Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Film Reviews

JANUARY 26, 1998: 


D: Arturo Ripstein; with Regina Orozco, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Marisa Paredes, Patricia Reyes Espindola, Juanita Norton, Rosa Furman. (Not Rated, 109 min.)

It's odd that this new film from popular Mexican director Ripstein wasn't scheduled for a Valentine's Day opening, seeing as its main concern is love and the torments thereof. Perhaps the distributor thought all those corpses might be a bit off-putting? Whatever. While essentially a remake of Leonard Kastle's cult classic The Honeymoon Killers, this stylish updating is bereft of the grainy, early-Seventies style of filmmaking that to my mind plagued the original and instead drenches itself in washes of golden, sepia-toned light, making it one of the most gorgeously lit and shot thrillers I've ever seen. Orozco is Coral, an overweight, manic-depressive, and desperately lonely nurse who abandons her two young children to be with Nicolas (Cacho), a smooth-talking, hairpiece-wearing schemer who travels around the backroads of Mexico bilking lonely widows out of their money. After Nicolas inadvisedly tries the scam on Coral, she tracks him down and promises to aid him in his life of petty grift if only he will love her and accept her for the nutcase she is, extra girth and all. Surprisingly, he does, and the two fall madly in love. Trouble arises when Coral becomes jealous of the women Nicolas encounters, and before long her desperate paranoia leads her to knock them off, one by one. Nicolas is horrified at this -- he's essentially a mild-mannered weasel -- but he bites his tongue in the name of love until he can take it no more. Half the time Deep Crimson feels like one of those inexplicably popular mid-afternoon foto-novellas on Univision, but the melodramatic aspects of Ripstein's film are overshadowed by the sheer audaciousness of both Orozco and Cacho, who ooze pathetic, jaundiced desperation at every available moment, and Ripstein's brilliant direction, which makes much of stunning set design and cinematography. For her part, Orozco is one of the most disturbing screen villianesses in some time. Simultaneously obese and mousy, her emotional gamut seems to run from pouting, childlike tantrums to seething rage to lovestruck adolescent horniness -- not the qualities most leading men look for in their companions. Cacho's timid, sensitive Nicolas, however, needs a hand mending his precious wig (it seems to fall apart every 20 minutes or so), and he's touched by this madwoman's obvious devotion to him, insane though it might be. It's a hellish ride all the way down the farthest reaches of obsession and petty theft, with dead floozies and (ay-yi-yi!) infanticide along the way. Ah, love....

3.0 stars Marc Savlov

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D: Tamra Davis; with David Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Guillermo Diaz, Rachel True, Harland Williams. (R, 83 min.)

People who might benefit from judicious use of marijuana: Phil Gramm, Fiona Apple, George Steinbrenner, Faye Dunaway, former Austin City Manager Camille Barnett. People likely to have any use for the wheezy pothead humor of Half-Baked: no one I can imagine. As director Tamra Davis' reward (and, I suppose, our punishment) for the box-office success of 1995's Billy Madison, she has received another opportunity to helm a low-expectations, dead-season comedy that probably will break even if it manages to linger in theatres for two weeks. Our mission as discriminating moviegoers should be to prevent this at all costs. Otherwise, we can count on a summer glut of similar fare about lovable hemphounds whose roach-burned apartment sofas are the launching pads for drearily redundant post-Cheech & Chong adventures. Half-Baked clips through its genre paces as precisely as a rider in an Olympic equestrian routine. Three young stoner buds named Thurgood, Scarface, and Brian (Chappelle, Diaz, and Breuer, respectively) are forced to venture out of their smoke-filled lair in order to help a fourth pal, Kenny (Williams), who's in jail for accidentally killing a policeman's horse. Their scheme involves selling pharmaceutical weed stolen from the government lab where Thurgood works as a janitor. Kenny's dread of becoming a "prison bitch" creates a need for haste; stealth is necessitated by the anti-dope sentiments of Thurgood's straitlaced new girlfriend, Mary Jane (True). The humor in this movie is basically anthropological notes on doper culture and behavior: junk-food frenzies, smoking rituals and hardware, non sequitur conversation, and short-term memory loss. In other words, stuff that passed into the realm of cliché back in the time of the Johnson administration. I did laugh out loud at a brief set-piece in which Chappelle professorially categorizes classical marijuana-smoker types. These species, amusingly portrayed in cameos by Snoop Doggy Dogg, Willie Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, and others, include I Need It to Be Creative, the Scavenger Smoker, the Pot Historian, and the Enhancement Smoker ("Hey man, you ever look close at the back of a $20 bill - on weed?") There are also a few semi-amusing observational touches, such as the comatose, unnamed Guy on the Couch (Steven Wright) found at many a collegiate party house and the attachments that weedies develop to their smoking hardware -- in this case a fireplug-sized water pipe called Billy Bong Thornton. In general, though, Half-Baked suffers from the simple, inescapable fact that there's nothing funny or original left to say about the subject at hand. Face it, dudes: This bowl is cashed.

