Spook Easy

A rather insular spook procedural that hardly ever leaves the Langley suburbs, The Recruit weighs in like a porous brick of recycled polypropylene—everything from Spy Game and The Devil’s Advocate to every sub-Le Carré spy knickknack factoried out since 1965 has been dumped into the presser. In-movies-only Studly Computer Geek Colin Farrell is reluctantly recruited into secret service by Manipulative Power Broker in a Mephisto Beard Al Pacino, because the haunted youngster needs to find out how his father Mysteriously Died. Cue Suspicious Brooding. More fustian than Faustian, Farrell’s deal with federal service is showered with pseudo-mystical fart-noises about the spy biz’s super-human observational requirements and the guy’s own innate talents, which are In His Blood. Of course, Nothing Is As It Seems, particularly Farrell’s duplicitous training-farm squeeze, embodied by leggy-model-posing-as-human Bridget Moynahan.

Cliché-density aside, Roger Donaldson’s perfectly rote movie is childishly naive about the reality of the CIA as it stands in the official record and in the public mindset—pronouncements about our Good and their Evil, spouted by Pacino with his patent-pending sardonic glower, are PR myths a fifth-grader would’ve chuckled over in 1975. Even so, after decades of failures, plus advances in surveillance technology, old-school espionage is hardly a pertinent social fantasy anymore; in his way, Chuck Barris represents a more telling G-man paradigm.

The insults continue with one of modern movies’ most idiotic macguffin (a power-grid-freezing virus that can enter the system through a wall socket), an utterly pointless car chase, and the failure to ironize the rich idea of two lovers planting bugs on each other. The Recruit‘s final point, it seems, is that the CIA doesn’t pay very well—a detail about which, if it’s true, we might at least feel grateful.

This year’s LaCinemaFe, showcasing recent Latin films, is a haphazard hurricane of work from three continents, notable for Ventura Pons’s Amigo Amado, Argentine musician Fito Paéz’s controversial Vidas Privadas (starring Gael García Bernal and Mrs. Paéz, Cecilia Roth), and When We Were Kings documentarian Leon Gast’s 1976 film Salsa. Otherwise, no Ripstein or de la Iglesia emerges; both Alberto Lecchi’s Argentine gay-masquerade comedy Apariencias (2000) and Ricardo Farfán’s bouncy Chilean road movie Negocio Redondo (2001) are pandering, store-brand Hollywood toss-offs. Fernando León de Aranoa’s documentary Caminantes (2002) offers an unadventurous but empathetic view of a small Mexican Indian village and its welcome to the Zapatista protest “walkers” of 2001, which is light years ahead of Alexander Stocker’s Cat’s Cradle (2001), a vile, public-access-level video diatribe about thrill-seeking Brazilian punks that climaxes, more or less, with a glibly shot rape-murder. Of the films screened, only Gustavo Postiglione’s El Cumple (2002) displayed any recognizable moviemaking intelligence. A rough video document of a lavish birthday party that is both less daring and less clichéd than The Celebration, Postiglione’s movie examines the inevitable social striptease without unnecessary melodrama or theatrics, revealing only ordinary bitterness.


Bland Illusion

Mixing two seemingly surefire genres—the P.O.W. movie and the courtroom thriller—Hart’s War doesn’t bother to compete with Stalag 17 and Anatomy of a Murder, or even Chicken Run and My Cousin Vinny. Its World War II detainees hardly speak of escape, and instead stage a court-martial when one of their own is accused of murder in a German camp. Yet after a sooty, brutal opening sequence, in which the hero, Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), falls into enemy hands and quickly crumbles under questioning, the movie gets muted and routine: Hart, a Yalie law student, is assigned to defend an accused American; the only defense is to find the real killer.

Gregory Hoblit, who directed the slick legal thriller Primal Fear, makes dull work of Hart‘s oddly nonconfrontational courtroom proceedings. As the studio’s marketing campaign has annoyingly revealed, the trial is all a diversion. There’s a factory next door to the stalag that makes either munitions or shoes. (But mein general, to situate a P.O.W camp so close to our very important “shoe factory”? Is this not unvise at ze height of ze vahr?) It’s also distracting to wonder why the top-ranking U.S. officer, Colonel McNamara (Bruce Willis, terse and squinty), has forced two Tuskegee-trained officers (Terrence Howard and Vicellous Shannon) to bunk with the lowly enlisted men—is he a racist or does he simply mistrust all new arrivals?

