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REVIEW: My Super Ex-Girlfriend


Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.
Able to fricassee beloved pets without bothering to use the stove.
In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Uma Thurman, as resident New
York do-gooder G-Girl, zips around foiling jewel robberies and
diverting renegade missiles, but her true forte seems to be tormenting
Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), the blandly likable guy who fell for
her mousy alter ego and then dumped her after deciding her neuroses
were too much to handle. In essence, then, this is Fatal Attraction,
imprudently reconceived as a light comedy; at the height of her
wrath Thurman is even given Glenn Close’s frizzy perm, and the
infamous boiled bunny is replaced here by a goldfish whose tank
a vengeful G-Girl zaps with her heat rays. All of the movie’s ostensible
laughs are predicated on a single noxious stereotype: the needy,
clingy, insanely possessive girlfriend, suitable only for a few
quick fucks. In small doses — think Isla Fisher’s malevolent
kewpie doll in Wedding Crashers — this kind of gender-based
pigeonholing can still be amusing. When it’s pervasive, though,
it’s just ugly.

    That massive stick up my ass aside, however, Super
, like every Ivan Reitman flick since Ghostbusters, just isn’t
very funny. Thurman, who demonstrated a knack for cold fury in Kill Bill,
can only vacillate between simpering and glowering, though she makes the most
of the film’s one good scene, in which G-Girl is too paranoid about Matt’s blatantly
flirtatious interaction with a coworker (Anna Faris) to save Manhattan from imminent
destruction. Luke Wilson, meanwhile, seems to have no purpose in life other than
to make us feel grateful for the jolt of loopy personality supplied
by his brother Owen — he’s like Owen’s secret weapon against overexposure.
My hopes lifted briefly when Eddie Izzard turned up as G-Girl’s arch-nemesis,
Professor Bedlam, but Izzard turns out to have no comic juice when deprived of
his English accent, and even as written (by Simpsons vet Don Payne), he’s insufficiently
dastardly. There are even sad little PG-13 jokes, as when G-Girl sends Matt’s
car into geosynchronous orbit; viewed with a telescope, it sports the handwritten
message — I kid you not — "SUCK YOU." Right back atcha,
you lamentable sexist crapfest. — Mike D’Angelo

REVIEW: Lady in the Water
Lady in the Water

the hell is everyone smoking?
Reading the poisonous
advance news on M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, you’d think
the director was offering up a badly shot home video of himself
sitting on the can reading aloud the phone book from cover
to cover. Amid all the nonsense in the press about M. Night’s
ego, M. Night’s crazy movie, M. Night’s tell-all book, M.
Night’s split with Disney, M. Night’s impending career meltdown
and whatnot, there’s one simple, important fact being conveniently
ignored: Paul Giamatti has just given the greatest performance
of his career — as a lead in a Hollywood studio movie
no less — and no one is noticing.

    Lady in the Water is, first and foremost, not
the disaster everyone has predicted. It’s a perfectly fine film — an effectively
made, often very funny, mood piece-cum-fairy tale where thriller elements come
into sharp relief every once in a while and then fade back into the background.
The story concerns stuttering building superintendent Cleveland Heep (Giamatti)
who discovers a water nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) living in the pool of his drab
but colorfully populated apartment complex. It turns out this creature is a mystical
being that has to deliver a message to a writer (played, probably to his everlasting
regret, by Shyamalan himself) and then return home. But preventing her from returning
is a mysterious wolf-like creature that lives in the lawn around the pool. In
order to figure out what to do with his unexpected guest, Cleveland has to learn the specifics of the fairy tale he is living in, find some way to apply
that fairy tale to the mundane reality of his apartment complex, and get
all the neighbors to assume their designated roles in the story.

    It’s actually a pretty cute little conceit. It’s also
a flighty, fragile one — alternately ridiculous, comic, sad, ridiculous,
creepy, and also, well, ridiculous. No living actor should be able to pull off
this story’s odd dance between mundane pathos, mythic fantasy, and creeping dread.
Except that Giamatti does — he’s a child when he has to be, a sad and lonely
little man when he has to be, and a hero when he has to be. He holds this crazy
stunt of a movie together, bringing to it depths of emotion even Shyamalan probably
didn’t anticipate.

    To be fair, Lady in the Water does have its
problems. By casting himself in a pivotal role as the writer, Shyamalan appears
to have distracted attention from the fact that his real surrogate
in this film is Giamatti’s character — the poor, flustered workaholic who
has to get everyone to play their parts and somehow make magic happen. It also
doesn’t help that Shyamalan is a merely serviceable actor lost in a sea of talent.
Jeffrey Wright deserves special mention as a crossword fiend, as does Bob Balaban
as a hilariously stuffy film critic (another Night-ism blown way out of proportion
by the cognoscenti) whose recitation of classic structural tropes seems to be,
in part, an admission by the writer-director that he knows there’s
a more conventional way to tell this story. And the elaborate fairy tale Cleveland
is unraveling probably has a couple
of beats too many, though its baroque intricacy is part of the joke. But all in all, Lady in the Water shows Shyamalan
effectively breaking out of the thriller genre — one that, at least for this critic, wasn’t all that thrilling in the first place — and
sending things in an altogether more risky, fascinating, and powerful direction.
It helps that he has the greatest actor of his generation along for company. — Bilge

REVIEW: Shadowboxer
Gooding, Jr. has become such a punchline in recent years — thanks
to parts in disposable fare like Radio and Boat Trip — that it’s easy to
forget he was, once upon a time, a fine dramatic actor. It is
possible Gooding was trying to re-connect with his earlier, more
stoic self when he took the lead in Shadowboxer, as
a tortured hitman with a dark past and an icy, no-nonsense demeanor.

