Tag Archives: 8/20

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Bosom buddies Romy and Michele hear that their school is having a 10-year reunion, but come to the conclusion that their lives aren’t up to scratch. When plan A – suddenly becoming successful, svelte and attached – doesn’t work, the girls hit on a much easier plan B: just lie. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

School days at Sagebrush High, Tucson, Arizona weren’t exactly a blast for lifelong friends Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow). Romy couldn’t get over her crush on the athletic Billy (Vincent Ventresca), leaving her ripe for humiliation at the hands of Billy’s girlfriend Christy (Julia Campbell) and her mean girlfriends. While Michele was also a victim of Christy’s spitefulness, she was more troubled by the unwanted attentions of awkward geek Sandy Frink (Alan Cumming), Sandy being an unlikely (and unreciprocated) object of desire for aggressive loner Heather (Janeane Garofalo).

Ten years later, Romy and Michele are flatmates and have an outwardly sunny life in Los Angeles, partying by night and, in Michele’s case, doing nothing in the daytime. However, when Heather lets slip that Sagebrush is holding a reunion, the ladies are suddenly forced to assess how successful they really are. In the face of potential fresh humiliation, they try to improve their lives quickly by slimming down and snagging blokes, while Michele half-heartedly looks for a job.

When all that proves too much hard work, Romy makes another suggestion: if they act like they’re successful businesswomen, who’s to say they’re not? Romy comes up with the brilliant wheeze that they invented Post-Its, while Michele runs up a couple of natty suits; unfortunately, an argument over their relative cuteness causes the girls to fall out, depriving them of mutual support when they face their former tormentors.

Let’s start with the good things about Romy and Michele…, which more or less boils down to Romy and Michele. Anyone who has seen Friends (the early seasons, anyway) will know that Kudrow is a very capable comic actress, and her Michele is marvellously dippy whilst never feeling like a clone of Phoebe Buffay. Alongside Kudrow, Sorvino is quite lovely as Romy, and it’s a pity that she hasn’t done more comedy (or perhaps she has, in which case it’s a pity I’ve not seen it).

Together they make a believably featherbrained and eminently watchable duo. Actually, the acting’s generally pretty good: Garofalo’s trademark surly demeanour helps her steal every scene she’s in, Cumming has fun in a smallish role, and so does Camryn Manheim as always-enthusiastic organiser Toby. The film also gets a point for the evocative 80s soundtrack and at least one more for the strange delights of Romy, Michele and Sandy’s freestyle dance.

Sadly, that’s more or less where the good things end. I’m neutral about the overall storyline, since this isn’t the first film to point out that blondes from Los Angeles have a reputation for being vacuous – Earth Girls are Easy and Clueless predate Romy and Michele, Legally Blonde came after – and won’t be the last. What’s more destructive is the inelegant nature of Robin Schiff’s screenplay and David Mirkin’s direction. For example, the film repeatedly zooms in and out of a yearbook to establish, in flashback, what the characters were like at eighteen; the device works once but becomes tiresome the third time around. Another example is the inconsistency of Heather’s motivation: having been in love with Frink, like, forever, she goes off him because he’s become rich and self-confident?

Or take Michele’s dream, which takes up a considerable chunk of the middle act. The whole point of a comedy dream sequence is that we initially accept it as the ‘real’ story, are taken aback when things go a bit strange, then cotton on just as the game’s given away (Exhibit A: Baldrick turning into an Alsatian in Blackadder the Third). Romy and Michele extends its dream sequence well past the point that the audience twigs what’s going on, yet persists anyway, indulging in a 70-year flash-forward to pay off a weak joke about The Mary Tyler Moore Show that’ll mean nothing to 99% of those viewing. Anybody would think there was some padding going on.

