The Newton Boys (1998)

It's traditional in movies to save the biggest bang for the climax, and well it should be. Anti-climactic climaxes just aren't very satisfying, and spilling the beans too early doesn't leave an audience much to anticipate. Director Richard Linklater takes that tradition one step further in *The Newton Boys*, however. He saves the best part of the movie for the closing credits. There, in footage from a documentary film and a 1980 Johnny Carson show, two real-life Newton boys, octogenarians Joe and Willis, show their legendary right stuff, the outlaw spirit that made them the most successful bank robbers in US history.

It's just as well that Linklater, who penned the script with Claude Stanush and Clark Walker, saved the best for last, because those old fellas dull what little shine there is to their bland fictional counterparts in *The Newton Boys*.

What *The Newton Boys* has in spades is a good-looking cast, twinkling mightily for lack of anything better to do. Linklater, whose indie film credits include the charming *Before Sunrise* and the stultifyingly boring *SubUrbia*, specializes in subcultural immersion talkies, films with characters who hang around doing nothing much in particular other than gab all night long. With *The Newton Boys*, he's out of his element, venturing into the action-filled crime spree genre without contributing much in the way of action. There isn't even that much talk in *The Newton Boys*, an episodic tale that features too much whooping and boys-will-be-boys male bonding that always ends up with the fellas piling on top of each other.

The story goes like this: in the 1920s, the Newton brothers, Willis (Matthew McConaughey), Jess (Ethan Hawke), Joe (Skeet Ulrich) and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) team up with explosives expert Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam) to rob a string of 80 banks from Texas to Toronto. They're all charming and cocky, and they never get caught, stealing cash and hearts everywhere they go. Latter day Robin Hoods, they steal from the banks (and bank insurers) and give to themselves. "It's just one thief a-stealin' from another," says the real-life Willis. the Newtons' final, fateful heist is the biggest train robbery in US history, which they almost pull off.

Willis' love interest is Louise Brown (Julianna Margulies). Glasscock's wife Avia (Chloe Webb) shows up from time to time as well, mostly to bat her eyes suggestively at the marital thrills of having nitroglycerine around.

Aside from a few inspired visual moments, and the aforementioned pulchritudinous cast, there just isn't a whole lot to *The Newton Boys*. They rob banks. They get drunk and whoop and holler and pick up girls. They drive a lot and wear big hats because they're from Texas, dagnabbit. the boys do have a few misadventures, thanks to Willis' dangerous tendency to be simultaneously spontaneous and greedy. McConaughey really gleams, flashing pearly white teeth, his eyes bright with passion and mischief. Likewise the rest of the cast, twinkly and charismatic as all get out, but it's all for naught because they might as well be posing for a portrait for all they have to do. Actually, the movie does feature several old-timey shots of the boys posing for portraits, scenes serving as little more than filler and unimaginative movie shorthand for a time period apparently corresponding to the early days of photography. It's unnecessary and redundant since the titles constantly remind, sometimes to the day, exactly when each incident transpires.

The characters are one-note, constant and unchanging from beginning to end, which makes for very little conflict, except the occasional tiff over Willis' reckless ways. They're all wholesome and fresh-faced, without a hint of darkness or rancor -- that's certainly a switch from typical movie outlaws, but it leaves the Newton gang looking blander than white bread. Everybody acts like their lives are fun and adventure-filled, but there is no evidence to support that in the movie, other than a twangy fiddle and banjo music score cued to enhance every heist and getaway. When the boys finally run afoul of the law, at last injecting some potential drama and conflict into the plot, it's every bit dull as the rest of the movie.

The old Newton boys were pretty darn witty and interesting in the clips at the end of the movie, and when a couple of 80 year old geezers are more lively than your movie, it's time to make a different movie. *The Newton Boys* is a case where art imitating life would have improved the art.


Primary Colors (1998)

After the media feeding frenzy over that certain White House intern, there's something oddly refreshing about *Primary Colors*, which, (wink wink) isn't *really* about our President. Based on the roman a clef by Joe Klein (aka Anonymous), which, in more innocent times (way back in 1996) was considered quite scandalous (before we learned *way* more than we ever wanted to know about the commander-in-chief's alleged poling of the populace) *Primary Colors* follows southern governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta) as he mounts a campaign for the presidential nomination amid rumors of sexual dalliances and draft dodging.

What's refreshing about director Mike Nichols' movie is the sense of unguardedness about the characters, something only achievable because *Primary Colors* is, for all its similarities to reality, a fiction. D.A. Pennebaker's brilliant documentary *The War Room* (1993) was more interesting, more insightful, a true behind the scenes, fly-on-the-wall perspective on political campaigning, but its real life stars could never be as guileless as their fictional counterparts -- fresh and full of ideals as they were, the folks running Clinton's first campaign were still pretty darn smart and wily. You never saw the future first lady throw keys at her husband's head, or swear like a sailor at the very sight of the man who couldn't help but wallow knee deep in the sins of the flesh (too many donuts, too many women).

Susan Stanton (Emma Thompson) embodies what *Primary Colors* is about, and it isn't scandal, or political spinning or unbridled ambition, but about compromise, and settling, about the ethical debate between moral absolutism and a utilitarian consequentialism. As unflattering as *Primary Colors* might be to the Clintons, it gives them (or their fictional counterparts, at least) some credit for trying. It's hard to imagine their Republican opponents engaging in ethical debates at all -- there's still a tiny touch of wide-eyed idealism about the movie and the characters, a recognition that moral choices are only hard for those who have morals to begin with.

Representing the lost cause of moral absolutism is fresh young Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), preppy grandson of a famous civil rights leader. He's shanghaied into the campaign, but he's a true believer, and, for a while at least, believes that Stanton is the real thing, a man of the people, for the people. Henry is mighty bland compared to the colorful characters in Stanton's inner circle: good ol' boy political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) and Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), the "Dustbuster," a raging idealist who cleans up the dirt on her friend the candidate, but tries to keep her own hands clean while she does it.

Travolta has the Clinton thing down -- the voice, that throaty, choking-back-emotion tenor with a tremor, the slippery charm and charisma, the sincerity and cynicism, the gleam of purpose in those dewy eyes, the insatiable appetite for attention. It's a fine performance, irritating and ingratiating, promising and disappointing -- so like the real thing. Even Stanton's wife doesn't know when to believe him anymore, and, like everyone else, she's forced to cast her vote based on the man she hopes her husband can be, and throw up her hands when he falls far short of expectations.

