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Movie Weekend 7/25/03

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home

toby

Simply Irresistible (2 out of 10)

almost

25th Hour (8 out of 10)

almost

Well, what to say about 1999’s Simply Irresistible, an attempted big-screen vehicle for Sarah Michelle Gellar, star of the Buffy TV series? Gellar has stated she made a mistake by rushing into this movie instead of choosing her would-be movie-star debut more carefully. Not an inspiring testimonial from the leading lady. The first-time director, Mark Tarlov, seems to have stuck with a moderately successful producing career before and since. That is no surprise, given that his debut was a lead dirigible. And trust me, folks, a million one-star reviews can’t be wrong.

It was touch and go whether my wife and I would turn the DVD off or make it through this one. We were both doing other things in the living room (she was working on a scrapbook, I was folding clothes), so we muddled through. So shall I muddle through this review. Just not much to talk about here. Gellar is charming, of course. There is absolutely zero spark between her and costar Sean Patrick Flannery, who has been featured in mostly obscure movies. I can’t address most of his other work, but here he is flat beyond belief.

The plot could be summed up, I suppose, as an amalgamation of You’ve Got Mail and Like Water For Chocolate--Gellar is a small restaurant owner instead of a small bookshop owner, and Flannery is the Joe Fox-like jaded executive. Then throw in the magical food thing. You can see the plot turns coming a mile away, and you simply don’t care. There is the obligatory best buddy/confidante character for Gellar. Usually it’s a smart-talking, sexually deprived woman friend or a gay man as the buddy in romantic comedies, but this time it’s a token black man. I say this by way of demonstrating: everything is by the numbers here, such as using a pop-song title that has no significance to the story. Bad enough to substitute catchiness in place of cleverness or significance, but to top it off with utter unoriginality…it actually seems appropriate to this uninspired film.

The soundtrack seems forced and out of place. The magical reality sequences, including the magical crab (don’t ask) and the aphrodisiac fog (don’t think of asking)…well, you know my take on this movie by now. Nothing works. The Gellar character initially seems somewhat different from the Buffy role, but later in the film that distinction vanishes. The project just seems to have lost steam, and you get the feeling that everyone involved had the sinking feeling they were in a crappy movie. No spark between the two leads, no great shakes in the script…too bad, that with a pleasant young star and decent production values, they didn’t seem to have a clue how to do an interesting job even with the most cliché-ridden of stories. I defy you…get through this movie, look me in the eye, and tell me you give a crap about the characters.

How refreshing, then, I found Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. Let’s get this out of the way first: many of Lee’s ‘joints’ (movies) barrage you with such copious amounts of language, sex, violence, etc., that it drowns out otherwise engaging, occasionally visionary films. This film, though certainly deserving of its R for language (and sexual situations, I guess), shows enough restraint in those areas that I didn’t find them distracting. And that’s a really great thing. Take away the distracting elements, and I find Spike Lee to be an expert storyteller and moviemaker. There are no weak links in the cast; Edward Norton turns in a reputation-validating performance as Monty, a man one day away from going away to prison. Rosario Dawson graduates from teen comedy roles as Monty’s girlfriend. As Monty’s longtime friends, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is solid as ever, and Barry Pepper handles his semi-despicable role admirably. Anna Paquin serves her somewhat thankless role as a manic high school junior well, to her credit. What more could a director want?

As with the more seriously flawed Summer of Sam, once again Lee is wildly successful at using performances, visuals and music to establish a moodiness so palpable you can almost feel it touching your skin. The film is set in post-9/11 New York City, and this subject could have easily been trivialized by glossing over it, or it could have been tacky if overly focused-on. But in this film it is just a glaring fact of life for the characters, and it lends to the story. This will not go down in history as a post-9/11 movie, but viewers in years to come will get a unique glimpse into the emotional and physical landscape of the city in that time. And for those of us for whom the memory is still fresh, it certainly impacts us profoundly even now.

For those who haven’t seen 25th Hour, that’s about all you need to know. If you don’t need sugary endings, and you can take some rough language, I think it is worth the ride. The movie, like its characters, despite rough edges and tough circumstances, has its heart in the right place.

Click here for complete details on Simply Irresistible at IMDB.com.

Click here for complete details on 25th Hour at IMDB.com.

Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin


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