HOLLOW MAN - SPACE COWBOYS
SAVING GRACE - COYOTE UGLY
SHOWER - THE FIVE SENSES


HOLLOW MAN

Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a thrill jock genius leading a team of scientists on a U.S. government project to create invisibility. While he's been successful, he's having trouble cracking 'reversion,' or the ability to make the invisible visible again. A middle-of-the-night idea results in the reappearance of the team's transparent ape, but Sebastian isn't ready to tell his bosses about his success until he's tested the process on a human subject - himself - in director Paul Verhoeven's "Hollow Man."

Laura's review of 'Hollow Man':
While "Hollow Man" features some truly eye-popping special effects, its lack of character and story development make it one of the most disappointing of Verhoeven's ("Starship Troopers") career. The film opens with a pow as we see a lab rat going through its paces. Suddenly, it's clenched by something unseen, which proceeds to rip its head off, outlining the suspended jaw of a gorilla in blood. This incident is never referred to within the film, yet is one of the only portents that invisibility may breed disturbing side effects.

Caine is quickly established as rather arrogant, a young Turk whose genius causes others to give his behavior leeway. Very efficiently, it's established that his right-hand staffer, Linda (Elizabeth Shue, "Leaving Las Vegas") is a former lover who Caine would like to have back. She's hiding the identity of her current lover Matt (Josh Brolin, "The Mod Squad") from Sebastian because Matt's another high level staffer on Sebastian's team. More workplace complexity is embodied in Sarah (Kim Dickens, "The Zero Effect"), the compassionate veterinarian who clashes with Sebastian's sensibilities (he jokes - or is he? - about vivisecting the ape which almost died from the shock of being brought back to visibility).

Once Sebastian's invisible, the whole group becomes uneasy in their subterranean complex. Janice (Mary Jo Randle) keeps her thermal goggles on while in the ladies room. Sarah awakens with too many of her buttons undone and gets tense. When Sebastian's reversal fails (his skeletal and muscular structures begin to rebuild, then fade back away), a fleshtone mask and gloves are made for him to give him appearance while the group works the problem. This disguise also allows Caine to leave the complex, where he's soon wrecks havoc with the power of his invisibility (although a long-rumored rape scene is cut perfuntorily and never referred to again). Linda ultimately decides to come clean with their funders, but Caine turns the tables by murdering the project head and locking the entire team into the underground bunker.

Kudos to Kevin Bacon for putting up with the grueling labor required to blank himself out for the camera - he was required to wear three different body suits (complete with colored full eye contacts) in order to 'appear' when hit with water/liquids, steam, smoke, etc. However his leap from arrogant jerk to murderous maniac doesn't allow him to do much in the way of acting. Shue should stay away from scientest roles as demonstrated by "The Saint." While she's not required to wear knee socks with a lab coat in this film, she is required to run from mark to mark proclaiming each subsequent victim's death before going into Sigourney-Weaver-in-"Alien"-mode. Brolin's OK as the second banana who touches off Caine's rage while the remaining cast are simply dead meat.

The effects are pretty neat, but I was always aware I was watching computer generation - the scaling back and subsequent rebuilding of the human body from the inside out looked like 3D modelling conducted on a lab bed. Slicker were the partial impressions of the invisible when exposed via another medium.

The screenplay (Andrew W. Marlowe, "End of Days") does nothing but move the action along with little in the way of explanation for Caine's moral degradation other than the concept that invisible eyelids don't allow one to catch many Z's. A long, drawn out climax is hoary indeed. I've seen one too many film's end where the surviving hero(es) climb up a tall shaft while water or fire approaches and wouldn't it be refreshing indeed for the bad guy to stay dead the first time he's offed?

C-

Robin's review of 'Hollow Man':
In 1933, director James Whales scared and titillated people with his adaptation of the H.G. Wells story "The Invisible Man." That film, with the wonderful special effects created by John Fulton and the introduction of Claude Raines to the screen, set a level of achievement that has been often sought, but rarely attained. Director Paul Verhoeven ("Starship Troopers") makes a valiant, but vain, attempt to bring the classic tale into the new millennium with "Hollow Man."

Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a brilliant, egotistical scientist who has broken new ground with his research in invisibility. His experiments in making his lab creatures invisible have been quite successful, but he has had major problems bringing them back. The protocol he designed is too unstable to safely bring back visibility until he has a brainstorm that may be the breakthrough he needs. When Sebastian and his lieutenants, Linda McKay (Elizabeth Shue) and Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), go before a government committee, the scientist lies about his latest idea and asks for more time.

