Around the World in 80 Days
Wrongly marketed as a Jackie Chan star vehicle, this exceptionally messy and racially offensive ensemble picture – made all the more puzzling by the Hong Kong star’s producer status – is that most frightening of horror films: the unfunny comedy. Based loosely on the Jules Verne novel, the plot involves a Victorian-era race around the world led by Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), accompanied by his faithful valet, Passepartout (Chan). Their pointless adventures bring them into contact with lots of nonwhite people from other lands, who are seemingly happy to be subjugated by England. Chan shows off some remedial martial-arts moves in between all sorts of gratuitous slapstick violence that plays more as sadistic than as silly. In the end, only young children will find it amusing, while the adults who accompany them may feel as if they’ve sat in the theater for 80 days.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Jim Broadbent played a gay bartender in “The Crying Game.” Kathy Bates, who appears as Queen Victoria, starred in “Fried Green Tomatoes” and has a recurring role on “Six Feet Under.”)
Unless nice-guy Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) can come up with $50,000 fast, his Average Joe’s Gym faces a takeover by slimy Globo Gym CEO White Goodman (Ben Stiller). The amount seems beyond the under-financed LeFleur’s reach, until gym rat Gordon (Stephen Root) suggests they enter a national dodgeball tournament that will pit LaFleur’s uncoordinated weaklings against Goodman’s steroid-pumped elite. This silly slapstick comedy might be the happiest surprise of the summer, as a cast of first-rate clowns clearly revel in the chance to deliver hilarious lines and demonstrate their superior physical-comedy skills. While there’s a bit too much of Stiller’s by-now-tedious angry-man act, Vaughn and the rest of the Average Joe’s crew comprise a team of lovable losers truly worth rooting for.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (One character is bisexual and – as might be expected in a movie that takes place in the homoerotic world of sports, even if it is dodgeball – there are queer jokes aplenty. Stiller played a metrosexual in “Zoolander” and one-half of the vaguely homoerotic team of “Starsky and Hutch.” Vaughn was cross-dressing Norman Bates in the “Psycho” remake. Co-stars Hank Azaria and Jason Bateman have played gay characters.)
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands at Kennedy Airport, only to discover that a coup has struck his homeland, rendering his passport invalid. Since he cannot legally enter the United States, he is temporarily consigned to the airport’s international transit lounge. Days stretch into months, but charming Viktor adapts to terminal life, befriending airport habitues and finding romance with flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Director Steven Spielberg delivers a thin fable that wallows in schmaltz and product placement. The characters never register as flesh-and-blood human beings, Hanks and Zeta-Jones lack chemistry, and the film’s condescending tone toward naive-but-wise Viktor and the airport’s mostly immigrant staff is downright offensive. With Kennedy Airport meticulously recreated inside a soundstage, this is a triumph of production design over character and story.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hanks first became famous for his cross-dressing role on the sitcom “Bosom Buddies”; he went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of an AIDS-afflicted gay lawyer in “Philadelphia.” Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi previously co-wrote the queer-themed comedy “The Big Tease.” Co-star Diego Luna appeared in “Before Night Falls.”)
The Chronicles of Riddick
After years of exile, intergalactic outlaw Riddick (Vin Diesel) travels to the planet Helion, his arrival coinciding with that of despotic Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and his henchmen, the Necromongers. Only Riddick can save Helion’s residents from death or enslavement – that is, if he doesn’t become distracted by a visit to the hellish planet Cremoria. “The Chronicles of the Ridiculous” would be a better title for this sci-fi balderdash, which suffers from a lack of narrative coherence, amateurish special effects, dumb dialogue, and another lumbering performance by Diesel. Only the Helions and Necromongers are in awe of the pumped-up, short-tempered Riddick’s apparently superhuman strength – at last, a movie that celebrates ‘roid rage.