Thompson's Susan is dynamic, ferocious, foul-mouthed, ambitious and frustrated at having hitched her wagon to such an inconstant star. Whether it's the American accent or the characterization, Susan speaks through clenched teeth, as if those teeth were the last barricade to be breached by the cynicism and political practicality that she's forced to spit out because she can't quite swallow it herself. Elaine May's witty script saves some of the best zingers for the embattled, cuckolded Susan -- when she lashes out, it's satisfying, and evident just who is the better, smarter half of this political, marital union.

The ethical crisis (following an assortment of bimbo crises) that sparks the soul-searching Henry to question his involvement in the campaign is almost an afterthought -- little more than a resolution to the character's narrative arc. The more interesting ethical debates are sprinkled throughout the movie as sneaky little occasions that turn out to be quite momentous from a personal, rather than political, perspective -- situations when ideals are compromised with seemingly little thought, as if the sheer momentum of the political campaign swept away all morals, negated all character and soul, dragging the candidate and his operatives so close to the goal that they hardly remember why they wanted to get there in the first place. But *Primary Colors* is never unremittingly cynical -- Stanton, despite his flaws, does remember: when he has a heart to heart with the counterman at a donut shop, when he gets swept away in a reverie of unforgotten purpose, when he regrets his own moral lapses but forges ahead, unapologetically, anyway.

In the end, *Primary Colors* is entertaining but insubstantial: it doesn't have much to say that the American people don't already know about politics, or our weirdly dysfunctional style of celebrity democracy, or moral compromise. The movie doesn't shatter any illusions that were still intact, nor does it lean especially hard on the pres, the press, or the people. That scandals buzz around Jack Stanton like flies says something either about the candidate or about the flies, but *Primary Colors* doesn't really want to commit to saying much about either. Like Robert Bennett said about that legal brief (you know the one), it's like cotton candy -- when you bite into it, there's nothing there.


The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Some movies get made because a writer or director has a personal vision, a story that wants to be told. Some movies get made for money. Then there are the movies in which neither art nor commerce are apparent motivators. They're made just because they can be, because the effects technology exists. With relatively new digital effects technology now widely available, we're in a period in which a lot of these latter movies are being made, with results that are generally as uninspiring as the movie is uninspired. *The Man In The Iron Mask* is just such a movie.

Writer-director Randall Wallace adds enough soap to drown the oft-told Alexandre Dumas pere tale in suds. Wallace postulates that the man in the mask is the twin brother of King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio), an unfortunate lad named Phillippe (also DiCaprio, of course) who had the misfortune to be born second. Whisked away at birth, Phillippe is imprisoned while still a tender, dewy young teen, locked in the horrible mask and forced to live in wretched conditions in an island prison. Naturally, the experience only strengthens his native nobility, while Louis, spoiled young king that he is, spends his days chasing tail, and being imperious and uncaring.

The movie is far more interested in Musketeers than the titular man in the mask, however, since inner torment and all that don't require a lot of swashbuckling and special effects. *The Man In The Iron Mask* plays like a literal sequel to The Three Musketeers, a sort of where-are-they-now followup that allows the old boys one last moment of glory -- and provides numerous opportunities, none of which are wasted, to say "One for all and all for one." D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), now the top Musketeer, watches his king with disdain, but undying loyalty. The three musketeers, meanwhile, have all retired from the king's service. Aramis (Jeremy Irons) is a devout Jesuit priest; Porthos (Gerard Depardieu, broadly buffoonish) spends his days wenching (there is no shortage of pouty wenches in 1662 Paris, apparently) and lamenting his lost virility; Athos (John Malkovich) plays Mr Mom to Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard, executing a hilarious, pitch-perfect vocal impersonation of Malkovich), the fine young son who is about to join the Musketeers. This France abounds with different accents -- English, French, American (although the USA didn't exist for another 120 years) -- but consistency and authenticity are secondary concerns in *The Man In The Iron Mask*, as are character and drama. Secret passageways, gruesome tombs, flatulent Musketeers and hokey speeches take center stage, along with a supremely corny take on knee-jerk nobility and patriotism.

After establishing that Louis is a vain womanizer and a very bad king, the plot slowly lurches forward. The filthy peasants of Paris riot because they are starving and the king distributes rotten food. Louis orders them shot. Then Louis sends Raoul to the front so he can make time with his comely fiancee Christine (Judith Godreche), with whom Louis appears to be genuinely in love. Will the king's treachery never end? It's all too much for the disillusioned Musketeers, who plot to switch Louis with Phillippe, busting the poor boy out of prison with surprisingly little effort.

Phillippe emerges from the mask looking like wolf boy, but after a shave, a bath, and a bit of lip balm, he's a beautifully androgynous, milky-skinned young thing who, aside from the tenderness in his eyes, is a dead ringer for the king. DiCaprio is much more convincing as the wounded bird Phillippe than as bad boy Louis -- the imperious bed hopper seems more an imposter than the timid, confused prisoner. The cumbersome dialogue doesn't help -- Louis' come ons include such absurdities as "I hope you realize there is more of me to love... than a crown." Phillippe doesn't fare much better, forced to utter such inanities as "I wear the mask, it does not wear me."

DiCaprio really sinks his teeth into the role of king once Phillippe arrives in the palace, however, playing against himself with zest. Unfortunately, this, and all the other interesting parts of the movie are saved for the last ten minutes. Louis loses his kingly cool, lapsing into screaming hissy fits, his voice rising an octave as he shrieks at the pretender who, maddeningly, oozes nobility, royalty and loyalty with moist, puppy dog eyes which, although she won't admit it, makes the Queen Mother (Anne Parillaud) like Phillippe better. A few dozen more "One for alls," a bit of swordplay, a wowser of a soapy twist and a lot of straining for emotional effect, and everything is right in France again.

This is the umpteenth screen version of *The Man In The Iron Mask*, and the only justification for this inane adaptation is to take advantage of special effects that put the twin DiCaprios together onscreen. It's a perfectly executed effect, but not enough to justify the rest of this dreary, ridiculous movie.


The Big Lebowski (1998)

In the opening minutes of *The Big Lebowski*, a tumbleweed bounces through scrubgrass and greasewood on its way to the Pacific Ocean while The Sons of the Pioneers yodel a mournful "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." And that pretty much sums up *The Big Lebowski*, a drifting, staggering, windblown shaggy dog story. The shaggy dog at the center of this comic tale of crime and mistaken identity is The Dude (Jeff Bridges), a perpetually stoned bowling bum whose given name, Jeff Lebowski, is just one of his problems.

