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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Bottom (Top) Shelf

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

One of the smartest things I've done since I began writing for this site (if indeed you'll allow that I've done anything smart since then) was to focus this column on cult movies. This pretty much gives me carte blanche to write about anything I damn well please. Because if you think about it, all movies are cult movies to some extent. It's just that some cults are bigger than others. If I wanted to, I could write about Star Wars here. Any movie that inspires its fans to dress up like the characters and live their lives according to the film's teachings certainly qualifies as a cult movie. I don't necessarily want to write about Star Wars. I'm just sayin'.

Even so, I try to keep these columns narrowed down to those films we can all agree are cultish in nature. But every once in a while, I'll get a review disc from Digital Bits Command Base Alpha that doesn't exactly fit into Bottom Shelf territory. These are what the studios like to call their A-List titles. The biggies that you might actually remember playing at your local movie theatre during its theatrical run and whose discs you'll see prominently displayed at every Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry's, Target, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, grocery store and airport vending machine you stumble across. No, I don't know why they have me review 'em either. Usually I assume it's a mistake and just keep my mouth shut.

Anyhoo, I've accumulated half a dozen of these A-listers recently. Enough for a decently sized column, I thought. So join me now for a very star-studded edition of the Bottom Shelf. And for those of you who fear the column has sold out, never fear. I'll return to our regularly scheduled program of D-list schlock shortly.

We'll start with the lighter stuff...

Fever Pitch

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Fever Pitch
2005 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/C+

If there's an actress button-cuter than Drew Barrymore, I don't think I could stand it. In fact, while most of her movies are genuine mainstream blockbusters, I'd argue that Drew herself qualifies as a cult actress. If you're a part of the Cult of Drew, you'll find yourself enjoying movies you wouldn't otherwise touch with somebody else's ten-foot pole, buoyed by her seemingly effortless charm, bubbly good humor, and that winsome way she has of biting her lower lip. Of course, if you're not part of the Cult, these same things will drive you completely insane.

My wife is a card-carrying member of the Cult of Drew and I suppose I must be too, since I don't put up too much of a fight when I'm inevitably forced to watch her movies. Fever Pitch, her latest romantic comedy, is a pleasant enough example of the form although it's certainly not her best movie.

Jimmy Fallon co-stars as Ben, a nice guy math teacher who wins over our Drew (technically playing a character named Lindsey but we all really just wanna see Drew) by such unfair tactics as being smart, funny, charming and unfailingly chivalrous. Only trouble is that Lindsey started seeing Ben during the winter. When spring comes, she discovers a previously hidden side to her new boyfriend: rabid Boston Red Sox fan.

Directed with remarkable restraint by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Fever Pitch bears a thematic similarity to High Fidelity, the 2000 John Cusack comedy also based on a novel by British author Nick Hornby. In High Fidelity, the obsession was music. Here it's baseball. And as with High Fidelity and records, Fever Pitch is as much a romance with the Red Sox as it is a romance between a man and a woman. Certainly I can see this movie being much more meaningful to someone who's a huge baseball and/or Red Sox fan than to the rest of us. I like baseball fine but I'm hardly an avid fan. And strictly as a romantic comedy, Fever Pitch is maybe slightly above average. No classic but very amiable and charming without ever being really memorable. Jimmy Fallon has his first big leading-man role here (let us charitably ignore Taxi, shall we?) and while he's all right, I didn't see the promise of a young Tom Hanks as the Farrellys claim in their commentary. He's not as objectionable as I'd assumed he'd be but he doesn't exactly break any new ground, either. The movie might have been a bit better with an actor of more substance in the role. As it is, Fallon is perfectly likable. He just doesn't stand out.

Fox's standard edition DVD is also fairly likable, although it starts off with an annoying and unskippable Fox promo and anti-piracy spot that, if anything, makes you want to go out and pirate a bunch of Fox movies. Technical qualities are fine. The previously mentioned commentary by Peter and Bobby Farrelly is generally pretty interesting (these guys may be the only directors in Hollywood who can name 95% of the faces on screen in their films) and amusing (my favorite anecdote revolves around filming Sox fan Stephen King's cameo). There are 13 not-bad deleted scenes and a gag reel. The two Internet featurettes are pre-release promotional puffery designed to drum up interest in the movie. Love Triangle talks to Drew for a couple minutes while Break the Curse looks at the last-minute scramble to rewrite and reshoot the film's ending when the Red Sox did the unthinkable and actually found themselves in the World Series. Skip both of these. A more interesting look at the revised finale can be found in the Fox Movie Channel Making a Scene segment, which actually explains a bit of what was involved in making the new footage happen. There's also a trailer and some more Fox promotional stuff for other unrelated movies.

Fever Pitch is a pretty cute way to spend 103 minutes and I wouldn't argue with anybody who was more enthusiastic about the movie than I am. It isn't a comedy of big laughs but rather one of smiles and a general overall feeling of good will. I enjoyed it while it was on but I doubt I'll ever think to watch it again. But if you're a Red Sox fan looking to relive your curse-breaking moment of triumph, you could do worse.

Monster-in-Law: Platinum Series

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Platinum Series - 2005 (2005) - New Line

Film Rating: F

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C-

Heavens to Murgatroid, does this movie ever suck! And not just a little bit, either. I mean this thing blows on a level I didn't think possible even for a Jennifer Lopez movie.

Of course, the only reason anybody cared about this thing at all is because Monster-in-Law marked Jane Fonda's return to film after a fifteen-year absence. And while I like Ms. Fonda and am certainly happy she's decided to work again, it looks like she couldn't have picked a worse time if this is the best movie she could find to come back with. Jenny from the block keeps it real as Charlie, an aspiring designer/part-time temp worker/dog-walker, who falls head over heels with a rich and sexy doctor (Michael Vartan from Alias). When the doc pops the question, it provokes a full-blown panic attack in his already panicky and possessive mother, a legendary TV journalist (Fonda, of course). So Fonda does everything she can to sabotage the union and drive Lopez away.

