3 items from 1997
"Leaving Las Vegas", an uncompromisingly artistic film that attracted a sizable audience and garnered many critics' awards and four Oscar nominations, is a hard act to follow. But filmmaker Mike Figgis has come through with another insightful, absorbing romantic drama with superb performances and a sense of humor that helps make its serious agenda more palatable to mainstream moviegoers.
Marred only by a tricky conclusion that's a letdown after the intensity of what has already transpired, New Line's "One Night Stand" should appeal to the adult audience that can push such moody works as Figgis' "Vegas" and "When a Man Loves a Woman" into the Hollywood hit parade. Critical support should be there from the start, and possible honors in the ensuing months will come in handy down the ancillary pipeline.
Wesley Snipes, as a successful married man who cheats on his wife one lonely night and goes through a soul-searching period in the aftermath, joins Oscar winner Nicolas Cage of "Leaving Las Vegas" and Richard Gere of "Mr. Jones" as another Figgis male lead on the brink of chaos redeemed through the love of a good woman.
It's a reliable gambit when the level of craftsmanship is this high and the writing so strong. Originally a script by Joe Eszterhas, the project has been refashioned by co-producer Figgis, who once again composes the film's score and is reunited behind the camera with "Vegas" alums co-producer Annie Stewart, cinematographer Declan Quinn, production designer Waldemar Kalinowski and editor John Smith.
Although one subplot, involving Robert Downey Jr. as a performance artist dying of AIDS, becomes central to the mostly somber and reflective scenario, "Stand" is primarily a character study of successful commercial director Max Carlyle (Snipes), who introduces himself to the audience in an informal opening sequence and occasionally interjects brief narration.
In New York on business, West Coast convert Max visits his HIV-positive friend and former business partner Charlie (Downey). They have an awkward reunion, with Max acting content but radiating unease, while Charlie is in denial about the grim future that awaits him. Back at the hotel, Max has a minor mishap with a friendly woman, Karen (Nastassja Kinski), who shares his passion for the Juilliard String Quartet and is married to Charlie's brother (Kyle MacLachlan).
Manhattan traffic plays a big part in Max staying an extra day and joining Karen at a concert, after which they are held up at knifepoint, escaping rattled but OK. Without a place to stay, he sleeps in her room. In the wee hours, she has a nightmare and his comforting her turns into them making love.
Safely back in Los Angeles, Max wants to be honest but is smothered with attention by his wife (Ming-Na Wen), and family life almost returns to normal. Time goes by and Charlie's condition becomes terminal. When Max returns to New York, he's faced with temptation again. But the painful, sad-to-watch demise of Charlie gets to Max, and his good manners and gentile demeanor are tested when he encounters homophobia, callousness and the possibility of another tryst with Karen.
Aside from the ending, the film is also mildly disappointing because of Kinski's somewhat enigmatic character, who is not given equal attention. Downey is haunting and wily in his passionate portrayal of a scared but courageous victim. Julian Sands, Glenn Plummer and Amanda Donohoe are solid in supporting roles, while Sony Pictures head John Calley and Figgis himself are memorable in cameos.
ONE NIGHT STAND
New Line Cinema
A Red Mullet production
Writer-director: Mike Figgis
Producers: Mike Figgis, Annie Stewart, Ben Myron
Executive producer: Robert Engelman
Co-executive producers: Michael DeLuca, Richard Saperstein
Director of photography: Declan Quinn
Production designer: Waldemar Kalinowski
Costume designers: Laura Goldsmith, Enid Harris
Editor: John Smith
Music: Mike Figgis
Casting: Nancy Foy
Max Carlyle: Wesley Snipes
Karen: Nastassja Kinski
Charlie: Robert Downey Jr.
Mimi: Ming-Na Wen
Vernon: Kyle MacLachlan
Running time -- 102 minutes
MPAA rating: R
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage get facials in this John Woo actioner, which should lift the summer out of its boxoffice doldrums and propel Paramount to stunning grosses, both domestic and worldwide. A mesmerizing, pulsating blast, "Face/Off" is brainy and brawny, traits that are wonderfully exhibited by its two stars, whose deliciously ripe performances are highly entertaining.