Jeff Lebowski is also the name of a certain millionaire (David Huddleston) whose trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reed) causes no end of trouble for the big Lebowski and the Dude. When thugs, employed by pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzarra) come looking for the millionaire, they find the Dude instead, and soil his rug in an unspeakable manner. "The rug really tied the room together," laments the Dude. His bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman), a volatile Vietnam vet and observant Jew who totes a gun to the bowling alley and refuses to roll on Shabbes, and Donny (Steve Buscemi), perpetually three steps behind in every conversation, convince the Dude that the millionaire Lebowski should compensate him for the loss of his finely aged rug. Before long, the Dude is acting as bag man for Lebowski when Bunny is kidnapped by German nihilists (Peter Stormare and Flea). The Dude loses the money in a poorly planned scam conceived by Walter, which leads to complications that include being menaced by nihilists, thugs, pornographers, cops, VW Beetles, and Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), artiste daughter of the big L.

All of which makes the Dude just a tiny bit uptight, despite his strict regimen of weed and White Russians. The secret to the Dude's limited success, however, is that nothing sticks to him, or sticks with him, for long -- he is literally a roll-with-the-punches kinda dude, drug-addled synapses sputtering, leisurely cruising from crisis to crisis, perpetually, intentionally, constitutionally off-kilter.

This being a Joel and Ethan Coen film, the Dude isn't the only off-kilter element. The whole movie is permeated by the Dude's shambling, drug-addled perspective, bouncing willy nilly like a tumbleweed that touches solid, middle America ground ever so briefly before vaulting back into the giddy heights of fantasy and criminal ineptitude. Thus, the Dude's hallucinations, prompted by frequent blows to the head: a Busby Berkeley-style dance routine, featuring a bowling Valkyrie and Kenny Rogers singing "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)," and a flying carpet sequence with Dylan droning "A Man Like Me." Thus bowling arch-nemesis Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), a hair-netted, lavender-clad conquistador freak of the lanes. Thus The Stranger (Sam Elliott), cowboy and sometime narrator of the Dude's tale, postulating that by his very lackadaisical nature the Dude is some kind of new American hero, a gutterball paragon of stability, steady, grounded, and fixed in his laid back, spacey, intoxicated way, while everyone around him is impermanent, changeable, reactive, and all worked up about large sums of cash and the whole Byzantine kidnapping business. The bowling, booze-guzzling, long-haired Dude is Homer Simpson without a job, a wife and kids, a happily slow-witted ubermensch for whom success is the occasionally achievable combination of the right song, the right drink and three strikes in a row. And if the Dude is a lot like Homer, *The Big Lebowski* is a lot like a live action episode of *The Simpsons* (minus TV censorship), both visually and narratively, which is to say that there's a lot to like about this perversely familiar slice of Americana.

*The Big Lebowski* is hardly the masterpiece that the Coen's *Fargo* is. It is more a throwback to their earlier films, especially *Raising Arizona* -- broad, comically loopy, stylized tales of crime and stupidity, with no discernible center of gravity, filled with chatty oddballs, narrative nonsequitors and a freeform plot that spins around no particular axis. The pace of *The Big Lebowski* is laid back and leisurely, but unlike the Dude, the movie is also sharp and witty, purposefully aimless in its narrative wandering. The Coens look at American life like two giggling kids turning over rocks to see what creepy crawlies are underneath -- that they always find something strangely fascinating, familiar and darkly funny says something either about America or about their particular, peculiar outlook, or both. In *The Big Lebowski*, the Coens turn over some rocks, then perform the film equivalent of juggling bowling balls: they manage to keep a lot of dense balls in the air most of the time, and every now and then, they throw in a hatchet just to keeps things lively.


The Wedding Singer (1998)

Ah, the wedding. Is there any more fertile comedic ground? Momuments to unrestrained emotion and poor taste, awash in tacky music, adorned in frou frou fashion, family conflict laid bare and lubricated with booze, and all displayed, shamelessly, in public -- that is the wedding in movies, as in life.

So what could be funnier than the life of a wedding singer? Professional cheesiness, emotional ups and downs, career crisis and bad music against a backdrop of multiple weddings suggests surefire laughs. Throw in a rappin' granny, a Madonna wannabe, a Don Johnson devotee, a Michael Jackson acolyte and a jukebox full of nostalgic 80s hits (anybody remember "Pass the Dutchie"?) and you've got *The Wedding Singer*, an episodic, hit and miss potpourri of gags squeezed into a romantic comedy, set in those heady, lost-innocence, mid-Reagan-era days of 1985.

Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is the titular wedding singer, an all-around nice guy who not only sings and schmoozes, but smooths over family discord, shepherds drunks to the dumpster, provides newlywed counseling, and comforts co-workers all without wrinkling his shiny pink lame [MIK - accent on the e] tux. In his spare time, Robbie gives singing lessons to cute little old ladies who pay him in meatballs. Robbie's life is just dandy, until he is left at the altar by his fashion-victim fiancee Linda (Angela Featherstone), who decides that she doesn't want to be the wife of a mere wedding singer. Robbie falls apart. He mopes. He listens to The Cure (a sure sign of depression) and decides he hates weddings. Meanwhile, his pal Julia (Drew Barrymore), a perpetually chipper naif, finally gets her smarmy fiance Glen (Matthew Glave) to set a wedding date, but because the cad is busy womanizing, he doesn't have time to help her plan the wedding. So Julia enlists Robbie's help, and being a big brotherly sort, he agrees despite his misery, which inevitably leads to Robbie and Julia falling in love.

The plot is loaded with contrivances, conveniences and cliches (not to mention anachronisms), all designed to push Robbie and Julia together, pull them apart, push them together again, and so on. It's a mechanical, paper-thin, oh-so-sweet-and-innocent romance, and not a minute of it is believable or surprising, while the dialogue is even clunkier than the plot, serving primarily to drag the story along between musical set pieces that are too few and far between.

