Category Archives: Movie Reviews

American Pie 2 – By Sean O’Connell

Since the audience patiently awaiting the release of “”American Pie 2″” probably refuses to read lengthy tomes on the merits of the cinema, let me get right to the point: if you enjoyed the first “”Pie,”” you’re guaranteed to gobble up its superior sequel with a spoon. Those who care to find out why may continue.

It took them two years, but the team behind “”American Pie”” finally figured it out. As successful as the first foray into the heart of the teenage hormone was – it went on to gross over $100 million during it’s U.S. theatrical run – it spread itself far too thin by juggling no less than 13 main characters. I always believed the original bogged itself down in superficial characters we never had time to care about. In theory, the film should have belonged solely to the four friends at the center of the film, but the unfocused farce lost sight of the guys in a sea of semen. While “”Pie 2″” delivers much more of the same sex-soaked “”hilarity,”” it also focuses its lens back on the guys who started it all: long-faced Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), dreamy jock Oz (Chris Klein), eccentric Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and hapless Jim (Jason Biggs). The script, penned by David H. Steinberg and “”Pie”” scribe Adam Herz, accomplishes this by shuttling the female characters from the first film out of the spotlight. They’re not quite afterthoughts, but they’re nowhere near as important as they were in the first jumbled film. At the end of their first year at college, Heather (Mena Suvari) kisses Oz goodbye and embarks on a summer jaunt through Europe, Kevin’s Vicky (Tara Reid) has moved on to another guy (or three), Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) is spending her vacation at band camp (where else?), and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is in Manhattan, though she assures Jim she’ll visit him by summer’s end.This leaves the guys, along with frustrated friend Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott), on their own, so they opt to rent a cabin on nearby Lake Michigan and make the most of their first summer as college men. The script, however, doesn’t give them much to do. Oz practices overseas phone sex with his absent mate. Kevin characteristically moans and sighs over his blown chances with Vicky. And Finch, preparing for his anticipated reunion with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge), discovers the art of tantric sex. Of all of them, it’s Jim who grows up. His quest to sexually satisfy Nadia steers him right into the arms of another, but not before he’s forced to jump through the requisite series of embarrassing scenarios that involve everything from porno tapes and quick-drying glue to a trombone and a retarded summer camper. What more did you expect from a kid who humped pastry?””Pie 2″” starts off with an unsettling sense of deja vu, and you can feel a formula being molded. Eugene Levy appears as Jim’s dad, whose purpose is to create yet another awkward situation for the ill-fated teen. And then the boys are at Stifler’s house for a blowout party, where the memorable semen-in-a-cup-of-beer scene from the first “”Pie”” is unnecessarily outdone. But it tiptoes out of that mold once the guys shed the confines built in the first film and hit the lake. The new scenery allows the reasonably talented male stars the chance to further shape their personalities from traits scarcely established in the original. Or two of them manage to, at least. Oz’s long-distance relationship and Kevin’s pining for his lost love admittedly are the two situations the majority of teens in the audience will identify with. That also makes them, unfortunately, the two most generic, uninspiring situations in the film.Since Stifler lacks the intelligence or drive to mature, that leaves Finch and Jim. One can even argue that with “”Pie 2,”” Biggs’ Jim finally rises to the challenge of being the main character the first film desperately needed him to be. “”Pie 2″” belongs to him and, in turn, the woman he pursues. And the role of Jim remains the one perfectly tailored to Biggs’ naturally sheepish personality, which he failed to duplicate in bombs like “”Loser”” and “”Saving Silverman.”” Who knows? With the next “”Pie”” film – and there’s bound to be another – screenwriter Herz may turn his attention to Finch, a goldmine of idiosyncrasies just begging to be analyzed. Or maybe Kevin will be given a reason to exist, as he lacks one now. Time will tell. Until then, it’s the ability of the four guys to rise above the barrage of bodily fluids required to make a comedy fly in today’s desensitized marketplace that will continue to lure us back. I certainly wouldn’t mind checking back with this crew every other summer to see how far they’ve come.FINAL GRADE: B


In his latest comedy “”Bandits,”” Baltimore native Barry Levinson (“”Diner””) dares to modernize the George Roy Hill classic “”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,”” portraying Butch as a blathering hypochondriac and saddling old Sundance with anger management issues. The result? A two-hour marathon therapy session for two insecure bank robbers who couldn’t buy happiness with all the gold in Fort Knox.