1.0 stars Russell Smith


D: Bob Spiers; with the Spice Girls, Richard E. Grant, George Wendt, Mark McKinney, Claire Rushbrook, Richard O'Brien, Roger Moore, Barry Humphries, Meat Loaf. (PG, 93 min.)

The Spice Girls take a break in their funky, far-out Spice Bus.

"How bad is it?" "Imagine as bad as it could possibly be...." "Yes?" "It's much worse than that." Believe it or not, that's actual dialogue from Spiceworld, the first (and almost certainly the last) cinematic volley from the British femme-pop, girl power quintet. Bad as it may be, though, the film falls that one precious inch shy of being quite so awful that it achieves cult status; in short, it's just not bad enough to be any good. Essentially a reworking of The Beatles A Hard Day's Night, Spiceworld follows the antics and battles of the band's five members -- Sporty, Scary, Baby, Posh, and Ginger -- as they prepare for their first-ever live concert at St. Albert's Hall. Along the way, they poke fun at the media, themselves, the recording industry, themselves, filmmaking in general, and, of course, themselves. Cheeky monkeys that they are, the Spice Girls are one of the most self-aware groups to come down the pike in some time. It's obvious right off the bat that they know they're already on minute 14.9 of Warhol's Stopwatch o' Fame, and the inevitable Spice backlash (which actually began in the real world about six months ago) is ably parodied in the film, with the girls going up against a vile Fleet Street news magnate (Humphries) and his scheming paparazzo Damien (O'Brien, of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the upcoming Dark City). They also have to deal with a bumbling documentary film crew shooting their exploits and a Hollywood screenwriter (McKinney) and his producer (Wendt) eager to turn their story into a blockbuster movie. Meanwhile, their road manager Cifford (Grant) is desperately trying to keep the wayward girls in line and get them to St. Albert's on time. Oh, and they manage to deliver a friend's baby, as well ("Now that's girl power!" they quip. Slap forehead/groan.) Amidst all the bad puns (of which there are many) and sublime philosophical rants (of which there are few) runs a steady stream of celebrity cameos, the spotting of which may be the most enjoyable part of the experience for many. Everyone from Bob Hoskins to Jools Holland and John Cleese to Elvis Costello (playing the waiter from Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, it seems) wanders in and out of the film. Unfortunately, longtime BBC director Spiers (Absolutely Fabulous) can't seem to build up either any suspense or genuine hilarity along the way, making this one of the weaker semi-mockumentaries in a while. Honestly, if it weren't for a) Posh Spice's dazzling cheekbones and b) the eternal mystery of why we never get to see Sporty's legs (a rash? botched prison tattoos? what?), there wouldn't be much here to hold the interest of anyone other than Princes William and Harry.

1.5 stars Marc Savlov

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