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Friday, June 7, 2002
Updated: May 31, 2:12 PM ET
A dry and arid cinematic summer

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Once a month throughout the summer, I'm using this space to review recently released summer movies. Why? Because it's my column and I can do whatever I want. So there.

Sports Guy's rating system
My rating system, just in case you were wondering (in the form of sports movies from the past few years

1 out of 10 -- "Rollerball 2002"
2 out of 10 -- "Legend of Bagger Vance"
3 out of 10 -- "Summer Catch"
4 out of 10 -- "Mystery, Alaska"
5 out of 10 -- "Any Given Sunday"
6 out of 10 -- "Hardball"
7 out of 10 -- "Varsity Blues"
8 out of 10 -- "Love And Basketball"
9 out of 10 -- "Jerry Maguire"
10 out of 10 -- "Hoosiers"

Onto the reviews ...

When I went to see "Unfaithful," there were 10 other people in the theater ... one couple and eight single guys (two of whom were wearing raincoats when it wasn't even raining outside). The guy sitting in front of me was wearing cologne. Everyone was fired up. As it turned out, this wasn't one of those "Come see Diane Lane in about nine different sex scenes" movies, much to everyone's chagrin. As he did in "Fatal Attraction" and "Indecent Proposal," director Adrian Lyne uses infidelity as the catalyst for one of those slow-moving, brooding, artsy-fartsy relationship pictures.

It wouldn't have been remotely watchable without Lane, who carries the movie. Weathered, haunted, bored, intrigued, titillated ... she pulls every emotion off, although it's hard to determine the quality of an actress' performance when they're locking horns with Richard Gere. Regardless, it's good to see Lane finally landing a meaty role; I've been a fan ever since her Cherry Valance days. Seeing her in "Hardball" bummed me out ... it was like seeing Jason Priestley in a made-for-VH1 movie. Some things just shouldn't happen.

Quick plot recap: Lane seems to have the perfect upper-class life, but she meets a good-looking French guy who sells used books and touches parts of her that haven't been touched in a while. Basically, it's every guy's worst nightmare. We're not sure why she's cheating, we're not sure why she's risking her perfect family life ... apparently motivations aren't important in movies anymore. Of course, that didn't stop me from fitting the Sports Gal with an electronic tracking bracelet this week.

Diane Lane
Diane Lane carries "Unfaithful" despite some unmet expectations.
As for Richard Gere, he's stuck with the Michael Douglas Memorial "Average Successful White Businessman & Family Man Thrust Into An Improbably Believable Situation" role. In fact, Douglas would have played this role, except he's suddenly 120 years old. So he was out. And Gere couldn't pull it off. because ... well, he's Richard Gere. By my count, Gere has shined in two movies over the past 15 years ("Pretty Woman" and "Internal Affairs"), and only because he was either playing Happy Good-Hearted Richard Gere or Evil Sex-Crazed Richard Gere. Anything else, you're pushing it. Gere spends most of "Unfaithful" making goofy faces, shifting his eyes and hyperventilating. I don't care what my mom says ... Richard Gere can't act. Case closed.

Other than that, there isn't much else to say. The sex scenes are pretty tame; I'm not just asking for a "Director's Cut" DVD, I'm demanding it. There's a decent plot twist toward the final third of the movie, but other than that, you basically zone out between scenes until there's a chance that Lane might get naked again -- not the most entertaining way to spend nine bucks, even if there were cameos from Chad Lowe and Uncle Junior from "The Sopranos." This would have been the best Lifetime Channel movie ever.

My final rating: 4.5 out of 10.

***** ***** *****

The commercials for "Changing Lanes" made it seem like the ultimate "Road Rage" movie. When you think about it, Road Rage contains everything you would ever want in a movie -- car chases, violence, obscenities, cars slamming into one another, you name it -- so this was long overdue. And while we're at it, what about "Theater Rage"? The next time somebody either A) brings his own food to a movie theater, then spends 45 minutes wrapping and unwrapping things, B) receives a cell phone call, then spends the next few minutes explaining to the person on the other end that they're at the movies, or C) openly starts discussing the film with the person next to them, I'm pulling a Hannibal Lecter and killing everyone in sight.

Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck
In this scene from "Changing Lanes," Samuel L. Jackson discovers how much Ben Affleck made in "Armageddon."
Anyway, the commercials were deceiving. "Changing Lanes" tells the story of two guys getting into a simple fender bender, which escalates into a vicious feud (sadly, no road rage). Ben Affleck plays the sleazy lawyer with a heart of stone; Sam Jackson plays the former alcoholic trying to win custody of his kids. After the accident, Affleck leaves without exchanging insurance information with Sam, dropping an important law file in the process. Since Sam's car has been incapacitated, he's a little bitter about the whole thing -- partly because he's running late for a child custody hearing, partly because Quentin Tarantino never got around to writing "Pulp Fiction 2: Jules Walks The Earth Like Kung Fu."

And we go from there. Sam loses custody of his kids, then decides not to give Affleck his file back. Affleck takes it a step further, shamelessly begging for his file, threatening to involve Matt Damon and Harvey Weinstein, even having Sam's credit shut down so Sam can't buy a house. Sam responds by getting Affleck banned from the 2002 ESPYs. And so on. Of course, everything somehow ends happily. Personally, I would have ended it with them playing "chicken" and ramming their cars into one another at 75 mph, but that's just me.

I actually liked Affleck and Jackson in this one. Maybe Sam has played the bitter, down-on-his-luck African-American guy at least 300 times at this point, but Affleck acquits himself nicely as the lawyer, even making himself cry during one scene. I'm still not totally sold on him, mainly because of his excruciating performances in "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon" (which won him his own wing in the Doug Christie Hall of Fame). Unlike Keanu and Cruise, when Affleck's bad, there's nothing funny about it ... you just want to see him get punched in the face. Not a good quality for a leading man. But he's OK here. I'm not willing to give up on him as a leading man yet ... at least until the end of this column.

Another thing I enjoyed -- the eclectic supporting cast, which includes Dylan Baker as the sleazy guy who helps shut Sam's credit down. Don't you just love Dylan Baker? One of the all-time great That Guys -- he played the child molestor from "Happiness" who made kids Rohypnol & tuna fish sandwiches. They should have spun him off into his own TV show.

Also, William Hurt plays Sam's AA buddy, spending most of his time with a "What happened to my career?" look on his face. Fifteen years ago, he would have played Affleck's part. Now he's the buddy from AA. Hate to see that. Sydney Pollack plays the seedy father-in-law and does Sydney Pollack things. And Amanda Peet makes a stunning cameo as Affleck's whiny wife. Two years ago, Peet was the next Julia Roberts ... now she's playing the cameo wife in "Changing Lanes." That's what happens when you follow up "The Whole Nine Yards" with "Saving Silverman" and "Whipped." She's a Cinemax erotic thriller waiting to happen.

Was it worth seeing in the theater? Probably not. Not a bad Blockbuster rental though.

My final rating: 5.5 out of 10.

***** ***** *****

When they announced that Tobey Maguire would be playing "Spider-Man," I had the same reaction everyone else did: "Huh?"

Spider-Man
Spider-Man's special effects were impressive on many levels.
Hey, what did we know? He's perfect. Talented actor, likable, a little nerdy, just enough charisma, definitely believable as a budding high school scientist who gets inadvertently bitten by a spider and gains sweeping superpowers. He carries the movie. I can't even imagine who else could have played Spider-Man, other than maybe Corey Haim. Throw in some impressive special effects, Kirsten Dunst and Kirsten Dunst's breasts, and it's fun for the whole family. This was a movie that couldn't have been made as recently as five years ago, but the special effects have improved so much that anything's possible now.

Let's face it: The whole "Superhero" genre hasn't been played out nearly enough. I can't believe somebody hasn't made an R-rated "Plastic Man" movie yet. Wouldn't that be unbelievable? Plastic Man fighting crime and bagging hot chicks around the globe? Even Milton Berle wasn't packing like Plastic Man. How could this not be in the works? I'm telling you, I should be a Hollywood executive. It's only a matter of time.