Sebastian, before he publicly announces his anticipated achievement, wants to take the next crucial step in the experiment - use a human test subject. He lies to the rest of his staff, telling them that the committee approved the leap to human subjects. Caine then subjects himself to the invisibility serum and enters a brave new world - the first invisible man. But, his brainstorm wasn't quite right and, when Linda and Matt attempt to bring him back to visibility, the return to normal fails. To complicate matters, the invisibility drug has side effects that make the subject uncontrollably violent. It's a race against time as Sebastian goes power mad and Linda, Matt and the rest of the staff have to stop him.

Paul Verhoeven may believe that he has created a modern version of the Whales' classic horror/monster flick with "Hollow Man." He hasn't. What he has done is to make a version of a cool story that capitalizes on the F/X technology of today, but fails to capture the essence of what made the 1933 film such a landmark event. The problem is, there isn't a fresh approach to the story. Instead, the screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson and Andrew W. Marlowe is a rehash of many of the mad scientist movies of the 50's and journeys into well-traveled science fiction territory.

Why is it that every genius scientist in films like "Hollow Man" always forgoes the rigid rules of research and use themselves as guinea pigs in experiments that are doomed to disaster? The answer is, of course, because we wouldn't be spending our time and money watching a movie about a guy who follows the rules of science and never strays beyond them. That would be boring. Unfortunately, so is the cookie cutter approach made by Verhoeven and company in attempting to recreate the mood and feel of the '33 original. There is nothing new in this latest rendition of the Invisible Man tale, except for some first-class F/X.

Though Kevin Bacon plays the title character, Elizabeth Shue is top billed. The actress does not reprise the power she showed in Mike Figgis's "Leaving Las Vegas." Of course, there is a big difference between the character intense nature of her earlier film and the F/X extravaganza of "Hollow Man." Shue doesn't get to show any thesping ability here as she, basically, runs around through most of the film and delivers lines like, "He's dead," with no inflection or drama to her delivery. So far, the wow perf that Figgis got out of her has not been duplicated since.

Kevin Bacon, as expected, is a non-person through much of the film. His Sebastian Caine is a smart, arrogant egomaniac in the beginning and, until he becomes a monster, pretty much stays that way. Josh Brolin and the rest of the cast are relegated to background, though Brolin gets a bit more air time as Linda's secret (from Sebastian) boyfriend and subject of invisible Sebastian's ire. The remains of the cast are fodders for the monster to prey on and little more.

Production values are high, especially in the set design by Allan Cameron ("Starship Trooper") and the F/X, led by Scott E. Anderson ("Babe"). The sterile, high tech laboratory is slick in design and, despite the usual cheesy computer stuff, lends a good look to the proceedings. The visual effects are superior with the computer-generated invisibility process and, more subtly done, Sebastian's return to visibility in water, smoke or the spray of a fire extinguisher. Too bad high production values can't save a movie. (See the 1999 Jan de Bont film, "The Haunting," as another example of great F/X and production design wasted.)

A final note to the screenwriters - when you kill the monster the first time, leave it dead, please. "Hollow Man" is yet another example of a film where the monster, beyond all reason, does not die, no matter what the hero does. Here, Sebastian is blasted by searing flame, then electrocuted but he just keeps on coming. The same gaff was seen in the recent, "What Lies Beneath." There the monster wouldn't die either. The cheap shocks get tired.

I give "Hollow Man" a C-.


SPACE COWBOYS

In the 50's, Team Daedalus represented the best and the brightest in the U.S. Air Force and its members believed they were destined to be the first Americans to go into space. But, a change in direction for the space program forced the team to disband and seek other avenues in life. Now, over four decades later, a crisis in space has arisen and the now aged team is called back into service and, maybe, save the world in director Clint Eastwood's latest, "Space Cowboys.

Robin's review of 'Space Cowboys':
In the 50's, Team Daedalus rep'd the best and brightest that the Air Force had to offer. Only the fastest, boldest and bravest of the country's test pilots were members of this elite team and all appear destined to be the first Americans launched into space. Then, the new civilian space authority, NASA, stepped in and made one crucial change to the plans - the first American in space would be an ape. And Team Daedalus was disbanded.

Now, over 40 years later, a crisis in space is unraveling as a massive Russian communications satellite is slowly falling from orbit, threatening to plunge the former Soviet Union into a blackout that could lead to civil war. The brains at NASA aren't at all familiar with the antiquated technology and the members of Team Daedalus (Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner) are brought back to resolve the crisis.

