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Movie Reviews: Save Me, Take Out, Hounddog 

Also, The Pool, Ghost Town, Igor and more

Wednesday, Sep 17 2008
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GHOST TOWN It takes a good while for Ricky Gervais to warm up in Ghost Town; it takes even longer for the audience to warm to Ricky Gervais. During the opening minutes of the film — an occasionally effective mash-up of Ghost, The Sixth Sense and The Frighteners — Gervais, as Bertram Pincus, DDS, is nearly mute as a dentist who enjoys his work because it allows him the peace and quiet that comes with sticking cotton balls into his patients’ mouths. He’s but a “sad little man,” says one observer; “a fucking prick,” says another. But after briefly dying on an operating table, he sees dead people. And the dead, of course, bring Bertram to life, especially Greg Kinnear’s tuxedoed Frank, offed while shouting down the Realtor who revealed his affair. Frank latches onto Bertram in the desperate hope that the dentist can bust up his widow’s (Téa Leoni) remarriage. If it sounds all so pale and predictable, it is. Director and co-writer David Koepp, more or less remaking his 1999 film Stir of Echoes with a romantic-comedy’s dopey grin this time, does little to break with the genre’s conventions. But Ghost Town, dead on arrival throughout much of its first half, picks up as it slows down — when it ditches the decidedly dreary romantic slap-shtick of the living and focuses, however briefly, on the needy, aching dead. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

 
HOUNDDOG Having lurched through a gauntlet of Sundance jeers, recuts and release delays, writer-director Deborah Kampmeier’s Hounddog — at least as far as the press notes indicate (urgently) — now exists as a version different from the one that met such derision. One imagines, however, that the song — both the hip-swiveler of the title and the Southern Gothic story of FUBAR families, innocence and, yes, child rape that it brackets — remains more or less the same. Dakota Fanning plays 12-year-old Lewellen, and while the role will test the patience of even the staunchest survival-parable lovers, Fanning’s extraordinary poise finally trumps precocity. “I’m gonna kill my daddy one day,” she declares in the first scene, and why not? Played by David Morse, he’s an inconstant brute with a wardrobe full of wife beaters, in case there was any doubt. The symbolism is as clobbering as the blows that send Lewellen’s maybe-mommy (Robin Wright Penn) reeling: Snakes abound, notably in a grotesque, crotch-slithering dream sequence. Shot in mellow green and gold, Hounddog manages an engaging summer sweetness in its early scenes, as Lewellen plots to obtain a ticket to a local Elvis concert, but in the wake of the inadvertent betrayal that leads to her now-notorious rape (a sequence that, ironically, seems to have lost the horrific impact it needs), the film turns listless. By the time Lewellen gets tutored in the white girl blues by a band of magical Negroes, it has fulfilled its risible potential. (Culver Plaza; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Michelle Orange)

 
IGOR A cartoon to which my 5-year-old responded with an “I don’t want to talk about it” when I asked how he liked this atrocious-looking, alleged comedy about an evil scientist’s assistant’s attempt to out-evil the boss, and the competition, to become beloved throughout the dreary land of Malaria. And this from a kid who was as excited about Igor as he was Star Wars: Clone Wars, the latter an unhealthy obsession since diapers. (His mother offered only an irritated scowl, followed by a brief how-could-they rant about the movie’s heretical use of Annie iconography.) Alas, what a dispiriting wreck from the director of direct-to-video animated Disney sequels (Anthony Leondis) and the writer of a handful of American Dad episodes (Chris McKenna) — which, right there, should have been warning enough. Not sure who Igor’s intended audience is: With its copious references to murder and mayhem, it’s a touch too scary and far too boring for the wee ones and decidedly too messy and far too boring for their parents. Steve Buscemi as a cranky immortal cat and Sean Hayes as a jarred (bird) brain on wheels are the sidekicks who should have starred; instead, it’s John Cusack as the tiny Igor with big dreams and Molly Shannon as the big monster with enormous aspirations — to become a spoiled actress. So bad it’s scary. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

click to flip through (2) Chris Smith trades Wisconsin for Goa in The Pool
  • Chris Smith trades Wisconsin for Goa in The Pool
 
 

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MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL was not screened in advance of our publication deadline, but a review will appear here next week. (Citywide)

 
THE PINK CONSPIRACY Sputtering along on fumes that would barely have sustained an 11-minute Love, American Style vignette, The Pink Conspiracy’s solitary gag posits female bonding as a process so deeply malevolent it might give the most embittered misogynist pause. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t know what to do with their ridiculous conceit except to run it into the ground. There’s neither much venom nor irony in lovable nebbish Dave (Bradley Snedeker) discovering that every women he’s ever known belongs to a sinister coven dedicated to making his life unbearable. Snedeker is a blandly endearing presence, but he has little to do beyond looking befuddled or pissed off while stumbling through scene after ineptly executed scene in which various ex-girlfriends stand around delivering stiff line readings about their dislike of the male gender and Dave in particular. None of it makes a great deal of sense, but that’s the least of the movie’s problems. The Pink Conspiracy’s sexual battle royale is as innocuous as it is pointless, no one seems to believe a word they’re saying, and the jokes frequently hover in that dark space where testicles are kicked and boogers are lovingly smeared on faces. You can pardon co-writers/directors Marc Clebanoff and Brian Scott Miller for having nothing to say about male paranoia or female anger, but it’s harder to forgive an anti-chick flick without even the courage of its convictions. (Grande 4-Plex) (Lance Goldenberg)

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