May 15, 2006
U.S. President Staton’s (Dennis Quaid) popularity declines precipitously when the public confuses his newfound intellectual curiosity with mental illness. To boost his poll numbers, he agrees to appear on the “American Dreamz” talent show finale, in which ultra-ambitious vixen Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) squares off against recent Arab immigrant (and covert terrorist) Omer (Sam Golzari). Writer/director Paul Weitz gleefully aims this broad satire at an array of targets that include President Bush, “American Idol,” and al Qaeda. His approach is scattershot, and the characters are uniformly thin (and sometimes offensive), but despite that, there are plenty of laughs. The entire cast is terrific, but best of all is Hugh Grant in a role he was born to play as a smarmy, contemptuous, Simon Cowell-like TV host.
Kinsey Scale: 3 (The movie is unclear on where show-tune-loving Omer’s sexuality lies, but his American cousin Iqbal – played by Tony Yalda – is a stereotypical queen. Quaid was the closeted husband in “Far from Heaven,” Moore appeared in “Saved,” and one of Grant’s earliest notable roles was in James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s “Maurice.” Co-stars Marcia Gay Harden, Jennifer Coolidge, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Willem Dafoe all have gay-themed credits.)
Friends with Money
Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is a depressed, pot-smoking maid, obsessed with her married ex-boyfriend. Her three best friends (Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand) are rich, successful, in relationships of varying happiness, and concerned about the well-being of their less-moneyed friend. Should they simply give her money? Fix her up with a nice guy? Let her fend for herself? Director Nicole Holofcener follows the four women as they navigate the well-to-do neighborhoods of Los Angeles, talking about their lives (they also talk about each other when one’s not around) in this smart, funny exploration of friendship dynamics. It’s a witty, warm-hearted comedy of manners that ignores the obvious bling-centered approach to the portrayal of rich folk in most films, and focuses instead on the self-absorption, petty grievances, and universal fears that afflict the haves “and” the have-nots.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (There’s a subplot about McDormand’s seemingly gay husband – played by Simon McBurney – that’s handled with intelligence and humor. Aniston starred in “The Object of My Affection,” and was a regular on queer-friendly “Friends.” McDormand played a nominally bisexual character in “Laurel Canyon,” while Cusack’s character had a gay fiance in “In & Out.” Keener had a lesbian affair in “Your Friends & Neighbors” and, by implication, in “Being John Malkovich,” and she portrayed”reclusive writer Harper Lee in “Capote.”)
A bulldozer stands ready to bury the nest of burrowing owls in a Florida coastal community, all to make way for a new pancake restaurant. Three teens – runaway Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), his stepsister Beatrice (Brie Larson), and new kid in town Roy (Logan Lerman) – are determined to stop the slaughter, but Mullet Fingers’ ongoing vandalism of the site only seems to be delaying the inevitable. Based on Carl Hiaasen’s bestseller, this offbeat family drama is bound to ruffle some parents’ feathers with its casual endorsement of eco-terrorism, though kids will embrace its message that they have the power to effect change. Far more charming than the rather wooden cast, the sweet-faced, big-eyed birds steal the movie and make a cuddly argument for species preservation.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Among the film’s co-stars, Jessica Cauffiel appeared in the lesbian comedy “D.E.B.S.,” Clark Gregg guest-starred on “Will & Grace,” and Robert Wagner played the closeted Brick in a TV adaptation of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”)
Ice Age: The Meltdown
The title says it all, as melting glaciers threaten to drown the prehistoric critters, sending wooly mammoth Manny (voice of Ray Romano), saber-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) searching for higher ground. Along the way, Manny gets a happy surprise when he meets comely Ellie (Queen Latifah) and discovers that he is not the last of his breed. Luckily, Scrat (Chris Wedge), the saber-tooth squirrel, makes a return appearance in this animated sequel and provides pratfall-laden comic relief as he hunts for the acorn that is always just beyond his grasp. Otherwise, for a movie aimed at children, this is pretty dire. The apocalyptic, all-too-timely story is tasteless, and the humor tends to have all the buoyancy of a lead balloon.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Leguizamo has participated in a number of queer-themed projects, including Todd Haynes’ “Poison” and the drag comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” Latifah played a lesbian in the crime drama “Set It Off” and received an Oscar nomination for her role in “Chicago.”)