Clint Eastwood is back in the saddle (so to speak) again, this time heading for the wilds of space instead of the wide-open plains of the Old West. The Academy winner ("Unforgiven") always puts a quality effort into his directing jobs (though not always successfully - see "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") and I'm pleased as punch to see that "Space Cowboys" is both of high quality and a solid, rip-snortin' adventure. Eastwood has crafted a film that stands shoulders above such fare as "Armageddon" and rivals "Apollo 13" for craftsmanship. I'm calling it "The Right Old Stuff."

The principle cast of four old codgers is as synergetic a collection of actors as I've seen in quite a while. While Eastwood is top billed, he is really a member of an ensemble cast of veterans who show an extraordinary comfort level with each other that make their friendships palpable. Eastwood plays Frank Corvin, the leader of Team Daedalus, now a retired engineer. Jones is "Hawk" Hawkins, Frank's best friend, years ago, and still a hotshot pilot. Jerry O'Neil (Donald Sutherland) is an astrophysicist and irrepressible ladies man. Tank Sullivan (James Garner) is a retired robotics expert turned Baptist minister. (Supporting cast - William Devane as the flight director, Marcia Gay Harden as the mission director and love interest for Hawk, and Loren Dean and Courtney B. Vance as the backup pilots on board - aren't given much to do, but they fill out the background bill well enough.)

The crisis arises in the tale when the Soviet satellite, Ikon, begins to head back to Earth. NASA, nor the Russians, can gain control of the slowly plummeting Ikon and the faulty guidance system, we learn, is a design stolen from the US and none other than Frank Corvin, it turns out, designed that system. Frank is approached by his old boss (and nemesis) Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), a high ranking NASA bureaucrat, and a deal is struck - Team Daedalus will do the job. Gerson's secret plan to void the deal is undermined when news gets out and USA Today runs the story of the crisis and the team's involvement. From there, we are launched into space where Team Daedalus discovers that the communications satellite is, in fact, a nuclear weapons platform left over from the Cold War, further complicating matters.

The screenplay, by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner, is straightforward storytelling that is divided into three parts. Part one deals with the story setup - the crisis is identified, Frank is contacted, a deal struck and the team is rejoined. Part two has the old boys going through the sometimes-humbling medical examinations, then on to rigorous training, with some controversies thrown in. Finally, part three is The Mission. It sounds like a carbon copy of "Armageddon," but "Space Cowboys" is more deftly handled and sharper than the latter film. The repartee between the principles smacks of the kind of talk that takes place between longtime friends, even if they haven't kept in close touch.

The techs on this project could not have been better. Filmed with the full cooperation of NASA, "Space Cowboys" looks great. The training sequences are obviously done within the confines of NASA's high tech facilities and give a reality to the whole look of the film. Of course, it helps to have a photographer the caliber of Jack N. Green ("Unforgiven") behind the camera to give life to all the technology on display. Veteran production designer Henry Bumstead ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Sting") places us in the middle of NASA and, for the exciting part 3, right into space. The cooperation by NASA is obvious and a major plus to the entire production.

The special F/X by Industrial Light & Magic are superb in creating the feel of the Shuttle launch and what it's like to live and work while weightlessly orbit the Earth. Unlike the extremes used to create a weightless environment in "Apollo 13" - you might remember the publicity horror stories by the cast and crew about the infamous "Vomit Comet" - the F/X crew uses computer graphics and traditional F/X methods to give the illusion of floating in space.

There is an element of Peter Pan fantasy in the story about four old codgers heading into space forty years after their time that isn't all that far-fetched if you think about Senator/Astronaut John Glenn's triumphant return to the frontiers of space a few years ago. (The filmmakers pay homage to Glenn and the rest of the American space pioneers that is an honestly heartfelt tribute to their bravery and endurance.) The fantasy is made believable by the team of vets portraying the sexagenarian astronauts.

"Space Cowboys" is the kind of movie that, on the surface, seems like others of the same ilk (like the aforementioned "Armageddon"). But, that description sells it short. It is a high quality, well crafted, old fashioned action yarn with high-tech F/X that is a showcase for its several actor icons. The demographics lean to the more mature audience, but there is enough action and humor to attract a younger aud, too. Have fun. I give it a B+.