The real issue, of course, is that the film is just not funny enough. Were the laughs bigger, you wouldn’t notice the mechanics of the script; as it is, it often misfires, so the movie judders along like the Jaguar Romy (ahem) procures from the dealership where she works (there’s some other clunking product placement too). It doesn’t surprise me at all that while this film is adapted from a Robin Schiff play, she’s essentially a TV writer: the jokes are TV-sized and, without the response from a live audience to fill the gaps, often fall flat. Romy and Michele would have benefited greatly from a sharper edge, like Heathers, or a chunkier story – I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, before realising that the reunion film I really wanted to be watching was Grosse Pointe Blank.

Regarded in a cold light, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion doesn’t stack up, doing poorly by two good actresses and two zeitgeisty (in 1997) characters by sending them on a sitcom journey without enough jokes in the trunk. But for all the movie’s faults, there’s something undeniably sunny and ultimately uplifting about Romy and Michele themselves – and hey, it’s a damn sight better than Mirkin’s awful Heartbreakers.

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The Hole

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: A party of four teenagers bunk off a field trip to spend a weekend in a secluded military bunker, but the door shuts tight behind them, leaving them together in a confined space whilst concern grows in the outside world. Will the person who has the key to their freedom use it before tragedy occurs?

With the plot described as above, The Hole sounds like a routine teen horror in the Jeepers Creepers or Scream mould, with the interesting twist that the teenagers initially choose their captivity voluntarily; and certainly, when Elizabeth (Thora Birch) walks back into her school, bloodied and screaming, our expectations are that the horrors she has undergone will be revealed in all their gory detail. It is frustrating, then, that although we do eventually see what goes on during the weekend gone wrong, the viewer has to sit through a lot of less interesting stuff first.

The story unfolds from two different perspectives (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD). The first is given by Liz, the shy public schoolgirl with a crush on handsome American student Mike Steel (Desmond Harrington); learning that Mike is spending a weekend away with friends Frankie (Keira Knightley) and Geoff (Laurence Fox) instead of going on a field trip in Wales, Liz persuades best friend Martin (Daniel Brocklebank), the student controlling access to the secret bunker, to let her into the party.

Martin, in love with Liz himself, fails to arrive at the appointed time three days later to let them out, and the group discover that the Hole is bugged and Martin has been listening to them. They persuade Martin to give them their freedom by pretending that Frankie is dangerously ill: during this time, Mike and Liz form an intimate bond and all ends happily.

The police, in the shape of psychologist Philipa Norwood (Embeth Davidtz), act on this information and eventually arrest Martin. But he tells a different story: in his version, Liz is far from shy, being friends with the school’s beautiful people and concocting the whole plan to get Mike away from the other girls to have him to herself. Only Mike is more interested in Frankie, and Liz cannot bear to let Mike or the others leave whilst this is still the case. Keeping the key to the door in her boots, Liz sees Frankie become fatally sick as they run out of water, but her main interest is in snagging Mike.

There’s no denying that the red herring presented by the first part of The Hole is a clever device, as we see Birch, out of captivity, living in fear that Martin will be released and hunt her down (as he eventually, unwisely, does); yet there is something unsatisfactory about the picture. The setting – a co-educational boarding school – gives us (Americans apart) a frightfully posh cast, and they all act like posh idiots. Davidtz and Birch act well and produce convincing upper-class English accents, but (like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta) the effort of getting the accent right stops them from getting much emotion across. Whether it’s because of this or due to a lack of action points in the story, the film comes across as rather mannered and stilted, too much time given to the police puzzling over their investigation.

It’s only very late on, when Liz takes Dr Norwood back to the hole and ‘confesses’ everything, that we see what actually happened, when it would have been better from a dramatic point of view for this to reveal itself more subtly as the two boys and two girls became hungrier, thirstier and more desperate to survive.

The plot also asks us to accept some unlikely occurrences. With the ending as it is, it is impossible that Liz’s story could be remotely true, not that it ever rings true in the first place. If they were simply let out, why did only Liz come back to the school, and why does Dr Norwood not know or ask about the corpses left in the hole when interviewing her? Also, when Martin is released from custody his first action is to confront Liz, but on finding her he becomes spineless and weak (weak enough to be pushed off a bridge), when he has been confident and cocky in the face of police interrogation.