Grade: D Kinsey scale: 1 (If Diesel ever gives up on his hopeless dream of becoming an actor, that hot body could always model for muscle magazines. Costars Colm Feore, Judi Dench, Linus Roache, and Thandie Newton have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
The Day After Tomorrow
Climatologist Jack Hall’s (Dennis Quaid) dire warnings of a new Ice Age come true as tornados demolish Los Angeles, baseball-size hail rains over Tokyo, and a tsunami swamps Manhattan, all in advance of a mega-storm that will freeze the northern hemisphere. As if worldwide catastrophe weren’t enough, Hall also faces the possibility of losing his teenage son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s trapped in the New York Public Library. This disaster melodrama rises above its inane plot on the strength of Quaid’s roguish charm, an excellent supporting cast, and superior computer-generated special effects, particularly as the twisters lay waste to L.A. But genuine thrills are kept to a minimum, thanks to too many action scenes that amount to little more than people trudging through snow.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Quaid played the closeted husband in Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.” Co-stars Ian Holm, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Tamlyn Tomita, and Perry King have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
Fat, lasagna-loving Garfield (the voice of Bill Murray) is annoyed when his human, Jon (Breckin Meyer), brings home an innocent, not-too-bright dog named Odie. But when Odie is dog-napped, it’s Garfield to the rescue. If that sounds like a slim premise, it is – and quite beside the point. The real reason this movie exists is to pump up the revenue stream of a comic-strip character who’s seen more popular days, and if audiences are mildly entertained in the process that’s just gravy. Thank goodness, then, for Bill Murray, who gives the CGI cat a much-needed shot of new personality. His voice performance is frequently witty and probably largely improvised, bearing more than a passing resemblance to his old “Saturday Night Live” lounge-singer routine. In other words, it’s something he can do in his sleep that will keep adults who wind up taking kids to see the movie from dozing off.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s a passing, Garfield-delivered reference to “alternative lifestyles” as Odie winds up in a pair of lederhosen. Queer actor Alan Cumming voices a fey cat named Persnikitty, and “Will & Grace”‘s Debra Messing voices Garfield’s feline girlfriend, Arlene.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
In his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), an inmate of Azkaban prison for his role in the death of Harry’s parents, has escaped and may be coming for Harry next. That’s the simple version: the more complicated tale involves shape-shifting animals, mistaken identities, time travel, and a very large teenager-hungry tree. Meanwhile, the kids in the cast are maturing, growing into their roles without a trace of awkwardness. The most important development, though, is the film’s running time. Even though the books get longer as the series goes on, this film installment is a little shorter than the first two, thanks to a looser, less slavish devotion to its source; as a result, it plays much more briskly. That may upset literal-minded devotees of the novels, but will delight those who want their movies to actually move.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large cast has lots of experience in queer-themed projects. Oldman played Joe Orton in “Prick Up Your Ears”; co-star David Thewlis was Paul Verlaine in “Total Eclipse”; Emma Thompson recently appeared in “Angels in America”; and Julie Walters costarred in “Billy Elliot” and the independent films “Sister My Sister” and “Just Like a Woman.”)
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), home-schooled in Africa her entire life, moves to America and quickly finds herself at what can only be described as Lord of the Flies High School, where the caste system is vicious. Simultaneously falling in with the “art weirdos” (read: queer kids) and the “Plastics” (rich, beautiful girls), she’s put up to the prank of infiltrating the latter to exact revenge on them for their years-long torment of kids lower on the social totem pole. The snag: in doing so, she finds herself craving their attention, acceptance, and access to cute boys. “Saturday Night Live” writer Tina Fey’s script is a dead-on attack of the uniquely horrible world of adolescent females, and it only suffers when forced to make nice in the third act. So while not the classic teen-angst comedy that was “Heathers” – where the revenge took on unapologetically murderous dimensions – it’s still a hilarious glimpse of high school hell.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 4 (Co-star Daniel Franzese plays the type of rebellious, chubby, high school gay boy you wish you had had the nerve to be, and co-star Lizzy Caplan is his comrade in popular-kid terrorism – a maybe-lesbian-maybe-not girl named Janis Ian. These two steal every scene they’re in, and if there were such a thing as artistic justice in Hollywood, they’d get their own queer “Ghost World”-esque sequel.)