Laura's review of 'Space Cowboys':
A guitar twangs a Western ballad against a black and white desert horizon before we see the Air Force jet that's breaking the sound barrier in Clint Eastwood's appropriately titled "Space Cowboys." The hotshot pilot is Hawk Hawkins (Eli Craig in the 1958 flashback, voiced by Tommy Lee Jones who plays the current day character). Much to his copilot Frank Corvin's (Toby Stephens, voiced by Director/Producer/Star Eastwood) chagrin, Hawk pushes the plane too far, forcing them to eject at 20,000 ft. Their boss, Bob Gerson (James Cromwell, "Babe") (none too pleased at losing the third multi-million dollar in as many months) parades Team Daedalus (which also includes Donald Sutherland's Jerry O'Neil and James Garner's Tank Sullivan) in front of the press in order to humiliate them by announcing that the first American to travel into outer space will be Maryann - a chimp.

Forty-some-odd years later Bob Gerson is a mission commander at NASA with a problem. The 1960's Russian satellite Ikon is about to reenter the earth's atmosphere and crash and the Russians are demanding that the U.S. keep it in outer space. It's non-functioning guidance system was designed by one Frank Corvin and there are no engineers at NASA familiar with the outdated technology. Gerson must swallow his pride and sends Mission Director Sara Holland (Marcia Gay Harden) to recruit Corvin, now retired (and amusingly wrestling with his wife and a garage door opener when she arrives). Frank turns the tables on Gerson, demanding that his old team go into space to carry out the repairs. He also questions the exisance of his design's presence in a Cold War era Russian bird, but doesn't get his answer until much later.

Frank gets robotics expert Tank back onboard first, finding him tending his flock as a Baptist Minister who still sports Hawaiian shirts and keeps his old hula doll shaking behind his pulpit. Astrophyscist Jerry O'Neil's been losing his eyesight, picking up ever younger babes and designing roller coasters. Test pilot Hawk's turned crop duster and thrill rider and is tougher to lure, not having spoken to Frank in all these years (each blamed the other for the team's space mission snub). But soon they're buck naked in front of a female doctor (Blair Brown), running track and getting into bar brawls. Widower Hawk begins a sweet romance with Sara while Jerry flirtation with the doctor results in a surreptiously designed pair of prescription eyewear. They even upend Gerson's secret plan to ground them by becoming media darlings on the Jay Leno show. Then, at the eighty minute mark, their ship blasts off and events take a far more serious turn.

Eastwood hasn't had a film this good since 1995's "Bridges of Madison County." The concept sounded stale, but it works surprisingly well. Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner achieve the joky camaraderie of a bunch of good ol' boys with genuine love and respect for each other. It's refreshing to see Jones climb out of the sterotypical rut he's been in lately, making Hawk a guy with a crusty exterior hiding a sensitive and lonely soul. Sutherland is delightfully irreverent as the unabashedly on-the-make senior single guy. Eastwood is commanding and caustic, pulling out his trademark thin-lipped sneer when warranted. Garner is the least developed of the four, but makes his place by being the most daunted during the rigorous training. Marcia Gay Harden is believable as both a highly qualified NASA engineer and Jones' late love interest. William Devane does a funny take on NASA flight director Eugene Davis, shaking his head over having to sending a bunch of geriatrics into space. Loren Dean ("Mumford") and Courtney B. Vance ("The Preacher's Wife") also costar as younger astronauts on the mission, one of whom has a hidden agenda.

The script by Ken Kaufman ("Muppets From Space") and Howard A. Klausner connects familiar dots, but does so with stylish verbal sparring. Lensing by recent Eastwood collaborator Jack N. Green is crisp and while the cowboys may be a little moldy, the effects are cutting edge. Eastwood's direction is strong, efficient and generous to his cast.

"Space Cowboys" exhibits that there's still fight in many an old fogie and you don't need to be over the hill to be entertained watching them.

B


SAVING GRACE

When Grace Trevethan's (Brenda Blethyn, "Secrets and Lies") husband dies, she's in for a couple of shocks. First, there's the obvious mistress who attends the funeral. Even worse, however, is the 300,000 pound debt which jeopardizes Grace's elegant lifestyle on the Cornish coast. Her pot smoking gardener Matthew (Craig Ferguson, "The Big Tease") inspires Grace with a most unusual idea when he asks her to nurse some sickly weed back to health. Soon they're unlikely partners in a most unlikely venture in "Saving Grace."

Laura's review of 'Saving Grace':
"Saving Grace" is yet another twee British export that tries too hard to be quirky - it's "Waking Ned Devine" by way of Cheech and Chong.

Grace's life consists of raising orchids (which do not require humidifiers going full blast as shown in the film) and giving tea parties for the local ladies' group. She's well regarded in the town, although clearly she's its wealthiest denizen. (The shopkeepers avoid taking her money after her husband's death, somehow knowing about her predicament before she does.)

