Tag Archives: D

ANATOMY (ANATOMIE)

After “Coma” (1978), “Extreme Measures” (1996) and “Nightwatch” (1998), it’s quite clear that if a filmmaker wants to extract some scares from the sight of cadavers lying on glistening morgue or hospital tables, a well-constructed, intelligent script is a necessary complement to the visuals. Writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky, unfortunately, has forgotten that lesson, if he ever learned it. His third feature is a would-be thriller which looks pretty snazzy in Peter von Haller’s widescreen lensing, but is burdened with a screenplay so crushingly obvious and poorly structured that by the close the cliches are piling up faster than the corpses. And it doesn’t help matters that it’s been dubbed from German with a distinct lack of subtlety. It isn’t that the dialogue doesn’t fit fairly well with the characters’ lip movements, because it does; but the English voices have been recorded in an ambiance that seems totally different from that one would expect of the locales being shown on the screen. As a result, the conversations (and solos, since the main character persistently informs us of the obvious by talking to herself while she’s doing her sleuthing) have a tinny, disembodied tone to them, which hardly helps.

“Anatomy” is a rather strange enterprise for Ruzowitzky in any event; his previous picture, “The Inheritors,” was a seriocomic tale dealing with class and economic distinctions in nineteenth-century Austria, focusing on a group of tenant farmers jointly left their landlord’s property in his will and forced to struggle to hold onto it in the face of local resistance. There was a sense of social consciousness in the piece that’s certainly lacking in this followup feature, an empty-headed exercise in ghoulish mayhem which has nothing on its mind but generating cheap thrills and which willingly goes beyond the bounds of good taste and good sense to do so.

The plot centers on Paula Henning (Franka Potente, from “Run Lola Run”), the daughter and grand-daughter of German doctors who, because of her high test scores, is invited to attend a summer course on anatomy at the University of Heidelberg taught by the renowed but imperious Dr. Grombeck (Traugott Buhre). Paula is supposedly a workaholic, in contrast to her sexpot roommate Gretchen (Anna Loos), who quickly takes up with not only handsome hunk Hein (Benno Fuermann) but also jokester Phil (Holger Speckhahn); but before long she’s being courted by oddball classmate Casper (Sebastian Blomberg). She hasn’t much time for the budding romance, however, because she soon becomes convinced that Dr. Grombeck’s anatomy lab is being used for unethical, illegal experiments on (perhaps not yet dead) victims by a clandestine society called the Anti-Hippocratic League, which, according to the pseudo-historical palaver delivered in the script, consists of physicians who believe that experimenting brutally on live patients is justified by the hope that the discoveries thereby made will serve the needs of the many. It’s not long before Paula’s investigations endanger her friends and, of course, herself; and in the process she discovers a secret about her family background which causes her great grief, too.

There are several problems with the scenario Ruzowitzky has fashioned, some technical but at least one a matter of simple propriety. First, the mystery is dissipated much too early in the narrative, with the villains revealed so soon that the entire last act can be nothing but a series of dumb chases and increasingly absurd perils. Second, the characterizations are way off; Paula, for example, is supposed to be a bright, confident girl, but she comes across more as a brainless twit, while Gretchen is said to be highly intelligent but devotes herself to man-hunting (and man-humiliating) to the exclusion of all else, like the town slut. All the male figures are one-note caricatures. More significant than these concerns, however, is the fact that the entire plot is grounded on the concept of medically abusing live people which, in view of the practices of Third Reich experimenters, is more than a trifle unsavory; it would be bad enough for any schlock horror movie to drop in an allusion to Josef Mengele, but it seems particularly inappropriate for the line to turn up in a German potboiler like this.

Nor does Ruzowitzky do well by his cast. Potente, who was so charismatic in “Lola,” is encouraged to overact so badly here that she appears a complete amateur, the sort of immediately forgettable ingenue who populated junk like the “Friday the 13th” flicks. Loos wouldn’t be out of place as one of the less-nice girls in a WB series, and seems just about as talented. Fuermann, a younger lookalike for Reed Diamond, is used simply for his Nordic, Nazi Youth aura. Blomberg has the sullen shtick of his character down fairly well, but he has to endure an extremely embarrassing sequence toward the close which should make any decent viewer wince. And oldsters Buhre and Rudiger Vogler ham it up rather broadly.

From the purely technical standpoint “Anatomy” isn’t a disaster, except for the rock music used in the score, which by American standards seems about a decade behind the times. And overall it’s no worse than most of the innumerable “Scream” ripoffs that have been made in this country over the past few years. The problem is that it’s no better, either.

