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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Hiding out at the "meh"vies

As you may have heard or experienced firsthand, this past weekend Portland received an unprovoked bitch slap from the God of Unbearable Heat. Among other things, the high temps proved the inside of my house feels like its about to burst into flames once the temperature climbs into the triple digits. No amount of fans, open windows or Jello Pudding Pops can render that little shack inhabitable on a hot day..

So like many other Stumptown schmucks without A/C, I fled. On Sunday afternoon I theater hopped around Tigard Cinemas. Some might say this qualifies as stealing but I'll counter with "so is charging $6.50 for a matinee ticket that cost $3.75 a few years ago." My $6.50 bought me a Clerks 2 and Lady in the Water double-feature. Time to play movie critic again.

CLERKS II: You've probably seen plenty of movies that you wind up enjoying despite your brain screaming "THIS IS DESTROYING ME" the whole time. Stoner comedies, '80s action movies, "rom coms"- all of them fall into this category. Some might describe these films as "so bad they're good" but that doesn't apply to Clerks 2. Maybe it's "so filled with f-bombs and donkey sex gags it's good" or "so overtly earnest it's good." As director Kevin Smith is willing to admit, he went "back to the well" with this one and it was a safe move on the heels of Jersey Girl, his failed attempt to make a movie that falls outside of the Jersey-centered universe of his previous efforts.

The hit/miss ratio is high here. Many of the jokes in Clerks II, like the encounter between two Lord of the Rings fanatics are lazy, even by Smith's standards, and aren't even worthy of an Attack of the Show sketch. A Bollywood/Fame-style dance number is completely out of place and falls flat. Jay and Silent Bob are left primarily in the background and only pop up occasionally to make funny but aimless references to Silence of the Lambs.

That said, the movie's strength lies in its bittersweet sincerity and Clerks II actually works better as a coming-of-age drama than a raunchy comedy. It's a Sixteen Candles for the underemployed, pop-culture obsessed, 30-somethings, complete with montages that magically make everything turn out all right.

After all these years, Randal and Dante are still likable characters and, amazingly, the actors behind them make the movie's incredibly cheesy scenes work. Take this one for example, when Randal storms out of the burger joint after running into an old high school nemesis, He flees to a nearby go-cart track because it serves as a reminder of better time. The scene is set to "Raindrops Keep Falling On Head." The whole thing should be laughable but, against the odds, it works. Somehow so does a montage set to Smashing Pumpkin's "1979," one of the most embarrassingly earnest rock ballads of the '90s.

I won't reveal the ending but it's a perfect capper to Smith's rambling Jersey series and a much better conclusion than the one Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back dished out back in 2001. If you're a sucker for the director's movies, you'll love it despite your nagging brain's attempts to tell you the movie sucks. If you can't stand Smith's schmaltzy side or when he hits full-blown fart joke mode, you'll walk out right about the time Joel Siegel did.

LADY IN THE WATER: There really is no defending this movie. Everything the critics have said about it are correct. Lady in the Water is incoherent, self-indulgent, overlong and riddled with plot holes. I thought M. Night Shyamalan's Signs was a, well, sign of what happens when you give a high-profile director tens of millions of dollars and complete carte blanche over the final product. But at least that movie made sense and was entertaining up until the last twenty minutes.

Simply put, Lady in the Water is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Much like the fairy tale that allegedly inspired it, the film seems like the director is making everything up as he goes along. It's like listening to the creative writing project of a middle schooler obsessed with the Redwall series. I can imagine M. Night giddily explaining the plot to the suits at Disney before they laughed him out of the room and all the way to Warner Brothers. "You see, there's this underwater world inhabited by peace-loving aqua people. Every once in a while, they send a random, naked girl through a portal that leads to a swimming pool at a random apartment complex in Pennsylvania. Once there, the girl magically cures stuttering and inspires a single resident to write a world-changing political tome before flying back to her underwater world on the back of...an eagle, that's it, an eagle. Oh, and giant wolves with grass growing on their backs hate the aqua people for some reason but monkeys made of bark that live in a nearby forest hate them and protect everybody but a certain movie critic that lives on the fourth floor and..."

Two. Hours. Of. This. Shit. Hey, M. Night, why do the grass wolves hate Bryce Howard? And why do the monkeys hate the wolves? Did they pop out of a portal too? Why do the aqua people care about what's going on in Pennsylvania? Why can't Paul Giamatti's character kill the grass dogs with a lawnmower or a few gallons of Roundup? How can he possibly hold his breath for ten minutes straight when he dives into Aerial's Story's hidden grotto? Why do all the residents in Giamatti's apartment building blindly agree to help out without batting an eye at the ridiculousness of all this nonsense? Why didn't someone stop you from casting yourself in the "savior of humanity" role? And exactly how much did Warner Brothers pay for that man perm of yours?

Let me do you a favor by RUINING THE ENDING, thus elimating any reason for you to see this thing. Everything works out. The eagle swoops down and saves Howard, Giamatti comes to terms with the death of his family, M. Night writes his political tome, and the monkeys pop out of nowhere to kill the big, bad grass wolf. Giamatti falls to his knees and, overjoyed, cries in the rain as the film fades to the credits.

Don't go see this movie unless you've never seen another fantasy movie or have read a fantasy book. It's not so bad it's good or so bad it's gone from good back to bad again. It's just bad. Plain and simple. You will hate Lady in the Water and you will regret seeing it even if, like me, you snuck in on an otherwise boring and boiling Sunday.

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