Somewhere inside Dr. T and the Women, a gentle new social satire from director Robert Altman, there’s an engaging character study of a fundamentally nice man drowning in a sea of women. It’s just very hard to find amid the clutter of Altman’s idiosyncrasies.
|Cinema ClipsThe Ladies Man **1/2
Tim Meadows, who was always underutilized on Saturday Night Live, finally gets his due with an SNL Studio movie of his own. His sketch as smooth-talking womanizer Leon Phelps is stretched into 87 minutes that don’t always work, but at least provide laughs for Meadows’ fans. As the host of a radio call-in show and self-proclaimed expert on the ladies, the adorable lisping Phelps, who is stuck in a ’70s time warp, dispenses advice to any romantic query. He eventually gives up his womanizing ways for true love in the form of his classy producer played by Karyn Parsons. Watch for bit parts from SNL regular Tim Farrell as one of a legion of wronged husbands out to get the ladies man. Their musical number is hilarious. (R) —MD
Lost Souls *
This film has been sitting on the studio shelf for nearly a year. It’s clear why. Winona Ryder is a once-possessed woman who determines that a cocky writer (Ben Chaplin) is destined to become the vessel for Satan’s return to Earth or something. The millennial thrillers that were all the rage last year weren’t interesting even when they were timely, and director Janusz Kaminski can’t find anything new here, although he drapes everything in important-looking lighting. The whole apocalyptic feel smacks of desperation for a scare or an importance that just isn’t here. Add one of the silliest endings ever put on celluloid, and you’ve got a hell of a way to waste $7.50. (R) —GB
Best in Show ****
A barking farce from writer-director-star Christopher Guest, whose flawless faux-documentary style paves the way for inspired comedy from the competitors in the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Nearly every eccentric character is a scream, from Parker Posey’s braces-wearing career woman who throws a tantrum in a doggie-toy store to Fred Willard’s burned-out dog show color commentator. Guest’s secret is tempering his too-cool-for-the-room humor with a genuine affection for the rubes he creates; by the end, we really care who wins the stupid dog show. Once you buy into Guest’s style, you’ll find his films as funny as anything on the market. (PG-13) —GB
Meet the Parents ***
It feels like a funny sitcom pilot stretched to feature length, but director Jay Roach’s newest comedy get its laughs in nonetheless, largely thanks to an empathetic script that feels for Greg (Ben Stiller), but still puts him through hell. Greg is a male nurse who journeys to upstate New York to meet the parents of his live-in girlfriend (Teri Polo), who he’s asked to marry him. Unfortunately, it turns out her father is Robert DeNiro. Both Stiller and DeNiro are in top form, with DeNiro actually mining a little comic zing out of that well-weathered persona. The supporting cast is strong as well, particularly Owen Wilson as the perfect ex-fiancée who makes Greg look even worse. It’s all farce, but it’s very funny, and Roach knows how to keep things moving. Go meet them. (PG-13) —GB
Get Carter **1/2
Shouldn’t we be happier to see Sly? In his first real film since 1997’s Copland, Sylvester Stallone is the title character in a remake of the sharp 1971 thriller starring Michael Caine, who’s also in this version. In a script with more than a little Rocky flavor, Stallone is a Vegas hit man who returns home to Seattle to find out who capped his brother. An incoherent, murky script requires Stallone to get beat up a whole lot for no good reason, and the various tough guys who eventually bow to his wrath aren’t terribly interesting. There’s not much here—a couple of good lines from Rachael Leigh Cook as his niece, and a good fight or two. Still, it’s good to see Sly beating people up again. I was worried about the big guy. (R) —GB
The Exorcist ***1/2
It’s still scary as hell, this William Friedkin groundbreaker that was revolutionary when it first came on the scene. It’s being re-released with missing footage and a few other goodies, but what was left out the first time isn’t nearly as interesting as what Friedkin managed to leave in. Watching it with the perspective of time necessarily dulls its shock value (it really shouldn’t be funny to watch a 12-year-old girl masturbate with a crucifix, but God help us, it is), but it’s still obvious why this film has compelled and drawn audiences for 30 years with the relentlessness of a bug zapper. (R) —GB
The Tao of Steve ***
It’s not hard to see why Jenniphr Goodman’s fresh, feel-good love story was an audience favorite at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s one of those amusingly benign comedies about the finer points of the mating ritual. The film’s hero (Donal Logue) is an overweight, philosophy-spouting kindergarten teacher looking for love in Santa Fe. He’s the kind of guy who grows on you, working his charm in ways so subtle you hardly notice he’s made you take notice of him. He’s not the kind of romantic hero we usually see on-screen, which is a large part of his charm. The film’s insights may not be earth-shattering, but this smart romantic comedy is filled with refreshingly real people. (R) —MD
Remember the Titans **
