2 items from 1999
Newly edited down to a 89-minute gale of dubiousness -- first appearing, before its perfunctory theatrical release Friday, on North American airline flights this summer -- MGM's "Molly" stars Elisabeth Shue as the "unique" mentally handicapped lead who briefly earns one's sympathies, but the movie overall is an artistic and commercial washout.
The screenplay written by Dick Christie is very similar thematically and structurally to another sappy star vehicle released by MGM this year, "At First Sight", featuring Val Kilmer as a blind guy who is temporarily cured, proving that this particular formula is definitely not working for the studio. In both cases, the filmmaking is perfunctory and the performances unmemorable.
Where Kilmer at least had fun with his role and managed to help that preposterous scenario go down without too much gagging, Shue is wildly uneven and only intermittently convincing as an adult woman who has mild retardation, moderate autism and some scattered savant talents. Director John Duigan ("The Journey of August King") has a leaden hand with all but a few sequences that genuinely reach out with the material and are not as shamelessly manipulative as the movie is on the whole.
The plot follows the fate of Molly when her brother Buck (Aaron Eckhart) brings her to live with him because the institute she lived in since childhood is shuttered. He's a mateless yuppie who is restoring a vintage sailing boat in his pad and has a few incredible misconceptions of how to integrate Molly into his life and the world. When he can't just drop her off at a day-care center with real kids, she embarrasses him at work with her childlike and literal interpretation of the world.
It's all very familiar. She's so innocent she'll strip Buck Naked when "Molly hot" and walk into one of his meetings. In scene after scene, Molly squeals and cringes through a series of cliched inspirational encounters with people not so in touch with their inner child.
The tension comes from poor Buck having his patience so sorely tested that he agrees to let Molly's best friend and learning-disabled love interest Sam (Thomas Jane) take charge of her fate. It's revealed that there's a special brain-grafting operation that might make her better. The last time a Jane character was involved with such scientific hanky-panky ("Deep Blue Sea") he made a good tough guy, but I digress.
With the not very confident but successful contributions of Dr. Brooks (Jill Hennessy, formerly of "Law & Order," doing a Jodie Foster imitation), Molly enters the world of Buck and the rest of us, for a couple of reels, and then mysteriously slips back to her old self after enjoying sunsets on Venice Beach, flirting with Sam and learning to ride a bike. Eckhart ("In the Company of Men") continues to show leading-man potential, but he's left to fend for himself here with mixed results.
A Cockamamie/Absolute Entertainment production
Director: John Duigan
Screenwriter: Dick Christie
Producer: William J. MacDonald
Executive producer: Amy Heckerling
Director of photography: Gabriel Beristain
Production designer: Sharon Seymour
Editor: Humphrey Dixon
Costume designer: Carol Oditz
Music: Trevor Jones
Casting: Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich
Molly McKay: Elisabeth Shue
Buck McKay: Aaron Eckhart
Dr. Brooks: Jill Hennessy
Sam: Thomas Jane
Mark Cottrell: D.W. Moffett
Beverly Trehare: Elizabeth Mitchell
Dr. Simmons: Robert Harper
Running time -- 89 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
In "Jimmy Zip", which received its world premiere at the Hollywood Film Festival, a 16-year-old budding juvenile delinquent with a thing for pyromania runs away from his abusive home for life on the street, whereupon he is promptly offered a job as a delivery boy for an equally abusive drug lord/pimp. Along the way he meets an imposing welder-sculptor with Tourette's syndrome who teaches him how to channel his incendiary impulses into making junkyard art.
Serving up a veritable cornucopia of rickety screen cliches (except for maybe the twitchy scrap-metal guy), writer-director Robert McGinley's straight-faced feature feels like one of "Rushmore"'s epic school plays minus the satirical irreverence.
There's a naive artificiality to the production's idea of grit, which also extends to the casting. As the title character, baby-faced Brendan Fletcher has a Leonardo DiCaprio pout and a habit of expressing rage and frustration by kicking his bike or punching walls. Playing his potential love interest, world-weary Sheila, Adrienne Frantz seems to be paying tribute to Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver", but the only street she appears to have spent any convincing time around is "Sesame Street".
Elsewhere, the usually effective Chris Mulkey is halfheartedly menacing as Rick the heavy. Only Robert Gossett, as gentle junkyard giant Horace, manages to strike an original chord as the boy's rather unorthodox father figure.
But ultimately, Jimmy's life-affirming journey ends up amounting to, well, zip.
An Image Network production
Director-screenwriter: Robert McGinley
Producer: Robert McGinley
Director of photography: Christopher Tufty
Production designer: Mick Strawn
Editor: Howard Flaer
Music: Geoff Levin
Costume designer: Lisa Dyehouse-Snee
Jimmy Zip: Brendan Fletcher
Sheila: Adrienne Frantz
Rick: Chris Mulkey
Horace: Robert Gossett
Otis: James Russo
Running time -- 112 minutes
No MPAA rating
2 items from 1999
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