2 items from 1991
5 September 1991 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
Though he has raised the risks considerably, once again writer-director Gus Van Sant Jr. has come up with a film that zeros in on the poignance and gentle comedy at the heart of an otherwise seamy situation. And with the sole exception of a misfired Orson Welles tribute, his new film, "My Own Private Idaho, '' is his most accomplished effort yet.
Despite the fact that it is the story of a teenaged narcoleptic male hustler in Portland, Ore., with an obsession about finding his mother, the film's tonal richness, its hipness and its plain humanity, as well as the considerably canny casting of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in lead roles, mark this feature as one to watch.
Outstanding specialty success is all but assured; even more, the film has the potential to wade into the mainstream and make a sizable cache.
Phoenix and Reeves play Mike Waters and Scott Favor, respectively, a pair of teenagers making their living off the mostly male, occasionally female, paying public.
Mike, the center of most of the attention, is actually gay and is obsessed with finding the mother who abandoned him to state care as a child. The movie's title refers to the image of a country home and family he carries around in his head.
Scott, whose own sexual preferences are straight but likes the money of hustling almost as much as the shock it gives his politician father, agrees to take off into the countryside, in the United States and eventually even Italy, in pursuit of leads.
A series of dead ends leads to Mike's brother Richard (James Russo, who, despite appearing only briefly onscreen, makes a powerful impression) and some devastating revelations that, nevertheless, help Mike get on with his life.
However, as with Van Sant's other features, plot doesn't do justice to the crowded anecdotes, varying tones and stylistic insouciance.
In one scene sure to increase the film's buzz factor, Reeves' picture on the cover of a male nudie magazine suddenly comes alive and starts talking about the vicissitudes of hustling, eventually landing in an argument with the many newly animated figures on the covers of the rack's other magazines.
Van Sant emphasizes the vulnerable side of Phoenix's persona, and not only does the young actor deliver his best performance, he manages to limn a gay character who will probably have an enormous appeal to young women. Even his narcolepsy, which causes Mike to fall asleep in moments of stress, alternates between the wryly sad and macabrely humorous.
Yet, no matter how pronounced the sexual humor, pathos underlies every scene, and in the Italian interlude, when Scott falls for a beautiful girl (Chiara Caselli) he meets on a farm and perforce abandons Mike, Van Sant creates a profoundly sympathetic portrait of an emotionally impossible situation.
The film does contain interludes shot in the style of Welles' "Chimes at Midnight, '' during which Reeves' character acts out a drama of filial rebellion and reconciliation, with William Richert performing a good turn as the Falstaff character. Unfortunately, Van Sant's editing becomes so self-consciously heated, and the dialogue so ersatz, that barely a moment works.
MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO
Fine Line Features
Writer-director Gus Van Sant Jr.
Producer Laurie Parker
Directors of photography Eric Alan Edwards,
Production designer David Brisbin
Editor Curtiss Clayton
Mike Waters River Phoenix
Scott Favor Keanu Reeves
Richard Waters James Russo
Bob Pigeon William Richert
Carmella Chiara Caselli
Alena Grace Zabriskie
Running time -- 102 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
(c) The Hollywood Reporter
Lest we forget though, Bill and Ted's previous adventure -- while on the dark side of excellent -- enjoyed bodacious boxoffice returns. No doubt a large audience is waiting for this sequel to Orion's 1989 surprise hit.
Yet if excellence in stupid humor can be measured at all, this journey seems the weaker of the two. Even the plotline lacks coherence.
''The Terminator'' meets ''Back to the Future'' here as bogus Bill and Ted robots from the 27th century journey back to present-day San Dimas, Calif., in an attempt to kill the duo and alter their positive influence on the future.
(This is special pleading, but is it possible to make this the last time-travel movie for awhile? The idea is starting to get real old.)
The bogus Bill and Ted do, in fact, kill the real pair, who wind up in hell, which resembles a labyrinth of childhood horrors, such as having to kiss your grandmother who has bad teeth on the mouth.
To escape hell, Bill and Ted must beat the Grim Reaper in a series of kids' games. This spoof of Ingmar Bergman's ''The Seventh Seal'' is easily the movie's brightest comic idea.
When the Grim Reaper loses badly, he is obliged to accompany Bill and Ted for the rest of their journey back to life. And thank goodness he does.
William Sadler's Grim Reaper is the life of this otherwise grim party. His dead-pan comments and dead-earnest efforts to serve his new masters provide the film's only inspired clowning.
The rest of the movie is a messy melange of Halloween costumes, special effects and unspecial jokes.
The basic problem lies in Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon's screenplay. It strains for every joke, which brings a peculiar tension, if not desperation, to the humor.
In anxiously shuffling between various levels of reality, they never firmly plant their comedy in any one. ''Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey'' is more a free association of tired comic ideas than a comedy that unravels from a central spring.
Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves again play Bill and Ted, respectively, not to mention the Bill and Ted robots and the Bill and Ted ghosts. The two still manage to play these airhead, would-be rock 'n' rollers with conviction.
George Carlin also returns from the original film. But he disappears for most of the journey. only to reveal he has been present all along in Pam Grier's body. We don't even want to think about what that implies.
Director Pete Hewitt and editor David Finfer keep the scenes flowing as fast as possible. But when a film's basic rhythm is overdrive, it exhausts rather than amuses an audience.
Cinematographer Oliver Wood expertly blends the various dimensions created by designer David L. Snyder. Rock songs layered over the action exist more to promote Inter-
Cinematographer Oliver Wood expertly blends the various dimensions created by designer David L. Snyder. Rock songs layered over the action exist more to promote Inter-scope Records' soundtrack album than to help the movie's journey along.
BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY
Director Pete Hewitt
Producer Scott Kroopf
Executive producers Ted Field, Robert W. Cort
Writers Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Director of photography Oliver Wood
Production designer David L. Synder
Music David Newman
Editor David Finfer
Costume designer Marie France
Bill Alex Winter
Ted Keanu Reeves
Grim Reaper William Sadler
De Nomolos Joss Ackland
Rufus George Carlin
Miss Wardroe Pam Grier
Missy Amy Stock-Poyton
Elizabeth Annette Azcuy
Joanna Sarah Trigger
Running time -- 98 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
(c) The Hollywood Reporter
2 items from 1991
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