#76 - The Comfort of Strangers

Dedicated To
Natasha Richardson
1963 - 2009

Added 3/25/09

Greetings and salutations, ticket-holders! Time once again to sample a recent theatrical offering in the Electric Theatre and discover another Tale from the Queue. Let’s watch!



Alex Proyas is not someone I would consider one of my favorite filmmakers. He hasn’t quite hit one out of the park yet, although he’s come very close with his best films, The Crow and especially Dark City. Both of those movies have their shortcomings but are undeniably ambitious and frequently brilliant. I find less to admire in I, Robot but there aren’t too many directors who can take the reigns of a multi-million-dollar Will Smith blockbuster and hang on to their own unique artistic vision. Still, his work is interesting (and infrequent) enough to insure that a new Proyas movie is at least worth considering.

Knowing is Proyas’ first attempt at telling a fantastic story set in our own present-day world. Nicolas Cage stars as John Koestler, an astrophysics professor at MIT whose son (Chandler Canterbury) comes into possession of a 50-year-old list of numbers when a time capsule at his school is opened. One drunken evening, Cage sees a pattern in the seemingly random string. The list includes dates of major disasters, followed by the number of people killed (including the hotel fire a year ago that killed his wife). His colleague is understandably skeptical at first, until a plane crashes literally on top of Cage, revealing that the remaining numbers are latitude and longitude coordinates (could this movie have been made before GPS?). With two dates still to come, Cage tries to use his advance knowledge to try to save some lives.

Knowing boasts an intriguing premise and sets it up quite well during its first half hour or so. Cage is far more subdued and interesting than he’s been in quite some time and Canterbury is one of the better child actors I’ve seen lately. The audience is obligated to suspend quite a lot of disbelief (lucky thing the coordinates for the last three events are all within driving distance, for instance) but that’s par for the course in movies like this. The first real sign of trouble is the arrival of the Whisper People, mysterious shadowy figures whose whispered voices can only be heard by John’s son and his little friend Abby, the granddaughter of the girl who originally wrote down the numbers. Creepy at first, you soon realize that there’s no way they can be rationally explained, even in sci-fi terms. That’s because Knowing really isn’t a science fiction movie. It’s more of a philosophical fiction movie, although I guess phi-fi doesn’t have quite the same recognition factor. The movie sets up a clash between chaos theory and determinism. Once it’s revealed that Cage is the estranged son of a preacher, we know what side of the argument the movie is on and Knowing turns into a rather heavy-handed Christian allegory. By the end, I felt like I’d been tricked into seeing an adaptation of the Left Behind books.

None of this would have bothered me quite as much if it had been done with more subtlety and, at times, intelligence. The visual effect setpieces are undeniably impressive but filled with moments that took me out of the action. I found it extremely unlikely that Cage would run headlong toward a still-exploding airplane, just as I found it impossible to believe that he could just walk away from the disaster in New York (especially given his odd behavior just prior to it). Still, while the movie did not end up working for me, I could understand why some people might respond to it. If nothing else, it is actually about something and is worth discussing afterward, no matter what side of the argument you’re on, which isn’t a claim you could make about most recent Nicolas Cage flicks. While I appreciated the attempt to make something different than just a standard-issue end-of-the-world epic, Knowing is a failed, frustrating movie. (* * ½)


Private Resort

I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to take requests for Tales From The Queue. I hoped that my reputation as a lover of movies of all genres and eras would precede me and I’d end up with a wide-ranging, unpredictable list of titles. That’s exactly what I got as evidenced by this week’s entry, a mostly forgotten 80s teen sex romp starring Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow, of all people.

The plot of Private Resort is pretty basic and, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Depp and Morrow are a couple pals on Spring Break who check into an exclusive beach resort with the express intent of getting laid. There are insinuations that the two of them aren’t exactly welcome guests but the movie never bothers to explain why or how they managed to get a room. Anyway, the guys run afoul of a jewel thief (Hector Elizondo as The Maestro) who’s after a stone owned by doddering Dody Goodman. Naturally, they inadvertently screw up his plans at every turn and wacky hijinx ensue.

Private Resort is in many ways a quintessential teen sex comedy. What makes it somewhat endearing is that it’s also strangely quaint. Tone down the kids’ horniness and take away the bare breasts (not to mention the exposed backsides of Messrs. Depp and Morrow for the ladies) and this movie could have been made in the 50s with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or the 60s with Frankie and Annette. There is virtually no profanity, no violence, and the comedy is as broad as a barn door. Depp and Morrow hadn’t yet matured into the actors they are today but even then, they were better than most leads in movies like this. Elizondo is also funny and he’s teamed with the cougar-rific Leslie Easterbrook from the Police Academy saga as his wife. Also worth noting are Tony Azito as the long-suffering head of hotel security, Hilary Shapiro as a zonked-out cult nut, Andrew (pre-Dice) Clay as a sleazy lothario and Greg Wynne as a surfer dude who just kind of pops up at odd moments.

Look, I’m not going to make the claim that Private Resort is a long-buried comedy classic. But if you’re a fan of movies like Porky’s, give this a shot. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t get a laugh or two from this. (* * ½)

Thanks to Brian Young for this week’s TFTQ recommendation. Remember, if you’ve got a favorite movie that nobody else seems to know about, drop me a line and share the wealth!

Your pal,