Matthew's a well liked Scot with an adoring, if long suffering, girlfriend, Nicky (Valerie Edmond, "Fierce Creatures"). His best buddy's Dr. Bamford (Martin Clunes, "Shakespeare in Love") who also enjoys a toke or two and frequently crashes at Matthew and Nicky's. It's Bamford who delivers the news to Nicky that she's pregnant, but she keeps it to herself while trying to get Matthew to grow up, become responsible, and most of all, not get arrested.

Grace and Matthew convert her Victorian greenhouse into a marijuana factory using a feeding and lighting system devised by Grace to produce buds in record time. When they flip on the growing lights, the greenhouse lights up the night sky like a UFO. In fact, the pub goers begin to sit outside to enjoy the nightly spectacle. Things come to a head when Grace decides to make the deal to sell the stuff herself (she finds out about Nicky's pregnancy). Grace dresses up like a deranged pimp, travels to London, and uses her husband's mistress to make contact with an old hippy who in turn arranges for her to meet Jacques (Tcheky Karyo, "The Patriot"), a dangerous Frenchman who, intrigued by Grace, goes for the deal. Of course, while Grace is away her ladies' tea collides with her pot supply and soon the whole town is acting wacky.

The screenplay, by Craig Ferguson and Mark Crowdy, has its small pleasures, but not the courage of its convictions, wimping out on making Grace a full fledged drug dealer (it's OK for matrons to partake of pot, but God forbid they actually sell the stuff). Blethyn is fine as Grace. While it's not exactly an inspired performance, at least it's not the grating turn we got from her in "Little Voice." Ferguson acquits himself well as Matthew is a charming bloke, but his costar Clune as the fun-loving doctor provides more laughs. Valerie Edmond is a great find with a uniquely wild beauty and enables Nicky to be grown up without seeming a killjoy. Tcheky Karyo is a welcome addition to whatever project he appears in.

John de Borman's ("Hideous Kinky") photography beautifully captures the small town of Port Liac in Cornwall, which is one of the chief pleasures of the film. Director Nigel Cole economically keeps the action moving along with no indulgent dull patches, although he could have toned down some of the eccentricity which becomes strained (there's no need to repeat the sight of a naked elderly man - "Waking Ned Devine" covered that ground).

C


COYOTE UGLY

21-year old Violet Sanford has a beautiful voice and a talent for writing songs. Leaving the safety of her home and father in New Jersey, her plan is to head for New York City, wow the music business with her talent and be a star. But, the big city is not so forgiving or easy and she finds herself without money or a job. Hope arises when she gets a gig as a bartender at a club that caters to guys on the prowl in "Coyote Ugly."

Robin's review of 'Coyote Ugly':
"Coyote Ugly" is an enigma. With its bevy of babe bartenders one might be led to believe that this is a T&A "Cocktail." The pretty, principally femme cast is sure nice to look at and there is the promise of some skin. But it's a promise unfulfilled. That's because "Coyote Ugly" is, in reality, a chick flick masquerading as a guy movie. So, gentlemen, be warned.

From the press material, "Coyote Ugly" is "a sexy, romantic comedy [that] is one girl's wild adventure in the big city." If that doesn't sound like a blurb for a girly movie, I don't know what is. I wasn't even fooled when we enter the club, Coyote Ugly, and see Zoe (super model Tyra Banks), Rachel (Bridget Moynahan) and Cammie (Izabella Miko) shake their stuff atop the bar to blaring rock music. My practiced cinematic eye noticed that, while bare mid-drifts and shoulders abound, there is no actual skin (the aforementioned T&A) to be seen.

What the film gives us is a routine, but sweet, rags-to-riches tale of a young woman from the wilds of New Jersey who heads to the Big Apple to find a career as a songsmith. But, for Violet Sanford (Piper Perabo) (and nearly everyone else in the world) the industry is an unpenetrable monolith that will only allow you to break in to the biz if you have an agent - and you can only get an agent if you already broke into the business. She is totally discouraged that she can't get her songs sung, making her quest seem a failure. Then, her apartment is broken into and what little she has is stolen. It's a tough life for the babe-in-the-woods and it looks like she'll have to head back home to the security of her father, Bill (John Goodman). First, though, she meets a handsome young man, Kevin (Adam Garcia), and, at the same time, gets a tip to check out bar named Coyote Ugly for a job.