After bank robbers take hostages, NYPD detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is called upon to negotiate their release. Complicating his job are professional fixer Madeline White (Jodie Foster), who is conducting a private negotiation on the bank president’s behalf, and lead robber Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), who Frazier quickly realizes has more on his mind than simple theft. Spike Lee’s latest joint is far more effective when it concentrates on the characters and on capturing the flavor of New York than when it tries to be a suspense thriller – especially since the outcome of the robbery is never in doubt. But while it is overlong, it is also slyly humorous and visually stylish, and the three leads and their large supporting cast are riveting.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Washington co-starred in “Philadelphia,” and Owen appeared in “Bent.” Co-stars with queer credits include Chiwetel Ejiofor, who previously collaborated with Lee on the ridiculous lesbian drama “She Hate Me”; Peter Frechette, who played gay on “Northern Exposure” and “Profiler”; Christopher Plummer, who portrayed a gay man’s estranged father in “Ararat”; and Willem Dafoe, star of the homoerotic “Auto Focus” and queer-themed “Shadow of the Vampire.” And then, of course, there’s Foster, the focus of much queer speculation.)
Shoe manufacturer Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) is on the verge of shuttering his failing factory when a chance encounter with drag chanteuse Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) inspires him to give the business another chance. Though it scandalizes his homophobic staff, Charlie intends to save their jobs by hiring Lola as a consultant and creating a line of sexy stilettos designed specifically for men. Humor, romance, and sentimentality blend uneasily in this feel-good British comedy. The factory workers are mostly stereotypes, and a climactic, ill-conceived argument between Charlie and Lola nearly derails the entire movie. But Lola’s cabaret act more than balances out those weaknesses. Ejiofor is simply incandescent as he combines sensuality, soul, and sass in what ought to be a star-making performance.
Kinsey Scale: 4 (Part of the film takes place in the gay nightclub where Lola performs, and an entire troupe of drag queens are on hand for a Milan fashion show. The movie also uses the factory workers’ homophobia to drive home a lesson about tolerance and acceptance, but it is so reticent on the subject of Lola’s own sex life that it could use that lesson itself. Ejiofor previously appeared in Spike Lee’s lesbian drama, “She Hate Me.” Co-star Linda Bassett had a role in the “The Hours.”)
Mission: Impossible III
Secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the most dangerous assignment of his life: to track down the sadistic arms dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has kidnapped Hunt’s new wife (Michelle Monaghan). Thanks to direction and a script co-written by popular TV creator J.J. Abrams (“Felicity,” “Alias,” “Lost”), the series finally gets what it needs: the inclusion of a real-world sense of humor and a narrative life for Hunt outside of perilous stunts and stuff being blown up. So yes, that makes this the best of the three action films so far. But then there’s Tom Cruise, who has always come off as a cold, detached action hero, whose alienating presence can drain all the blood from the screen. And no amount of adorable wedding sequences or appearances by quirky comic Brit actors like Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) can warm it up.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hoffman has played gay several times, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of the title character in “Capote.” Several co-stars have also played gay or bisexual characters: Ving Rhames in “Holiday Heart,” Billy Crudup in “Stage Beauty,” and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in “Velvet Goldmine.”)
Bob Munro (Robin Williams) suffers from both job and family anxieties. His employer is trying to phase him out of the company, and his wife (Cheryl Hines) and kids are living separate lives, no matter that they’re all under the same roof. His solution? Rent the ugliest RV available and take them on a family togetherness road trip. If you’ve seen “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” then you know what happens next. This is the kinder, gentler, family-film version of that irreverent ’80s comedy. And while it lacks the bite of its predecessor, the script is sharper and more sarcastically funny than anyone probably expected it to be. Adding to its appeal is a drastically toned-down Robin Williams, whose unhinged riffing can grow tiresome very quickly. Here, he’s funny without resorting to his usual manic antics, and that’s the nicest surprise of all.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Williams played gay in “The Birdcage,” did drag in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and had a cameo in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar”)
Scary Movie 4
Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) is back for another installment of this unapologetically silly parody franchise. This time she’s moved into the house from “The Grudge,” which just happens to sit next door to Tom Cruise’s “War of the Worlds” house. The aliens come, the dead “Grudge” boy makes several appearances, a Tom Cruise look-alike jumps up and down on Oprah’s couch, and Leslie Nielsen shows up as an intelligence-deprived president who ignores a national emergency because he’s engrossed in a children’s picture book. There are even a couple of gay cowboys singing Lionel Richie songs to each other. Does any of it make sense? No. Is it little more than a string of no-brow sketch-comedy bits? Yes. And is it funny? Occasionally. But with expectations this low, the few laughs it delivers make it almost feel like a success.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (“Brokeback Mountain” – a film in which Faris had a small, but memorable, comic-relief role – is parodied in a way that will bother only the most easily offended queer audiences. Meanwhile, scenes that reference “The Village” also contain gay content. Co-star Simon Rex got his start as a nude model in “solo” porn for gay men.)
Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a veteran Secret Service agent who took a bullet for Ronald Reagan and whose current job is to protect the latest president. Unfortunately for Garrison, he’s also being blackmailed for having an affair with the first lady “and” being framed in a rumored presidential assassination attempt. His longtime colleague-turned-enemy (Kiefer Sutherland) wants to see Garrison go down, but it will take the two of them to find out who’s truly behind the plot to kill the commander in chief. Getting to the real mastermind, however, is more work than this laborious, lead-footed political thriller is up to. The twist ending is telegraphed early on, the suspense is nonexistent, and the script is a worn-out rehash of all those “one man must stand alone” Harrison Ford movies. There should be a Secret Service to protect people from boring movies like this.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Douglas starred in the controversial queer-themed thriller “Basic Instinct,” and co-star Eva Longoria is a regular on the queer-created TV hit “Desperate Housewives.”)
Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is a rebellious teenage gymnastics champ who drops out of the sport when her parents get divorced. But a run-in with the law forces her to choose between military school and a forced return to the mat. Her new coach (Jeff Bridges) has a bad reputation, but Haley’s is worse. And for a while the film seems to be about nothing more than her disgruntled attitude. But then a serious thematic mission emerges as the competitive young gymnasts band together behind Haley to protest the archaic, often antifemale aspects of the sport. It’s only then that it becomes something more than a snotty teen movie and rises to the welcome level of enlightening, grrrl-powered entertainment. Not a perfect 10.00, but a solid 8.50.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Technically, there’s no queer content in this movie, but newcomer Peregrym exudes the same kind of tough-girl energy that Michelle Rodriguez brought to her “Girlfight” debut. Meanwhile, Haley’s two best male buddies have girlfriends on the team, but she herself is man-free, making her a kind of stealth lesbian presence.)
Thank You for Smoking
Spin doctor Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) relishes his job putting a happy face on Big Tobacco; so shameless is he in downplaying the dangers of cigarettes that not even a cancer victim’s sad testimony can deter him from his mission. But when seductive investigative reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) loosens his normally guarded tongue, even he can’t spin the resulting expose. Based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel, Jason Reitman’s debut comedy is often very funny as it skewers targets ranging from business to politics to Hollywood, and it benefits from Eckhart’s brilliant performance as the cheerfully conniving Naylor. As sharp as the satire is, it still reeks of must, dated by a tobacco-industry target where spin long ago took a backseat to legal settlements.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Eckhart starred in “Your Friends and Neighbors,” which had a lesbian subplot, while Holmes appeared in “Wonder Boys.” Among their co-stars with queer credits, Maria Bello played actor Bob Crane’s wife in the homoerotic “Auto Focus”; David Koechner’s ostensibly straight sports reporter seemed to have a crush on the title character in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”; William H. Macy was a gay lawman in “Happy, Texas”; and “Kim Dickens” plays lesbian brothel madam Joanie on “Deadwood.”)
On Sept. 11, 2001, passengers on United’s New York-to-San Francisco flight 93 are unaware that three other planes have already been hijacked with deadly consequences, when their own comes under attack by al Qaeda extremists. While chaos reigns in air-control towers and the military debates rules of engagement, the flight’s passengers stage a desperate rebellion. Paul Greengrass’ documentary-style, near-real-time theoretical re-creation of what happened during that doomed flight is powerful, necessarily moving, and deeply cynical. It offers no new information and no perspective; instead it promotes fear more effectively than any terror alert, as it wallows in images of panic and death. Ultimately, Greengrass, like the 9/11 hijackers, exploits United 93’s passengers for his own ends.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Greengrass does little to differentiate one passenger from another, not even using names. But look closely at the young man in the rugby shirt and baseball cap – that is Mark Bingham, a gay man.)
Samson (Kiefer Sutherland), a New York Zoo lion, delights in regaling his adolescent son Ryan (Greg Cipes) with tales of life in the wild. When the cub is accidentally shipped to Africa, Samson and his friends chase after him, forcing this King of the Beasts to admit the truth: he is completely domesticated and has no idea how to rescue his boy.
Sutherland’s mellow voice perfectly fits the floundering feline in this animated family fable. The computer-generated images often look sensational, particularly in scenes involving a pair of mischievous chameleons; and supporting characters – including a sardonic koala (Eddie Izzard) and an idiot anaconda (Richard Kind) – add welcome humor. But the story is derivative, and too often the movie forgoes levity for a dour, maudlin mood.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Transvestite comedian Izzard has appeared in the queer-themed “Shadow of the Vampire” and the cross-dressing comedy “All the Queen’s Men,” while Kind had roles in “Johns” and “The Producers.” Co-star Patrick Warburton played a recurring character on “Ellen,” and co-star Janeane Garofalo counts among her gay-themed projects roles in “Reality Bites” and “The Laramie Project.”)