Three other things warrant mentioning:

  • Cliff Robertson plays Tobey's uncle ... and he's wearing a startling rug. I'm not sure about you, but nothing puts a hop in my step quite like a bad toupee -- it's like the gift of comedy that keeps on giving, especially on a 40-foot movie screen. There was a 20-minute stretch where I thought the toop was going to turn into the Green Goblin. It's mesmerizing. I keep pitching a one-hour block of game shows to ESPN featuring "Toupee or Real Hair?" and "Fake Boobs or Real Boobs?" ... and they keep rejecting me. Perfect programming for ESPN6. Maybe some day.

  • Good to see Willem Dafoe working again (and admirably, as the Green Goblin). I was under the mistaken impression that he actually died on the cross at the end of the "Last Temptation of Christ," but he's still alive and well. Dafoe endured a Steve Avery-type career -- promising start, inexplicable collapse -- so maybe he's on the verge of a Jon Voight-like comeback. And by the way, don't call him "William." He hates that.

  • There's a formula that explains the Kirsten Dunst phenomenon: "Big boobs + bad teeth." The bad teeth make her approachable; you feel like anyone would have a chance with her. But the gravity-defying boobs make her unattainable. So it's a constant internal battle. I have a chance ... I have no chance ... I have a chance ... I have no chance. Somebody needs to perform a study on this. As Mad Dog Russo would say, "Kirsten, that's a good job by you!"

    That's all. Huge thumbs up all around.

    My rating: 8.5 out of 10.

    ***** ***** *****

    Ever since I was little, the whole "Star Wars" phenomenon has eluded me. Back in elementary school, there was a dorky kid on my block who went to see "Star Wars" seven times and incessantly bragged about it, like it gave him an identity or something. We didn't know what to do about him. We were playing street hockey, wiffleball, hoops, football ... this kid was seeing "Star Wars" for the seventh time. What can you say? Finally, we gave him a wedgie and covered him in leaves.

    Years later, I'm a little more open-minded. I tried with "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones." Really, I did. I gave it my best shot, lasting for 45 agonizing minutes before finally walking out of the theater (exceeding Vegas' over-under by about 12 minutes).

    I just don't get it. I don't get NASCAR, I don't get country music, I don't get "Star Trek," and I don't get the whole "Star Wars" thing. Hey, I'm the same guy who enjoys pro wrestling. We all have our humiliating vices. But this "Star Wars" thing ... it has eluded me from Day One. I would almost feel left out, except that I never wanted to be left in.

    During the 45 minutes I caught, the special effects were intriguing, and there was some sort of plot going on -- Natalie Portman was in danger, and Obi Wan and Anakin (the guy who eventually becomes Darth Vader) had to protect her. That much I could follow. There was a fake universe, lots of goofy names to remember, a battle between the Jedis and the bad guys, cool light sabers, weird-looking aliens, cool space cars flying around, the never-ending battle between good and evil ... in other words, it was a typical "Star Wars" movie. Within 30 minutes, I was checking my cell phone messages and running out of interesting ways to eat Sour Patch Kids. Finally, I tried to see how many Sour Patch Kids I could pile into my mouth at the same time. Twenty-three! That was fun.

    By the 40-minute mark, I was officially zoning out. As par for the course with every "Star Wars" movie, the acting was soooooo bad and soooooo wooden that you almost felt like they were using rehearsal footage as the actual takes. What happened to Natalie Portman as an actress? She looks better than ever, but the scenes between her and Hayden Christensen wouldn't even garner an AVN Awards nomination. Poor Hayden looked like he was auditioning as an extra for a Backstreet Boys video. But my favorite part was seeing Jimmy Smits and Sam Jackson involved as members of the Jedi Senate Council. Think Jimmy Smits was available? Hopefully, the filming schedule didn't conflict with the 2002 Latino Awards Show.

    Anyway, I don't get this "Star Wars" thing. I will never get it. Within 45 minutes, I was sneaking out of my theater and heading in to see ...

