Tag Archives: C

THE MAN WHO COPIED (O HOMEM QUE COPIAVA)

A heavy dose of whimsy is mixed with some effortful social commentary and misguided caper shenanigans in this Brazilian film by Jorge Furtado. “The Man Who Copied” benefits from an amusingly deadpan lead performance by Lazaro Ramos as a lovesick photocopy machine operator who tries his hand at counterfeiting in order to connect with the girl he admires from afar–with the obligatory disastrous results–but the script’s shifts of tone are never smoothly melded, and the lethargic pacing drags the story out mercilessly.

Ramos plays Andre, who–in what’s becoming an increasingly annoying crutch for filmmakers–narrates his life at such inordinate length, especially early on in the picture, that the movie threatens to become an audiobook with illustrations. Andre, who lives with his TV-addicted mother in a small flat in Porto Alegre, barely makes ends meet with his menial job, and when he becomes obsessed with a neighbor girl (whom he spies on with binoculars from his window across the street), he wants to impress her by purchasing something from her at the store where she works. Unfortunately, he’s nearly broke, so he uses the copying machine on a banknote and then goes through a convoluted process to lauder it and spend the real bill he’s exchanged it for. But that’s just the beginning salvo in a plot that eventually takes turns into a botched bank robbery, a most unlikely victory in the national lottery, a confrontation with a drug dealer, and a convoluted scheme to take revenge on a blackmailer who also happens to be a sexual pervert. As the more serious elements of the tale take over, the writer-director attempts to maintain a comic air, though it becomes increasingly dark and macabre. But by the time people are getting shot and lured to their deaths, you may find it more and more difficult to laugh at the proceedings. (“Charade” this is not.)

There are some elements in the film that have an engaging effect. One is the occasional use of animation (Andre being an amateur cartoonist), and another is the eclectic score, which employs classical music as well as popular tunes to complement the action. And even as the story goes south, Ramos–as laid-back and phlegmatic here as he was over-the-top in “Madame Sata”–holds the screen nicely. His co-stars–Leandra Leal as romantic interest Silvia, Pedro Cardoso as a buddy with a larcenous streak, and Luana Piovani as Andre’s sexpot co-worker–provide solid support.

But in the final analysis Furtado’s film is just too clumsily structured and lackadaisically paced to make the grade.

FEVER PITCH

The Boston Red Sox’s curse-breaking, World Series-winning 2004 season is the backdrop to a lightweight romantic comedy in “Fever Pitch,” the latest attempt by the directing team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly to move from the rowdy farces their names were synonymous with–“There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber,” and their ilk–to sweeter fare like “Me, Myself and Irene,” “Shallow Hal” and “Stuck on You.” It’s the tale of Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon), a high school math teacher who’s also a fanatical Sox supporter, having inherited season tickets near the dugout from the uncle who introduced him to the game and become part of a little family of devoted fans that attend every possible game and cheer the team on, despite the many disappointments the team has inflicted on them over the years. In the winter off season, Ben meets (cutely, of course, when he takes some of his students to visit her office) Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a driven business consultant with a math background. Though Ben’s hardly adept at the dating scene, he makes a halting approach to Lindsey, and, prodded by her girlfriends, she responds favorably. (You have to wonder at the need for outside encouragement, since a bright girl like Meeks would certainly have realized from Ben’s surname alone that he’s the right man for her.) After a disastrous first date (she has food poisoning, and he spends the evening caring for her, even cleaning up the mess she’s made in the bathroom), they become an item, even though one of her friends wonders why such a pleasant, likable guy is still on the shelf at his age.

The answer comes with the opening of spring training, when Ben takes off to Florida on his teaching break, and exhibits himself on ESPN as a wild-eyed fan of the sort that Lindsey’s dad Doug (James B. Sikking) dismisses as a jerk–though the term he uses is far earthier. (You might consider what happens an elaboration of the old song from “Damn Yankees”–“Six Months Out of Every Year”–except here the relationship problems occur before marriage rather than after it.) When the season proper begins, moreover, Ben tries to bring her girlfriend into his coterie with mixed results–especially since she’s overburdened with work she hopes will get her an important promotion (a project that will bring her into contact with a handsome agency customer played by Andrew Wilson). The conflict between their extraneous passions–hers for advancement, his for the team–naturally endangers the mutual passion they feel for one another, especially when her job offers them a trip to Paris that he demurs to take because it would conflict with an important game and she thinks she might be pregnant. Can each make the sort of compromises that will save their relationship? Don’t bet against it; this is a Hollywood movie, after all.

“Fever Pitch” is co-produced by Barrymore, and it tries to give approximately equal time to both sides of the romantic equation. But the fact of the matter is that it’s based on a book–or, more accurately, a part of a book–by British novelist Nick Hornby, the same part than Hornby used as the basis for an earlier movie of this title from 1997, which featured Colin Firth as a big soccer fan. (The credits identify the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel as based on the book alone, but its dependence on Hornby’s previous adaptation is obvious.) And the pervasive theme of Hornby’s writing puts the emphasis on the male partner: all of his works are essentially about immature man-boys, stuck in some sort of obsessive rut, who’s put in a position where he must learn some degree of responsibility. It’s a solid subject, but even a solid subject can become tiresome upon repetition, and it’s this movie’s misfortune that two superior pictures with the same basic thrust have already been made from Hornby books–Stephen Frears’s “High Fidelity” (2000) and Paul and Chris Weitz’s “About A Boy” (2002). Both deal with Hornby’s perpetual theme but insightfully and compellingly; indeed, this goofier, weaker treatment of it might be seen as Frears ir Weitz Lite.

The near-trivializing of Hornby’s work here is typified in the fact that the still-childish man is played not by John Cusack or Hugh Grants, but Fallon. The ex-SNL cast member fares a lot better here than he did in last year’s dreadful “Taxi,” since he’s not required to play an utter moron, and his slightly befuddled, Stan Laurel-like persona carries a certain amount of charm. But there’s still a slightly infantile quality to him that makes Ben less a real character of the kind that Cusack and Grant created than a formulaic comic clown. (The device of having him instructed, at two major points in the movie, by adolescent observers emphasizes the fact. They’re cute scenes, but sitcom stuff.) Barrymore is similarly likable, but even she can’t make Lindsey intelligible other than as a woman who ultimately is willing to give up virtually everything–including, in a misguided big finale, her basic dignity–for a man (a nice man, to be sure, but a man nonetheless). Their supporting cast, especially in Fenway Park, is mostly composed of colorful eccentrics, and they get their share of easy laughs, as do Lindsey’s girlfriend buddies (and even the kids in Wrightman’s class), but none of them ever emerge as anything more than comic conventions. (Of course, neither do Ben or Lindsey.) The Farrelly’s direction tends to be a mite flat and lackadaisical, something that’s been more of a problem in their later pictures than their earlier ones, but it’s adequate, and on the technical side the picture is competent, especially in shuffling footage from the actual baseball season in with the fictional narrative (although a final summing-up provided by a third-tier character, whose narration also offers background exposition earlier on, seems very tacked on–because it was, to make the movie conform to the season’s outcome).

“Fever Pitch” may find its most fervent followers among Boston Red Sox fans who will enjoy seeing their favorite season repeated endlessly, if only partially, on film. But if not a foul ball, the love story in the foreground barely earns a single, especially by comparison to other pictures made from Hornby’s books. This is, at best, a distinctly low-grade “Fever.”