dir. John Waters
Opens Fri Sept 24.
The release of a new John Waters film used to be cause for celebration. Now, sadly, it's cause for little more than a shrug. Case in point: A Dirty Shame, his latest film, which tackles the very Waters-worthy topic of sexual addiction, only to squander it in a pile of unfunny, obvious, and surprisingly tame jokes.
Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) lives in the Baltimore neighborhood of Harford Road with her husband Vaughn (Chris Isaak) and their daughter Caprice (Selma Blair). Vaughn works with Sylvia at the family mini-mart; Caprice is a sex addict/former stripper with absurdly giant breasts--both have far bigger libidos than Sylvia, who has no real interest in sex, insisting, along with her mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd), that there is nothing wrong with being a "neuter."
But then, something strange happens--specifically, a blow to Sylvia's skull that leaves her with an uncontrollable carnal craving. Booiiiinnnngggg! All of a sudden, Sylvia is a rampant sex addict, and her desires lead her to a messiah-like figure named Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), whose congregation is a group of misfits that, like Sylvia, are unable to control their urges. Sylvia runs amok, the freaks run amok, and the nonfreaks--the proud neuters--are forced to gather together into a pack of moral scolds to combat the sudden wave of smut.
All of which should have been very, very funny--especially in the hands of Waters. That it isn't funny (save for an inspired moment involving Sylvia engaging in a bit of unnatural coitus with a water bottle at an old folks home) is more than just disappointing, it's almost an outrage. Has popular culture finally out-crassed John Waters? Perhaps--or maybe he's just tamed in his old age. Either way, A Dirty Shame is an unfortunate misfire. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob
Opens Fri Sept 24.
An unforgivably lazy documentary without any hint of doubt about its diabolical thesis, Bush's Brain is a panicky, literal-minded adaptation of the book of the same name. Using little more than secondhand information and an offensively opportunistic visit with a grieving war widow, the movie isn't content with characterizing Karl Rove as an amoral sonofabitch who runs campaigns so dirty they'd probably shock Joseph Goebbels. He is, as one talking head tells us, "co-president of the United States," with the entire government at his fingertips.
It seems that everybody, in the movie and elsewhere, gives Rove far too much credit. For being a genius. For being the world's shrewdest political advisor. For running the entire government. Etc. He's not and he doesn't. He isn't a genius and doesn't appear to have any sort of ideals or policies besides, well, winning. I wouldn't even say that his tactics were all that smart. He sees things only in the short term, and doesn't seem to account for alternate outcomes--hence "Mission Accomplished." Mostly, he's an asshole who has no compunction about kicking anybody in the groin with steel boots to get what he wants. And he's not really fooling anyone anymore. Rove counts on mass ignorance and media obedience--neither of which can last forever. He's petty, he thoroughly lacks creativity, and he's mean. Everything he does can very clearly be traced to him, even if the physical evidence is not there. When the Valerie Plame scandal broke, the first name on everyone's lips was Karl Rove. He has, however, changed the course of American politics. George Bush's presidency has been run like a four-year campaign for reelection, and we have Rove to thank for that. ADAM HART
The Last Shot
dir. Jeff Nathanson
Opens Fri Sept 24.
The Last Shot opens with what's now become a fear-inspiring clarification: "Inspired by Actual Events." The events in question were apparently documented in an article in Details, though you'd be forgiven for believing the entire story to be a fabrication. This is one of the most painfully ludicrous movies you will ever see, so inept in its execution that it's sure to inspire many a slapped forehead. It's also one of the worst movies you'll ever see.
Alec Baldwin is Joe Devine, an FBI agent toiling in purgatory far away from the glamour of the New York underworld. In order to bolster his career, Devine conjures an idea: He'll pretend to produce a movie in Rhode Island, where the local crime boss, Tommy Sanz (a squandered Tony Shalhoub), a relative of John Gotti, will hopefully flex his muscles with the unions--and hand Devine a major indictment in the process.
In order for Devine to make his plan work, however, he needs an unawares dope, some poor sap whose dreams are so inconsequential that they can be sacrificed by the feds. Enter Steven Schats (Matthew Broderick), an aspiring filmmaker who has for years struggled to get his beloved script made. That script, written with his brother Marshal (Tim Blake Nelson--also squandered), is called Arizona. a mournful personal epic about a woman dying of cancer whilst wandering through the desert. But how will they shoot a movie set in the desert in a sleepy Rhode Island burg?
An answer doesn't really matter, since you'd be wise to avoid this disaster altogether. Steven's Arizona script may be one of the film's punch lines, but after watching The Last Shot, the sight of a dying woman wandering through the desert seemed like a more pleasant endeavor--it almost certainly would have been a funnier one. BRADLEY STEINBACHER