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Weekly Alibi Excess Baggage

Alicia on the Lam

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  I'm not sure Alicia Silverstone has been in Hollywood long enough to make a clear judgment call. She's certainly cute enough. She's got serious on-screen charisma. She's been in a couple big-ticket Hollywood blockbusters (Clueless, Batman and Robin) and a couple direct-to-video phantoms (The Crush, True Crime). But is she an actress? Well, she doesn't have that tenacious "I want to be taken seriously" bug that, say, Winona Ryder has been running up the flagpole lately. Of course, it's no crime to not want to be the next Meryl Streep. Only the future (and the ticket-buying public) will tell if Silverstone parlays her cover-girl popularity into a lifelong career in film or drops off the face of the Earth like some Brat Packer after college. If her latest film Excess Baggage is any indication, however, Alicia's on the right track.

With Excess Baggage, Alicia Silverstone takes a step that usually takes actors decades to graduate to. In addition to starring in this film, Silverstone acts as producer. Now, "producer" is a pretty nebulous credit. It could mean someone who's involved in every aspect of a film from the script's first draft to the film's last test screening. It could also mean someone who shuffled a couple papers around a desk. I suspect, though, that Silverstone saw a script that was perfect for her and actually shopped it around Hollywood until she could get it made the way she wanted.

In this deadpan little comedy, Silverstone is poor little rich girl Emily T. Hope. It seems that her corporate slimeball of a daddy will give her a brand new Beemer any day of the week but won't give her the time of day. To spark a little parental attention, Emily stages her own kidnapping, locks herself in the trunk of her car and waits for old Daddy Warbucks to come and rescue her. Unfortunately, before her harebrained scheme can come to fruition, a high-dollar car thief named Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) boosts Emily's wheels--with her still in the trunk. That gets us through the opening credit sequence and from here on out, well, complications ensue. Daddy, who's still more concerned about business than his missing daughter, calls in "Uncle Ray" (Christopher Walken) to take care of things. Ray is a family friend who "fixes things." Emily meanwhile, has started to grow on her exasperated "captor." Is romance in the offing? What do you think?

Silverstone is effective in what is essentially a real-world twist on her Clueless character. The biggest asset here, though, is the casting of Benicio Del Toro (currently America's weirdest actor). Del Toro is probably best known for his work as the incomprehensible hood Fenster in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects. Whereas some lame-ass pretty boy like Ethan Hawke could have turned this into some silly Tiger Beat fantasy, Del Toro gives it a quirky energy and a healthy grounding in non-Hollywood reality and his squirrely line readings and twitchy mannerisms give Excess Baggage much of its humor. Silverstone and Del Toro may seem like an odd couple, but that's one of this film's charms. The world is full of odd couples.

Walken is, as always, great at playing the role he's made a career of. He nails this whole "quiet menace" thing with effortless ease; and I, for one, am glad he's not an actor who's afraid of typecasting. In one great exchange, Uncle Ray calms Vincent with the words: "Have I hurt you? Have I shot you in the groin?" After some nervous thought, Vincent replies, "Are those options?" Walken also adds a nice touch to his character by twisting him from a one-dimensional baddie to a multilayered tough guy who cares more for Emily than her sleazy father does.

Excess Baggage is, refreshingly, not some glossy Hollywood popcorn movie. It is clearly a little independent film that got a healthy boost of West Coast cash when a box-office gem like Alicia Silverstone jumped on board. There's plenty of comedy and romance, but there are also plenty of subtle little touches (as when Emily sits in a coffee shop and imagines what it would have been like if her loving, recalcitrant father had rescued her from the trunk like he was supposed to) that make this one work.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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