When her sister and brother-in-law die in an auto accident, fast-living fashion executive Helen (Kate Hudson) must step in to raise her nephew and two nieces. She’s absolutely unprepared for the responsibility and needs constant help from her other sister, Jenny (Joan Cusack), a Supermom who resents being passed over for the job of guardian. Unsurprisingly, as with everything else in this painfully predictable and unfunny big-screen sitcom, Helen finally learns the true meaning of family, parenthood, and life, thanks to her exposure to the bratty kids and the near-poverty living conditions their presence creates. Every so often, Hollywood likes to sell this sort of lie to remind everyone unfortunate enough to buy a ticket that true happiness is the simple life of family values and store-brand macaroni-and-cheese. Don’t swallow it.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s a vaguely gayish atmosphere created by Helen’s nameless, disposable, gay fashion-world “friends.” Also, Hudson played a budding lesbian in Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women,” Cusack starred in “In & Out,” and co-star John Corbett was a regular on “Sex and the City.”)
Shocked when her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), reveals that he’s gay, born-again Mary (Jena Malone) sleeps with him in the belief that Jesus wants her to set him straight. When Dean is sent away for therapy and she finds herself queasy with morning sickness, Mary creates a scandal at her Christian high school as she begins to question her faith. A talented ensemble lets the one-liners fly in this satirical teen comedy that genially skewers rigid beliefs and the social purgatory of adolescence with equal abandon. Some characters – notably Mary’s hellbent-for-heaven rival Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) – are little more than rabid Christian stereotypes. But that barely detracts from a movie that delivers a message of unconditional love, acceptance, and, yes, faith – along with the belly laughs.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 4 (A minor subplot involves Dean’s learning to accept his sexuality and finding a boyfriend in spite of therapy that encourages him to renounce his homosexuality. Malone and co-stars Heather Matarazzo, Martin Donovan, and Mary-Louise Parker have all appeared in queer-themed films. And ever since former child star Macaulay Culkin returned to the camera after eight years, he’s appeared in this, “Party Monster,” and on “Will & Grace.”)
They could have called this delightful sequel “Meet the Parents,” if that title hadn’t already been taken, because it sums up the plot nicely. Shrek (the voice of Mike Myers) and his new bride, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, visit the land of Far Far Away to show Fiona’s parents (Julie Andrews, John Cleese) that she’s happily become an ogre in order to marry Shrek. Appalled that his daughter has wed a monster instead of the self-absorbed Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), the king enlists the help of a mean-spirited Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) in an attempt to steal Fiona back. What follows is witty, sweet, and love-affirming, leaving behind the smutty double entendres and (most of) the low-brow flatulence humor of the original. It’s that rarest of sequels – one that’s vastly superior to its precursor, and one that will leave you happily ever after.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 2 (Although there’s no explicitly queer content, it could be argued that the story, with its “love whom you choose” message, is a metaphor for same-sex marriage; in addition, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters (voiced by Larry King) is a man in drag. Myers played gay in “54,” Andrews starred in “Victor/Victoria,” Saunders stars on TV’s “Absolutely Fabulous,” and Antonio Banderas, who voices Puss-in-Boots, is a veteran of Pedro Almodovar’s films and played gay in “Philadelphia.” Everett, it goes without saying, is gay full time.)