Rarely does one film squander such potential so rapidly. Right off the bat, the casting of Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as escaped convicts turned bank robbers seemed intriguing. They even concoct an appealing plot device: Willis, as the strong, silent Joe Blake, and Thornton, as the agitated, neurotic Terry Collins, earn the name “”The Sleepover Bandits”” by spending the night at a chosen bank manager’s home, then knocking over the person’s facility in the morning. Throw in the immensely talented Cate Blanchett as the third leg of a potential love triangle, and you simply have to sit back and count the box office cash, right? If only it were that simple.Bandits’ problems start early and come often. Almost immediately, the fate of its antiheroes is revealed by a television journalist reporting from the Sleepover Bandits’ final heist, which takes place at the Alamo Savings & Loan – not the first joke Levinson hits us over the head with. From there, the jumbled narrative dashes in all different directions, alternating from the duo’s last stand to a pre-heist interview conducted with the aforementioned broadcast journalist, and finally to their prison days and eventual rise to media infamy as daring bank robbers. Such weaving is forgivable if there’s a purpose, but here it just seems like poorly planned editing.The director isn’t completely to blame for the film’s listless disposition. Harley Peyton’s mundane screenplay boasts so many dry spells, it practically cracks. Bored with its own concept, the film eventually invents desperate gimmicks in hopes of providing a spark, stooping so low as to claim one bank manager suffers from a rare offshoot of narcolepsy, prompting him to fall asleep at inopportune times. Oh, the hilarity. Even the chemistry between Willis and Thornton seems forced. Unlike Butch and Sundance, who were friends long before they were criminals, Joe and Terry rob banks out of necessity, not out of camaraderie. You never even get the impression that these guys like each other, let alone that they respect a code of honor among thieves.Blanchett careens into the story like a breath of fresh insanity, and her purpose is two-fold. Initially she’s meant to disrupt Joe and Terry’s constant bickering, but eventually she serves as the picture’s final and most contrived gimmick, nitiating the inevitable and inconceivable love triangle that ultimately tears these men apart. At first, Blanchett finds a sparring partner in Thornton, their interactions crackling with an untamed wit and energy previously unseen in the picture. But in time, even these two are left spinning their wheels under Levinson’s utter lack of direction. And when Blanchett can’t save your picture from the doldrums, you know it’s time to lock this one away in a bank vault and pray no one ever lets it out.Final Grade: DBy Sean O’ConnellOct. 11, 2001

Osmosis Jones – By Sean O’Connell

In “”Osmosis Jones,”” a witty live-action/animation hybrid from the left side of the brain Bobby and Peter Farrelly share, a mayoral candidate (voiced by Ron Howard) with hopes of running a city found inside a human body delivers a campaign speech from the center of some nauseatingly stench-infested bowels. His platform, of course, is one of cleansing, and he calls for “”a healthier diet”” and more to achieve his goals. Named Tom Colonic, he’s knowingly described as a “”regular guy,”” and it’s gentle bathroom humor like this, laced throughout the film’s animated escapes, that highlight the finer sections of this originalfilm.