While there are, not surprisingly, bullets and gunfights in this Woo wonder to approximate the Battle of the Bulge, there's also a lot of heart, comedy and wizardry. In between all these colossals, there's not a moment of dead space, including a medical operation scene that is so amazing and credible that it's likely to cause the phones to ring off the hooks for Beverly Hills plastic surgeons.
The apt title, "Face/Off," is a double-edged sword, indicating both a duel and, well, faces off. That's what happens in this Good vs. Evil epic as good-guy Sean (Travolta), a law enforcement leader in the battle against international terrorism, duels Castor Troy (Cage), a sociopathic terrorist whose savagery and technical skills make him far more lethal than some dumb slug who puts fertilizer in a rental truck.
Overall, Sean and Castor could not be more different: In addition to their ethics, they are complete opposites in style and personality. Sean is cautious, tenacious and sweet, while Castor is adventurous, flippant and cold. In many ways, this is a classic tortoise-vs.-the-hare contest, but one that ultimately relies on each knowing the other's habits, quirks and ways. And, in this Crichton-esque scenario, both Sean and Castor not only have to assume the other's identity but take on the other's face, literally.
Grounded in the scenarist's solid character development and topped off by the delicate and robust performances, "Face/Off" is a true rarity -- a summer popcorn film whose personal stories are not secondary to the effects. Travolta and Cage are a terrific pair of adversaries.
As the stolid crime fighter, Travolta smartly conveys not only his character's flat-footed virtues but demonstrates his light-footed capabilities when the situation calls for more. As the megalomaniacal Castor, summer action man Cage is deliriously evil, a Lucifer as loony and deadly as there is. Most wondrous about their performances is that both Travolta and Cage, when put behind the other's face, can pull off stunningly deft approximations of the other's character and style. And that's where the fun erupts. The switched-identity scenes are at once chilling, hilarious and utterly amazing.
The supporting players are similarly terrific, including Joan Allen as Sean's neglected wife and Dominique Swain as his nymphette daughter. Alessandro Nivola is outstanding as Castor's whiz-kid "bro," a peculiar twerp with deadly dimension, while Gina Gershon is well-cast as Castor's sexy squeeze.
There's not one ounce of film fat in this ripped and buff production, chiefly owing to Woo's cinematic sorcery. While his balletic violence has at times been stylishly pretentious in the past, his rapid-fire shooting here is terrifically lethal: In short, he has found a story and players worthy of his skills, too often in the past wasted on generic, dummy rounds and soft slugs.
Hats off to the "Face/Off" production team, chiefly cinematographer Oliver Wood for the formidable framings and composer John Powell for the supple and rousing score. Special mention to Kevin Yagher for the impressive makeup effects, as well as to second unit director Jamie Marshall for some buoyantly wild action sequences.
A Douglas/Reuther production
AWCG Entertainment production
A David Permut production
A John Woo film
Producers David Permut, Barrie M. Osborne,
Terrence Chang, Christopher Godsick
Director John Woo
Screenwriters Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Executive producer Jonathan D. Krane
Executive produced by Michael Douglas,
Director of photography Oliver Wood
Production designer Neil Spisak
Editor Christian Wagner, Steven Kemper
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick
Music John Powell
Co-producers Michael Colleary, Mike Werb
Associate producer Jeff Levine
Casting Mindy Marin
Visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander,
Special makeup effects created by Kevin Yagher
Second unit director Jamie Marshall
Sound mixer avid Ronne
Sean Archer John Travolta
Castor Troy Nicolas Cage
Eve Archer Joan Allen
Pollux Troy Alessandro Nivola
Sasha Hassler Gina Gershon
Jamie Archer Dominique Swain
Dietrich Hassler Nick Cassavetes
Lazzaro Harve Presnell
Dr. Malcolm Walsh Colm Feore
Running time -- 136 minutes
MPAA rating: R
A dirty dozen wad of cons hijack a prison transport plane in "Con Air", a high-flying actioner fueled by equal parts schmaltz and high explosives that is likely to pack high-altitude grosses for Buena Vista among younger viewers and action fans.