The real drive behind *The Wedding Singer* is providing narrative contexts for 80s alterna-pop songs, and given that MTV already existed in the 80s, that makes the movie something of a redundancy. What should have driven *The Wedding Singer* is Sandler singing -- he's hilarious every time he digs into 80s gold with the unabashed glee of a karaoke addict, and his own vicious paean to lovesick misery, "Somebody Kill Me," (penned by Sandler) is a hoot. Only in those all too infrequent moments does Sandler come alive in the role -- there's a snarly, goofy edge to the singer that is always just under the surface, even when he's crooning a treacly love ditty. That gleam of mischief is a welcome relief from the sweet, hangdog puppy love innocence of Robbie Hart, a character even Sandler doesn't seem to get.

Barrymore's Julia doesn't have any edge at all. She's all puppy dog, and never shows any teeth, even when Glen is kicking her around. The rest of the characters in *The Wedding Singer* are one-gag wonders: Julia's sister Holly (Christine Taylor) is a Material Girl groupie, Glen is all *Miami Vice*, right down to the Delorean and sockless loafers. Robbie's backup singer (Alexis Arquette) is a dead ringer for Boy George, and knows only one song ("Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?"), which doesn't go over well at weddings. There are movie-stealing cameos by Billy Idol, Jon Lovitz and, especially, Steve Buscemi in *The Wedding Singer* -- performances that are devilishly funny, a little bit mean, and a gratifying, sour counterpoint to the idealized, sentimental love story.

Come to think of it, *The Wedding Singer* is a lot like a wedding: everybody suffers the pinching shoes, pastel dresses, lousy food and the saccharine romance, all for the possibility that Uncle Leo will get shellacked and broadcast a few juicy family secrets before passing out in the champagne punch. It's those fleeting Uncle Leo moments, noisily ripping through the trifle and treacle like a chainsaw, that make *The Wedding Singer* worthwhile.


Spice World (1998)

Before *Spice World*, the faux film about the faux fab five Spice Girls, started, I was having a fairly enjoyable time at the movies. The theatre was buzzing with excitement as the audience, composed primarily of squealing pre-adolescent girls, eagerly awaited their next "Girl power" fix. The gaggle of little women sitting behind me had a major crisis when it became apparent that one of them would have to sit next to a *boy*. A strange boy. Luckily, their chaperone interceded, and the transmission of cooties was avoided.

The fun ended as the movie began. The Spice Girls themselves aren't really to blame. *Spice World* is in the same mold as *Hard Day's Night*, a slight, slice of life bit o' fluff about British rock stars on a concert tour which climaxes with a frantic effort to reach Albert Hall in time for the big show. The five Spices work their rather limited talents with charm and energy, but are wholly undone by a virtually nonexistent script (by Kim Fuller) and Bob Spiers' utterly inert, leaden directing. *Spice World* is little more than an extended music video, with surprisingly little music. What scant plot there is would have about filled a three minute video, but the movie stretches it too far, and then stretches it some more.

If you're older than 13, the Spice Girls phenomenon may have escaped your notice. Scary (Melanie Brown), Baby (Emma Bunton), Sporty (Melanie Chisholm), Ginger (Geri Halliwell) and Posh Spice (Victoria Addams) are a Monkees-type manufactured singing group of scantily clad, anatomically gifted lasses. They were overnight sensations when their first album, *Spice*, became a huge hit. Britain's princes Harry, William and Charles, and Nelson Mandela are among their fans. Then the Girls had a not-so-big hit record, and were booed off a stage in Spain. They fired their manager/creator (aka Svengali Spice), and are rumored to be on the verge of breaking up. Now that's a movie! A real *Truth or Dare* type documentary about the Girls could have been pretty spicy, and far more interesting than this bland, half-hearted roman a clef which has them riding around London in their Union Jack-decorated Spice bus (driven by Meat Loaf) and shouting "Girl power!" in between mildly interesting encounters with space aliens, assorted genuine musicians (Elton John, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello) and sneaky tabloid spies.

The little snippets of plot in *Spice World* concern the Spices' tribulations with their overbearing, artery-popping manager Clifford (Richard E. Grant), a pregnant single mom friend (Naoko Mori), a pretentious documentary filmmaker (Alan Cumming, deliciously affected) and a villainous tabloid publisher (Barry Humphries) who so hates the Girls that he engineers the group's break-up. Clifford, meanwhile, contends with a pair of movie producers (George Wendt and Mark McKinney) who pitch an assortment of lame ideas for a Spice movie (some of which were at least as good as *this* movie), and the mysterious Chief (Roger Moore), the behind-the-scenes Spice master (modeled after a James Bond villain) who is seen shaking martinis and petting a variety of small animals while babbling incoherent aphorisms.

As for the Girls themselves, they're given little to do other than talk about clothes, wear clothes, change clothes, tease each other, contemplate superstardom, drift off into the occasional fantasy, frolic and dance about and lip synch (badly), while wearing vertiginously tall shoes. Spice Girls music is strangely downplayed in *Spice World*, and, while there is surely better music than the Spice Girls brand of candy pop, isn't music the point of a movie like this? Missing an opportunity to give their fans a dose of girl empowerment, Girl power doesn't get much of a workout in *Spice World* either, and even when it does (as when Sporty Spice leaps from a speedboat to rescue Posh and two little Fan Spices), the results are laughably inane.

The controlled and contrived Spice personalities are not elaborated upon at all in the movie, each consisting of one prominent characteristic plus a lollipop: Scary is the wild one with the biggest hair, Sporty exercises, Posh is bored unless considering makeup, Ginger is glamorously blowsy, and Baby Spice is sweetly childish. The girls do engage in a fair amount of self-aware humor, a recognition, for example, that the Wonderbra deserves at least some of the credit for their success, and an acknowledgment that their cultural influence far exceeds their cultural contribution (when Ginger sarcastically says "Is the Pope Catholic?" it sets off a crisis in the Vatican). Given the pulchritudinousness and energy of the Spice Girls, and the number of talented actors who make appearances in *Spice World* (to the abovementioned add Stephen Fry, Bob Hoskins and Jennifer Saunders, among others), *Spice World* should have been at least as good as a Spice Girls record, which is a fairly low standard, but one this movie never approaches.


Palmetto (1998)

"There's nothing worse than a writer who doesn't have anything to say," drones Harry Barber at the beginning of *Palmetto*. Harry just hasn't seen this movie yet. While *Palmetto* doesn't really have anything new to say, it goes on at great, tedious length in telling the tale of how Barber is double-, triple- and quadruple-crossed by a pair of luscious vixens in the steamy seaside town of Palmetto, Florida.