BOYS AND GIRLS

The strictly generic title of this new vehicle for Freddie
Prinze, Jr. is quite appropriate, given that it’s little more
than a formulaic recycling of the will-the-guy-get-the-girl-
who’s-obviously-meant-for-him plot which John Hughes regularly
used, though with steadily diminishing returns, in his teen
comedies of the late eighties. One of the few distinctions of
this version is that it sets the story on a college campus
rather than in a highschool–which at least means that we’re
spared a resolution at the senior prom. Another difference,
unfortunately, is that the situations provided by the
first-time scripters credited collectively as The Drews (Andrew
Lowery and Andrew Miller) are extraordinarily contrived, and
the dialogue remarkably arch; the writers are clearly out to
engage both the funnybone and the heart, but since nothing that
happens over the course of the 90-minute running time seems
remotely true–everything has the coarseness and superficial
character of strained situation comedy–the result is anemic
at best.

We first meet Ryan as a nerdy twelve-year old on an airplane
ready to depart (he’s played in this first scene by Brendon
Ryan Barret, but Prinze soon takes over); seated beside him
is Jennifer (Raquel Beaudene in the initial sequence, then
Claire Forlani), a loquacious thing who’s just had her first
period and is anxious to tell the poor boy about the experience.
The two bicker for a couple of minutes until the scene changes
abruptly to four years later, when the pair meet again at a
highschool football game. They squabble once more, and we then
lurch ahead two more years, when Ryan and Jennifer bump into
one another on the Berkeley campus, with the former an incoming
freshman and the latter a world-wise, and still terribly
loquacious, junior. Ultimately they bond while commiserating
over their respective romantic difficulties, and become the
best of (platonic) friends. The big question then arises–
whether the two will ever realize that they’re meant for one
another and overcome their fear that if they grow romantically
attached, their friendship will suffer. No one who’s ever seen
a movie will be much surprised by the outcome.

This sort of fluff can occasionally work despite its shopworn
character, but in this case the cast isn’t strong enough to
overcome the script deficiencies. Prinze is, as usual, an
amiable enough fellow, but as an actor he remains pretty much
a blank, pretty face. To be sure, he tries to vary his usual
routine by trying some geeky stuff at the beginning, wearing
black-rimmed glasses and unflattering clothes and stumbling
about like a miniature Clark Kent. But not too far in, these
affectations are dismissed and he becomes the same bland, though
photogenic, hunk he was in “She’s All That” and “Down to You.”
Forlani is probably a technically more accomplished performer,
but the Drews’ material makes her come across as surprisingly
irritating here; she rather resembles, both in appearance
and in aggressive style, a younger version of Barbra Striesand,
and that’s hardly an ingratiating thing. Forlani is also
compelled to spout Latin phrases from time to time (she’s an
intellectual Classics major, you see)–a practice which
makes Jennifer seem like an affected twit–and to recite not
one but two of those awful monologues in which a character
loudly addresses a bunch of hapless bystanders; such moments
are supposed to be charming, of course, but they’re almost
always embarrassingly flat, as is sadly true in this instance.

Naturally the couple is provided with the wacky buddies that
are required by the formula–in this case their roommates,
played by Jason Biggs and Amanda Detmer. Biggs, who won some
attention in “American Pie,” is the stereotypically horny
dude who’s always unlucky at love, and his constant come-on
attempts are far too broad to be funny; he’s also the focus
of a truly awful sequence played against the end titles,
involving the inevitable flatulence jokes. (One can only
suppose that there wasn’t room for the piece in the picture
itself, but somebody thought it too good to throw away; bad
mistake). Detmer is suitably dippy as Jennifer’s closest
friend, but there’s a moment near the close concerning their
relationship that comes so far out of left field that it’s an
almost gruesomely puzzling miscalculation. Nobody else in the
cast is given time to make much of an impreesion, including
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Alyson Hannigan, who appears
briefly as Ryan’s highschool sweetheart.

Director Robert Iscove, who previously directed Prinze in “She’s
All That,” manages to secure some nice shots of the San
Francisco area, but his handling of the actors is perfunctory
at best, and matters aren’t made any better by the editing of
Casey Rohrs, who allows scenes to drag on far too long. Still,
in most respects the picture looks better than many examples
of the genre; veteran cinematographer Ralph Bode is still
doing good work.

You have to give “Boys and Girls” some credit for at least
attempting to say something about modern notions of friendship
and commitment. It’s a pity that what it eventually comes up
with is so stale and trite.