, luscious Ashley (Jodi Lyn O’Okeefe). The story may suggest lots of other previous pictures in the same genre, but in a recent Dallas interview West said he had brought a bit of personal history to what might be dismissed as a formula role.
“From sixth to tenth grade,” West said, “I was very much like Ryan. I had a couple of friends, and I would always dream about being with the most attractive girl in the school, and my world was comic books and professional wrestling. I was very shy.” Things changed only at the end of junior high. “As a senior at the end of tenth grade, I finally started weariung looser clothes and let my hair go,” West recalled. “And a senior girl got a crush on me. All she did was think I was cute, but–how ironic high school can be–it spread all over, and then all of a sudden I was thrown into the popular crowd, whether I wanted to be or not. So it was kind of similar to the movie.”
But also like Ryan–and one’s hardly spoiling the end of the picture by writing this–West realized that his real friends were his old friends, not the “popular people” who gravitated toward him for a while. “Whatever It Takes” isn’t West’s first film–he had a small part in Barry Levenson’s “Liberty Heights”–but it does represent an important stage in his career’s upward spiral. Born in Baton Rouge, the actor recalled that it wasn’t until fairly late that he began acting, largely as a result of seeing friends do it. “I was really trying to find out something to do with my life,” he said. “I was sixteen years old. So I got into it [acting] kind of as ‘something to do.’ But I wanted to succeed at it. And it took me two-and-a-half years to get a single part–not even a commercial. And so it was very tough, kind of depressing. But it made me more interested in the business, made me want to succeed even more, to prove the critics wrong. So finally it became a career choice.” 
West’s big break came in a Los Angeles stage production of “The Cider House Rules,” in which he played Angel for some five months. There were also roles on such TV series as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Sliders,” and “Picket Fences.” Finally he was cast in the pilot of “Once and Again,” but before the show was picked up, the chance to make “Whatever It Takes” offered itself.
“It was eight weeks of crazy, non-stop humor,” West said of the film’s shoot. “So how coul you not like it? The whole ‘Whatever It Takes’ experience was really kind of a dream. I’d never been a lead in anything.” And the fact that Sokoloff (or TV’s “The Practice’), already a friend, secured the distaff lead, while his own roommate Aaron Paul
was eventually cast as Ryan’s flaky best buddy, was an added bonus. “It was a dream come true.” While the film was shooting, “Once and Again” was picked up for the ABC schedule, and two days after finishing “Whatever It Takes,” West began work on the season’s episodes. The series has thrived first on Tuesday and then Monday nights, and the young star says, “I’m very thankful to be in the show.”
But a successful series won’t stop West from making more movies–though not, he thinks, a raft of teen comedies. “It’s not something I really want to do,” he explained. “When you’re thinking more career-wise, you can’t keep doing the same thing. People will like you, and they’ll remember you, but they’ll remember you for about three years, and then you may have come and gone…. So right now I’m looking for sort of edgier roles and some more offbeat movies.” 
So while adolescent girls can enjoy Shane West in “Whatever It Takes” for the moment, we can expect to see him next on the big screen in one or more of the smaller, independent films that he’s currently eyeing to shoot during the series hiatus which begins in April. And although “Once and Again” hasn’t yet been officially picked up by the network for next year, its critical and ratings success suggests that viewers will continue to be able to watch him on the tube, too.

THE CLOSER YOU GET

D

Basically an overage “Porky’s” with a brogue, this wan and
wearying Irish comedy–about a brood of bachelors in a coastal
village who use newspaper advertisements to invite American
girls to come to their town, only to realize in consequence
the attractions of the local lasses–suffers from a terminal
case of the cutes. Crushingly obvious and singularly charmless,
it resembles nothing more than a raunchy American teen comedy,
except that it focuses on older characters and is set on the
other side of the Atlantic. (A colleague of mine remarked
quite justly that it perhaps should have been titled “Shepherd’s
Pie” in imitation of last year’s surprise stateside hit, and
it’s remarkable that the youngest male among the Irish
advertisers, Sean McDonagh, looks strikingly like our “Pie’s”
Jason Biggs.)

Almost everything about “The Closer You Get” irritates. The
main figures are pretty much buffoons, caricatures lacking
any sense of reality. (All these Irish lads, for example,
seem to do little at night but drink.) The local priest is
portrayed as an absurdly inept and shallow fellow. The women
seem to feel no hope for fulfillment except in marriage. And
after dealing in smarmy sexual innuendo for eighty minutes, the
picture switches in its last ten to a tone of sentiment that’s
rank in both senses of the term. Even the pretty locale makes
little impression because the cinematography is so amateurish.

Since the cast is composed of unknowns, one need not go into
their work too deeply, save to note that they strive frantically
but unsuccessfully to breathe some life into William Ivory’s
feeble script. But while there’s an inclination to give some
slack to a picture like this, which seems good-hearted enough
(and is opening on St. Patty’s Day to boot), it’s doubtful
that any comedy, whether domestic or imported, that tries to
get laughs by having one of its lead characters (in this case,
a hormone-driven butcher played by Ian Hart) periodically
scratch his crotch is likely to be eagerly embraced by anyone
but viewers who are adolescent intellectually, if not
chronologically.