Tag Archives: 8/20

Hot Shots! Part Deux

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: When a mission to rescue the people sent to rescue American hostages in Iraq goes wrong, there’s only one man to rescue them: Topper Harley. Inconveniently, Topper doesn’t want to know, but he’s brought round by the CIA and signs on for the mission, reuniting with his lost love Ramada in the process. However, there are plenty of bodies between him and the prison where the hostages are held captive.

It’s been two years since Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) delivered a bomb onto the lap of Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) in Hot Shots! But things haven’t worked out how he hoped: his Latin love Ramada (Valeria Golino) jilted him at the train station, sending him into self-imposed exile at an ashram in Thailand, living with monks and boxing for money. Colonel Walters (Richard Crenna) and CIA operative Michelle Huddlestone (Brenda Bakke) fail to talk him round, but when word reaches him that Walters has been captured on a rescue mission, Michelle’s words, looks and – ahem – bedroom prowess persuade him to take part in the mission to rescue him.

Topper’s contact in the field just happens to be Ramada, harbouring the pain of secretly being married to one of the hostages, an Englishman called Dexter (Rowan Atkinson); but as Ramada, Topper and his band of inept brothers fight their bloody way towards the prison camp, the former lovers struggle to hold back their feelings. Back home, President ‘Tug’ Benson (Lloyd Bridges) depends on the mission succeeding to shore up his faltering re-election campaign, and decides that the only way to secure success is to take direct action.

Moving on from Hot Shots!’ parody of Top Gun, director Abrahams and co-writer Pat Proft here use America’s ongoing feud with Iraq to fashion a parody of ‘Nam films such as the Rambo trilogy, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. Part Deux is largely successful at lampooning the thoughtless violence of Rambo and the earnestness of the other films – the segment on the river is great fun and includes a lovely Martin Sheen cameo. Sheen Jr, his own life now something of a parodic tragi-comedy, both looks the part and is admirably straight-laced; he’s ably supported by Golino, looking as fine as ever, even in a moustache (and her Gabriella Sabatini joke is amongst the film’s best).

Elsewhere, things are much more hit-and-miss: some of the jokes, like the ’Geronimo!’ gag, are a wonderful surprise, whereas others are terrible – ‘I see you’re no stranger to pain’ is paid off with ‘I‘ve been married – twice’. Bridges doesn’t quite have the same impact as President as he did as Admiral, and the members of Topper’s team are less than luminary (Ryan Stiles’ goofy turn is as welcome as – well, Goofy); but they are redeemed somewhat by Rowan Atkinson’s marvellously sulky turn. Brenda Bakke, meanwhile, makes for a decent Sharon Stone-alike in the film’s Basic Instinct spoof, but eventually suffers the indignity of being the movie’s turncoat, ill-used as she and Golino fall out and randomly embark on an American Gladiators face-off. More than ever, you get the idea that Abrahams and Proft added bits and added bits to their script, until the answer to the question ’So…this feature length yet?’ was ‘I guess!’

Then there’s the thorny issue of killing people in comedy movies. The ‘bloodiest movie ever’ tag is obviously a silly joke, but history has leant this film a slightly queasy political element. If you are going to make jokes about it, the cartoonish way in which hundreds of Iraqis are dispatched is probably the best way to go about it; but given the relative casualties of Desert Storm (and I urge you to find and listen to Bill Hicks’ take on the “war”), it just makes me uncomfortable that dead Iraqi soldiers are considered fodder for body count comedy.

And given the ridiculous revenge mission that we now know/always knew Operation Iraqi Freedom was for George W. Bush, the flippant ridicule of Saddam Hussein rings a bit hollow (never mind the human/economic cost, they got their man in the end). I accept that this might be pretty heavy criticism for a damn silly spoof, but you can’t have Topper saying ’You sold out the greatest country in the world’ with a straight face and still be surprised that some countries think America is a nation of stupid, arrogant bullies. Anyway, enough with the politicking – it’s unfair to judge the film now for its stance at the time, and Abrahams and Proft certainly weren’t alone in feeling the despot was ripe for ridicule.

Finally, while you wouldn’t call Hot Shots! Part Deux sloppy, it doesn’t create locations half as effectively as its predecessor, so you really have no sense of enemy territory as a place (are there really jungles in Iraq?) Another niggly comment, maybe, but it’s one that wouldn’t have arisen had the comedy been more diverting and less reliant on pop-culture references for giggles. Overall, Part Deux is an entirely adequate ninety-minute diversion; but there’s nothing to suggest that there would be much merit in a part trois.

