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MARCH 16, 1998: 

U.S. Marshals

Whereas The Fugitive demonstrated the way big-budget Hollywood filmmaking works best (with a consistently adventurous screenplay, awe-inspiring special effects, commanding performances, and forgivable contrivances that weren't worth questioning), this semi-sequel is a representation of how it's usually done. With Harrison Ford's Dr. Kimble presumably enjoying his freedom somewhere out of trouble's way, U.S. Marshals bumps Tommy Lee Jones's Sam Gerard (in a reprise of his Oscar-winning turn as the mordant, adroit pursuer) into the role of protagonist, this time chasing Sheridan (Wesley Snipes), a government special agent accused of knocking off two other high-level agents in a NYC parking lot. What follows is a series of elaborate chases, false conclusions, and convenient plot revelations that in every way fail to live up to the similar fireworks displayed in the original. Even the impressive train crash that kicked off The Fugitive is expanded upon -- this time with a silly, high-concept plane crash that sends Snipes on his way to freedom. Snipes and Jones don't re-create the fresh contrast between Ford's meticulous determination and Jones's impetuous drive; Snipes is given no character history to make you care about him, and Jones is exhausting as he does the same thing he did in the original. Director Stuart Baird (Executive Decision) isn't nearly as apt as The Fugitive's Andrew Davis was in expanding the minimal, chase-heavy script into a plausible and compelling narrative. What's on display here is a cheap way of cashing in on a good thing.

-- Danny Lorber


The Real Blonde

After a foray into the surreal with Box of Moonlight, indie auteur Tom DiCillo returns to the comic framework that made his Living in Oblivion such a signature success. Set against the plastic backdrop of New York's show-biz scene, The Real Blonde follows the travails of two struggling actors: Bob (Maxwell Caulfield), the smug, swinging stud, with a hunky part on a daytime soap, and Joe (Matthew Modine), a "serious" actor wrestling with the complacency of a long-term relationship, who proves to be less employable than Dustin Hoffman's loquacious lunk in Tootsie.

On the surface The Real Blonde isn't particularly alluring: neither lead is all that interesting or likable, the plot lacks cohesion, and the title, referring to the pigmentation of female pubic hair, flirts with political incorrectness. What keeps the film enjoyable is DiCillo's slick, slack wit, some uproarious vignettes, and an array of well-developed supporting characters. Most notable is frequent DiCillo collaborator Catherine Keener, who provides soul and drive as Joe's frustrated girlfriend, searching for fulfillment and her place in life. Also shining in the ensemble cast: the fawn-like Bridgette Wilson as the love-sick supermodel, who can't hold Bob's attention because of her dye job; Daryl Hannah as Bob's co-star, who has authentically blonde follicles; Elizabeth Berkley showing surprising range as a Madonna body double; and Marlo Thomas, electric in the role of a domineering fashion photographer.

-- Tom Meek


Men With Guns

You can't fault John Sayles for being earnest. Actually, you can. After the subtlety, restraint, and narrative intelligence of his last film, Lone Star, he has returned in Men with Guns to the thuddingly obvious political allegory and kneejerk sentiments that distinguished City of Hope -- it's the kind of pompous political correctness that's the downfall of liberal sensibilities in cinema. As formulaic as a high-school play, its ingenuous ideology betrayed by its fuzzy edge and penchant for easy targets, Guns is loaded with blanks.

Set in an imaginary Latin American country, the film relates the moral odyssey of Dr. Fuentes (the excellent Argentine actor Federico Luppi, here resembling Leslie Nielsen), a naive, idealistic physician (his cluelessness about the political realities surrounding him are underscored during a proctology exam he conducts on an army general) whose life seems void since his wife died. To restore his sense of purpose, he decides to visit a number of young doctors he trained to treat impoverished Indians in remote villages. One by one, he discovers that each of his wards has been murdered by government troops engaged in brutal repression.

Along the way he encounters some iconic wanderers: Domingo (Damián Delgado), "the soldier," a desperate deserter compromised by war crimes; Conejo (Dan Rivera González), "the boy," who embodies the carefree innocence that endures; Padre Portillo (Damián Alcázar), "the priest," a disgraced cleric compromised by cowardice, and Graciela (Tania Cruz), "the mute girl," a rape victim whose plight cries out for vindication. Complementing these by-the-numbers stereotypes are the cognomens of the various villagers Fuentes encounters ("the salt people," "the banana people," and so on), Sayles's bludgeoning way of showing how in a capitalist tyranny, people are dehumanized into the means of production.

It might have helped Sayles's case had he specified an actual country and political situation -- say, Mexico (where the film was shot) and the turmoil in the Chiapas region. As it is, Men with Guns hits the mark only with the recurrent appearances of Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody as crass American tourists. In this venture into Third World strife and injustice, Sayles comes off as a bit of a tourist himself.

-- Peter Keough


Hush

Jessica Lange's starring role as a psycho in Jonathan Darby's thriller reminds us once again of the dearth of meaty film parts for women over age 35. As always, it's a painful reminder.

Lange affects a honey-dripping drawl as she clomps about a Southern horse farm in beige pumps, chainsmoking and belting back Scotches. Her son (Johnathon Schaech) has married a lovely palomino of a girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) who wants to herd him back to the city. However, this mama will do anything -- anything! -- to keep her boy down on the farm.

The film warps the nerve-fraying experience of meeting the in-laws into a predictable Mommie Dearest nightmare. Given all the smothering mothering, the incestuous undertones are worth a snicker; the finest scene has Lange rinsing off a shirtless, mud-covered Schaech with a phallic hose. Schaech and Paltrow make a pretty pair, but this silly show is all Lange's. Whether leering from the shadows or forcing a mania-tinged laugh, she twists into her best Anthony Perkins. Indeed, Hush never whispers; it's heavy-handed, witless, and, when Lange's fate is considered, rather sad.

-- Peter Keough


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