Excess Baggage (1997)

Alicia Silverstone, so engaging and energetic in her starmaking role in the ingenious *Clueless*, has a dud on her hands with *Excess Baggage*. Silverstone produced the film, in which she plays Emily Hope, a poor little rich girl who stages her own kidnapping in order to get some attention from her cold, unfeeling father, a shady business tycoon. Emily's plan backfires when a car thief steals her BMW, with the heiress still tied up in the trunk.

This is known as "meeting cute" for a movie couple, and there's little doubt that Emily and her unwitting kidnapper Vincent (Benicio Del Toro), the affably daffy car-thief-with-a-heart-of-gold, will be coupled by the end of *Excess Baggage*. This contrivance occurs because Emily, for reasons that are not entirely clear, refuses to leave Vincent despite his many efforts to ditch her, eventually winning him over with her pouty, bratty, clueless ways.

There is very little left to doubt in *Excess Baggage*, and few surprises in this by-the-book, couple-on-the-run, road trip romance. The biggest surprises in this lacklustre film are the performances, some surprisingly bad, some surprisingly good.

Silverstone's Emily is a generally unlikable, spoiled brat. Emily gets lots of close-ups of her big doe eyes and pouty lips, but little that makes sense is revealed about her character, except that everything she does is a desperate cry for attention. One minute she is a high kicking karate black belt, the next she's a whining, fearful little girl who smokes constantly, drinks even more, and suffers some pretty wild mood swings.

Del Toro (*The Usual Suspects*) easily walks away with the film. His oddly mannered performance, a sort of mumbly, Methody, monotonously comic James Dean riff, is utterly mesmerizing and hilarious. Del Toro's Vincent underreacts to everything (including ye olde groin kick), and wanders through *Excess Baggage* in an apparent state of constant bemusement that is the perfect counterpoint to Silverstone's erratic, overwrought performance.

Christopher Walken, as always, is another scene stealer, this time playing (no surprises here) Emily's menacing and mysterious "Uncle" Ray. Ray is Dad's Mr. Fixit, called in to take care of the inconvenient kidnapping situation so that the tycoon can attend to his important business meetings. Walken's gift is his ability to take seemingly innocuous statements and deliver them with such slippery venom that the very molecules in the air around him are malignant with dread, and he uses that talent to great effect in *Excess Baggage*. Walken and Del Toro, with their equally mannered and quirky portrayals, play off each other wonderfully, and supply all of the energy and interest present in this otherwise drab movie.

Uncle Ray somehow manages to track down Vincent and Emily just as Vincent runs afoul of a pair of venal henchmen out to recover a satchel full of money that was paid to the car thief for the stolen cars that were never delivered because Emily burned down the warehouse. This belabored plot twist provides *Excess Baggage* with some excess baggage of its own: Harry Connick, Jr. as Vincent's shifty pal Greg, and Nicholas Turturro as a fast talking thug. Another turn of the plot allows Emily's Dad (Australian actor Jack Thompson) to prove what a considerable cad he is -- even Uncle Ray is disgusted.

Directed by Marco Brambilla (*Demolition Man*), *Excess Baggage* is erratic and uneven, occasionally cute, occasionally funny, but mostly a baffling, inconsistent mess punctuated by spurts of violence and somewhat creepy romance. *Excess Baggage* would be a good video to watch with one's thumb on the fast-forward button; Savor the slippery, offbeat charms of Del Toro and Walken, and skip everything else.