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FEBRUARY 15, 1999: 

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. The whole time I was watching How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I kept wondering what the film would be like if Stella were actually a squishy, bland middle-aged white guy being stalked by someone half his age rather than a buff, in-her-prime black woman pursuing a younger man. Well, here's the two-plus-hours-long answer. It would be like watching a Candida Royale porn film: painfully slow paced, enveloped in soft lighting, and with the overwhelming presence of every woman's worst nightmare--the self-proclaimed Sensitive Male. Kevin Costner plays the monster in question, a widower named Garret who wrote some messages to his dead wife and then put them in bottles. The much younger Theresa (Robin Wright Penn), a researcher for the Chicago Tribune, finds one of his letters on a slow news day and locates him in a small town in North Carolina. She teaches him how to love again, and, unfortunately for us, Garret likes the slow jams and subjects us to an embarrassingly stupid sex scene. Paul Newman gives a good show as Garret's grumpy father, and Illeana Douglas is ever-charming, if wasted in her usual wacky sidekick role. Aside from them, it's one drawn-out, wish-Fabio-were-here scene after the next. Take your hankies, ladies, because you'll need something to wipe up the mess after this pukefest. --Higgins

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE. It's kind of a hybrid of Like Water for Chocolate, The Little Mermaid, and one really long commercial. You have Amanda (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a woman empowered by her cooking, an annoying crustacean who guides her to Prince Charming, and numerous trips to a department store. Gellar, our beloved Buffy, gives up vampire slaying for a couple of hours to pursue Tom (Sean Patrick Flanery) via her newfound power to prepare meals that solicit extremely emotional responses, from sadness to desire. The problem here is that, as with so many romantic comedies, there isn't sufficient character development to understand why Amanda and Tom want to get together in the first place. And when they do finally declare their movie love to one another, the ending seems far from happy. Amanda uses her gourmet prowess primarily to catch her man, and Tom only seems to like her clothes and "bold taste in dishware." They'll get divorced in six months. --Higgins

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