Harry (Woody Harrelson) is an ex con and ex-journalist, fresh out of prison after spending two years in the clink on trumped-up charges. Harry looks for a job by hanging out in a bar, proving that he is something of a low-watt bulb. T'is in that bar that Harry meets Rhea Malroux (Elisabeth Shue), vampy trophy wife of a local millionaire. Rhea squeezes into a dress like a sausage in a casing, but her teenage stepdaughter Odette (Chloe Sevigny) is less subtle, and Harry falls like a rotten apple for both scantily clad, overripe chippies. Rhea and Odette, for their parts, delight in the wriggly exercise of their feminine wiles, and sucker Harry into a scheme that the ex con, embittered by his time in prison, is just stupid and bilious enough to fall for. The devious plan cooked up by the Malroux women is a feigned kidnapping designed to coax a half mil out of miserly old Malroux. In exchange for ten percent, Harry acts as the beard and bag man in their scheme. Just how dumb is Harry to fall for this? He's so dumb that he takes a job as the local prosecutor's press liaison on the same kidnapping case.

It isn't long before everything starts to go wrong, and Harry is driving around with a body in the trunk of his girlfriend's car. The girlfriend Nina (Gina Gershon) gets suspicious, the cops get suspicious -- in fact, everyone except Harry gets suspicious. Several plot twists later, Harry is still as stupid and unenlightened as a sack of hammers, and *Palmetto* has turned into a messy self-parody, a desperate neo-noir in which chatty villains blather endlessly, a churning tub of acid is the weapon of choice and Rhea's relentless, butt-waggling vamping starts to look like the most subtle thing this movie has going for it.

*Palmetto* certainly has atmosphere. The sweaty tropical air all but steams up the lens, and there are nifty close-ups of brown palmetto bugs and an abundance of noir elements: rain, typewriters, hard liquor, fedoras, broken men and the women who broke them, and, of course, shadowy rooms sliced by shafts of light. Director Volker Schlondorff certainly gets the look right, but the story spins out of control early on, forcing the actors to work ever so hard for so little result.

Based on James Hadley Chase's novel *Just Another Sucker*, *Palmetto* is tiresome and overworked, a sweat-soaked Southern noir melodrama stewing in pheremones. Nobody does anything predictable in *Palmetto*, but neither do they do anything remotely believable, thus blunting the element of surprise with the element of indifference. The climax of this overwrought escapade features a bizarrely brazen performance by Shue (mimicking Gloria Swanson in *Sunset Boulevard*) followed by a supremely corny ending. *Palmetto* is as enervating as a heat wave, and leaves one longing for a truly cool movie (like *Sunset Boulevard*) instead of this microwaved noir knock-off.


The Borrowers (1998)

Borrowers are the reason things tend to disappear. A race of pocket-sized people with wild red hair and big teeth, they live within the walls and beneath the floorboards of homes, borrowing things from humans (aka Beans). Borrowers have charming names like Dustbunny, Minty and Swag, and they are stealthy, clever and brave beyond their size. A box of dental floss and a cup hook, in the hands of a Borrower, is rapelling gear for a borrowing mission in the kitchen, a sugar spoon is a shovel, a birthday candle a torch. Refrigerator magnets can be scaled like a rocky cliff face.

Based on the novels by Mary Norton, *The Borrowers* is a clever, charming and entertaining film that, like so many other tales for little people, proves that size really doesn't matter. As directed by Peter Hewitt, with outstanding production design by Gemma Jackson, *The Borrowers* creates an abundant, visually seamless and wonderfully convincing world of big and small, old and new.

The Clock family, Pod, Homily, Arrietty and Peagreen, are all alone, the last of the Borrowers living in the Lender home. They are menaced by vacuum cleaners, but otherwise co-exist secretly and peacefully with the Lenders, although young Pete Lender (Bradley Pierce) is determined to find out why things are forever disappearing. When the two families are forced from their home by Ocious P. Potter (John Goodman), an evil real estate developer, Arrietty (Flora Newbigin) and Peagreen (Tom Felton) are separated from their parents. Suddenly home alone, they discover Potter's pernicious plan to purloin the old homestead, but Potter discovers them too. Aided by Exterminator Jeff (Mark Williams), who promises "death for every bug and every budget," Potter menaces the clever Borrower kinder while Pete, Pod (Jim Broadbent) and Homily (Celia Imrie) race to the rescue. In the wild chase that ensues, Arrietty will encounter a cute Borrower boy with a hot rod roller skate, Potter will be harassed by a helpful police officer (Hugh Laurie) and drenched in molten cheese, and little Peagreen will be bottled. Luckily for the Borrowers, Potter is the sort of evil villain who inclines toward protracted perils, allowing for hair-raising knick-of-time rescues by intrepid Bean boys and brave Borrowers.

The visual effects in *The Borrowers* are perfectly executed, calling attention not to themselves, but to the story and characters. The flow between the big world of Beans and the tiny world of Borrowers is so casual and ingenious that it achieves a perfect realism that is as delightful as the story itself. *The Borrowers* rewards vigilance, but doesn't beg for it: there are no 'Look at me, I'm really small' moments in the film, just a witty, absorbing naturalism in which a Cheerio is a meal unto itself and an inch of spaghetti is sliced up for dinner. Old and new cultural artifacts and old and new cultures blend together in *The Borrowers*: the Clocks and their unwitting, flawlessly polite accomplices are Brits, while the Lenders and their nemesis Potter are Americans; the Lender house, situated in a circa 1950s London, is a grandmotherly Victorian, full of dark corners where Borrowers can hide, where lace curtains filter shafts of golden light, decorative crown moldings conceal tiny, secret doorways, and an old coal stove squats next to a modern refrigerator complete with a shockingly dangerous ice dispenser.

With its wee heroes and oversized villain, *The Borrowers* slyly pokes a bit of fun at movies in which bigger is better -- the clever climax is both stirring and giddily funny, a fitting finale to a crafty, ingeniously entertaining little film.


The Replacement Killers (1998)

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, *The Replacement Killers* flatters the "Hong Kong-style" action movie to death. As directed by music-video director Antoine Fuqua, *The Replacement Killers* slavishly apes the visual look of Hong Kong action movies -- noirish sets, hyper-violence, unlimited firepower and chaotic gunfights shot in slow motion -- but leaves out the emotional and moral content. *The Replacement Killers* is a designer knock-off, with no pretense of originality.