As the camp commandant, Marcel Iures (the sleazy general from Kristin Scott Thomas’s best movie, An Unforgettable Summer) has a semi-hilarious role to play, and he seems to know it: His SS Major Visser (a Yale man, too) is forever slinking out of the shadows or stumbling drunkenly around his office to the tune of his beloved jazz records as if searching for his monocle and neck brace. At times, Colin Farrell really does have the eager-spaniel look of a boy who would, after three missed meals, tell the Nazis everything. As a lawyer, Hart has a diffident courtroom style that is unexpectedly charming. As a soldier, though, he’s more comfortable with nice shoes than with bombs, and that, along with a lot of other sideways moves, throws Hart’s War seriously off balance.


NY Mirror

I was emotionally worn out by the end of the tough, gritty Tigerland, as I so generously told its star, Colin Farrell. “So was I,” he said, laughing. “So the fuck was I.” The film is Joel Schumacher‘s mud-caked, hyperintense look at a Louisiana boot camp filled with shirtless studs toughly, grittily training for Vietnam, and at times it makes Full Metal Jacket look like Duets. Farrell, the 24-year-old Irish hotshot, has gotten splashy attention for his performance as Bozz, the rebellious recruit who’ll do anything to get his naughty ass out of the war. To my ever comparative eyes, he looks like a young George Clooney and sort of acts like one too, but with a well-hidden brogue and an extra pinch of smolder, thank you.

“We broke our backs making that movie,” Farrell told me by phone from Texas, where he was shooting the Jesse James flick American Outlaws (“a popcorn movie” by contrast, he said). He was speaking in rapid, blurry tones, clearly exhausted by his relentless schedule of shooting and promoting, but rallying bravely. All the fuss about him, Farrell said, “hasn’t really interfered with anything. I’m doing the work and taking it day by day. But I’m tired!” he admitted. (An insouciant, talented guy who’s also sensible and honest? Everyone line up for a bite!)

Farrell certainly looks appealing on the Bruce Weber-photographed cover of Interview, and it was an extra treat for everyone’s new dream trick that he didn’t know he’d be the coverboy. “It’s worth a giggle,” he said, when asked about the photo. “Me with an American football in my hand—I can’t even throw the fucking thing!” (I don’t know about you folks, but I’m adding points for that.) Like so many stars on the way up, the guy has a refreshingly self-mocking sense of humor; typically, when I told him he must have charmed Schumacher to get the part, he laughed and said, “One does one’s fucking best.”

Farrell even pretended to fuck his fucking best, though parts of Tigerland‘s big (straight) sex scene were hideously cut. “That’s fine,” he said, “because it would probably be weird to see me with a five-foot cock on a big screen.” I assured him that the camera adds a few pounds, but not that many. Still, even with the edits, a lot of people are finding the film deeply homoerotic. Could that have just possibly been intentional? “Of course not,” Farrell said, “but people can find fucking eroticism or sexuality by watching anything. Guys get turned on by watching a dog fuck a woman, so of course gay guys and straight women may get turned on by this.” Those remarks may sound more than a little callow, but our pesky new star did then add, “If someone gets a hard-on, I’m all for it.” And how can you argue with that?

I was hoping to continue that desperately raunchy level of conversation with my next celebrity conquest, Gore Vidal, but Vidal told me that he’d just guested on Judith Regan‘s show and “she wanted to do nothing but fag talk.” So I plugged it up for a while.

The more-celebrated-than-ever author is represented on Broadway with the revival of The Best Man, his 1960 play about presidential campaign ethics, set a decade before Tigerland, when disillusionment wasn’t quite as institutionalized and mud was flung rather than trudged through. Vidal told me at the Plaza that the current production is better than the original one because “forty years ago the actors didn’t know anything about politics. Whether they like it or not, actors today are marinated in it.”

We all are, to the point where the play—with its threatened smears against mental illness and sexual antics—has proven to be amazingly prophetic. “I do at times feel like life is a little too much like the movies,” Vidal said, picking “goo” out of his eye because of an infection. “I thought of it when Eagleton was kicked off the ticket and again when George W. Bush started in on McCain and said, ‘Does he have all of his marbles?’ ” (Maybe he wanted to borrow some.)