On NWA Airlines, negative stereotypes rule: black passengers drink malt liquor and eat fried chicken; white passengers are named “Honky”; Latino characters’ entrances are accompanied by mariachi trumpets; Middle Easterners are turbaned terrorists; women are “bitches” and “ho’s”; and gay male flight attendants squeal, bat their eyes, and wear a lot of lip gloss. Meanwhile, the plot of this ensemble “Airplane”-style spoof involves a hip-hop airline that caters to African-American passengers with a high tolerance for incompetent, dope-smoking pilots (Snoop Dogg), trash-talking crewmembers (Mo’Nique and Loni Love), and the likelihood of a fatal crash. And as offensive as it is – and it is – the movie aims low and hits its mark with plenty of throwaway humor and crudely inventive visual style.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are plenty of gay jokes flying around the cabin of this plane, and all of them are homophobic. Whether or not they should be seen as more or less offensive than the other thoroughly racist and sexist content is up to individual viewers. Sensitive persons should probably stay away. But for queer audiences interested in witnessing how far gay men still have to go with regard to African-American comedies of this sort, film school begins here. The one gay character with a name is flight attendant Flame – played by Gary Anthony Williams. Cast member Tom Arnold was a regular on “Roseanne,” a sitcom that broke lots of TV ground with its lesbian content.)
A fresh start in the suburbs sounds like a wonderful idea to Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) and husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) after Joanna loses her high-powered network-TV job. Behind the walls of gated Stepford, Conn., Walter quickly bonds with the local men; but the town’s women – perky, submissive, and oddly fond of chintz – repulse Joanna, who becomes downright frightened when, one by one, her new friends mutate into typical Stepford wives. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s attempt at campy black comedy meets with only partial success. The dialogue is hilarious, and the cast sparkles, particularly Glenn Close as the spookiest of the wives. But an insufferable, tacked-on ending drags on seemingly forever as a 70-minute idea is stretched to a feature-length 90 minutes.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 3 (Conservative Stepford welcomes its Log Cabin brethren, as one gay partner discovers when he, too, transforms into a Stepford “wife.” Gay screenwriter Rudnick wrote “Jeffrey” and previously collaborated with “Stepford” director Frank Oz on “In & Out.” The cast boasts one genuine queer icon in Bette Midler. Nearly all of the principals – Kidman, Broderick, Close, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, David Marshall Grant, Matt Malloy, and Lorri Bagley – have appeared in gay-themed movies or plays. Mike White of “Chuck & Buck” fame has a cameo.)
Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) ignites a powder keg when he runs off with Spartan king Menelaus’ (Brendan Gleeson) wife, Helen (Diana Kruger). In answer to this insult, Menelaus’ brother, Mycenaean king Agamemnon (Brian Cox), unites the Greek tribes to make war on Troy. Joining him in the campaign is godlike warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt), fighting for neither king nor country, but purely for glory. This Greek mythology “lite” transforms formidable legend into soapy melodrama, wasting fine individual fight choreography, luminous cinematography, and Eric Bana’s transcendent performance as Paris’ protective brother, Hector. Inane dialogue, battles rendered in obvious CGI, and the egregious miscasting of the wimpy Bloom and petulant Pitt doom this would-be epic. It’s all cheese, no whiz.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Achilles’ exceptional closeness with his cousin Patroclus leads one to wonder how Greek these Greeks really are. The battle togs of both sides reveal lots of shapely legs, and Bloom and Pitt display their bare bottoms – the best argument for why either was cast. Cox, Bloom, and co-stars Sean Bean and Peter O’Toole have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
When Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) arrives in Transylvania to vanquish the vampire Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), he finds himself in a country teeming with monsters that include Frankenstein’s creature (Shuler Hensley) and a werewolf (Will Kemp). Though he likes to work alone, Van Helsing makes an exception for the headstrong Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the woman he’s vowed to protect and who insists on teaming with him to vanquish the festering evil. Jackman’s charm, coupled with some excellent special effects and a wonderfully atmospheric prologue that evokes the spirit of ’30s-era horror classics, promise a bang-up frightfest. But the movie quickly deteriorates into a monster mishmash, thanks to banal dialogue, overly frantic and pointless action scenes, and an inane story.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are homoerotic overtones to interactions between Van Helsing and Dracula and between Anna and Dracula’s brides. Jackman is currently playing gay singer-songwriter Peter Allen on Broadway in “The Boy from Oz.” Beckinsale and co-stars Kevin J. O’Connor, Robbie Coltrane, and Samuel West have appeared in queer-themed films.)