Two of the designers actually aided and abetted this bit of movie surimi. John Woo is executive producer of the film (although judging from his three American films, his edge has been successively blunted by Hollywood homogeneity). Chow Yun-Fat, a Hong Kong mega-star and veteran of over 60 movies, makes his Hollywood debut in this film, and basically walks through it, simmering, but never generating any heat. Chow is given little opportunity to exercise his newly-learned (and quite competent) English, as *The Replacement Killers*, written by Ken Sanzel, offers him about 20 or 30 words to recite. Mira Sorvino, playing Chow's surly sidekick/potential love interest/hostage, has a few more lines than that, but she, like Chow, is essentially a hired gun, squeezing short bursts of acting in between gunfights.

John Lee (Chow), the taciturn hero-hitman of *The Replacement Killers*, works for a Chinese mobster named Wei (Kenneth Tsang). Wei wants Lee to kill Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker), the cop who killed Wei's son. He also wants Zedkov's son killed, and he wants the cop to witness the murder. In a fit of conscience, Lee can't kill the boy or the father, so Wei, being the ruthless sort of fellow who would hire Jurgen Prochnow as a henchman, orders Lee and *his* family killed by the killers hired to replace Lee in killing Zedkov and son. So, Lee, in order to get back to China to protect his mother and sister, turns to document forger Meg Coburn (Sorvino) for the necessary papers. When assassins come looking for Lee, a fierce gun battle ensues, destroying Meg's atmospheric, heroin-chic apartment, her expensive computer, and her ability to forge a passport. Lee takes Meg hostage, more or less, rather than find another forger, and the pair flee to an assortment of dimly lit locations (apparently in search of a passport), the assassins always right behind them. Zedkov pops up from time to time as well, ostensibly because he's after Wei, but mostly to run out the clock in this brief but content-free movie. Eventually, the killers-chasing-the-killer plot loses steam, so Meg convinces Lee that he has to save Zedkov's boy, which allows for a few more bloodbaths and a tidy veneer of redemption.

There are a few imaginatively staged scenes, such as a gunfight in a car wash, and a nifty little movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie piece set in a cinema (showing Mr. Magoo!). The plot, however, is clunky and transparent, and utterly devoid of the emotional and ethical complexity of an authentic Woo-Chow film. In *The Killer*, or *Hard Boiled*, for example, Chow, fueled by a variety of frequently conflicting motives, kills with regret and has a few hobbies on the side. Woo's narrative style is more leisurely than that of his frenetic imitators, and he stages his gun fights in slow motion not so much for the aesthetic effect, but to amplify the consequences of violence: as geysers of blood erupt from bullet-riddled bodies in hellish scenes of chaos, innocent bystanders often die in great numbers. Slow motion violence in *The Replacement Killers* paradoxically amplifies the violence while muting its effects. The shattering glass, the flying bullets, the cool glint of black steel -- it all has a numbing, soporific effect, an instant, just-add-water poeticism without any mental engagement.

Chow, with his upper lip curled into a permanent sneer, and his suave good looks, physical grace and signature two-gun shooting style, is about the coolest thing on two feet, when those two feet are on his own turf. In *The Replacement Killers*, he's just a ringer, a bit of authentic Hong Kong in a mock Kong movie. There is no discernible wit or intelligence to Lee, nor any complexity to the hitman who is really a big softy when it comes to kids and family, and who was only a good assassin because his targets were always bad guys. Meg doesn't fare much better as a hard-edged, smart-mouthed toughie with a heart of gold and, predictably, a soft spot for Lee. Both characters are as simplistic and unsatisfying as the connect-the-dots, faux-motion rendering of a "Hong Kong-style" movie.


Kundun (1998)

From the opening to the closing credits, *Kundun* is a film of unusual visual richness, replete with metaphoric detail, beautiful compositions, lush color and expressive light. It is a painterly rendering of the early life of the 14th Dalai Lama, sparing in narrative detail, told largely through potently symbolic imagery.

Future Dalai Lama Kundun is found in a remote village on the Tibet-China border, when the toddler (Tenzin Yeshi Paichang) successfully identifies his possessions from a previous incarnation as the 13th Dalai Lama. In Lhasa, the young boy's childhood preoccupations are tempered only slightly by the efforts of the monks to educate him in preparation for the day that he will rule Tibet. Kundun's progress from boyhood to enthronement as spiritual and political ruler of Tibet reveals both the ordinary and the remarkable about him, as well as the tangible humanity of a young man in the unique position of being revered as a god. The presence of a hostile China haunts the young Dalai Lama's life -- though a modern boy by Tibetan standards, he cannot fully comprehend the cynical political and military circumstances that will converge to eventually force him into exile.

A movie that covers nearly 20 years of a life must do it rather quickly -- *Kundun* accomplishes the task not by loading the narrative with exposition, detail and dialogue, but by distilling the history down to a bare bones tale, then fleshing it out with rich pageantry, emblematic landscape and luminous, trance-like visions. At first blush, this unconventional narrative seems too sparse, empty of ideas and structure, relying too heavily on aesthetically pleasing sights and sounds. As the film progresses, however, it becomes more and more clear that director Martin Scorsese's ingenious method effectively reveals much that is impossible to convey in a conventional narrative film, while allowing much that is mysterious to remain so. The uncommon story structure allows *Kundun* to linger at moments of great internal drama in the Dalai Lama's life, such as his exodus to exile in India, that were highly significant events for both the leader and his nation, but are, from a movie standpoint, relatively uneventful and lacking in external drama (i.e. no car chases through the Himalayas). Tibetan culture, politics and spirituality, the intellectual and religious progress of young Kundun, his unique ethical conflict as the human embodiment of the soul of a nation, and the philosophical underpinnings, and practical flexibility, of Tibetan Buddhism are all lucidly explored in *Kundun* (the KTD monastery in Woodstock was one of several to provide technical assistance to the filmmakers, as did the Dalai Lama himself).

Nearly as remarkable as the visual clarity of the film is the cast, composed almost entirely of Tibetans (excepting Chinese characters, such as Robert Lin's menacing, effete Chairman Mao), many of whom are familial relations of the Dalai Lama, or the characters they play. There is not a white face to be seen in Kundun, which is a real break with a movie tradition that tends to temper unfamiliar ideas with faces and facial features familiar to Western eyes. If you believed the very different version of this story told in *Seven Years In Tibet*, it might come as a surprise that there are actual Tibetans living in Tibet. That movie, told from the perspective of then-Nazi sympathizer Heinrich Harrer, suggested that Harrer, an Austrian, was a central, important figure in the Dalai Lama's life, and a prominent personality in Lhasa -- Harrer is entirely absent from this account, which instead emphasizes, respectfully, the Tibetan people and their culture and traditions, mysterious and occasionally astonishing though they be.

