Fatal Instinct (1993, directed by Carl Reiner)

Ned Ravine (Armand Assante) is a cop who is also a lawyer.  His shtick is to make an arrest and then defend that person in court.  He’s married to Lana (Kate Nelligan), who is having an affair with a mechanic named Frank (Christopher McDonald).  Lana has taken out a life insurance policy on Ned, one that has a triple indemnity clause.  If he’s shot on a northbound train and then falls off and drowns in a nearby stream, Lana and Frank will make a lot of money.  However, Lana and Frank are not the only people who want to kill Ned Ravine.  One of Ned’s former clients, Max Shady (James Remar), has just been released from prison and is seeking revenge.  The main reason why Ned hasn’t figured out that everyone is trying to kill him is because he’s been distracted by the seductive Lola (Sean Young), a client who asked him to look over some legal papers and who has an improbable connection to Lana.

As you might guess by the plot and Carl Reiner’s directorial credit, Fatal Instinct is a spoof of detective movies, with the majority of the jokes being inspired by Basic Instinct, the remake of Cape Fear, Double Indemnity, and Body Heat.  How much you laugh will depend on how well you know those films.  There’s a scene in Ned’s office where Ned notices that Lola isn’t wearing panties.  He helpfully produces a pair from inside his desk and hand them to her.  In 1994, that scene was funny because Basic Instinct and whether or not Sharon Stone was aware of how her famous interrogation scene was being filmed were still a huge part of the pop cultural conversation.  Today, it might just seem weird.

Carl Reiner has always been an uneven filmmaker and that trend continues in Fatal Instinct, where he tries to do to erotic thrillers what Mel Brooks did to westerns and Airplane! did to disaster films.  Unfortunately, Reiner often gets bogged down by the film’s plot, which should really be the last thing anyone should be worried about when it comes to a spoof like this.  Some of the jokes are funny and some of them aren’t but, because Reiner doesn’t duplicate the joke-every-minute style of a film like Airplane!, there’s a lot more time to think about the jokes that fall flat.

Fatal Instinct does have a good cast, featuring a lot of actors who probably should have become bigger stars than they did.  I especially liked Kate Nelligan’s and Christopher McDonald’s performances as the two triple indemnity conspirators.  Sherilyn Fenn plays Ned’s loyal secretary and seeing her give such a fresh and likable performance in this otherwise uneven film makes me regret even more that, outside of Twin Peaks, she never really got the roles that she deserved.

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #8: The Boost (dir by Harold Becker)

Seven days ago, we started embracing the melodrama with my review of No Down Payment, a look at lies and betrayal in suburbia.  Today, we conclude things with 1988’s The Boost, a look at lies, betrayal, and cocaine in California, with the emphasis on cocaine.

From the first minute we meet Lenny Brown (James Woods, at his nerviest best), we assume that he has to be high on something.  He’s a real estate broker and he’s one of those guys who always looks a little bit sleazy no matter how hard he tries otherwise.  His smile is just a little too quick.  He laughs a little bit too eagerly at his own jokes.  He talks constantly, an endless patter of self-serving compliments, nervous jokes, and self-affirming platitudes.  He’s a bundle of nerves but he’s also a brilliant salesman.  We may assume that he’s on coke when we first see him but actually, he doesn’t touch the stuff.  He barely drinks.

Of course, that changes when he’s hired by Max Sherman (Steven Hill).  Max is a philosophical businessman, the type who makes sure that everyone who works for him gets a nice house, a nice car, and several lectures about what’s important in life.  When Max first shows up, it’s tempting to dismiss him as just a self-important businessman but he actually turns out to be a nice guy.  He gives Lenny a ton of good advice.  Unfortunately, Lenny ignores almost all of it.

At first, life is good for Lenny and his wife, Linda (Sean Young).  Lenny is making tons of money, selling houses that can used as a tax shelter or something like that.  (I never understand how any of that stuff works.)  Lenny is making all sorts of new friends, like Joel Miller (John Kapelos) and his wife, Rochelle (Kelle Kerr).  Joel owns four car washes and he’s made a fortune off of them.  All of that money means that he can throw extravagant parties and take nice trips.  It also means that Joel has a never-ending supply of cocaine.  At first, Lenny turns down Joel’s offer of cocaine but eventually he gives in.  At the time, he says that he just needs a little boost.  Soon both Lenny and Linda are addicts.

Of course, nothing goes on forever.  The tax laws change and Max suddenly finds himself out-of-business.  Lenny and Linda lose their house.  They lose their expensive car.  They even lose their private plane.  They end up staying in a tiny apartment.  Lenny says that he can still sell anything and that they’ll be back on top in just a few months.  Of course, even while Lenny is saying this, his main concern is getting more cocaine…

Though dated, The Boost is an effective anti-drug film.  The scene where Lenny overdoses is absolutely harrowing.  Wisely, the film doesn’t deny the fact that cocaine is a lot of fun before you end up losing all of your money and having to move into a cheap apartment with shag carpeting.  It’s a bit like a coke-fueled Days of Wine and Roses, right down to an ending that finds one partner clean and one partner still in the throes of addiction.  James Woods gives a great performance as the self-destructive Lenny, as does Sean Young as his wife and partner in addiction.  And then there’s Steven Hill, providing the voice of gruff wisdom as Max Sherman.  When Max says that he feels that he’s been betrayed, Hill makes you feel as if the entire world has ended.

