Films

Romantically Incorrect

Three guys go a-courting: one acts like a misogynist twerp, another demands sex on sight, the third brings in the military—and his mandolin

Brian D. Johnson August 27 2001
Films

Romantically Incorrect

Three guys go a-courting: one acts like a misogynist twerp, another demands sex on sight, the third brings in the military—and his mandolin

Brian D. Johnson August 27 2001

Romantically Incorrect

Films

Three guys go a-courting: one acts like a misogynist twerp, another demands sex on sight, the third brings in the military—and his mandolin

Brian D. Johnson

One of the reasons guys go to movies, aside from watching other guys play with guns and drive fast, is to learn how to act cool around women. From Humphrey Bogart to James Dean, the screen has set styles in romantically correct behaviour. But lately the etiquette has become a little twisted. Flere are three new films that offer some backhanded strategies for winning a girl’s heart. According to The Curse of theJade Scorpion, you should behave like a smart-ass misogynist twerp and break into her apartment. In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it’s best just to smirk and swear a lot, use “bitch” as a term of endearment, and demand sex on sight. But for sheer nerve, no one can beat the hero of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. His idea of romance to invade a girl’s village with an army, commandeer her bedroom and play the mandolin. And unlike the other two films, it’s not supposed to be farce.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion When it comes to sweeping girls off their feet with limited resources, Woody Alen is the old pro. But once an inspiration to losers everywhere (if this dweeb can score, anyone can), he has become a Dorian Gray portrait of romantic delusion for aging boomers. Cranking out almost a picture per year, Alen is Americas most prolific auteur, a compulsive filmmaker. And with each outing in front of the camera, he has driven his aggressively self-deprecating persona deeper into caricature, until it’s become gnarled with a weird mix of selfloathing and narcissism. But just as I’ll always buy the next Stones album, and be disappointed, I would never miss a Woody Alen movie. Each is like a new chapter in a vast, decaying novel. Alen, 65, hasn’t made a movie that’s about something since

Husbands and Wives (1992). Of course we’ve been saved the embarrassment of the incestuous loop between his life and art, that train-wreck resonance. But we miss the fact that his movies were once essential; now they’re merely diverting.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, the 34th film Alen has directed, is the latest in a string of stylish baubles: comedy as costume jewelry. Set in 1940, it’s a crime caper about an insurance investigator named CW Briggs (Alen). He’s a hard-boiled detective with an eggshell ego, a superannuated version of the Sam Spade fantasy

figure from Play It Again, Sam. Swaggering around the office, Briggs carries on a pinch-and-tickle flirtation with the female staff, but meets his match in a scary new “broad” named Betty Ann (Helen Hunt) —a no-nonsense efficiency expert who regards Briggs as a dinosaur. Basically, Hunt is recycling her office feminista role from What Women Want. But Betty Ann is not too liberated to fall for her married boss, a heel played by an exceptionally wooden Dan Aykroyd.

The plot revolves around hypnotism, a trope that Alen has used before, in Alice (1990) and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982). A cabaret hypnotist puts Briggs and Betty Anne into an amorous trance for the amusement of their colleagues, while covertly setting up Briggs to serve as a sleepwalking jewel thief. A comedy of errors ensues, and as Alen and Hunt act out a Bogie-Bacall feud that can

only end in romance, Woody fends off a sexpot (Charlize Theron) who finds him inexplicably hot. Sigh.

There’s always some pleasure in the craft of a Woody Alen picture. This one has a lovely period look, more a homage to ’40s movies than to the real ’40s. It’s also strangely comforting to see a summer comedy bereft of profanity, violence or lactating animals. But as a nostalgia piece, Jade Scorpion only makes us nostalgic for Alen’s better work. It even lacks the pizzazz of recent films such as Bullets Over Broadway, Sweet and Lowdown and Small Time Crooks. The laughs are sparse, the intrigue predictable. And Woody, swamped by a fedora and trenchcoat, is one old, sad clown, a ridiculous ladies’ man working too hard to win our lost affection.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back Kevin Smith may not be the new Woody Allen, but the 31-year-old actor/writer/director is one of the smartest comic talents of his generation. Sometimes he’s too smart for his

own good, as he proved in the overarching Dogma (1999), an attempt at slapstick theology. But Smith’s latest effort is flat-out road comedy—campy, outrageous and very funny. Unfolding as a post-modern parody of the movie business, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back features two recurring characters from Smith’s “New Jersey Chronicles”—Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. The motormouthed Jay (Jason Mewes) and his mime-like sidekick, Bob (Smith), are dope-dealing slackers who spend their lives leaning against a convenience store—deadpan stoners in the tradition of Cheech and Chong, Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth.

The story is as shambling as the characters. When Jay and Bob discover that Miramax is filming a movie from a comic book based on their characters—and that they are being bad-mouthed on the Internet— they head off to Hollywood to sabotage the production. En route, they get picked up by a van of babes who don rubber cat suits and dupe them into stealing lab monkeys as a diversion for a diamond heist. . . well, you get the picture.

Smith has marshalled a dazzling array of cameos—from the likes of George Carlin, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Chris Rock, Shannen Doherty, James Van Der Beek and Jason Biggs. Affleck and Damon steal the movie with hilarious self-parody—shooting Good Will Hunting 2 with a dazed Gus Van Sant. And Miramax, Smiths producing partner, is the butt of some mordant in-jokes. His script, meanwhile, is awash with sexist profanity, including a mock macho rant on conquering the clitori s. Jay and Bob is a verbal gross-out comedy. No doubt some will misconstrue the satire as misogynist and homophobic—but that’s the risk of making smart movies about dumb guys.

Captain Corelli s Mandolin This is the kind of Miramax art-schlock that Smith’s film pokes fian at. And the poster, showing a flock of fighter-bombers appearing out of Pénélope Cruz’s cleavage, sums up its clunky attempt to marry love and war—a boutique-scale Pearl Harbor.

Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), and based on the best-selling novel by Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a handsome travesty. It’s set on a bucolic Greek island during the Second World War. As part of an occupation he does not believe in, a music-loving Italian officer (Nicolas Cage) falls for the headstrong daughter (Cruz) of a village doctor (John Elurt). While trying to preserve the novel’s whimsical charm, the movie shrinks—and sanitizes—its sprawling narrative. Characters behave exactly as we expect them to in movies. No one gets old or ugly. The heroine’s fiancé (Christian Bale), who becomes a lunatic rapist Ín the book, is now a studly freedom fighter. And before laying down his arms to the Nazis, the Captain gets to fight a heroic battle that’s absent from the novel. Meanwhile, it’s hard to buy Greeks and Italians who are played by Americans, a Brit and a Spaniard. Cruz holds her own, drawing emotional intensity from the thin air of a vacant script. But Cage strolls through the movie with a ludicrous accent, his American drawl shining through like a bald pate through a bad comb-over. His chemistry with Cruz is unconvincing. (He’s no Tom Cruise.) And besides, the guy just doesn’t look comfortable holding a mandolin. EJ