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Chicago Cab, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, A Night at the Roxbury, Ronin

By Ray Pride, Dave Chamberlain

OCTOBER 5, 1998: 

Chicago Cab

As directed by Mary Cybulski and John Tintori, the filming of Will Kern's long-running play "Hellcab" is utterly dispensable, hellishly running on and on in episodic fashion. Some bits and performances shine, and lead Paul Dillon, as the good-hearted hack with hardly a shred of history, isn't half bad, but afterwards, it all seems a pointless exercise. See the play. Appearances by John Cusack, Laurie Metcalf, Gillian Anderson, Julianne Moore and April Grace. 96m. (Ray Pride)


Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Werner Herzog's career as a director of eccentric features may have withered away, but his occasional documentaries soar. Dieter Dengler grew up in the Black Forest, dreaming of flying the way the Allied pilots zooming over his house had when he was a child. He came to America and became a Navy pilot, shipped out to Vietnam, and was shot down and captured over Laos forty minutes into his first mission. Herzog and Dengler retrace his steps as a prisoner of war who escaped into Herzog's eternal vision of hell, the raucous, unrelenting jungle. Some of Dengler's claims seem utterly outrageous, and Herzog prompts him to greater heights. Madmen, particularly a pair of them, may make the best storytellers. 80m. 35mm. (Ray Pride)


A Night at the Roxbury

The key to enjoying "Saturday Night Live"-casted movies is setting your expectation bar low. "Black Sheep," "Tommy Boy" and "Wayne's World" were all hilarious, unless you were in the theater expecting high-end comedy. Like the above three films, "A Night at the Roxbury" culls the most talented of the current cast of SNLers: Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon and Colin Quinn. Derived from the "Roxbury guys" skit, Kattan and Ferrell's head-bobbing, nose-scratching, girl-disgusting characters, the film gives the two something they don't have on television: dialogue. The story follows Kattan and Ferrell as the Butabi brothers, rich-kid dorks trying as hard as they can to be club cool, but failing miserably until a car accident with a certain 21 Jump Street co-star lands them in the club of clubs, The Roxbury (now closed, in real life). What follows is a typical SNL blend of clever wordplay and physical comedy, Kattan taking the physical and Ferrell completing the punchlines. Is it funny? As funny as "Tommy Boy," but not in a Farley way, in a Kattan way. Most surprising is how damn sexy fellow-SNLer Molly Shannon (of Mary Katherine Gallagher skit fame) is as she makes the transition from silky California sex-kitten to sex-starved husband hunter. A stellar video to rent, but if you must see it in the theater, remember: it's not as bad as a Paulie Shore movie. With Dan Hedaya, Richard Grieco, Loni Anderson. (Dave Chamberlain)


Ronin

Cross "Speed" with "The Spanish Prisoner," if you dare, and you might have "Ronin," an incident-packed action entry that I can't get out of my head. On a second go, "Ronin" seems like it could even be some kind of unassuming masterpiece. Let's call it "Mission Impossible" done right. Filled with characters that the late critic Jan Dawson would have called "perfect raincoat men," John Frankenheimer's terse, thrilling film has its resonance with the work of Hitchcock, as some have rightly pointed out, as a pack of spies and mercenaries, which includes Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce, traverse "To Catch a Thief" territory while scrambling after a MacGuffin-filled suitcase (which, smartly, we never see the contents of). But the mood is different, as these rain-damp, cig-smelling men, brimming with cryptic, yet limitless honor, criss-cross and double-cross along a terrain of yesterday's dinge, of verdigris-burnished corridors and slimy cobbled streets. What on first viewing seemed a superannuated throwback, on reflection seems smashingly new. Anidileuvian but post-millennial, its acute awareness of history -of cinematic form and fashion, of samurai legend, of postwar French cinema, of Cold War espionage fiction and particularly the works of Jean-Pierre Melville, who would tip his Stetson. There's more caffeine quaffed than dialogue gruffed out in "Ronin," but DeNiro, between traditional car chases along winding, snow-dusted mountain roads that demand a nice little exchange of bazooka fire, gets his ration of trademark Mametian quips. "Everyone's your brother until the rent comes due." Exactly so, exactly so. Panavision. 121m. (Ray Pride)


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