It turns out that mental problems may have marred the ’64 movie version of The Best Man, which Vidal likes except for the performances of Margaret Leighton (“She was having a nervous breakdown. I don’t even think she knew what she was in, so we had to keep cutting her out”), Ann Sothern (“She paraphrased everything and carefully lost every laugh that she had”), and Edie Adams (“miscast”). But the film still towers over other adaptations of his works, and Vidal’s the first to admit it, languidly saying, “My failures are far more famous than most people’s successes. Caligula, Myra Breckenridge, The Left-Handed Gun, Visit to a Small Planet—these aren’t just bad movies, they’re grotesque movies, a chamber of horrors. Mind you, I haven’t seen any of these. I have high blood pressure.” In fact, it was on Regan’s show that he first caught a clip of Myra and almost choked.

They should have left the making of that flick up to him, of course, but his early proposal that they get John Wayne for the transsexual lead “did not play terribly well in patriotic America.” Even though the Duke’s real name was Marion.

And now for the fag talk: Has Vidal been the victim of homophobia through the years? I wondered with a carefully rehearsed pensive look. “I assume so,” he said, “considering the continuing hatred of The New York Times for me. They set out in the ’50s to clear the fags out of the theater. They got William Inge, who turned to novel writing and finally killed himself. And they contributed a great deal of fag baiting to Tennessee Williams’s mental breakdown, which officially was too many Nembutals and vodka. But they missed Thornton Wilder. He lived in New Haven with his sister and was never a Broadway type.” Note to self: Move to New Haven with sis.

Of course now it’s the opposite situation, whereby anything gay seems to get an automatic Times rave. “That’s even worse!” said Vidal, who really is the best man when it comes to acid commentary of any sort. He has no goo in his eyes at all.

A straight movie just got a rave from the Times—the lush In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai, who was reasonably buoyant when I ran into him at his Thalia restaurant party. “It’s the first time I got a good review from them,” he said in a state of near shock. Alas, I wasn’t listening, as the free buffet had just been unveiled. The sparser food at the party for the very sweet Two Family House made it easier for me to concentrate on what that film’s creators had to say. But writer-director Raymond De Felitta wasn’t gloating much about his good reviews. “I feel nervous,” he admitted. “I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a hard movie to get people to go see. At Sundance, we thought, ‘They’re gonna laugh us out of town with their edgy, bloody indie movies.’ ” But they didn’t, which is why one of the film’s leads, Katherine Narducci, came up to me shrieking, “God has blessed us with this movie! I’ve faced the toughest critics and they can’t deny cracking that smile!” Even I had to grin a little with that—until scowling again in search of a decent hors d’oeuvre. And they think boot camp training was tough.


Falling Down

A lot of time, money, and pain have gone into establishing Joel Schumacher’s reputation as a well-oiled toxic-waste machine (deathless Batman and Grisham franchises, vigilante apologias, St. Elmo’s Fire)—and all for what? Schumacher would now like you to believe that he is sorry, though not sorry enough to desist. This contrite phase apparently began with last year’s low-key but clueless drag-queen/homophobe buddy movie, Flawless, and continues with the ostentatiously scruffy Tigerland, a contrived (if surprisingly well acted) martyr story set in a pre-Nam Louisiana boot camp. The modest budget and unknown cast are supposed to signal integrity, though glossy production values and name actors are not traditionally the problem with Joel Schumacher movies.

The director, who’s presumably realized that small films are less easy to hate, keeps it real Dogme style, shooting in murky 16mm, with mostly natural light and a good deal of handheld tumult. (The cinematographer is Matthew Libatique, best known for his flashy work with Darren Aronofsky.) But while Tigerland is the least egregious of Schumacher’s recent films, it’s also fatally convinced that grime equals authenticity. The movie monitors the implosion of a Vietnam-bound platoon as its members progress from brutal drills to the merciless tropical-swamp simulation known as Tigerland, “the second worst place on earth.”

With its numerous instances of institutionalized sadism (some lingered on a little too fetishistically for comfort), Tigerland unavoidably evokes the first hour of Full Metal Jacket—and, of course, its verité precursor, Frederick Wiseman’s Basic Training—but the screenwriters are ultimately more indebted to the Biloxi Blues model of bonding and lesson-learning under pressure. Cocky, charismatic troublemaker Bozz (Colin Farrell) and idealistic aspiring writer Paxton (Matt Davis) form the core of the group, almost all of whom eventually benefit from Bozz’s anarchic leadership; there’s a sociopathic hair-trigger thrown in to liven things up. In his first major role, the Irish actor Farrell deflects the script’s more dubious aspects through sheer magnetic presence. Tigerland is, if not much else, a casting director’s triumph—a point reinforced in the current Interview, where the film is successfully reimagined as a homoerotic fashion spread.