The performances in *Kundun* are simple but revealing, relying more on visual expressiveness than dialogue. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong's performance as the adult Dalai Lama limns the range of characteristics -- naivete, compassion, intelligence, idealism -- that, in the face of Tibet's crisis of sovereignty, contribute to a philosophical and personal dilemma for the man who, unique among world leaders, is so inseparable from his country that he must, paradoxically, leave it in order to save it. Tencho Gyalpo is striking as the Dalai Lama's mother (the actress is the actual granddaughter of her character); also exceptional as Kundun's teachers and advisors are Tsewang Jigme Tsarong (as Taktra Rinpoche), and Gyatso Lukhang (as the Lord Chamberlain).

The most striking feature of Scorsese's film is the way that it uses the visual world to represent the insubstantial and spiritual world of Tibetan Buddhism. The very tension present in the film itself, as it weaves together impressionistic visions borrowed from the corporeal world to evoke what is ineffable, reflect the tensions between the spiritual and political, the modern and traditional, the internal and external, that are present in unique ways in the life of the 14th Dalai Lama.


The Sweet Hereafter (1998)

"We've all lost our children. They're dead to us -- something terrible has happened that's taken our children away." When Mitchell Stevens utters these words, he is pondering both his own estrangement from a drug addicted daughter and the terrible accident that killed nearly every child in the tiny town of Sam Dent. Stevens (Ian Holm), an ambulance chasing attorney, is in Sam Dent to convince the parents of the town that he can represent their grief and anger in a court of law.

Atom Egoyan's *The Sweet Hereafter* (based on Russell Banks' novel) is a haunting meditation on grief and loss, parenthood and responsibility, and the enigmatic forces -- the accidents -- that change lives. Stevens doesn't believe in accidents. Accountability is his mantra, responsibility something that can be quantified, yet his own life spirals out of control as he works on the survivors of Sam Dent. Threaded throughout *The Sweet Hereafter*'s interwoven tale of bereft parenthood, of Stevens and Sam Dent, is the haunting, far from innocent fairy tale "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," resonating with its own message of accountability.

The narrative of *The Sweet Hereafter* spirals, shifting through time, beginning after the accident, returning to it (in a horrifying, chilling scene), weaving back and forth from life before to life after. Sam Dent is a town that cherishes its children, a community united in their love for their offspring. Without their children they are divided, isolated by inexpressible grief, and divided still more by Stevens' lawsuit. By taking the town's children, death steals not just the future of Sam Dent, but the present as well. Sam Dent ceases to exist, disappears in an instant, leaving behind people who have nothing left but their own anguish and individual flaws. Stevens observes their grief, exploits it, but also feels a kinship with these people. He wants to do for the parents of Sam Dent what he cannot do for himself and his own family, and so he listens to them with both therapeutic detachment and an intense need to turn their grief into gold, to create something tangible, sensible and controllable out of a senseless and incomprehensible act of random destruction.

In the back and forth of *The Sweet Hereafter*, disparate events and relationships are linked, taking on new meanings in a morally complex mosaic. The incestuous love between a father and his enigmatic daughter (Sarah Polley), the affair between a motel keeper and the widowed mechanic (Bruce Greenwood) who witnesses the bus accident that kills his children, the bus driver (Gabrielle Rose) and her silent, disabled husband, and Stevens' memory of the near death of his infant daughter all become part of an ineffable mystery, as if, by some cosmic conspiracy, their sins and sufferings, their heroism and love can all be tied to a random coincidence of time, place and circumstance.

The cinematography by Paul Sarossy emphasizes the rift between exterior and interior lives, the indifferent natural world and the intense emotional landscape of the bereaved. The frozen white vastness of British Columbia, cold, sterile and, when you know the accident is coming, serenely, impersonally menacing, is set against the dark, cramped homes of survivors who clutch cups of tea and curl up in grief. The cold neutrality outside and the rawness of emotion inside bleed together, each intensifying the other until they meet in a single, empty, burning iciness. *The Sweet Hereafter* is physically chilling, emotionally haunting, a poetic elegy and a lyrical, mysterious meditation on love and loss, chance and fate, and paying the piper.


Good Will Hunting (1998)

Only in the movies are characters like Will Hunting encountered: a blue collar savant with sculpted biceps, he secretly solves complex math problems while pushing a broom at MIT. Back in his charmingly rundown south Boston flat, he devours books with the speed of Evelyn Wood, then cruises, boozes and brawls with his buddies. When he's arrested for the umpteenth time, he defends himself in court by citing obscure 19th century laws.

Will (Matt Damon) is an everyman Einstein dreamboat with a big chip on his shoulder that keeps him from connecting emotionally and achieving his full intellectual potential. Enter Gerard Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a mathematics professor more than a little impressed by Will's math prowess. As Will's mentor, Lambeau feeds him math problems and assorted therapists -- willful Will is bored by the calculations and resistant to psychological rehabilitation. But he finally meets his match in Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), a community college psychology professor, grieving widower and wily homeboy from the old neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Will is involved with Skylar (Minnie Driver), a British med student with whom he can't quite connect because of his past as an abused orphan. Will Will learn to love? Will Sean crack Will's tough guy exterior to reveal the sensitive genius inside? Can Will teach his therapist to take chances again?

These are pretty much stock conflicts in the therapy movie game, and *Good Will Hunting* doesn't really cover any new territory in resolving them. Nonetheless, *Good Will Hunting*, cowritten by south Boston buddies Damon and Ben Affleck (in a supporting role as Will's best friend Chuckie), is rather enjoyable given how corny and utterly predictable it is. Will's therapeutic breakthrough is pure Hollywood: swift and abrupt, it happens just in time for him to tidy up all the loose ends in his life. Still, *Good Will Hunting* has it's moments of spark and originality, bits of prickly, low-rent roughness that are as satisfying as a good scratch after all the weepy male sensitivity training.