Coyote Ugly is owned and operated under the iron hand of Lil (Maria Bello), a good-looking, tough-as-nails lady who oversees the goings on in the bar and with her popular barmaids, babes all. The girls shag drinks for thirsty patrons at an astonishing rate, line dance on the bar and, generally, have a good time making money. Violet, nicknamed "Jersey" by Lil, is reluctant, at best, while working the busy bar. She is almost fired by Lil, more than once, but the owner sees something in Violet and keeps her on. Meanwhile, Violet and Kevin get kissy face and he helps her overcome the stage fright that keeps her from becoming a star.

You can guess where this adolescent "A Star Is Born" is heading right from the start. First time scripter Gina Wendkos uses her first-hand experience in the real Coyote Ugly to get the mood and raucous commotion of the bar and the sequences there are slickly done and exciting - we do have gorgeous women in slinky outfits dancing for us, after all. The rest of the story is pretty well traveled stuff and offers nothing original. "Flash Dance," "Fame" and other music-based inspirational flicks came to mind while watching "Coyote Ugly."

Piper Perabo has a sweet, almost virginal, girl-next-door presence with her ever present smile and plucky, if a bit too tentative for someone trying to make it in the NYC music biz, demeanor. A more aggressive character would have been more appropriate, I think, but that would detract from the fairy tale feel the filmmakers are going for. Newcomer Adam Garcia, another transplanted Australian, is good looking and provides the right note to his Kevin, a really, really nice, hard working kid. Of the Coyotes, Maria Bello comes off as the most three-dimensional character in the bar, making Lil a tough-but-fair sort. John Goodman is solid as the caring Dad and isn't given enough screen time, but the actor makes the most of it. The girls in Coyote Ugly are all gorgeous. I'm not sure they can act, but who cares?

First-time helmer David McNally does a decent job moving things along, maintaining a brisk pace that keeps things from dragging. It helps that he has the support of director of photography Amir Mokri ("Slamdance"), who gives the film a good look, throughout, and lends some excitement to the lensing within the bar. Production designer Jon Hutman ("The Horse Whisperer") gives Coyote Ugly and New York a look that more idealistic an better looking than the real thing. Costume designer Marlene Stewart ("Enemy of the State") does a terrific job of giving the impression, for the guys in the audience, of scanty clothes, but actually pulls off a certain unexpected modesty.

"Coyote Ugly" is decent, chick-oriented fun that has enough eye candy for the guys to keep them from complaining too much afterwards. I give it a B-.

Laura's review of 'Coyote Ugly':
I thought this was going to be the cinematic equivalent of a visit to Hooters, but it's really just a more PC 90's version of the 1980's "Flashdance" by way of "Cocktail" - "Flashdance" for the artiste with a dream combined with female empowerment motif and "Cocktail" for the flashy bar moves combined with profession endangers romance plot.

Violet Sanford (Piper Perabo, "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle") takes care of her dad (John Goodman) in New Jersey but is ready to take a stab at her dream of moving to New York City to become a songwriter. Best buddy Gloria (Melanie Lynskey, "Heavenly Creatures") helps her make the move, lends her some cash and returns to their hometown. Soon Violet finds out that the only way she can get anyone to listen to her songs is to sing them herself, but she suffers from the same stagefright that nipped her deceased mom's songwriting career in the bud.

Violet gets hoodwinked by a club bouncer into thinking the grill guy is the music promoter and pushes a cassette on Kevin O'Donnell (Adam Garcia, "Wilde"). The slick Australian tries to use the situation as a pickup, but soon he's smitten by both the girl and her talent.

Violet hits bottom when her crummy walkup is ransacked and Gloria's monetary gift is stolen. Desperate for a job, she finds herself getting an 'audition' from Lil (Maria Bello, "Permanent Midnight"), the tough cookie owner of Coyote Ugly, a bar where the vampy barmaids rule the roost, dance on the bar and swing from exposed ceiling pipes. This provides the means for Violet (nicknamed Jersey by Lil) to come out of her shell and find her voice, but also sets up conflict with her protective dad and new boyfriend Kevin.

Written by Gina Wendkos (TV's "Wiseguy"), "Coyote Ugly" capitilzes on a real New York hot spot while going through familar, predictable paces. Some of the dialogue, especially in early scenes, is stiff and unnatural ('Bless me father, for I have sinned' says Violet as she dons a crop top for her second night as a Coyote - I think this was supposed to be deep.) However, as the film progresses it does manage to engage on a sheer entertainment level for a number of reasons.