Finally, we have to accept that Geoff would be so desperate to have his fizzy drinks all to himself that he would see Frankie die before opening a can, and that Mike would still have the strength to beat his best friend to death after a week or more without food (let alone the strength to have sex).

Add in the whole passage of dialogue that gets lost because it is whispered, and The Hole becomes a very frustrating watch. Though it has the attitude of a psychological horror, in execution it’s too slow, with the wrong things happening at the wrong time; and although it tries to explore the dark holes of the obsessed mind, the fact that love can make us do extreme things, the story ultimately comes across as the selfish actions of a stupid, spoilt schoolgirl.

Whether the original novel or the screenplay is to blame I don’t know, but The Hole, as a whole, comes off as a good story marred by an impulse to be overwrought and sensationalist, another example of what works in Hollywood looking out of place in a British setting.

The Boat that Rocked

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Packed off to his godfather to experience a bit of life, callow teenager Carl becomes part of the furniture at Radio Rock, the swingingest ship in British waters. Life on board has its ups and downs – not all of the variety Carl would like – but if the government has its way, the ship’s boisterous roster of DJs are about to be silenced forever.

Being sent off to your godfather’s workplace might sound like purgatory to most young men, but if the godfather is the rather groovy Quentin (Bill Nighy), and the workplace the (in)famous pirate radio ship Radio Rock, there are benefits. Firstly, Carl (Tom Sturridge) gets the chance to put faces to the beloved voices that run the station: ‘Doctor’ Dave (Nick Frost), ‘simple’ Simon (Chris O’Dowd), top dog ‘The Count’ (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and, later, his uber-confident rival Gavin (Rhys Ifans), amongst others.

Secondly, the lure of the station and its wonderful music brings on board a bevy of lovely ladies, not least Quentin’s niece Marianne (Talulah Riley) who immediately takes – and breaks – Carl’s heart, and Elenore (January Jones) who does much the same as Simon’s bride.

Carl also gets wind that someone on board may be his hitherto-unidentified father, but the crew have bigger problems in the shape of utterly square government minister Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his dogged underling Twatt (Jack Davenport); they’re driven by a hatred of Radio Rock and everything it represents, and are determined to take it and its like off the airwaves. Quentin ensures that they won’t go down without a fight, but – one way or another – it seems Radio Rock is going down.

There’s a message that (almost) literally sings out from The Boat that Rocked, one that’s broadcast (to employ the obvious metaphor) loud and clear for all to hear: Richard Curtis really loved Pirate radio. And to give the film its due, the warmth of feeling it displays towards the brief period when rock and pop emanated mainly from these anarchic vessels comes over in spades. The DJs, to a man, have a heart of gold and if they’re a bit loose with each other’s women, hey, it’s the time of Free Love, isn’t it? The records they play provide a perfect soundtrack – however much it’s due to the classic tracks surviving and the naff ones being forgotten, it seems harder to pick a poor 60s record than a great one.

Unfortunately, while Curtis has oodles of love for his subject, what he doesn’t have is even the vaguest story to tell, two overarching tales notwithstanding. The first, the government cracking down on pirate radio, is based in some truth but presented in such cartoonish terms that you feel faintly patronised as an adult viewer. Branagh’s Dormandy is a typical little Hitler (by way of Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring), the uptight upper-class stiff who can’t abide what the youth are doing. He – and Davenport’s oh-so-hysterically named Twatt (why not, the Darling joke worked so well in Blackadder Goes Forth) – are both ‘The Man’, so to speak, but the conflict between the government and the station is mostly indirect, and the antagonists are drawn in such broad strokes that you can’t get angry about them.

Neither do they get any comeuppance to speak of, so the story forgets about them as it drifts towards an anachronistic Titanic parody whose tone is so uncertain that the putative comedy and potential for tragedy cancel each other out. Oh, there’s some wartime stuff chucked in too, as the layabouts dedicated solely to having a good time suddenly adopt salutes and camaraderie and the music comes over all military (the stirring strings of Elgar and the Dambusters march) before Dunkirk is evoked. It’s all a bit of a mess, as well as faintly insulting to people who actually fought in real wars.