The body in question belongs to Frank (Bill Murray), a vile, unkempt zoo keeper and single father whose personal hygiene habits are borrowed from the animals he caters to. Lucky for Frank, he isn’t fighting the good fight against such nasties as cholesterol and heart failure alone.””Jones,”” as written by Marc Hyman, imagines Frank’s body as a fully functioning city, a high voltage metropolis of veins, arteries, organs and bodily fluids. Frank’s stomach resembles an airport where foreign (and domestic) objects arrive at pre-determined gates. His brain serves as city hall, home to a superficial mayor (voiced by William Shatner) who is under the public’s microscope for allowing Frank to treat his body the way he does. And a police force of white blood cells, unofficially represented by gung-ho renegade Osmosis Jones (voice of Chris Rock), keep Frank safe from harm.On a routine inspection of the mouth, triggered by Frank’s ingestion of soiled egg parts, Jones encounters what he believes to be a serious infection. In fact, a deadly virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne provides his devious voice) has infiltrated Frank’s body with alterior motives. Thrax hopes to kill Frank off in 48 hours, a record time that would guarantee the virus a place in the medical journals. Eager to save Frank from this hostile takeover, Jones teams up with Drix (enthusiastically voiced by David Hyde Pierce), a robotic multi-tasker sprung from a cold pill Frank swallows. Pop star Brandy lends her voice to Jones’ blood cell love interest, Leah. Kid Rock and the deceased Joe C. even make a cameo as “”Kidney Rock.”” Pay special attention to the various backgrounds, as they’re often littered with inside jokes and puns. As clever and inventive as “”Jones””‘s animated tours through Frank’s body are, though, the live-action shots with Murray are just as flat. The lowest, most revolting examples of the Farrelly’s trademark bathroom humor are employed so Murray’s Frank can scratch his crotch, sniff his sweaty armpits, ingest enough fat to stop a rhino’s heart and vomit on his daughter’s teacher (Molly Shannon). This unfortunate character later has a zit explode on her. It’s “”hilarious.”” How one script alternates so easily between these repulsive scenes and the quick-witted animated sequences is beyond me. By the time Chris Eliott rears his talentless head as Frank’s best friend, you’ll be wishing the entire film had been hand drawn. Then we’re back in Frank’s body, and the film is resuscitated. Rock and Pierce, a fine duo, wring stimulating jokes out of the obviously cliched buddy cop scenario. Rock even spins a fresh take on his well-known “”We were so poor, we grew up surrounded by crack”” routine. Despite its live-action foibles, “”Jones”” could be the cure for what ails audiences this summer season. FINAL GRADE: B+

Iron Monkey

Hoping to cash in on the popularity of Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,”” the suits at Miramax dug up and digitally improved the 1993 Chinese import “”Iron Monkey”” for theatrical release in the States. Similarities to “”Dragon”” are evident and expected, as “”Monkey”” was helmed by Lee’s action choreographer Yeun Woo-Ping. But where Lee’s “”Dragon”” wrapped traditional social conflicts around a dreamy fable, red-headed stepchild “”Monkey”” drives its point home with a kick.

At its core, Yuen’s “”Monkey”” retells the infamous Peter Pan legend, with the mysterious Iron Monkey figure robbing from corrupt official Governor Cheng (James Wong) and distributing the confiscated cash to the poor. However, Yuen complicates his elemental parable by mixing in healthy doses of polygamy, political power struggles, retribution, explorations of antiquated legacies and the bonds shared between fathers and sons, all laced with touches of humor typically found in the fleet-footed Far East dramas.By day, the Iron Monkey masquerades as Dr. Yang (Rongguang Yu), mild-mannered servant to the poor. Eventually Dr. Yang’s cover is threatened by a close friend, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen), who reluctantly agrees to hunt down the Iron Monkey for Governor Cheng, who has kidnapped Kei-Ying’s son, Wong Fei-Hung (Sze-Man Tsang), and is holding him for ransom. A clouded sense of good and evil emerges from Kei-Ying and Yang’s inevitable confrontation, as both are noble warriors forced to fight for what they believe in. And only when they unite to combat Cheng and his forces does the movie morally align itself and start kicking tail.And kick tail it does. “”Iron Monkey””‘s strength lies in its fight sequences, brilliantly choreographed dances made possible with the aide of well-placed wires. Where would the contemporary kung-fu hero be without wires and modern camera gimmicks? “”Monkey,”” while spectacular, makes you appreciate how agile and resilient Bruce Lee and the young Jackie Chan were, or how lethargic the overweight Steven Seagal remains. Still, “”Monkey”” promises action, and everyone gets involved, including the young Tsang as Wong Fei-Hung, who readily dispenses of a gang of menacing goons without breaking a sweat. The final battle scene, set atop a series of poles strategically placed in a burning pit, defies logic, and must be seen to be appreciated.Interesting tidbit: “”Iron Monkey””‘s full title, “”Iron Monkey: The Young Wong Fei-Hung,”” signifies that it is the first in a series of films centered around Tsang

Final Fantasy Review – By Sean O’Connell

Who would have thought, after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” wrestled the designation of “”Worst Film Ever”” from 1987’s “”Ishtar”” that it would only hold the distinguished title for just over 14 months?