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Vixen!

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Not satiated by her square pilot husband Tom, buxom young wife Vixen fills her days in British Columbia by taking pleasure with anyone she can grab hold of, excepting her brother’s black friend Niles whom she mercilessly insults instead. However, Vixen’s teasing threatens to backfire and when a lucrative charter goes awry for Tom, she’s not the only one in danger.

Looking for an adventure holiday with a difference this year? Why not come to the British Columbia guest house run by Tom and Vixen Palmer (Garth Pillsbury and Erica Gavin)? Amiable host Tom will fly you there and will be happy to take you fishing, while big-hearted Vixen will accommodate you any way she can.

But don’t take our word for it, just ask happy couple Dave and Janet King (Robert Aiken and Vincene Wallace), who’ll both vouch for Vixen’s attentive nature: she aims to please – and be pleased – any time of the day or night. Just a word of warning: stay clear of Vixen’s biker brother Judd (Jon Evans), a troublemaker who loves stirring things up between Vixen and his draft-dodging friend Niles (Harrison Page); Niles has to suffer Vixen’s sharp tongue and there’s only so much abuse he can take. You might also want to avoid political conversation with visitors such as outwardly genial Irishman O’Bannion (Michael Donovan O’Donnell), who charters Tom’s plane but isn’t really bound for San Francisco.

In a sense, it feels pointless to even attempt a review of Vixen. Viewed at the most basic level, Meyer’s film is exploitation personified, a skin flick which jams as much naked flesh and as many couplings as it can into 70 energetic, frantic minutes. Erica Gavin fits the director’s bill for aggressively-natured, large-breasted women and Meyer films her with fervid enthusiasm, particularly Vixen’s powerfully erotic seduction of the sozzled Janet. If that’s what you’re after, the incendiary elements specifically designed to cause outrage – incest, racism, Communism and at least attempted rape – are no more than window dressing.

If, however, you want to look at Vixen in the same way as any other film, some of that window dressing is highly problematic. Vixen getting it on with her brother is incredibly icky, while her vile name-calling of Niles is shocking, not to say unacceptable, to a modern ear. More than these, however, the rape scene is troubling not only due to what it is, but because the film suggests that Niles is somehow absolved of blame because he’s provoked by both his victim and the thoroughly despicable Judd.

Also, although they’re a cut above the mere nods to characterisation that pornographic films offer (so I understand), Vixen’s characters don’t quite work as real people, and the fact that the acting is either highly stylised or terrible, depending on how kind you’re feeling, doesn’t help. In fact, Harrison Page actually does a decent job as Niles, but he can’t fully convey the numerous conflicts that Meyer piles on his shoulders. The incredibly unsubtle music quickly becomes repetitive and grating too.

Whatever you make of its contents, Vixen is undeniably filmed with style. Meyer shoots and edits in a tight, exciting fashion and refreshingly refuses to pad out the running time for its own sake. There’s also something about the brash, confident tone of the movie which gives it greater substance than the vast majority of softcore outings.

Perhaps it’s the setting in the great outdoors, or the fact that Vixen (like most of Meyer’s women) is such a strong character, or the way that the director makes Gavin (and Wallace, for that matter) look so good; but while Vixen is at heart a titty film, it honestly doesn’t feel sleazy. The sexual content is mixed with a knowing sense of humour throughout, from the solemn travelogue opening to the utterly ridiculous sincerity of O’Bannion’s quest to find his own pot of gold in Cuba. And if the mixture of drama and politics that forms the film’s climax doesn’t have the ring of true drama, at least Russ has a stab at it – and he even puts in a cameo appearance in the movie’s pay-off.

So, Vixen is a sex film with bad acting, ridiculously outré plotting, poor taste and racist language which – even when condemning the speaker – sounds inappropriate and awfully dated at this length of time. However, Meyer is absolutely in control of events and shows that he’s a master of his craft. Whether or not you see any merit in that craft has to be a matter for you.

