COMEDY DRAMA Wonder Boys (15) 111 mins Hut *
Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), one time celebrated novelist, now cynical creative writing professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is having a rough weekend. His third wife has just left him, his mistress, Sara (Frances McDormand), who also happens to be the College Chancellor's wife, has just told him she is pregnant, and manic depressive pupil James Leer (Tobey Maguire) has latched onto him and refuses to go home. On top of this, the town's annual Book Fest is underway and Tripp’s perverse agent, Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr), is coming with the sole aim of proofing Tripp’s new novel — a self indulgent opus that makes Vikram Seth's mammoth A Suitable Boy look like toilet reading. Crabtree is desperate to repeat the success of Tripp's previous book, The Arsonist's Daughter, published almost a decade earlier, a success that sealed and congealed their festering fortunes.
Unsurprisingly, films that take place during book festivals are few and far between. With the exception of Mark Robson's wonderfully Hitchcockian 1963 Paul Newman vehicle The Prize, there are few templates here, so this is hearteningly refreshing stuff for bookworm cinefiles. Adapted from Michael Chabon's novel by Steven Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys), this is a sophisticated comedy examining the chaos that ensues when intellectually stifled lives begin to move on again. Avoiding both bombast and for the most part pathos, Kloves delivers a fine screenplay, pitched somewhere between Preston Sturges at his drollest and the late great novels of Charles Bukowski (particularly Women).
Ultimately though, this is Douglas and director Curtis
‘ 4 ’
Remake of the Pete
‘n' Dud original with more than enough laughs to sustain its
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Sophisticated comedy about intellectually stiﬂed lives
Hanson's (LA Confidential) movie. Douglas, better known as Joe Esterhaus' Knight Errand in the war against all things politically correct, is an absolute revelation. Stripped of his movie star sheen, his lack of vanity is very appealing. His Tripp is a pot-addled Quixote in a world riddled with empty analogy — it is a brilliant performance. And yet again Curtis Hanson proves himself to be a dynamic filmmaker; his powerful feeling for pace, style, rhythm and form in telling this slight tragi-comedy is second to none and could have only come from years of being a jobbing director. With fantastic support from McDormand, Maguire (Sancho Panza to Douglas' Quixote), Downey Jr, as well as Dawson’s Creek’s Katie Holmes, Wonder Boys goes to the top of the class. (Paul Dale)
I General release from Fri 3 Nov.
Fraser’s wishes are more vaguely pegged to wealth, political power or sporting fame. But Hurley’s slinky, playful Satan relishes her role as temptress and tease, subverting each of his wishes with a clever caveat. When Fraser wishes he were O'Connor’s wealthy husband, he ends up as a Colombian drug dealer whose wife enjoys extra-curricular tuition with her handsome English teacher. Then he asks to be president, but ends up as Abraham Lincoln, on the night of the fateful play. As a professional basketball player, he towers over the tiny but flirtatious O'Connor, but is shocked to find that his tackle is not in proportion to his height.
(12) 93 mins * 1r *
An updated riff on the Faust legend, loosely based on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's 1967 cult favourite, directed by Stanley Donen. Director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) substitutes Brendan Fraser’s nerdy tech support guy for Dud’s depressed Wimpy chef, Elizabeth Hurley’s sexy Satan for Peter Cook’s droll Devil, and Frances O'Connor's cute, anodyne
28 THE LIST 2—16 Nov 2000
modest running time
colleague for Eleanor Bron’s sexy waitress. Ramis piles on the special effects, but the set-up is the same: a cautionary tale about making deals with the Devil. Madly in love with the oblivious O'Connor, Fraser signs away his immortal soul in return for a fat legal contract that grants him seven wishes; but the catch, as always, is in the small print.
In the satirical original, Dud's wishes related to the Seven Deadly Sins, with Raquel Welch’s much to the fore as Lillian Lust. In this materialist re-make,
Co-scripted by director Ramis, Peter Tolan (Analyze This) and Larry Gelbart (Tootsie), this has more than enough laughs to sustain its modest running time. In his various fantasy incarnations, Fraser displays a remarkably convincing versatility, while Hurley’s lip-smacking Devil Woman spills out of a succession of slinky red outfits. The only weak link is the talented but underused Oz actress O'Connor, who ~ bizarrely — was sexrer as Fanny Brice in Mansfield Park than she is here. (Nigel Floyd)
I General release from Fri 70 Nov
Disney’s The Kid (PG) 104 mins * t *
With its cumbersome title this unexpectedly engaging Bruce Willis vehicle was surely never in any danger of being confused with the 1921 Charlie Chaplin classic. What with the fact that it’s in colour, has a contemporary setting and is made thanks to the miracle of talking pictures, the risk would seem minimal.
But in other respects similarities remain. While not related to Chaplin's film, this Kid conveys a similar earnest, mawkish sentiment. It also bears greater similarity to the body-swap films of the mid-80$ (Big, Vice Versa) in which characters got the chance to re-evaluate their lives by seeing the world through their own younger eyes once more.
For career driven image consultant Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) this is an unexpected twist in his otherwise carefully planned life, as he comes face to face with his podgy, rather gauche eight-year-old self, Rusty (Spencer Breslin). After railing against the inadequacies of his hi-tech home security system Russ comes to believe the unbelievable, and with his much hated younger self embarks of a journey of discovery and reappraisal.
Director Jon Turteltaub has built a reputation for making watchable films across a variety of genres, movies like Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping and Instinct. He manages to keep Disney’s The Kid on the straight and narrow, avoiding the truly nauseating detours that it might have taken in less assured hands. Willis is surprisingly engaging as the imperfect Russ, and while some may find little good to say about young Breslin it is amusing to think of supercool screen hero Bruce being just like him once.
If it aspires to be an It’s A Wonderful Life for the modern audience, then Disney’s The Kid misses the mark by a mile, but it is an old-fashioned kind of entertainment nonetheless, one that passes the time and raises a smile or two along the way, which is more than most of us would have expected.
(Anwar Brett) I General release from Fri 70 Nov
Raises a smile or two