This could be a starmaking vehicle for Piper Perabo, whose fresh faced beauty and wide smile resemble Alanis Morissette crossed with Julia Roberts. That said, producer Jerry Bruckheimer's "Flashdance" only took then newcomer Jennifer Beals so far. Perabo is certainly likeable, however, once she gets past some awkward scripting. (Country star Leann Rimes provides Violet's appropriately Lillith Fairish vocals and gets a cameo at the film's end.) Adam Garcia is a find as her romantic foil - he's streetwise against her naivety, yet sexy, sensitive and supportive. Maria Bello is a standout as tough bar owner Lil - she can handle just about anything and looks good doing it.

The film is well choreographed (Travis Payne) and tightly editted (William Boldenberg, "The Insider"). The bar scenes snap, crackle and pop, whether customers are being hosed down for ordering water or just gaping in awe at the help gyrating above them (the ladies get their due, too, when Coyotes decide to auction off available men at their whim). Rest assured, all this is presented as good, clean fun.

The other Coyotes - Cammie (Polish actress Izabella Miko in her U.S. film debut), Rachel (Bridget Moynahan, Natasha of TV's "Sex and the City") and Zoe (Tyra Banks of Victoria Secrets' catalogue) are merely types, with Zoe departing the action when Jersey comes aboard. Goodman is sweet as Violet's dad even if their relationship plays a bit too good to be true for real life. New Zealander Lynskey is solid and sports a mean Jersey accent as Violet's ultra supportive friend.

"Coyote Ugly" isn't great cinema by a long shot, but it's a summer flick with a hip soundtrack that mostly achieves its goals.

B-


SHOWER

Mr. Liu's (Zhu Xu, "King of Masks") bathhouse is the center of male society in its small Northern Chinese town. When his elder son, Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin, "The Blue Kite") arrives unexpectedly, the old man pays little heed. Younger brother Er Ming (Jiang Wu, "To Live") delightedly greets him, however, as it was the crude drawing he mailed because he missed him (Er Ming is retarded) that caused Da Ming to hurriedly return. But Da Ming thought the drawing showed their father dead in "Shower."

Laura's review of 'Shower':
"Shower" is a sweet, charming movie that's won a number of festival awards, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Just earlier this year a citified son returned to his country homeland to find love for what he left behind, as well as a retarded brother in "Mifune."

Of course Da Ming will make peace with the father who believes his son looks down upon his way of life, even coming to appreciate the simple pleasures of daily maintenance routines and caring for dad's bathhouse customers. Those customers are the expected quirky lot - the two old men fighting crickets and each other, the town oddball who can only sing "O Sole Mio" in the shower, the get-rich-quick dreamer always looking for an investor (his rumination on a human car wash is visually realized over the title credits) and the meek friend Zhang Jin Hao constantly avoiding his battling wife.

Director/cowriter Zhang Yang's sophomore film is warm and engaging, filled with small details of family, friendship and community. Zhu Xu gives a wonderful, complex performance as Master Liu, evoking all the pride of trade and craftmanship from a bygone era. His relationship with each son is completely different, with his unconditional love of Er Ming being treated with a refreshing dose of humor (the two go for a run every evening, with dad proposing a race and then cheating in order to win). Pu Cun Xin is as stiff as Da Ming should be, flexing ever so gradually as Da Ming finds grace in his childhood surroundings. Jiang Wu is exhuberantly over the top as the happy, childlike Er Ming.

More than one crisis does come about in "Shower," though, hinted at early on by long-standing threats that the Chinese Government plans to raze the town we come to know. Yang doesn't quite know how to end his film, and let's one of his supporting characters videotape proceedings as a stand-in for a true resolution. No heavyweight, "Shower" is a sweet and entertaining film, for those who like their subtitles light.

B


THE FIVE SENSES

The five sense - sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing - are the grist for the independent fillmaker's mill of director/writer Jeremy Podeswa in "The Five Senses," which follows its characters as their lives cross because of a single, fateful event that impacts them all.

Robin's review of 'The Five Senses':

The five senses - sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing - are the grist for the independent filmmaking mill of director/wrter Jeremy Podeswa. His story takes place in the city where the lives of the film's characters will cross because of a single, fateful event. Massage therapist Ruth (Gabrielle Rose) is treating Anna Miller (Molly Parker) when Ruth's daughter Rachel (Nadia Litz) loses Anna's pre-school daughter Amy Lee (Elise Francis Stolk) in the park. Rachel meets Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), a young voyeur (sight). Robert (Daniel MacIvor) is a professional housecleaner who claims he can detect the scent of love (smell). A custom cake maker, Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) has lost her ability to taste. Finally, Richard (Philippe Volter), an older man, is suffering from deteriorating hearing. The paths of all of these, and other, people, will cross in Podeswa's ensemble film, "The Five Senses."