Honestly, I can understand Fonda wanting to do something zany and light-hearted. After all, she doesn't exactly have a reputation as a jokester and if you're going to reinvent yourself, why not go all the way? But the hoped-for Meet the Parents vibe just doesn't gel here. The script is paint-by-numbers all the way, from the forced slapstick to the requisite "wacky assistant" played by Wanda Sykes (who frankly, deserves better). It's depressing to watch Fonda slog through this mess. As for Lopez, I've actually defended her in the past, citing movies like Out of Sight as evidence of her talent. Well, I'm done with that. For Lopez to be considered a real actress again, she'll need to give herself over completely to a very, very talented director, preferably as a small part of a much larger ensemble. As long as she keeps making movies like this, where she's the struggling, hopeful young girl with big dreams and a bigger... heart (mind out of the gutter, boys), she's not doing anybody any favors.

New Line's two-disc Platinum Series DVD is exhausting. Disc one provides both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the movie, an ad for the soundtrack album, and an audio commentary with director Robert Luketic, Wanda Sykes, producer Chris Bender, production designer Missy Stewart, and director of photography Russell Carpenter. The track is cobbled together from several different recording sessions, Luketic being the only constant throughout. It's a fairly tedious track and the fact that Luketic wraps things up with different people at different times means you'll think it's over three different times only to have it start up again on you.

Disc two isn't much of an improvement. There are seven deleted scenes and an allegedly "hilarious" gag reel. The "documentaries" are an assortment of short featurettes averaging about five minutes a pop, focusing on Fonda, Lopez, Vartan, the design, and director Luketic. Only the 18-minute Robert Luketic featurette sheds any real insight into the making of the movie but, to be honest, it's 18 minutes more than I required. The only extra that might provoke a chuckle is Ruby's Make-up Bag, a mock Britney Spears-like music video with Wanda Sykes busting a move. I wouldn't exactly call it high comedy but you get your laughs where you can.

Monster-in-Law is a truly awful movie and a difficult one to sit through without aspirin. Assuming the experience hasn't scared Jane Fonda back into retirement for another fifteen years, the good news is that whatever she does next will have to be better than this.

xXx: State of the Union

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xXx: State of the Union
2005 (2005) - Columbia/Revolution (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B-

The appeal of Vin Diesel is something of a mystery to me, yet even I was a bit perplexed when the producers of xXx announced their intention to forge ahead with a sequel without the star of the first film. The 2002 original positioned Diesel as a next-generation superspy with an extreme sports edge. Basically James Bond with a Fox attitude. I didn't think xXx was a work of genius but it had some enjoyable moments and it certainly seemed franchise-ready.

Now it isn't without precedent for Hollywood to churn out a sequel whose only connection to the original is maybe a handful of supporting characters. It's just that the precedents aren't very good movies, placing xXx: State of the Union squarely in territory occupied by such gems as Speed 2: Cruise Control and Curse of the Pink Panther. Arguably xXx: State of the Union is the best of a bad bunch but that's the faintest of faint praise.

Anyway, Ice Cube steps into the hero role vacated by the killed-off-screen Diesel, playing Darius Stone. He's freed from prison by Samuel L. Jackson, returning as the spy-Pygmalion who transforms these no-accounts into lethal weapons. Jackson was Cube's commanding officer back in their Navy SEAL days and he picks Darius to be the new xXx when their elite team is betrayed from within. It's a surprise to no one that the leader of the conspiracy turns out to be Secretary of Defense Willem Dafoe, who plans a military coup of the government. Yes, it's Seven Days in May for everyone who thought the John Frankenheimer classic needed more explosions and bullet train chases.

The biggest problem with State of the Union isn't that the plot is ridiculous. It's that the plot is there, period. If I had a gun to my head, I couldn't tell you what the original xXx was about. It had something to do with Russians, I think, and Vin Diesel skating down a stairway on a silver serving tray. I remember the action but don't remember what it was in service of. It's the opposite with State of the Union. I know what it's about and frankly, I don't care. With a movie like this, I'd rather remember big, cool action setpieces. Most of the action here is done efficiently, directed by Die Another Day's Lee Tamahori, but it doesn't stand out. Or if it does, it's because it's marred by ineffective CGI, like when Cube races a car onto some train tracks. Ice Cube is a likable enough actor but a part like this doesn't exactly call for likability. Jackson and Dafoe, meanwhile, aren't called upon to do anything other than their usual routines and therefore, don't bother to go beyond the call of duty.

The DVD is fairly nice, with a solid image and a typically bombastic action movie audio track. Extras are pretty extensive for a single-disc release, including a relatively in-depth making of called From Convict to Hero that runs about 48 minutes altogether. The shorter featurettes include an interactive breakdown of the Bullet Train sequence, a look at the military gear used in the film, and a brief segment about Ice Cube. Tamahori offers up optional commentary on the three deleted scenes included here, as well as a feature-length track where he's joined by screenwriter Simon Kinberg. It's a fairly interesting track, certainly better than the Visual Effects commentary by Scott Farrar and Lindy DeQuattro who spend most of their time pointing out what's real and what isn't in case it wasn't obvious enough already.

If movies like Speed 2 have taught us anything, it's that xXx: State of the Union could have been much, much worse. The movie isn't a complete abomination but I doubt very many people will ever want to see it more than once, if indeed they make it through the whole thing. Even if they do, Ice Cube probably shouldn't get too comfy with that xXx tattoo on his neck. There's a reason the xXx guys don't get to say, "I'll be back."

On to Part Two

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