The second major thread, Carl’s coming of age and search for a father (figure), is played out in similarly broad fashion. Carl himself is really a nothing character, our mopey means of introduction to the gods of Pirate radio, so you’re never really concerned about his Confessions of…-level scrapes where he’s introduced to a young lady under false pretenses, his disastrous search for a condom, or whether he’ll either lose his cherry or find his father on board. Handled differently, Carl and Marianne’s relationship might have been touching: but she’s so easy, and he’s so wet, that its consummation feels neither here nor there. The film certainly doesn’t earn its kissy-kissy, happy-ever-afters-for everyone ending.

While on the subject, it chimes in with the period to some extent but the portrayal of women in TBTR is pretty horrible, the young ladies all being sex-mad groupies. Mind you, this is hardly new: Curtis is admirably right-on in many respects, but never appears to have overcome his boyish over-excitement about sex and the female form, or his thing about nympho/psycho Americans. Sex magnet Mark’s tableau vivant of nudes is another, rather strange, case in point.

Because neither of these storylines are a) particularly interesting or b) can sustain themselves for long, TBTR fills up its inexcusably protracted running time with sketch material (that is, when we’re not clumsily cutting to the groovy people of Britain, endlessly dancing and reacting to Radio Rock’s every sound). Chief filler is the prelude and aftermath of Simon’s wedding, which goes on for way too long, with little that’s amusing and nothing of any consequence to plot (either of them) or character development. Okay, the Count (defending Simon’s honour) and Gavin ramp up their rivalry, but their underlying respect is never in doubt.

Actually, while I didn’t much care for Evans’ aggressive personality, he and the effectively sincere Seymour Hoffman are two of the brighter spots in the movie (O’Dowd is always personable, of course, and Nighy’s always pretty good value). The action, such as it is, is shot effectively enough as well. But there’s just not enough story, enough drive, enough proper stuff to fill 135 minutes, and plenty of missed opportunities: Emma Thompson is utterly wasted in a three-minute cameo where she nonchalantly solves a mystery we didn’t much care about in the first place. The set-ups, pay-offs and characters all feel like sitcom cast-offs: the wonderful Katherine Parkinson as a lesbian tea-lady, Tom Brooke’s Thick Kevin.

Richard Curtis may think he’s made a film about the best time there’s ever been, a time when a lovable bunch of potent, renegade DJs ruled the airwaves, broadcasting a heady, magical mix of mayhem and music. To be fair, The Boat that Rocked brings a bit of that to life. What it doesn’t do is present a story capable of holding the viewer’s attention for half as long as one of the classic 60s tracks featured in the soundtrack.

I Love You, Man*

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: With his wedding to Zooey fast approaching, Peter Klaven confronts the reality that he doesn’t have a close male friend to act as his best man. Acquiring one proves to be fraught with difficulties, until a chance meeting with ‘investor’ Sydney Fife leads to an exciting new world of male bonding. But will the relationship with Zooey survive Peter and Sydney’s powerful bromance?

Los Angeles estate agent Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has plans: if he can convince someone to buy Lou Ferrigno’s house at the right price, he can start buying land towards a development of his own; while on a personal level, Zooey (the charming Rashida Jones) accepts his proposal of marriage, the news leapt upon with glee by her close circle of friends including dippy Hailey (Sarah Burns) and Denise (Jaime Pressley). Peter, however, has no-one to spread the news with but his family, and when he overhears the women fretting that he’ll become a clingy husband without male friends, he decides he must get at least one.

A poker night with Denise’s aggressive husband Barry (Jon Favreau) ends in disaster, as does a ‘man-date’ with Doug (Thomas Lennon), and it looks like Peter’s gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg) will have to do the best man duties. Luckily, Sydney (Jason Segel) turns up at an open house at the Ferrigno place, and Peter is intrigued by the big man’s laid-back, self-pleasing style, not to mention his love of Canadian prog-rock band Rush (no, me neither**); but as the men bond, Sydney’s plain-speaking ways and demands on Peter’s time and wallet start to put a strain on the lovers’ relationship, to the extent that the wedding itself is put in jeopardy.