    ***** ***** *****

    "Insomnia." One of those "Looks good on paper" movies that never really delivers ... kinda like the '93 Mets. Why doesn't it deliver? I'm not really sure. Christopher Nolan (the guy who directed "Memento") does another good job here -- after two hours, you feel like you're trapped in Alaska, where it never gets dark during the summer, so newcomers can't sleep and eventually feel disoriented. In other words, it's one of those settings that creeps you out to the point that you can't wait for the movie to conclude just so you can leave the theater. It made me feel trapped, unhappy and semi-suicidal. Whether these are emotions you want to solicit from your paying customers ... well, that's up for debate.

    Al Pacino and Robin Wiilliams
    Al Pacino roughs up Robin Wiilliams for dragging "Insomnia" down to a 6 on The Sports Guy rating.
    The star of the movie? None other than Al Pacino, playing a renowned homicide detective who says things like "This guy crossed the line and he didn't even blink -- you don't come back from that." You may know this, you may not know this ... there's a little-known Hollywood rule that Al has to play a cop once every seven years. This was probably my least favorite "Pacino as a cop" performance; he spends the latter half of the movie wandering around like a zombie and looking exhausted. Not good times. If you had to rank the all-time "Pacino as a Cop" performances, I'd rank them like this:

    1. "Heat" -- Pacino played this part shortly after winning the Academy Award for "Scent of a Woman" ... and right after making the career decision that he would play every subsequent movie part exactly like the character from "Scent of a Woman." Hoo-hah! Has anyone ever submitted an Oscar-caliber performance that also ranked off the charts on the Unintentional Comedy Scale before? My favorite part is when he tells Hank Azaria, "She's got a great ass! And you got your head ... all the way up it!" That kills me. Great movie.

    2. "Cruising" -- Pacino delves into the gay S & M world to find a killer ... and ends up losing his, um, perspective. Strangely absorbing. You will also want to light yourself on fire about 10 different times (put it this way: you only want to see "Cruising" once). if you haven't seen it, it's worth renting just for the scene when Pacino dances in the gay bar for the first time. Transcendent comedy.

    3. "Serpico" -- Classic '70s movie.

    4. "Sea Of Love" -- Mildly underrated, if only for the hysterical sex scene with Pacino and Ellen Barkin. One of Pacino's lines actually became a running joke with me and my buddies -- during the sex scene, when Barkin pushes him against the wall, turns him around and starts groping him, and Pacino goes, "Oh, you're KILLIN' me!" We've gotten 10 years of mileage out of that one. You have to say it in the Pacino voice though.

    And "Insomnia"? That ranks fifth. Ten years from now, Pacino will be starring as an undercover cop on assignment in "Grumpy Old Men III: The Nursing Home Murders," saying things like "I don't care where you got that catheter, I want you to replace it right now or I'm gonna take a FLAMMMMME-thrower to this place!"

    Anyway, Pacino ends up tracing the Alaska murder to Robin Williams, who basically plays the psychiatrist from "Good Will Hunting" again, only if that guy shaved his beard, became a writer and beat a teenage girl to death. I can't remember him playing a Bad Guy before ... let's hope it never happens again. It's not your fault, Robin ... it's not your fault ... it's not your fault ... it's not your fault. Completing the Oscar-Winning Trio, Hilary Swank plays a young detective who helps Pacino on the case. Every time she came on the screen, I was disappointed that she wasn't dressed like a guy (couldn't they have snuck in one scene where that happened). Is Swank attractive? I still can't decide. But when you're the only actress in history who has performed in scenes with Al Pacino, Pat Morita and Ian Ziering, does it really matter? What a career.

    As for the supporting cast, we have two superb That Guys -- Molly Ringwald's dad from "Sixteen Candles," and Clint the Greaser from "Dazed and Confused" -- as well as Maura Tierney (they needed the "best actress with a sweaty upper lip available") and another That Guy who plays Pacino's partner and looks like Chris Moore from "Project Greenlight." Not a bad effort on that front. There's also a decent plot twist in the first third of the movie, which sets up everything that follows. And the Alaska scenery was pretty cool. Maybe I wasn't enjoying the movie that much, but at least it kept my interest.