This symbolic assigning of each of the senses to a story character is held together with the binding dilemma of the missing little Amy Lee Miller. The little girl's disappearance impacts all of the principles to varying degrees as they, each, cope with the daily problems of life. For some, like Anna and Ruth, the crisis is nearly devastating as the time drags by and the search for the little girl spreads and hope for her recovery dims. For Rachel, who blames herself not only for the disappearance, but also for her father's death years before, it is another reason for her teen angst. Others, too, are impacted by the crisis hitting so close to home.

Helmer Podeswa uses his large ensemble cast to provide a slice of life-in-crisis look at some average Joes in New York. He mostly succeeds in telling each person's tale and letting us, the viewer, have a glimpse into their lives. We don't, though, build up any empathy for the individuals as the story moves, briskly, from one player to the next. There is some interesting stuff going on, but I never could embrace any of the characters.

"The Five Senses" is an interesting exercise in ensemble filmmaking and storytelling, but does not involve the audience in the emotions of the events. Though the crisis involves a missing little girl, there is no sense of danger for the child. Some effort is given to building a minor plot line that introduces witnesses who say she left the park with "a man," but there is little time given to the discouragement and frustration of the searchers.

Writer/director Podeswa tells us his story in a lean, concise manner. There isn't a lot of fat to the plot and the scripter efficiently ties up all the story threads in a neat ending. There is talent in the work, but a more fully realized story and fewer characters would make for a better movie. I give "The Five Senses" a C.

Laura's review of 'The Five Senses':
A massage therapist entrusts her teenage daughter to entertain a client's young child, but the little girl wanders off while Rachel spies on a lovemaking couple. Down the hall, music-loving optometrist Richard yearns for his own little girl while facing declining hearing. Upstairs, Rona makes speciality cakes that are tasteless while her Italian holiday fling, who arrives unexpectedly, cooks up a storm as he pitches woo. Rona's ex, Robert is meeting with all his (mostly male) ex-lovers, looking for the scent of love that may still linger in "The Five Senses."

"The Five Senses" begins as Anna Miller (Molly Parker, "Kissed") emerges from a depravation chamber. She's under the sensitive care of Ruth (Gabrielle Rose, "The Sweet Hereafter"), who's trying to make sense of her alien daughter Rachel (Nadia Litz), a high school dropout. Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) is trying to learn Italian from cassettes even before she knows Roberto (Marco Leonardi) is on his way. Robert (Daniel MacIvor), who makes his living cleaning, warns Rona about Roberto's motives while wishing himself into the lives of a married client couple (she produces perfumes, natch).

This bleak Canadian film seems influenced by both Egoyan (star Rose and the theme of a missing child) and Kieslowski (people interconnecting by chance), yet its own theme remains muddled. Just what is writer/director Jeremy Podeswa trying to say here?

The somber score and shadowy, mauve urban look (cinematography by Greg Middleton) help maintain an even tone, yet the film's characters mostly achieve no enlightenment. Rachel meets oddball Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), a young man who's as much an outsider as she. Their blossoming friendship aids Rachel's relationship with her mother and seemingly benefits little Amy Lee Miller (Elise Francis Stolk) as well. Yet while Rona is inspired to attempt to make a good cake by Roberto, the distrust embedded by her friend Robert keeps her from seeing the truly lovely things Roberto attempts to do for her. Robert finally finds the scent of love in a place he didn't even know he wanted to find it, only to be left bereft and maybe lonelier than he was before his quest. Richard (Philippe Volter) plays lots of classical music while reinitiating an old affair, but the script pretty much leaves his character stranded, less connected than the rest.

The actors fare about as well as their characters' fates, with Rose and Litz bringing nice emotional depth to their work. In a subplot, we learn via Rupert, (an interesting turn from Fletcher), that Rachel believes herself a death curse ever since her father was killed on his way to pick her up from a school mishap. (This is visualized when a fly on a windowpane falls dead as she approaches.) Also strong is MacIvor as Robert, sympathetic in his attempt to connect while remaining pragmatic about his less-than-movie-star looks. No one else in the cast makes much of an impression.

"The Five Senses" is an interesting, moody little film, yet it doesn't linger. In the realm of these senses, all becomes muffled.

C+


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