Carry On Again Doctor

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Dr Nookey, having made a nuisance of himself in pursuit of glamorous patient Goldie Locks, is exiled to the poorly-named Beatific Islands to man a privately-funded hospital. He doesn’t find many patients and loses himself in drink and misery until his companion, Dr Gladstone Screwer, alerts him to a miracle weight-loss serum. Hot-footing it back to England, Dr Nookey opens his own incredibly successful clinic, much to the chagrin of former boss Mr Carver, who will use any means at his disposal to discover Nookey’s secret.

Though in no sense a formal sequel to any of the other medical Carry Ons, there is nonetheless an inevitable sense of familiarity about goings-on in Carry On Again Doctor. Kenneth Williams is once more the snooty superior, this time Frederick Carver, a surgeon desperate to get his healing hands on the bulging purse of widowed private patient Ellen Moore (Joan Sims). Jim Dale is another clumsy doctor – Dr Nookey, causing mayhem with Longhampton Hospital’s electricity supply as he tries to impress model Goldie Locks (Barbara Windsor). And Hattie Jacques is again tasked – not for the last time – with wearing a look of semi-permanent outrage as she fills her matron’s uniform.

When Nookey, inebriated by the naughty tricks of Dr Stoppidge (Charles Hawtrey), terrifies an already nervous patient and goes on the rampage in the hospital, Carver takes his chance to get rid of him and ingratiate himself with the wealthy widow at the same time; Nookey is exiled to the rain-and-windswept Beatific Islands where he encounters Sid James’s Dr Gladstone Screwer, head of Mrs Moore’s charitable mission. Gladstone has little to do but live up to his surname with wives Monday to Friday, but although the offer of a wife doesn’t cheer Nookey up much, the transformation of the proposed bride from an overweight heifer to a trim tease in a week immediately sets pound signs flashing in his eyes.

Nookey returns to set up a lucrative clinic in England with the assistance of Mrs Moore, who, along with Goldie, is booked in for treatment; Carver, returning from his own hellish trip to the Beatific Islands, learns of the arrangement with horror and sends Stoppidge out in drag to find out the serum’s secret; that secret, and the cash it attracts, also brings Gladstone to England.

Featuring the full complement of knowing nudge-winkery and bright performances from most of the series regulars, Carry On Again Doctor is an enjoyable addition to the series, if not one from the top drawer. Jim Dale’s Nookey is the main focus of the plot and whilst he is perfectly amiable, Dale is not quite up to the mark; to be fair to him the character is hopelessly overloaded, required to be simultaneously clever, clumsy, randy, devious, cheeky and handsome; but the performance reflects this, borrowing Norman Wisdom’s mannerisms one minute, copying Sid’s laugh the next, and having him aggressively pursue Goldie just after he has shied away from the prominent sexuality of Valerie Leon’s secretary.

As if in sympathy, the plot is more than usually shambolic, and whilst the jokes still come thick and fast, with a number of gems (such as Gladstone getting the football scores via jungle drums) buried amongst the usual ‘having it’/’fancy a bit’ innuendo, there is something amiss in the characters’ interactions. Ellen Moore’s interest in Dr Nookey is underplayed and crucially Goldie seems to dislike him throughout, making the sudden ending (one of the series’ weakest) all the harder to take.

The fact that Sid only turns up amongst the rest of the cast late on deprives the film of much of the Carry Ons trademark lechery, which I am increasingly coming to realise trades on the chemistry – however uncomfortable it may be to watch – that exists between Sid and Barbara. It should also be said that whilst Williams is superbly imperious (and spared the indignities of some of the later efforts), Sims and Hawtrey do occasionally seem a little unfocused. At least Peter Butterworth is limited to a (very funny) walk-on, and Jack Douglas is missing entirely.

Carry On Again Doctor, despite its title, manages to mix up its unthinkingly sexist formula with some good new gags, even if some of the characterisations are as unbalanced as the storyline. Wisely expanding the doctors’ horizons far outside of the wards, this is far from Talbot Rothwell’s worst script and the leading lights of the series do it justice, with production values to match (the X-ray effect is particularly well done). Cheerful, and not too cheap.

Enchanted

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Determined not to let her stepson Prince Edward marry and deprive her of her throne, Queen Narissa pushes the lovely Giselle into the real world on her wedding day. Once over the shock caused by modern day New York, Giselle discovers that there is more than one Prince Charming prepared to bestow true love’s first kiss.