    My biggest problem with "Insomnia" -- other than the whole "I wanted to hang myself after it was over" thing -- was that the trailer gives away the ending. Why do movies insist on doing that? Drives me crazy. Really ... does anyone want movie trailers to give away important plot twists? This might be a top-five Pet Peeve for me. Just for that, I'm downgrading my final grade.

    My final rating: 6 out of 10.

    ***** ***** *****

    In the Jennifer Lopez vehicle "Enough," J-Lo gets married and has a kid, but her husband starts acting like a jerk ... so she pulls a "Sleeping With the Enemy," flees town and starts a new life somewhere else. Of course, the husband eventually finds her, but she's taken enough self-defense classes that she kills him with her bare hands. The end.

    (By the way, I never saw this movie. I'm just guessing.)

    ***** ***** *****

    I just knew I was going to despise "Sum of All Fears." A movie centering around terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb in a Baltimore football stadium? Boy, that sounds like a good time. I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Nine months! Hollywood didn't even wait nine months! I'm absolutely outraged by this. Remember after 9/11, when "How will Hollywood react?" was the hot entertainment topic? Well, now we know. Within nine months, 9/11 apparently never happened. I feel like picking up dog doo off the sidewalks in Boston and mailing it to Paramount Pictures, the studio responsible for releasing this turd this summer (instead of doing the dignified thing and waiting another year).

    Ben Affleck
    Ben Affleck is a high-ranking CIA agent .... riiiiiiiight!
    It would help if the movie was remotely entertaining or redeemable in any way, shape or form. Ben Affleck plays Harrison Ford's old Jack Ryan role. I'm buying Ben as a soldier, a lawyer, an artist, maybe even a dermatologist ... but I'm not buying him as a fledgling CIA analyst/genius. Come on. There isn't a single moment in this movie where you're not thinking to yourself, "I just paid nine bucks to watch Ben Affleck portray a highly ranked CIA agent." Yes, my friends, the jury remains out on "Ben Affleck, Leading Man."

    Fortunately, he doesn't have to carry the film into the ground by himself; Morgan Freeman co-stars as Affleck's mentor, a poor man's version of the guy he played in "Seven" (and a Bruce Willis-caliber mail-in job). Could somebody write the script for "Shawshank 2: The Zihuatenejo Redemption" before Freeman completely loses his credibility? Note to Morgan: You can turn these scripts down; you don't have to say yes to everything. I hope you get a better agent. I hope you resurrect your career. I hope you become a little more choosy. I hope.

    The only bright spot: A notable cast of That Guys, including James Cromwell (playing the President once again -- he should just run for the presidency at this point); Bruce McGill (D-Day from "Animal House," also the Mickey Mantle of the That Guy Hall of Fame); Philip Baker Hall (played Floyd Gandoli in "Boogie Nights"); and Liev Schrieber (the older guy from "Scream 2" ... not David Arquette, the other guy). Of course, my favorite casting move was Bridget Moynihan (Mrs. Big from "Sex and the City") playing Ben's girlfriend, a Baltimore doctor. So you have Ben Affleck as a CIA agent, and you have Mrs. Big as a doctor. Feel the realism! This wasn't quite as bad as Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist in the last Bond movie, or Nicole Kidman playing a neurosurgeon in "Days of Thunder" ... but it's pretty bad. They should have gone the whole nine yards and cast Bobcat Goldthwait as the Secretary of State.

    Here's the plot in shorthand: Israeli plane crashes, bomb found, bomb sold to terrorists, U.S.-USSR misunderstanding, bomb explodes in Baltimore, potential nuclear holocaust. You could have gotten all of that from the trailer ... unfortunately, it takes the actual movie over an hour just to set everything up. And throughout the excruciating two-hour film, there isn't a single entertaining, exciting, thrilling scene. Remember the scene in "Patriot Games" when Harrison Ford's car gets besieged by hitmen? There isn't one scene like that in "Sum of All Fears." Not a one. There isn't really a funny moment, either. And it's confusing as hell. And incredibly distasteful, in light of 9/11.

    Other than that, I really enjoyed it.

    My Rating: 2.5 out of 10.

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.