Starring Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich as the respective white hat and black hat, "Con Air" carries a first-class load of hardened con players -- Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, M.C. Gainey, Danny Trejo -- that would give the guests at Marion the heebie-jeebies. While this Jerry Bruckheimer blaster is likely to knock down big international grosses as well, don't look for it on your next flight to Cannes.
The main con here is not Hannibal the Cannibal, but rather Cyrus the Virus (Malkovich), a cerebral slime who has masterminded an escape plan to take place during a transport of the country's most vile criminals to a new superprison.
The plane itself is a virtual flying prison, with all the amenities one would expect for its last-class passengers. In addition, to the sadistic Cyrus, prisoners include a serial killer (Steve Buscemi), a multiple rapist (Danny Trejo), a black militant (Ving Rhames), a crackhead (Renoly), a berserko killer (Nick Chinlund), as well as some other dudes who, rap sheets aside, are just plain mean and ugly. And there's one ringer in the deck, a sweet-natured parolee, Cameron (Cage) who has served seven years on a bum rap, and who's en route to reunite with his wife and child (Monica Potter, Landry Allbright).
The takeover is swift, sadistic and successful as Cyrus and his group of crazy cons commandeer the plane to a secret destination where they'll be whisked away to the sandy beaches of nonjurisdictional waters. Their daring has essentially flummoxed the flatfoots on the ground who don't even have a contingency plan for such an event -- so unlikely is its occurrence.
Only Cameron stands between them and umbrella drinks: Does the young husband risk his life to serve a system that has screwed him or does he just settle in for the ride? Hint: "Die Hard" in the sky.
Packed high with explosive action and loaded with high-stakes jeopardy, "Con Air" charts a generally sound narrative course, although it hits some story turbulence before it hits its climactic jackpot. Despite a descent into generic action pyrotechnics, Scott Rosenberg's screenplay is juiced with dry, witty dialogue and recharged with some preposterously apt comedy.
Director Simon West keeps things on course and aloft with a tight, in-your-face style that rarely loosens its grip; at times, however, the percussively charged story loses wallop in technical overkill -- the fiery explosions are piled too high, and the music, or so the bombastic thundering is called, is a deadening overkill.
Still, the tech credits, especially cinematographer David Tattersall's kinetic compositions and visual effects supervisor David Goldberg's high-tech blendings, stoke the story.
It's the well-chosen cast, however, that make this thing fly. As the parolee who risks his life to thwart the cons, Cage exudes bravery of the decent Everyman who rises to the occasion. With his flowing locks, scrabby beard and beatific gaze, Cage exudes a Jesus-on-the-cross sacrificial persona, albeit a Christ who pumped iron.
Oozing bile, Malkovich is highly menacing as the sociopathic sadist Cyrus, while Rhames is chilling as a murderous militant. As an intelligent serial killer, Buscemi's buggy performance is easily the film's eeriest -- Bundy, Gacey and Dahmer rolled into one.
On the ground, John Cusack is well-cast as a brainy U.S. marshal and Colm Meaney is entertaining as a loathsome good guy. Mileage plus awards to cast members Mykelti Williamson as Cameron's diabetic cellmate and Rachel Ticotin as a guard.
A Jerry Bruckheimer production
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer
Director Simon West
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Executive producers Chad Oman,
Director of photography David Tattersall
Art director Edward T. McAvoy
Visual effects supervisor David Goldberg
Costume designer Bobbie Read
Casting Victoria Thomas
Sound designer Christopher Boyes,
Cameron Poe Nicolas Cage
Larkin John Cusack
Cyrus the Virus John Malkovich
Garland Greene Steve Buscemi
Billy Bedlam Nick Chinlund
Bishop Rachel Ticotin
Malloy Colm Meaney
Swamp Thing M.C. Gainey
Baby-O Mykelti Williamson
Johnny 23 Danny Trejo
Sally Can't Dance Renoly
Tricia Poe Monica Potter
Casey Poe Landry Allbright
Running time -- 110 minutes
MPAA rating: R
3 items from 1997
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