    To be fair, Gooding’s intensity is
one of the best things about Shadowboxer. The problem is that the film
should have been a comedy. More accurately, somebody should have realized that
the film is a comedy. It’s the story of two assassins (Gooding and Helen
Mirren) who also happen to be lovers, as well as stepmother and son. Also, she’s dying of cancer. Their last job is to off a whole bunch of gangster
types — associates of the duplicitous crimelord that hired them, played
by Stephen Dorff, whose introduction comes by way of a broken pool cue stuck
up the ass of his wife’s lover. Among Gooding and Mirren’s targets is Dorff’s pregnant
wife, whose water suddenly breaks before our heroes are able to get off a shot.
Needless to say, they take the girl and her child in. Wackiness ensues.

    The problem with Shadowboxer isn’t the bizarre
storyline stacked Babel-high with absurdities. It’s that director Lee Daniels
plays the whole thing insufferably straight, which makes for an incongruity bordering
on the experimental: Lush cinematography and tasteful music and grim foreboding
in the service of a ridiculous storyline, like a Tarantino movie hijacked by
Merchant-Ivory. The only actors who seem to be in on the joke are some supporting
turns: Macy Gray as a dim-but-loyal party girl and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as, um,
a “doctor.” Gooding, on the other hand, does a fine job acting in a movie that
does not exist. The one that does exist, sadly, does him no favors. — Bilge
REVIEW: Mad Cowgirl
Mad CowgirlI’m
not sure how one reviews a movie like Mad Cowgirl. Gregory
Hatanaka’s absurdist, sorta-experimental free-for-all begins
with a Japanese newsreel about Mad Cow Disease, then plunges
headlong into the story of Therese (Sarah Lassez), a meat inspector
who may or may not be dying, and who may or may not be crazy,
but who really likes to eat beef, and who is definitely having
sex with a cheesy televangelist (Walter Koenig — yes, Star
‘s Walter Koenig). She also has a creepy relationship
with her brother (James Duval), a meat importer. Also she is
obsessed with a female kung fu heroine on the TV, and occasionally
imagines herself as an ass-kicking kung fu heroine. Also she
understands many languages, as the film drifts between English,
French, Chinese, and (I think) Urdu.

    The sheer craziness of Hatanaka’s film probably shields
it from the kind of criticism that might call to question plot holes or basic
coherence. But there’s a certain deliberateness to Mad Cowgirl that
doesn’t always feel right. Hatanaka is an extremely inventive guy,
and he’s got a good eye, but he doesn’t always have the directorial chops to
pull off the film’s wild swerves between genres: A brief little Bollywood interlude
is funny and endearing, but the images of kung-fu fighting on TV feel drab, in
that I’ve already seen this made fun of way too much and it stopped being funny the second time kind of way. What the director does have going for him, however, is Lassez’s
charming performance, which provides a striking degree of consistency to what
is, in effect, a completely schizophrenic character (and movie). Sometimes the
lunacy is too much even for her, but even during the film’s more indulgent moments,
she gives us a reason to watch. — Bilge Ebiri
DATE DVD: Tristram Shandy: A Cock
and Bull Story
Tristam ShandyDating
is the fine art of faking, and faking is the heart and soul
of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Michael
Winterbottom’s meta-comedy chronicles the quixotic attempt
of a director (Winterbottom, of course) to film Laurence Stern’s
extraordinary and famously unfilmable 1759 novel, The
Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
. The
novel’s mish-mash of satirical gimmicks has since influenced
almost every experimental novelist, from James Joyce to Thomas
Pynchon. More to the point, like Finnegan’s Wake and Gravity’s
, Tristram is one of those few classics
that everyone claims to have read, but hasn’t — which
is where the bullshitting fun of Winterbottom’s film begins.
The film’s premiere bullshitter — and he has stiff competition — is
Brit loon Steve Coogan, who had his big break in Winterbottom’s 24
Hour Party People
. In the film, Coogan certainly hasn’t
read Tristram and has never been more hysterically
pompous, as the spoiled, self-obsessed, sex-scandal-plagued
star (himself, of course) who is shocked to find that the title
role is not Oscar bait. Shandy is a glorified ensemble part,
the role of a narrator, really, who is barely born by the end
of the novel, so as other characters get the best lines in
the film-within-a-film, Coogan sputters and whines while faking the funk for a gorgeous
young woman, with disastrous results. Watch this one
with a date — and hope your date doesn’t recognize more
than a little of Coogan in you. — Logan Hill


©2006 Nerve.com.