Speaking of endings, that’s it for this latest installment of Embracing the Melodrama.  I hope you enjoyed this mini-series of reviews and that you will always be willing to embrace the … well, you know.


Horror Trailer: Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk

We never have enough horror set in the Old West. It’s a setting that should be rife with infinite possibilities for some very scary storytelling.

When we do get Old West horror they tend to be direct-to-video and low-budget affairs. Now don’t get me wrong low-budget horror sometimes are some of the most effective. The closer it gets to it’s grindhouse roots the better. Then again some do end up being a pile of turds that end up getting relegated in the dollar bin at supermarkets.

My hope is that the latest Old West horror starring Kurt Russell will be the former and not the latter.

Bone Tomahawk made it’s premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest and from all intents and purpose had a very positive reception to it’s genre mash-up of cowboys vs cannibals. Now what better way to follow-up The Green Inferno but with another cannibal fare set in the dusty plains and canyons of the Old West.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Wall Street (dir. by Oliver Stone)

Yesterday, me and my friend Jeff were planning on seeing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  However, there was one problem — I’d never seen the original Wall Street.  Though I owned the movie on DVD, I’d never actually bothered to sit down to watch it.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew that this was the movie that won Michael Douglas an Oscar.  I knew that Douglas played a character named Gordon Gekko who, at one point in the film, delivered the line, “Greed is good.”  Who hasn’t seen that clip?

So, yesterday, before leaving to see the sequel (which I’ll be reviewing in the near future), I sat down and watched the original. I discovered that there’s a reason why everyone remembers Gordon Gekko’s little “Greed is good” speech.  It’s literally the only memorable part of the entire movie.

Wall Street tells the tale of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a young stock broker who becomes a protegé to an intense and amoral businessman named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).   Gekko specializes in taking over other companies and putting people out of work.  He wants to take over an airline that employs Bud’s father.  Bud’s father is played by Martin Sheen and he’s such a self-righteous, judgmental, blue-collar asshole that you find yourself hoping that Gekko does put him out of work.  Anyway, Bud engages in insider trading (which is apparently a crime though I’m not sure as the film seems to assume that everyone already understands how the stock market works) yet then finds his conscience awakened when Gekko’s greed threatens his dad’s job.  Yes, this is yet another one of those laughably masculine films in which an overage boy has to pick a father figure.  

I guess we’re supposed to care about whether or not he picks the right father but seriously, Bud Fox is such a dull character and Charlie Sheen is so miscast that I found myself wondering when the film’s real hero was going to show up.  I had some hope when James Spader popped up in a supporting role but no, the lead character here is Bud Fox and he’s played by Charlie Sheen.

Not surprisingly, this is pretty much a male-dominated film.  There’s only two notable female characters in the film.  Darryl Hannah plays a ditz and Sean Young plays a bitch and neither one gets a chance to even have fun with the stereotypes.  However, we all know that this film is really just about Gordon Gekko plunking his twanger over money and Bud Fox jackin’ the beanstalk to Gekko.

However, once you see Michael Douglas’s performance as Gordon Gekko, it’s a bit easier to understand why he causes Bud to walk Willie the One-Eyed Wonder Worm.  Douglas truly is amazing in this role.  In fact, Douglas is so charismatic in the role that it actually hurts the movie.  It’s hard to take much pleasure in listening to Martin Sheen talk about how much he loves his union when you realize that all he’s doing is taking up time that could have been devoted to Michael Douglas fucking over poor people.  I don’t know if a bad film can ever be truly redeemed by just one good performance but Douglas definitely makes Wall Street — with all of its awkward moralizing and sexist (and sexual) confusion — worth seeing.

As little as I thought of Wall Street, I still found myself excited about seeing the sequel.  Why?  Because I knew Michael Douglas was coming back and Martin Sheen wasn’t.  Perhaps, I thought, this sequel will simply focus on Gekko being an over-the-top, charming viper instead of forcing us to sit through a repeat of the first film’s heavy-handed moralizing and simplistic political posturing.  Of course, I was wrong but that’s another review for another day.

Oh, one last note: Oliver Stone’s direction is far better than his script.  I once read an old review from Pauline Kael in which she said that Oliver Stone directed “as if someone held a gun to his head and shouted, ‘Go!'”  and this is certainly the case with Wall Street.  That said, I still find it hard to stay interested in any scene that features stock brokers screaming at each other and tossing around little bits of paper.  Seriously, how does the Stock Market work?  Whenever I see any footage from the New York stock exchange, it just looks incredibly silly.