Disney once ruled the roost in the world of family films, but it’s a world that has recently become a very crowded place, whether you’re talking about animated features or otherwise. Hemmed in by a horde of revisionist fairytales (the Shrek Trilogy and Hoodwink’d to name but two), Disney have decided with Enchanted to make fun of themselves, although as might be expected the ribbing is very gentle.

The beginning of Giselle’s fairytale story is very familiar, with its pop-up storybook and old-fashioned swelling choir leading us into an animal-filled dwelling, clearly inviting us to recall classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Giselle is looking for her first experience of true love, seemingly to be provided by the square-jawed Prince Edward. Saving Giselle as she falls from a tree, the pair are to be married; but the jealous Queen Narissa, in the form of an old crone, puts paid to the union by pushing the bride into a mysterious waterfall, causing her to land up in a live-action Times Square.

As the animated section lasts little longer than ten minutes, it would be wrong to dwell on it too much. However, the characters are clearly drawn with the live actors in mind and this makes them look odd, and Amy Adams’ voice is not particularly suited for a cartoon heroine; also, the wise-cracking chipmunk Pip comes across like an annoying PA, so it’s a huge relief that he loses his voice in the Big Apple.

Anyway, Giselle (now entirely represented by Adams) is rescued from her Big City trauma by pragmatic divorce lawyer Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan, who is not allowed the fantasy of fairytale books even though she’s only six. Robert is due to marry fashion designer Nancy (Idina Menzel), though as he gets to know Giselle better his feelings about her and romance as a whole evolve. In the meantime, Edward (James Marsden) also arrives in New York to rescue Giselle, hampered by Narissa’s devious lackey Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) who pops up and tries to trick Giselle into eating poisoned apples.

You can guess the fun and misunderstandings that are to be wrought from naïve cartoon characters appearing in businesslike New York, and Enchanted does a pretty good job of presenting them: an impromptu musical interlude in Central Park is a particular highlight, the cast singing That’s How You Know with energy and colour; the vermin cleaning Robert’s flat are also funny and immaculately brought to life. As far as the story goes, however, there are a few problems.

Firstly, the basic idea of Enchanted is essentially a copy of Elf, and Will Ferrell does the larger-than-life fish-out-of-water rather better than Amy Adams, who is all wide-eyed surprise and hand waving. Secondly, Adams and the rest of the cast are not well served by a mediocre script, which takes a lot of time establishing that Robert doesn’t believe in romance when it should be having fun.

James Marsden is entertaining as Prince Edward, but he is often overshadowed by Spall or the Computer-generated Pip (who we see too much), and Edward inevitably recalls Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, a much sparkier and wittier movie. The script also has shopping as the most magical thing that can happen in the real world (“much better than a fairy godmother,” says Morgan, waving a gold credit card); this is great news for all the Manhattan boutiques that get a bit of screen-time, but is surely a horrible message to give to children, however subliminally.

I have other minor gripes too. Not that she has to be, but Rachel Covey as Morgan is not a particularly cherubic child; she’s no brat, which is good, but compared to (say) Mara Wilson at a comparable age she doesn’t bring much to the picture. Menzel is badly done by as Robert’s less charming option (scenes giving her a more rounded character were cut for ‘pacing’), and palming Nancy off with Edward seems small recompense. Whilst Susan Sarandon is perfectly good as Narissa, getting to act her head off in the scary finale, and Giselle rescuing Patrick a refreshing reversal from the norm, the end of the film is not particularly original – and it’s a long time coming. And don’t get me started on why the song chosen for the Waltz is all wrong!

Enchanted is not a bad film in the slightest, and viewers of a certain age will no doubt find the adventures of the sweet Giselle completely captivating. For me, however, it doesn’t shake up memories of classic film fairytales so much as make me wish I was watching one of the classics instead. For while this has its moments, it’s not particularly magical, and I can’t see it being regarded as a classic in the years to come.

High Fidelity

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Record store owner Rob Gordon is distraught and angry when lawyer girlfriend Laura walks out on him for an older man. Re-visiting old relationships to try to make some sense of his life, he only discovers how much he misses Laura. Will love tear them apart? Or will love build a bridge between his heart and hers?

Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same name, High Fidelity transfers the action from London to Chicago whilst remaining the core of the story: obsessed by his break-up with Laura (Iben Hjejle) but pretending not to be, Rob (John Cusack) re-traces his old girlfriends to see if there is any pattern to his getting dumped, picking up one or two new partners on the way. This sounds like the basis for a good romantic comedy, but Cusack (as actor, executive producer and one of four screenwriters) opts to take the serious route, making for an odd viewing experience.

Whilst Cusack’s Rob is no doubt faithful to the book (I have read it, but some time ago), his miserable, surly nature throughout the film makes him a difficult character to sympathise with, despite the fact that he is an engaging presence during frequent breaks from action to speak to camera. Also, what he discloses about himself stops him from being seen as a lovable loser, specifically the affair he had which led to Laura terminating a pregnancy, or indeed the affair he nearly has when he and Laura are reconciled. Elsewhere his obsession sees him haranguing people outside their windows, usually sodden with rain, either in his pursuit of Laura or in flashbacks when he recalls his old relationships. Sometimes he is not at fault, sometimes he is misunderstood: but mostly he is, as he admits himself, an asshole.

In presenting a main character with so many flaws, the film is almost too faithful to the book for its own good, and this goes for other elements too; Laura going back to Rob after leaving him for their creepy neighbour Ian (an entertaining cameo from Tim Robbins) because she is ‘too tired’ not to, or having sex instead of going back to her father’s funeral reception – these are bold actions and have a realistic ring to them, but do little to lift the mood in a film with few uplifting moments. Whilst the famous ‘Top five’ lists are included and form a vital part of the film’s structure, the number of them is curtailed and they do not work so well on film. Reading the novel, you can stop to argue with the lists and make up your own. The film carries on regardless, and Rob and his employees Dick and Barry (Todd Louiso and Jack Black respectively) mumble through the lists so quickly, it’s easy to miss half the songs they’re talking about.

Dick and Barry provide most of the film’s light relief: mild-mannered Dick begins a gentle relationship with a customer, whilst Barry is an energized ball of aggression and livens the film up no end whenever he appears, not least when he finally gets to sing in a band. Danish actress Iben Hjejle is fine as Laura and it would be wrong to criticise her for not being familiar to an English-speaking audience. Like Cusack, however, she struggles to make us feel for her, even as she grieves for her father, and the occasional Scandinavian inflection does distract from her performance. Elsewhere, Joan Cusack is solid as ever as a friend to both Rob and Laura, and Catherine Zeta Jones and Lisa Bonet are pleasant enough as break-up no. 4 Charlie and casual partner Marie de Salle.

I have a few other issues with the film, although the relocation of the scenario to America is not one of them (at least the subject of the novel wasn’t completely changed, unlike the Hollywood version of Fever Pitch). Firstly, I regretted the absence of the book’s Elvis Costello discussions, which is just a personal thing. Secondly, the film omits (although it can be found among the deleted scenes) a funny scene where a bitter ex-wife offers Rob her husband’s priceless record collection for peanuts. And this leads on to the third thing: When the book was released in 1995, vinyl records were becoming an endangered species and home recording onto CD becoming affordable, so by 2000 the idea of a store full of LPs and making mix-tapes on cassette must already have seemed old-fashioned* – now, of course, you could fit Rob’s entire collection onto a decent-sized iPod*.

High Fidelity is not without its high points. There are some funny moments – particularly the varied reactions of the record store staff to Ian’s appearance in the store – and the film should be applauded for presenting in an honest fashion the different ways that men and women use sex and relationships, rather than falling into the Hugh Grant/Richard Curtis pattern of romantic comedy. The music that gives expression to the characters’ feelings is of vital importance, and in this respect the soundtrack is both teed up and executed very nicely. All in all, however, Frears’ film feels less than the sum of its parts, and is saved from its pessimism only by the strength of Jack Black’s feel-good performance.

NOTE: Bizarrely, fashion being what it is, LPs and mixtapes are currently all the rage again and iPods aren’t being made any more. But you get the point, hopefully.

Sliding Doors

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Sacked PR executive Helen’s day to forget takes a bizarre turn when she both catches and misses her tube train home. In one reality she catches her boyfriend Gerry cheating with an ex and makes drastic changes to her life, meeting the charming but not entirely honest James; in the other, Gerry gets away with it, leaving Helen in the dark.