Prepackaged for easy digestion, here’s the story of a suddenly integrated Virginia high school football team that struggles at first but eventually comes together across racial divides to win the big game or something. You’ve seen this movie before, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t even try to fake it. We get blindingly obvious demarcations of good and evil, an aggressive soundtrack designed to cue emotions hard-wired into our collective subconscious by other movie soundtracks, a sheeny brand of cinematography and a script fanatically dedicated to avoiding surprises. Denzel Washington preens and poses as the head coach, and a few more characters get in a lick or two, but the emotion generated by the film is only slightly more fresh than watching a tape of a long-forgotten Super Bowl—unless that’s your thing, of course. (PG) —GB
Woman on Top **1/2
A summer beach novel of a movie from Venezuelan director Fina Torres. It exists mostly to showcase the unbearable lightness of being Penelope Cruz, who’s beautiful beyond the scope of conventional measuring devices and possesses gallons of that ineffable thing that usually bespeaks stardom. She plays a motion-sick cook who flees her Brazilian home and husband for a new life and a cooking show in San Francisco. Cruz is stuck in a patchy story that tries to capture the magic-food-and-sex vibe of Like Water for Chocolate and the playful sophistication of Almodovar, but can’t manage the passionate earnestness of the former or the intelligence of the latter. On the other hand, Cruz is still really hot—and the Brazilian rhythms permeating the film will keep your toe tapping while your hand stifles a yawn. (R) —GB
Everything we’ve come to expect from this misanthropic auteur is here: overlapping dialogue, wandering cameras, one overlong tracking shot and constant improvisation by a cast too large to be contained by one movie. Trouble is, Altman isn’t good at making silly films (see Pret a Porter if you have any doubt). Dr. T and the Women deals with light, airy subjects best treated with deft observational humor, not the thoughtful symbolic importance with which Altman gifts everything he films. As in so many of the hysterical outfits worn by Dr. T’s patients, everything clashes.
Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere), a gynecologist to Dallas’ matrons and debutantes alike, loves and worships women; he even names his gun after a woman. And the women in his life are a handful: His wife (Farrah Fawcett) is regressing to mental prepubescence because there are no challenges left in her completely fulfilled life; his office manager (Shelley Long) isn’t very good at her job, causing near-constant confusion at work; his sister-in-law (Laura Dern) is a high-strung drunk; one of his daughters (Kate Hudson) is a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader (’nuff said) and the other (Tara Reid) a petty meddler.
All of these women need Dr. T, and he needs to be their savior. We discover he actually thinks too highly of women; they’re not people so much as behavioral science experiments for the good doctor. That’s why he’s so befuddled by Bree (Helen Hunt), a golf pro who doesn’t need any saving whatsoever. Like Warren Beatty’s shopkeeper in Altman’s classic McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Dr. T can’t comprehend women who can get along without him.
As his life spins out of control, Dr. T becomes increasingly drawn to the only woman that doesn’t fit his preconceptions. If only Altman were as comfortable with new things.
As he gets older, the 75-year-old director is less eager to climb on his soapbox. He lets the puffed-up denizens of upper-class Dallas off quite lightly, in fact; he’s only interested in gently poking at a few obvious foibles. And that’s where he fails. His script is so light, and its problems so tedious, that there’s never anything at stake. It’s nothing more than amusing, and after yet another drunken rant by Dern, it’s not even very amusing.
The trouble comes when Altman tries to mesh his indulgent style with light satire. The improvised dialogue he so loves becomes oppressive when the characters warble on about nothing. When Altman is behind the camera, he likes surprises as well, with meandering shots that keep our attention much better than the story.
Altman’s style has its place, as in a sexily quiet seduction scene between Gere and Hunt set to Lyle Lovett (who also wrote the quirky score) and ending with a shot of slick voyeurism. Too often, however, we’re treated to two lame-brained actresses like Hudson and Reid making up a phone conversation. It makes a pap smear sound fun.
The biggest shame is that Gere looks very good under Altman’s control. After a career of Keanu-esque detachment with occasional flashes of talent, Gere actually seems like a real person here. He’s a bit of a smoothie, but still a fundamentally nice guy who sees all the troubles in the world heaped upon him. Gere bears up with a smile, even while every actress in the film talks and talks as if they were being paid by the word.
They say this film is a take on the story of Job, who eventually learned that life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a riddle to be pondered. Ah, but there’s a danger in pondering: If you do it too long, your ass goes numb.
Dr. T and the Women (R) HH Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt and Laura Dern.