At a first glance, it’s frankly amazing that I Love You, Man – with its familiar cast, incessantly fruity language and obsession with things sexual – has no connection whatsoever with Judd Apatow. Look again, however, and it’s not so surprising: firstly, there’s no Seth Rogen, Segel taking the slacker role that would surely have been his; secondly, the film often sails so close to The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s winds that Apatow might think he’d already made the film once. I Love You, Man is essentially a variation on the themes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with Rudd taking Steve Carell’s place as the man who never got round to making that ‘special’ friend, displaying a similar verbal awkwardness, the same embarrassment around the poker table and so on. The movie also has strong echoes of Mike Gayle’s book Brand New Friend, although I would imagine purely by coincidence.

These comparisons don’t really get the film reviewed, of course; and the only question that really matters is whether the film works on its own terms. Unfortunately, the answer is a non-committal ‘not really.’ The relationships at the heart of the film are believable and entertaining, Rudd and Jones making a nice couple and Rudd and Segel riffing off each other (musically as well as comically) to good effect. There are also decent contributions made by Lennon, Burns (who has fun during a disastrous double date), J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtin (as Peter’s parents), while Jon Favreau consistently steals scenes with appealingly overbearing boorishness.

On the other hand, the writing rarely rises above the sniggering level of the classroom, the focus of the jokes coming from such lofty topics as farts, vomit, masturbation and oral sex; and while there’s a nice, Egypt-offending joke about Sydney’s dog looking like Anwar Sadat, it’s ruined by the fact that Syd, who we’re presumably meant to like on some level, refuses to clear up the animal’s poo – his other attributes include freeloading and preying on vulnerable divorcees. You could argue that this adds to our own apprehensions towards him, fears compounded when he asks Peter for money, but Sydney’s disruption of Peter’s life never feels as though it could ultimately result in catastrophe. The plot merely hobbles along in a thoroughly predictable fashion towards an equally unsurprising climax, and a contrived, largely undeserved mega-happy ending for all concerned.

I Love You, Man avoids some potential pitfalls quite neatly. For while suggesting that there’s no higher love than that between two men, it – unlike Superbad – also finds time to enjoy relationships between females, as well as heterosexual and homosexual love. Rudd’s affability also helps to offset Segel’s chauvinism, though he’s by no means as obnoxious here as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Rashida Jones is sweet in a part that might have been naggy. But it’s rarely more than lightly amusing and is destined to be swiftly forgotten, by me at any rate.

NOTES: 1I’m glad to review this film because I received a request, back in the day, to do so – though it did take two years to get around to it. The moral? I do requests, but you might have to be patient.

2This is a reflection of my ignorance rather than an observation about the qualities of Rush, who may well be superb. They are almost certainly bigger in North America than they have ever been in Britain.

EuroTrip

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Dumped by his girlfriend, high school graduate Scotty compounds his misery by rejecting the advances of German pen-pal Mieke. However, when he learns that Mieke is not a man but a beautiful woman, he drops everything to find her, resulting in a chaotic introduction to the charms of Europe.

The humiliations just keep piling up for young Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz). Ditched on graduation day by girlfriend Fiona (Kristin Kreuk), she cosies up to rock singer Matt Damon while he belts out the salacious tune ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’ to Scott’s scoffing classmates. His German pen-pal Mieke reacts to the news by threatening to come to America to comfort him, so in a drunken email Scott tells him to get lost; except that Mieke is not a he but a rather lovely she (Jessica Boehrs).

Determined to put things right, Scott teams up with best friend Cooper (Jacob Pitts) and heads for Berlin, though – predictably – it’s not quite as easy as that. To get to Europe cheaply they courier goods to London, stumbling into the drinking den of football hooligan Vinnie Jones and his cohorts, who – unpredictably – take the Americans under their wing; the whole gang travel to Paris, where the boys meet up with sightseeing twins Jamie and Jenny (Travis Wester and Michelle Trachtenberg) and Scotty kicks a robot mime in the nuts.