A tough act to top (or bottom), “”Earth”” massacred the traditional sci fi genre and practically buried John Travolta’s career under a pile of detestable dialogue. But that cinematic mess resembles George Lucas’ original “”Star Wars”” when compared to Hironobu Sakaguchi’s futuristic flop, “”Final Fantasy.”” Based on a popular video game series, the computer-animated “”Fantasy”” has already turned several heads with its eye-popping visual style that deftly creates palpable digital characters and lets them loose in dazzling alien worlds. Set in the year 2065, “”Fantasy”” follows Dr. Aki Ross (the voice of Ming-Na), a buff female scientist who’s plagued by recurring nightmares of a phantom invasion that decimated the Earth in 2031. Now Ross and her partner, Dr. Sid (the voice of Donald Sutherland), search the planet’s ruins for eight spirits, each of them contributing to a greater life force called “”Gaya”” that powers extraterrestrial entities. It’s on one of these recovery missions that Ross encounters Grey Edwards (the voice of Alec Baldwin), a muscle-bound acquaintance and potential love interest who tags along for the adventure. Only there is no adventure. Save for the film’s stunning visuals – and at times the film does indeed look fantastic – there is absolutely nothing else to extract from “”Final Fantasy.”” The life-like characters are artistic contradictions. Their designers go to great lengths to achieve authenticity. Characters have wrinkles, scars and facial blemishes, and Dr. Ross’ bouncy hair appears to have been recently shampooed and conditioned. But then the character’s mouths don’t match the dialogue, and the fantasy is ruined. My theory is that even digitally animated characters would hesitate to recite such pitiful dialogue, hence the glaring discrepancy. Packed with macho dialogue stolen directly from a 1980’s Stallone or Schwarzenegger vehicle, “”Fantasy”” hasn’t met a bit of bravado it didn’t cherish. It almost helps that most of the horrendous lines are uttered by the likes of James Woods and Baldwin, who’s gravely voice is tailored for such cheesy verses. All of this can be overlooked if “”Fantasy”” only made sense. It doesn’t. Approximately one hour into it, the film reaches the first of its three climaxes. This one involved our heroes escaping from what I think was a space station as the evil phantoms (who aren’t evil) plucked off the gun-totting team one by one. But Ross, Dr. Sid and Grey barely escaped, and I thought we were almost finished. We weren’t. A second, less-involving and jumbled mission began. Characters that were thought dead returned from nowhere without explanation, and the film plodded along for another excruciating 45 minutes. By this point my fantasy involved having the projector break or seeing the theater lights come back on. Neither happened. Watching “”Final Fantasy,”” you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals and absoultely no time cleaning up the convoluted plot or ridiculous dialogue. Sure it’s cool that the entire film is animated, and the digital techniques look great, but was it necessary? The film does nothing extraordinary that would require it to be animated. In fact, it moves a good deal slower than any feature that uses human actors. I salivate to think what Ridley Scott or James Cameron could have done with “”Fantasy.”” The movie borrows crucial elements from Cameron classics like “”The Abyss,”” “”T2″” and “”Aliens”” anyway. Since “”Fantasy”” started as a game, it should come as no surprise that the feature length film feels like you’re watching a game. However, you’re not playing, so it’s not nearly as fun. But at least when you’re playing the game, you always have the option of turning the Playstation system off and walking away. Final Grade: D- Review by Sean O’Connell

The Last Castle

A debate currently “”rages”” within the film critic community about whether or not the attacks of Sept. 11 should color our critiques of certain films. Critics may recommend the ridiculous humor of Ben Stiller’s “”Zoolander”” as a temporary distraction from CNN’s talking heads, but will that review stand when the film comes out on video? It