The term ‘high concept’ is often used in a derogatory sense, applied to films with bizarre premises like Twins or Snakes on a Plane where the title says it all. However, the term can also used with reference to more highbrow films such as Groundhog Day, where the overarching idea is not only more measured but also capable of producing an intelligent script and provoking philosophical debate. In theory, Sliding Doors, a film about a single and seemingly inconsequential moment causing a life to head in two contrasting directions, should fall squarely into the latter category: then again, in theory, Schrodinger’s cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the London-based ex-PR person in question, conveniently sacked for ‘borrowing’ vodka from work for a party whilst her stay-at-home boyfriend, supposed novelist Gerry (John Lynch), is conducting an affair with his American ex Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Dejectedly heading for the tube station, we see Helen going down the stairs twice: in the first reality, she catches the train, reluctantly talks to smart-aleck Scot James (John Hannah), and walks in on Gerry and Lydia, later seeking comfort in drink and her friend Anna (Zara Turner). In the second, Helen is involved in an attempted mugging (so gains a distinguishing plaster on her head) and by the time she has got home Lydia has left, allowing Gerry to cover his tracks.

‘First’ Helen (the one without the plaster) decides, with James’s assistance, to get her life in order and helpfully equips herself with a short, blonde haircut to face the world with. She starts her own PR company and hits it off with James, who unfortunately has his own complications with a sick mother and a secret wife, whilst Gerry misses her dreadfully and tries to win her back. Meanwhile, ‘Second’, dowdy Helen has to be content with low-paid sandwich delivery and waitressing jobs while Gerry carries on his affair with a dirty weekend in Dorset, not even listening when Helen tries to tell him she’s pregnant. While ‘Unlucky’ Helen eventually discovers Gerry’s secret, ‘Lucky’ Helen – pregnant with James’s child – discovers the existence of Claudia. Whichever reality she’s in, there is no way of escaping tragedy, but fate has a strange way of working itself out.

If this makes Sliding Doors sound complicated, fret not: for writer and director Peter Howitt arranges his scenes with enough skill and differentiation that it is always clear which version of Helen we are watching (follow the hair, essentially). What’s less clear is why the dual story idea exists; I don’t mean how it comes about – it’s a film, I can deal with fantasy – but what purpose it’s meant to achieve, given that a) the event that determines Helen’s future is so arbitrary, b) not to give the game away, but both versions end up in similar predicaments, and c) the final scene with its ‘spooky’ dialogue adds nothing to our understanding of the film. You certainly don’t feel that anyone has learnt anything, the whole point of Groundhog Day. If the two parallel timelines had repercussions on each other throughout the film, Sliding Doors could have been fascinating and complex in the manner of a romantic Final Destination: but they don’t, so it’s not.

What remains are two stories, each involving the same characters, that play out as more or less standard, or rather sub-standard, romantic comedy dramas. In one, Gerry is tortured by the affair he’s carrying out and wants to get rid of Lydia, though his weak will (and Lydia’s strong will) force him into ever more farcical positions. In the other, Gerry is tortured by the break-up and also loses Lydia, whilst Helen and James fall in love, the waters muddied by Claudia, the secret wife. Neither story is really strong enough to stand on its own and the pair only just about work in parallel.

Unfortunately, Howitt’s script is light on jokes, with swearing taking their place on most occasions, and his sitcom-strength lines are delivered weakly by a generally unimpressive cast. Paltrow and her accent are both okay, though never really sympathetic, but Tripplehorn is just mean and it’s totally inconceivable that either of them would find anything charming about Lynch’s lazy and idiotic Gerry, who isn’t helped by mocking friend and unpleasant cipher Russell (Douglas McFerran).

Also, although John Hannah is a good actor and strong screen presence, he is by no means a romantic lead; therefore, the film basically boils down to a host of unconvincing relationships not leavened by much in the way of frivolity (whoever wrote the tagline ‘Romance was never this fun’ must have been in some pretty lousy relationships).

Discovering the flaws in Sliding Doors is a pity as the first time I watched it, the illusion that the film’s structure was brilliant, innovative and meaningful carried me through the entire story. In truth, it’s not remotely on a par with the best of high concept films – silly or otherwise – and isn’t even the equal of the Britcom (excuse the phrase) favourites such as Four Weddings and a Funeral that it so badly wants to be compared with. Still, if you are coming to it for the first time, there’s just about enough going on to pass 99 minutes without getting bored, mostly because you’re waiting for the point to arrive. Sadly, it never does.