What really works in *Good Will Hunting* is the acting, which engages despite the underdeveloped characters and farfetched circumstances. The performances are nicely minimalist, as is Gus Van Sant's unobtrusive direction. Damon, in the sort of role young actors drool over, is quietly powerful as Will, a character who spars constantly, with both his fists and his words, and always pounds his opponent to pulp. Williams, whose roles can be divided into serious (beard) and comic (beardless), is unusually good in this beard role -- where he usually plays passionate and caring as loud and overly enthusiastic, here he is quiet and understated as a touchy-feely burnout who is uniquely capable of healing Will because the two of them are so much alike. Skarsgard's Lambeau is fairly one-note: an effete intellectual snob, he is in awe of Will, and determined to share the boy's brain with the world (for reasons that are not fully explored). Driver is occasionally allowed to sparkle, but she is largely wasted as Skylar, who spends too much time weeping and mooning over Will.

The working class demimonde of south Boston is effectively depicted, and the dialogue and story are most lively and realistic when Will and his buddies are together. They cruise aimlessly from pub to pub, drinking, jesting, and roughhousing, the banter snappy and funny, the Southie accent thick. Less effective is the portrayal of academia: community college coeds are extreme dullards while MIT students and professors alike are all nerdy eggheads (and, compared to Will, relative dunces). While it's all intended to make a point about the nature of good Will's character and conflict, the stereotyping, like so much else in the movie, is too black and white -- *Good Will Hunting* would be more interesting and believable with more color, and a few shades of grey.


The Postman (1998)

*The Postman* is not the worst movie I have ever seen, but I have seen a *lot* of really terrible movies. *The Postman* is overlong, boring, clumsy and laughable, and an utter waste of three hours, but it does have Bill. Bill is the Postman's mule, and a mighty fine ass he is. Poor Bill only survives the first 20 minutes of the movie, however, which is fortunate for the mule, but a real letdown for his fans.

The year is 2013, and the Postman (Kevin Costner) is a loner wandering the vast wasteland of a post-nuclear war America, which is exactly the same character Costner played in *Waterworld*, minus gills and water. The Postman is a Shakespearean "actor," moving from town to town performing plays with his mule in exchange for food. Bill is the better actor. Costner monotonously recites a dispassionate "Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York" as if he were reading a cereal box, but that Bill, he can really handle a sword.

Bill and the Postman are kidnapped and drafted into the United Army of Nathan Holn, which is the bunch who started the war and ruined the world. The Holnists, as they are called, are led by General Bethlehem (Will Patton, in the worst performance of 1997), a former copy machine salesman who also quotes Shakespeare, and commits numerous other misdeeds, as any villain must. Patton's bad acting is at the opposite end of the scale from Costner's: he egregiously overacts, adding meaningless pauses to his phrases and shouting a whole lot for emphasis where none is called for. "Who... is responsible... for that?" he bellows, pointing to an American flag. Then he repeats it about six times. Nothing gets Bethlehem's blood up like a flag.

After the Postman escapes from the Holnists, he finds a dead mailman and steals his uniform and mailbag, then makes his way to Pineview, where he delivers a pre-fin du monde letter to an old blind woman (Peggy Lipton), so everybody in town loves him. They give him food, and have a big ol' hoedown, with singing and dancing and guitar picking. It all looks and sounds pretty good for a post-apocalypse party -- there are pretty colored lights everywhere to frame Costner's noble visage, and mighty fine craftsmanship on the musical instruments, which is surprising since everybody in the world runs around dressed in rags and animal hides, the knowledge of weaving cloth and sewing garments apparently having escaped these goodly folks while the ability to make steel guitar strings did not. Pineviewers also have paper, and, more amazing, envelopes, with which they write many letters for the phony postman to deliver. This kind of inspires the Postman, who is a reluctant hero, this being one of two characters Costner plays (the other being reluctant sports hero). But the Postman is even more inspired by Abby (Olivia Williams), a comely young lass who wants to have his baby because her sweet husband is sterile on account of the mumps. The Postman delivers.

By bringing old mail, the Postman unwittingly gives the people hope, and they start thinking about the future and returning to a civilized society with real clothes. So when he leaves Pineview, the residents, led by a little girl, sing "America The Beautiful," which disturbs the fraudulent mailman and anyone else still conscious at this, the half way point in this sentimental marathon of mock patriotism and hollow idealism.

Meanwhile, Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate), having been greatly moved by the Postman's deceit, reopens the post office and starts all kinds of trouble, making Bethlehem even madder than usual. During a long interlude when the Postman and Abby are sequestered in a snowbound cabin, Ford starts up a postal service, and a whole bunch of *Teen Beat* pretty youngsters sign up to ride horses and deliver mail all over the northwest. The postal carriers are a bunch of little rabblerousers, spreading seditious propaganda and making people happy like good counterrevolutionaries should. Bethlehem responds with murder and mayhem, and the Postman, back from his sabbatical, arms the mail carriers with big automatic weapons. Ford is a little hothead, as rebels go, but the Postman is a born leader because he has the nicest sweater in America (a turtleneck) and his hair is always perfectly coiffed, feathering back with the noble breezes that kiss his princely brow as he rides his great stallion in the pursuit of life, liberty and on-time delivery.

At this point, two hours into it, the movie turns absurdly heroic, with Costner just oozing strained nobility. Slow motion happens (as if this movie needed to be slower), and there is more dancing and carrying on, along with explosions and executions and whatnot, and it is all the most uninspiring thing you could ever hope to see. After an interminable period of increasingly corny heroism and romanticism, the Postman rides into Bridge City, where Tom Petty (acting very badly, consistent with the dominant style of the movie) is mayor. Everybody in Bridge City has nicely styled hair and a little boy asks what a postman is, which makes them all tear up because what kind of horrible post-apocalypse world is it where innocent children have never gotten birthday cards from their grandmothers? It's not a post-apocalypse world worth living in, that's what kind, so the Postman decides to do something about it and he raises a big army, and the final showdown with Bethlehem, which is indescribably ridiculous and lame, occurs.

There is some very pretty scenery in *The Postman* (you can hardly go wrong with the American west), and the idea of written communication and mail delivery being the bedrock of civilisation is actually a pretty interesting one. The script by Eric Roth and Brian Helgelund (based on the best-selling novel by David Brin) is occasionally funny. More often than not, however, it is unintentionally funny, and not at all helped by Costner's sluggish and monotonous directing. To add insult to injury Costner sings on the soundtrack as the credits roll (John Sebastian's "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice") and he sings as well as he acts.

If only Bill had found that mailbag first.