Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Catch (2001) [PG-13] **

Ryan Dunne (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has lived his whole life in the town of Chatham, on Cape Cod, nurturing his dream of becoming a major league baseball pitcher. Each summer as the Cape Cod summer league starts, college players from around the country arrive in Chatham, Wareham, Hyannisport and the other resort towns, filling out the local teams, rooming with local families, and hoping to be seen by the professional scouts who come to the games. Ryan played baseball at Boston College and Framingham State College, washing out of both. This is his last chance, and he's been offered a pitching slot on the Chatham A's. But Ryan took his mother's death very hard; his father Sean (Fred Ward), his brother Mike (Jason Gedrick) and his coach (Brian Dennehy) all wonder whether he still has the drive to succeed.

One day, while mowing lawns for his father's landscaping company, Ryan spies the gorgeous Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel), who has just graduated from college, is home for the summer, and wants to be an architect. Ryan is instantly love-struck, although this seems unlikely since he must have observed Tenley every summer for the past six years, while mowing her family’s lawns. Tenley falls equally hard for Ryan, although they barely know each other and are from different social and economic strata. We’re never told, but perhaps Tenley is secretly rebelling against her wealthy, controlling father (played by Bruce Davison), who has other plans for her. In any case, from this point on the story's plot is fairly predictable, although Ryan and Tenley's relationship isn't developed very well.

Freddie Prinze, Jr. is a one-expression actor; he has virtually no romantic chemistry with Jessica Biel, although it's not for her lack of effort. Comic relief is provided by Ryan's groupie girlfriend Dee Dee (Brittany Murphy), his catcher from USC, Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard), and the virginal Mickey (Wilmer Valderrama), but Ward, Dennehy and Davison are all underutilized or forced into stereotypical roles. Summer Catch is a boring imitation of Bull Durham; don’t waste your time on it. 

Labels: baseball, comedy, drama, father-son, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 21/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=32, viewers=52)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Majestic (2001) [PG] ***

A film review by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY, on December 24, 2001.

The Majestic is named after a dilapidated movie palace that the movie's stars, Jim Carrey and Martin Landau, renovate and reopen. If only they had managed to overhaul this overly sentimental movie while they were restoring things.

Both Landau and Carrey deserve better material. Carrey is miscast as Peter Appleton, a '50s-era B-movie writer who is blacklisted, loses his identity after an accident and discovers his inner integrity after being embraced by the kindly denizens of a California town. When Carrey breaks into an aw, shucks smile, you can spot the maniacal trickster lurking beneath the bland demeanor that the part imposes on him. It's not that he should star only in wild-eyed comedic roles. He was superb as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon and well cast as the goofy but well-meaning dupe in The Truman Show. But those films had an edge that allowed Carrey to vent his darker, unpredictable side.

One hopes that this is a temporary deviation for Carrey and that he hasn't decided to follow in Robin Williams' sappy footsteps. Both men have a witty cynicism that has worked well in more complex material.

Once in town, Carrey's character is spotted by Harry Trimble (Landau) and mistaken for the son he lost in World War II. With little memory of his own past, Peter begins to believe he is the prodigal son and gives no more thought to his Hollywood problems.

The McCarthy era has been depicted more convincingly in other films. Peter's banal work would have been unlikely to call attention to him, much less inspire the scrutiny of commie-baiting witch hunters.

Further straining believability, the cops sent to arrest Peter for failing to testify before a government committee stage a dramatic face-off right on Main Street. And the confrontation just happens to fall on the day that his accident-induced amnesia clears, the same day as Landau's funeral. Meanwhile, the flag-waving townspeople who had embraced him all turn on him as one. Even his brainy blonde love interest, Adele (Laurie Holden), can't resist doing her own preaching.

Director Frank Darabont, whose The Shawshank Redemption was a better example of his talent, sought to make a Frank Capra-style feel-good picture. But he produced a pale imitation that challenges credulity and tries too hard to win our hearts with schmaltz.

Labels: drama, father-son


Monday, May 9, 2011

Kate & Leopold (2001) [PG-13] ***

A film review by Claudia Puig for USA Today, Dec. 31, 2001.

You know the singles scene has become grim when the best advice a Hollywood movie can offer is, Date a guy from another century. But in Kate & Leopold, the dashing Duke of Albany - who travels through a portal in time from 1876 into modern-day New York - so outclasses contemporary guys that women will walk out of the theater seeking a portal of their own.

It's not just that Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a handsome hunk who's as chivalrous as a knight and rides a white steed as if his life depended on it. He also knows how to slow down and savor life.

That's something crack market researcher Kate McKay (Meg Ryan) thinks she doesn't need as she immerses herself in corporate climbing to recover from a disheartening relationship with a brilliant dreamer (Liev Schreiber).

What eventually happens to our hard-bitten exec and poetic hero isn't hard to guess. And if you can ignore the glaring implausibilities, Kate & Leopold is a sometimes charming fable that is worth seeing mainly because of Jackman's performance. He's an Aussie who convincingly plays the role of a courtly but free-thinking Victorian aristocrat.

Many, though, will be put off by forced moments that spoil what could have been a pleasant diversion. A just-beamed-in Leopold manages to find a violinist, a caterer and other service personnel to set up an intimate dinner-for-two on the roof of Kate's apartment building. And when Kate spouts thoroughly modern psychobabble, Leopold nods knowingly - not a bit perplexed by the contemporary jargon.

The movie also is hindered by Ryan's performance, which is almost a caricature of the persona that worked in When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. That bubbly girl-next-door now seems brittle and mannered, and one wishes she'd dial back the cutesy quotient and develop a more mature style.

Worse, Kate & Leopold is lacking in originality. Think the fish-out-of-water love story Splash crossed with the old-fashioned romance Somewhere in Time. Too bad director/co-writer James Mangold (Cop Land; Girl, Interrupted) couldn't come up with anything fresher and more worthy of Jackman's suave grace. [Puig’s rating: ** out of 4]

Labels: comedy, fantasy, romance, space-time