From there, the quartet visit Amsterdam, Bratislava (inadvertently) and finally get to Berlin, only to find that Mieke has gone to Rome to visit the Vatican. Scotty and co. head there immediately, causing mayhem within the Papal Residence as Scotty seeks his would-be Teutonic sweetheart.

EuroTrip could hardly be better designed to irritate me had its makers rung and asked what I didn’t like in films. In essence, it’s a well-worn, not to say threadbare, tale of a horny High School guy looking for sex, another Jason Biggs wannabe trying to get his end away like Get Over It/American Pie/a million other films. That old chestnut is coupled with the motif of ignorant Americans abroad in crazy old Europe; you know, the place with ‘crazy European sex’ and countries full of horrendous stereotypes, the ones we know from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the later Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo and Beerfest and – in less comic fashion – The Rules of Attraction. And it’s all presented to appeal on the basest level to an audience of teenage boys for whom the insult ‘gay’ and the sight of bare breasts are, respectively, the funniest and sexiest things on the planet.

And – d’you know what? – It’s actually quite funny. The film is so wildly off about almost every aspect of European life that its jokes surely have to be deliberate, either to pander to US ignorance or deliberately to wind up European audiences (or both). I might be doing the writers too much credit, but there is such a sense of ridiculousness running through the film that it approaches a form of delirium.

Take the joke about Manchester United fans, for example: I’m almost totally certain that the writers haven’t got a bloody clue about football, since Vinnie Jones neither looks nor acts like a Manc. Are they making a clever joke about most Man U fans not coming from Manchester? Even if they aren’t, there’s something nicely surreal about the boys appeasing them with Sheena Easton songs.

Anyway, the British get off lightly compared to the insults heaped on poor old Slovakia, portrayed as a bombed-out wasteland where four people can live like royalty for less than $2; or the Vatican, where Scotty finds a new job and catches up with Mieke in a big way in a Confession booth.

Everyone should be offended by EuroTrip, but as I say, it gets so silly that taking offence almost becomes redundant. Even the sex and nudity is sort of based on equal opportunities – the group visit a nudist beach, solely occupied by naked men who didn’t read their guide books properly; and Cooper discovers that crazy European sex is more trouble than it’s worth, even if you do get to keep the T-shirt.

Of course, there’s nothing inspired about Fred Armisen’s smarmy Italian or Patrick Rapold’s suave, bisexual Frenchman, and the film allows itself too many crass touches – Scotty’s coarse younger brother (too reminiscent of American Pie), the boy playing at being Hitler, Jamie getting oral sex because the girl likes his camera – and some lax plotting (Jamie gladly handing over his security belt because he’s enjoying the oral sex so much).

However, these are balanced by some game performances, not least from Mechlowicz – not as bland as he first appears – and Michelle Trachtenberg, who provides the closest thing EuroTrip has to a Unique Selling Point. It helps immensely that Jenny is part of the group and joins in on the comedy, admittedly as well as being a bikini-wearing object of desire, in one scene to an entirely inappropriate member of the party. Her presence keeps the sexism in check and prevents the film from slipping into an endless parade of mindless, juvenile ogling. On top of that, there’s the sheer (pleasurable) shock of seeing Matt Damon as a pierced rocker, providing the film with its catchy running gag, the ubiquitous popularity of ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’.

It seems that EuroTrip was undone at the cinema by a saturated gross-out market and the unfortunate timing of Pope John Paul II’s death; so perhaps the Catholic church had the last laugh after all. It’s rubbish, naturally, but it’s not nasty, demeaning rubbish like Superbad, and it contains the odd moment of inspiration amongst the clichés. By no means a tour de force, but unless you’re a particular prude (or a particularly proud Bratislavan), you should find something to laugh at.

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.

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.