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OCTOBER 12, 1998: 

Unmade Beds

Nicholas Barker's cinematic journal about four desperate singles prowling the personal ads in New York City is at once witty and deviously contrived. Most audacious of the lot is Brenda, a voluptuous Italian bombshell who's hunting for a sugar daddy to pay her single-mom bills in exchange for a discreet, and infrequent, number of sexual couplings each month. Michael is a diminutive 40-year-old suffering from nice guys' disease; Aimee, a sweetly Rubens-esque 28-year-old, is also dating challenged and deathly afraid of turning 30 without a husband. And Mikey, a pot-bellied 54-year-old screenwriter (though he's never sold a script) who looks like a jowly Dennis Hopper and speaks in Mike Hammer monotones, describes his apartment as a "fuck palace" and insists, time after time, that he has, and never will date a "mutt."

Unmade Beds appears to be a documentary, but in fact it's a scripted feature that extrapolates from its characters' real-life personalities. Barker does capture the incandescent mystery of New York's nocturnal cityscape, and the jazzy, New Age soundtrack accentuates the film's dark mood, but for a staged act, Unmade Beds revels too much in the banality of its subjects squandering drop-in-the-bucket opportunities for rife humor and sardonic wit.

-- Tom Meek

Project Grizzly

There are mavericks and there are mavericks. In 1984, Troy James Hurtubise survived a grizzly attack in the Canadian bush. Thereafter he became obsessed with creating a bear-proof suit of armor. Developed over seven years and constructed of rubber, chain mail, and air bags, the suit will be modeled by its designer at the Harvard Film Archive's screening of Project Grizzly this Friday. Filmmaker Peter Lynch chronicled Hurtubise's quixotic odyssey, including hilarious forays into the doughnut dens and biker bars of Canada, there to tangle with inebriated homo sapiens surrogates in preparation for the suit's intended nemesis. The mythic creature's awesome power is also simulated in "crash tests" by swinging logs, speeding trucks, and high dives off cliffs. Hurtubise's determination is impressive and not a little scary; Lynch's camera eye is unswervingly honest and wryly clever. This is Animals Attack! meets Twin Peaks by way of RoboCop.

-- Peg Aloi

One Tough Cop

Like Sidney Lumet's Serpico, One Tough Cop is a gritty crime drama that paints a stark portrait of a New York City police officer who bucks the hypocrisy and status quo of the department in his unbridled quest for justice. As real-life cop Bo Dietl -- the film is "inspired" by his book of the same title -- Stephen Baldwin plays the stubborn SOB juiced up on morality trying to solve the savage rape/mutilation of a nun. He gets some added muscle in cracking the case from his childhood friend Richie La Cassa (Mike McGlone), who's now an underboss in the mob. Things get dicy when the FBI (led by a drippy Amy Irving in the film's funniest turn) pressures Bo to roll over on his mob buddies, and it doesn't help matters any that Bo is diddling Richie's gal (Gina Gershon) on the side, or that his boozed-up partner, Duke (Chris Penn), racks up a monstrous gambling debt with one of Richie's underlings.

Baldwin, McGlone, and Penn give dead-letter performances, but the film doesn't allow them to develop their characters beyond the street's testosterone-laden codes of machismo and loyalty. One Tough Cop gives Dietl's heroics their due -- too bad it sacrifices sincerity for sensationalism in the process.

-- Tom Meek

Dee Snider's Strangeland

You'd have to be the biggest Twisted Sister fan in the world to find anything redeeming about Strangeland, which was written by and stars former rocker Dee Snider. He plays Captain Howdy, a sociopath who kidnaps high-school girls, sews their mouths closed, and tortures them with body piercings. It's The Silence of the Lambs by way of "Ironman," as Howdy is reformed and redeemed, then falls back into his old habits when the town refuses to forgive him.

Setting aside the glorification of rape, torture, and pedophilia, we get dialogue that doesn't even reach the level of laughably bad, jumpy direction that makes the simplistic plot confusing, and a wasted cameo by Robert Englund. For one split-second, when the townspeople are protesting outside Captain Howdy's home, we see a banner reading, "We're not gonna take it." If only the rest of the film had poked fun at itself like that reference to Twisted Sister's hit song, maybe this could have been amusing schlock instead of disgusting travesty.

-- Dan Tobin

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