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Weighted down by Excess Baggage, Alicia Silverstone stumbles in her attempt to turn on the cute charm one more time.

By Zak Weisfeld

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  It's a terrible thing to be incredibly successful before you can legally drink. Especially when you know it can't last. In a world like Hollywood, where even wildly talented and exceptionally beautiful people are routinely beaten back into daytime dramas and waitressing jobs, being a successful child star is akin to winning the Grammy for Best New Artist. All you can really do is hope you didn't blow all your money on cocaine and a rapidly-depreciating mansion on a fault line in the Hollywood Hills. And in her bungalow on the Columbia lot, Alicia Silverstone must have trouble hearing her Spice Girls CD over the tolling of the bell.

Not that she should be dismissed entirely; she was more than charming in Clueless, and one hell of an Aerosmith video girl, but there's little sense that Alicia's river runs deep.

And while she is a cute girl, she looks to make the transition to full adulthood about as smoothly as Anthony Michael Hall. And once her pedophilic sex appeal is gone, all that will be left of Alicia Silverstone is a preternatural pout and the sad and sour taste of movies like Excess Baggage.

I have seen worse movies this year (and Alicia was in one of those, too) but none quite as hapless or disinterested as Excess Baggage. Directed by somebody named Marco Brambilla, the movie feels to have been shot on a whim, and not a particularly powerful one at that. Excess Baggage is a story that is probably frighteningly close to Alicia Silverstone's heart. In it, she plays a little rich girl nobody cares about, Emily T. Hope.

Emily is trying to get her cold and extremely wealthy father to pay attention to her by faking her own kidnapping. Things go smoothly until her BMW is swiped by the incredible mumbling car thief, Vincent, played by Benicio del Toro. This is followed by roughly 89 whole minutes of Alicia pouting, smoking, or throwing a tantrum. Occasionally, these activities are even performed in mind-bending tandem.

There are a few brief interruptions for Benicio's mumbling and Christopher Walken's by-now hilarious glowering, but nothing to get in the way of the main action. Luckily it all gets sorted out, more or less, but neither the actors nor the audience seem to care much.

While Excess Baggage purports to have screenwriters (three in fact), it seems more likely to have been written by consumer taste surveys taken in YM, Seventeen, and malls across America.

Where should the movie be set? Seattle. (Well, Vancouver at least; it bothered me that despite taking place in downtown Seattle, I never once saw the world famous Space Needle.) What color leather jacket should Alicia wear? Yellow. Should her kidnapper boyfriend be comprehensible? No, just Latin. Should he wear epaulets? Yes, everything he owns should have epaulets. But what should we employ to get boys to go see it (other than the allure of Alicia)? Cars--lots and lots of pointless, expensive, fast-looking cars. Is chain-smoking and drinking the best way to demonstrate that you are cool and grown up? You betcha. Everything in Excess Baggage is so trendy that I was surprised Jewel didn't make a cameo appearance in the film. I shudder to even think about the soundtrack.


And while the questions of what kind of car the main character should drive seem to have been painstakingly gone over, the important questions like, "What the hell is going on in this movie?" and, "Why are these people acting like this?" seem not even to have been asked. The crux of the movie, Alicia's and Benicio's romance, forms, not out of any perceivable charm or attachment to one another, but just because they happen to be the only two characters in the movie. (Or maybe it was the epaulets? Are epaulets really coming back?)

In a sense, this complete lack of passion and humor seem the only legitimately adolescent thing about the movie, a harrowing glimpse into the mind of a teenage star with a production deal. And perhaps Alicia already senses that this could be her swan song. The character of Emily is like an Alicia medley, the poor little rich girl of Clueless, the bratty but ass-kicking Batgirl, the tantrums and adolescent obsession with older men of The Crush, and all the heart and intelligence of an Aerosmith video.

Looking back, it was quite a ride. Now let's just hope that Alicia has a stern, yet loving, financial adviser.

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