Labor Day marked the official end of the summer movie season, which causes film critics to go into a lemming-like race to analyze it all. If you choose to measure the success of a film by its box office returns (and shame on you if you do), then check out this week"s Entertainment Weekly, which breaks the summer movies into tidy little financial categories. For those of you who still believe good films are good even if they tank at the box office, and that no amount of money can mask a stinker, what follows are questions about two good summer movies and six duds.
The Film: Bad Company
The Premise: A CIA big shot (Anthony Hopkins) recruits a "street-wise" bookie (Chris Rock) to take the place of his late, Harvard-educated twin, so he can finish an important project his brother was working on. The Question: What genius decided to pair up Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock? Hopkins rolls his eyes on cue while generally acting preoccupied while Rock does his usual shrill shtick. No thanks. Oh well, Hollywood can always try again. Perhaps they can come up with an even more electric team, perhaps Robert Redford and Tom Green. The Film: Enough
The Premise: A battered wife (Jennifer Lopez) undergoes training and then psychically fights her violent spouse (Billy Campbell). The Question: How low will Hollywood go? Enough is a reprehensible movie, using domestic violence to generate cheap thrills. The filmmakers take a pop singer/actress that many young women look up to and show her doing everything an abused woman should NOT do. The production is boring, stupid and sends horrible messages to young women. The Film: Windtalkers
The Premise: During World War II, the Japanese proved so adept at deciphering codes that the United States turned to Navajo citizens, whose language relies on complex, subtle nuances of pronunciation. Those American Indians were able to devise a method of communicating secrets that the enemy could not crack. Beginning in 1942, roughly 400 Navajo men served as code talkers and became vital parts of the war effort. The Question: How do you take such a fascinating premise and turn out such a lame movie? Director John Woo accomplishes this by shoving the Indians into the background and surrounding them with American Indian clichÈs, while placing Nicolas Cage front and center and surrounding him with war movie clichÈs, and finally slathering his legendary operatic violence over everything. He succeeds only in creating a visually interesting, emotionally hollow cavalcade of hooey. The Film: Minority Report
The Premise: In 2054 Washington, D.C., the police use psychics - pre-cogs - to arrest murderers before they can actually commit their crimes. Tom Cruise runs the unit with zeal, until a pre-cog report shows him killing a stranger and he is forced to run from his fellow officers. The Question: Why include a shot of an extremely long strand of snot dripping out of some guy"s nose? Minority Report is a futuristic noir thriller that pulses with fascinating ideas, memorable images and thrilling action sequences. So why did director Steven Spielberg insert a gratuitous gross-out scene? The answer, according to a colleague at Dreamworks who wants to remain anonymous, is "Despite the cool visuals and those great action scenes, Spielberg knew that the movie was still very cerebral and cold. He also knew that young audiences love images that make them go, "Yuck!" The snot and the rotten food was there to make the film more palatable to the younger demographic." Gee, I hope the kids enjoyed themselves. The Film: Scooby Doo
The Premise: Live-action (with a computer-generated pooch) adaptation of the cartoon series, with four teen-agers (Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini) and a talking dog trudging through a lame ghost-related mystery while making Grade Z jokes. The Question: Why was this wretched movie a hit? Are people so desperate for nostalgia that they would embrace such a crap-fest? The sad, sad answer is yes. Even sadder - plans are already in the works for a sequel. The Film: The Adventures of Pluto Nash
The Premise: On the moon in 2087, nightclub owner Pluto Nash (Eddie Murphy) finds himself a marked man when he refuses to sell his place to the local mob. Joining Pluto in the chase are Dina Lake (Rosario Dawson), a beautiful earthling who wants to be a singer, and Bruno (Randy Quaid), Pluto"s robot bodyguard. The Question: How can you make a comedy starring Eddie Murphy that doesn"t contain a single laugh? Pluto Nash boasted a serviceable premise, elaborate sets and a solid cast, including Joe Pantoliano, Jay Mohr and Burt Young, plus a cameo by the remarkable John Cleese as an automated car. So what happened? No one is talking, but the film sat on the shelf for over a year and Murphy refused to promote it in any way. Look for Pluto Nash to have a long afterlife on TBS as a toothless Saturday afternoon time-killer. The Film: feardotcom
The Premise: A police detective (Stephen Dorff) joins forces with a Department of Health researcher (Natascha McElhone) to find the answers behind the mysterious deaths of four people who each died 48 hours after logging on to the Internet site feardotcom.com. The Question: Who decided to put up money for a dog like this? The script is pure nonsense, the visuals look like they came from a generic music video and Stephen Rea is wasted as a mad scientist. The worst offense is that the movie is not the slightest bit scary. feardotcom has all the appeal of a dead carp. The Film: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The Premise: An extended family comes together for a big fat wedding. The Question: How did this little movie become the sleeper hit of the summer? Simple. The draw here is the excess, silliness, tenderness and insanity that comes with a big family wedding. None of the characters are exceptional. Neither are the situations. In fact, the ordinary nature of the characters and the recognition of situations we"ve all either experienced or witnessed is exactly what makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding such an enjoyable minor treat. People found a film they could relate to and returned to the theater with their friends, and a phenomenon was born.