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Despite securing a totally excellent future, would-be legends Bill and Ted still find the path to rock glory a tricky one. Their job is made no easier by robot versions of themselves, sent from the 27th Century and programmed to bump off their real counterparts, changing the future to the liking of their evil creator, Chuck De Nomolos; but Bill and Ted discover that death is only the beginning of the journey.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure hung around the studio vaults for a while before getting released, so its subsequent success may have come as a surprise to executives. What should surprise nobody is that with the first film making money, a sequel should appear while the names of Bill and Ted were still fresh and their fans still young enough to appreciate them. And speed seems to have been of the essence: despite sharing the same writers as the original (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon), Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey feels like a hastily cobbled-together piece, taking ideas from one or more idling scripts and reworking them to fit into Bill and Ted’s world. I am only surmising here, but if that is what happened then excuses can be made for the film‘s disjointed plot. If the script was freshly written, then the directions it takes are strange indeed.

So, what is that plot? Bogus Journey begins in the idyllic world of 27th Century San Dimas California, where everyone walks round in ugly foam clothing and Rufus (George Carlin) continues to bring historical personages from the past to enlighten students. Crashing noisily into the scenario, evil former gym teacher De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), backed up by a black-clad army, explains that he is sending robotic versions of Bill and Ted to the late 20th Century to kill the ‘real them’ and disrupt the Battle of the Bands competition that the boys’ band Wild Stallyns have entered.

Even without this threat hanging over them, things are not going well for Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in the present day: they have no money, still cannot play their guitars, and Ted still has the threat of military academy hanging over him. On the plus side, their 15th Century princess girlfriends do agree to marry them. Unfortunately, not long after the proposals, the robots arrive and dispatch our heroes into the hands of the Grim Reaper, who follows the fleeing pair through Hell and condemns them to the eternal afterlife – unless they challenge and defeat him in a game of their choosing.

Bogus Journey is to be congratulated for doing something different from its predecessor, as so many sequels are content to slavishly follow what came before. However, whilst ditching nearly all of the time travel, the filmmakers have also ditched the dumb but exuberant sense of fun that Excellent Adventure brought to the screen. Even if it is only temporary and doesn’t stop Bill and Ted going about their business, killing off the leads does put something of a downer on the film, especially as Robot Bill and Ted are more convincingly nasty than funny.

Likewise, when the pair are trapped in their personal Hells, the figures of Bill’s slavering Granny and Ted’s Easter Bunny are disturbing rather than amusing. And I don’t ‘get’ the Star Trek joke, if that’s what it is. Is the use of the same bit of rock that William Shatner once ran up amusing? I don’t know, but I do get the feeling that somewhere on the journey, the comedy got lost.

An honourable exception to this is the figure of Death, played by William Sadler. Ashen-faced and imposing, once bested in his challenges* (Battleships, Cluedo, Twister and so on) he follows Bill and Ted like a meek child as they seek help to rescue the Princesses and their futures. Whether in the foreground or background, Sadler is always funny when he is on-screen, easily outshining Winter and Reeves who may well have considered themselves rather old for this sort of thing by 1991. There are other good moments, such as the longest fall in movie history and Kiss’s cover of the catchy God Gave Rock and Roll to You II, but in general the good is outweighed by the odd, and when God (yes!) leads Bill and Ted to the Martian scientist(s) Station to create ‘good robot uses’ the viewer is fully entitled to ask ‘Where the hell has that come from?’ It should also be said that whilst most of the film’s effects are okay – the robots and Station are convincing enough – some of the ones where Bill and Ted communicate from the ‘Other Side’ are pretty ropey.

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey takes the pleasant stupidity of Excellent Adventure and tries to create something more significant; whilst it touches base with the phrases and mannerisms of the first film – the air guitar riffs are overused – the journey is a much darker affair. Lacking the original’s light touch, it also lacks its charm, momentum and coherence. And while there is entertainment to be had, the Grim Reaper in particular proving less than grim, you occasionally wish that Bill and Ted would just get on with it, a feeling you never got with the pair’s debut. Not completely bogus, then, but a bit non-non heinous all the same.

NOTES: Evidently a nod to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and Heaven looks quite a lot like it does in A Matter of Life and Death. Clever, yes, but even if you get the allusions, it doesn’t make them all that enjoyable.