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"The Leading Man," "Man in the Iron Mask."

By Ray Pride

MARCH 16, 1998: 


Director John Duigan has made a few good, small movies--"The Year My Voice Broke," "Flirting," the underrated "The Journey of August King"--and this year's "Lawn Dogs," one of the better movies out of Sundance this year. Before "Lawn Dogs," Duigan turned out "The Leading Man," a perfunctorily plotted variation on backstage dramas like "All About Eve" with an eccentric cast that still manages to hold attention. Lambert Wilson is a prolific playwright whose young mistress, "Flirting"'s Thandie Newton, gets cast in his newest play about a mercenary who finds his principals compromised by, yup, falling in love with the wrong woman. Jon Bon Jovi is cast as an American action film star who comes to England to try his thumb at stage work, and the cast also includes David Warner, Barry Humphries, and as the playwright's resentful wife, Anna Galiena. There's no real dramatic momentum, but I wasn't particularly bored at any point. (Ray Pride)


Randall Wallace made a name for himself in the period epic game with his script for "Braveheart," and its worldwide success led to his writing-directing assignment for "Man in the Iron Mask." His script might not be half-bad, but it's hard to tell from the finished film. Dumas' story takes its lumps in a few vulgar and unfunny comic scenes, but it's mostly the clash of acting and nonacting styles that takes its toll. While as King Louis, the long-tressed Leonardo DiCaprio is more delicately girlish than ever, he's surrounded by four variously loyal men of various cartoon strength: Aramis, a drab, devout Jeremy Irons; stomach-ache-faced D'Artagnan Gabriel Byrne; Porthos as a thickly-accented buffoon in the sometimes-nude form of Gerard Depardieu; and John Malkovich as Athos, in what surely must be the most uncomfortable performance in years. (There are master shots that include several people in which Malkovich's eyes wander and he stares sourly off-camera.) The preview I saw was packed with a recruited audience of prepube Leophiles, and it bid well for both United Artists and theater owners--there were low girl-moans each time he came on screen, but any time it became apparent that the old farts were going to command a few minutes of screen time, they would bolt as one for the snack bar--five, six, seven times within the pic. In the multiplex megacorp multiverse, everybody makes money! For about seventy-two hours, maybe. If they're lucky. With Anne Parillaud, Judith Godreche. (Ray Pride)

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