Film Reviews

Also Opening October 22


This horror picture about mutant killer bats terrorizing a little desert town is basically just like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. There are two major differences: First, The Birds was about birds, while Bats is about bats; and second, The Birds was a flawed but brilliant work by one of the geniuses of the cinema, while Bats is a work of hilarious, nearly Ed Wood-worthy ineptitude, offering not so much as one single scare -- not even a cheap scare or gross-out -- and inspiring nothing more than giggles and occasional sympathy for the actors. Battling the bats are a pretty chiropterologist (bat scientist) played by Dina Meyer, her wisecracking assistant, and Lou Diamond Phillips as the sheriff, who's a closet opera buff. But does Sheriff Lou listen, as one might expect, to Strauss' Die Fledermaus (The Bat)? No, it's Donizetti that he likes. This is a pretty good example of the level of wit and ingenuity with which the film exploits its subject. Romantic sparks do fly between the sheriff and the bat lady, however; at one point she seductively says, "Very good, Sheriff. We'll make a chiropterologist out of you yet." Louis Morneau directed this guano, and Bob Gunton and Carlos Jacott also star.

-- M.V. Moorhead

Body Shots

Unhampered by imagination and driven solely by libido, eight pretty, mediocre young things cruise through an alternately bleak and jarring glimpse of L.A. nightlife. Of course, that's the point of Body Shots, so you can't really fault it for that. In fact, on the plus side, director Michael Cristofer (Gia) seems to have a good grip on the impudent script by David McKenna (American History X), mining pathos from a motherlode of brash antics. No mean feat that, especially given the desensitized tone of the piece, so it's a shame that so much of the movie often feels (and looks) like that maudlin student film you want to like but simply can't. Uninspired frames of urban mating rituals are broken up by staccato sexual "interviews" (some of the movie's most ribald and satisfying moments), with Mark Isham's score, a lot of tepid techno, and some eerie time-lapse shots of L.A. serving as grout. Capable, but not surprising or new. The ensemble cast is game for the ride, especially Jerry O'Connell and Tara Reid, who craftily stage an alleged date rape from two wildly varying perspectives. Their conflict (and the polarization it forces upon their respective packs of friends) is the crux of the movie, and Cristofer is wise to suspend judgment, forcing a thought process out of audiences that may have come simply to watch the rest of the cast (Sean Patrick Flanery, Amanda Peet, Ron Livingston, Emily Proctor, Brad Rowe, and Sybil Temchen) party down, way down.

-- Gregory Weinkauf

Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me

To paraphrase the tagline, in May 1994, 25-year-old filmmaker Tessa Blake received a million-dollar trust fund from her father, the irascible Thomas Blake Jr., a legendary Houston lawyer; the old man was also an infamous oil tycoon and, of course, a notorious skirt-chaser even at the ripe old age of 84. Six months later, Tessa paid him back by returning with a film crew to document and deconstruct over the next two and a half years his Texas jet-set eccentricities and excesses, including his numerous short-term marriages, his often distant but totalitarian presence as a boss and father, and his good-old-boy charms and foibles (read: he's a racist). The film plays like a 35mm home movie, and that's both bad and good. At times it's overly calculating, indulgent, amateurish, and, well, boring. Too often, Tessa, our guide and ultimately the real protagonist of the film, reaches for the B-roll footage culled from the Texana setting: shots of a "Don't Mess With Texas" road sign, the neon of a chain BBQ joint her father probably has never set foot in, the Lone Star flags mounted on white picket fences that go on literally for country miles. You wonder whether that's a self-congratulatory Greenwich Village artiste's smirk you detect or whether she's just killing time. And the never-ending parade of the same set of badly lit, passively framed talking heads grows wearying, even if they are key to understanding both the myth and the man that his her father. But the aspect that's undeniable about Five Wives is that you do want to understand Blakey, as his friends and former wives call him. And you will feel like as though can call him Blakey too after watching his 80-plus years reduced to 80 minutes. He's bigger than life and still charismatic enough to fill a screen as well as any of his old movie-star pals did in their prime, be they Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, or Bing Crosby. But Tessa Blake captures a more interesting portrait than just the one of a rascally old coot. She gives us the story of a daughter trying to make sense of the love she has for her father, a love that can be as frustrating and disappointing as it is obvious and overwhelming. Ultimately, Five Wives is a surprisingly personal memoir, and just maybe the best gift a father ever received from his daughter.

-- Scott Kelton Jones

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