ARCHIVED REVIEWS (N)

Narc
National Lampoon's Van...
National Security
New Guy, the
Next Best Thing, the
Next Friday
Nicholas Nickleby
Ninth Gate, the
No Man's Land
Not Another Teen Movie
Novocaine
Nurse Betty
Nutty Professor II

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NARC - B+
Starring:
Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Busta Rhymes, Chi McBride, Richard Chevolleau, Krista Bridges, Anne Openshaw, Alan Van Sprang
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Action, 105 min (18A) (Paramount, 2002)


Despite solid work in films as varied as Goodfellas (1990) and Heartbreakers (2001), Ray Liotta has always been an underrated actor, a mid-level De Niro wannabe or that guy from Operation Dumbo Drop in the eyes of too many. With Narc, however, Liotta provides a clear portrait of his capabilities, offering a commanding and full-bodied (in more than one sense) performance as a Detroit lieutenant whose willingness to bend the rules for his own form of justice indicates that he is undeniably a descendent of The French Connection's Popeye Doyle. It is clear throughout Narc that Connection helped inspire the picture, along with a dozen other cops-and-cover-ups pictures and TV dramas. The difference here is that writer-director Joe Carnahan (1999's Blood Guts Bullets and Octane), establishes a striking and memorable balance between the home life and work demands of Narc's protagonist (Jason Patric), an overwhelmed undercover narcotics officer who partners with Liotta to investigate the murder of another undercover cop. Though Patric played a similar character in 1991's Rush, Narc is less about policework than motives, morality and the on-going battle with inner demons. The film is raw, gritty and violent, with a kicker of an ending. (top) (back)


NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VAN WILDER - C
Starring:
Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid, Tim Metheson, Tom Everett Scott, Kal Penn, Daniel Cosgrove, Teck Holmes, Kim Smith, Chris Owen
Directed by: Walt Becker
Comedy, 93 min (18A) (Artisan, 2002)


Considering its title, toga!-toga!-toga! poster and appearance by Tim Matheson, it is fairly obvious that National Lampoon's Van Wilder is supposed to evoke memories of the seminal wackiness that was National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). Apparently, the fact that much of Van Wilder's core audience - teenagers raised on American Pie and Road Trip - won't even know what Animal House is never dawned on its filmmakers or else they would have spent less time on pointless allusions and more on innovative gags and satisfying laughs (both of which are in short supply here). Evoking a young Chevy Chase with his unforced nonchalance, Ryan Reynolds is likeable as the title character, an undergraduate at Coolidge College now entering his seventh year who wants nothing more out of life than to continue his reign as the coolest guy at school. Van's term falls into turmoil, however, when his father (Matheson) cuts off tuition and a perky student reporter (an off-note Tara Reid) is assigned to turn his life into a feature article. Brandishing its anti-PC stance like a badge of honor (Can Van's Indian assistant be any more of a caricature?), Van Wilder is a significant improvement over the similar Slackers, but that's not saying much. (top) (back)

NATIONAL SECURITY - C
Starring:
Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Bill Duke, Colm Feore, Eric Roberts, Timothy Busfield, Robinne Lee, Jeffrey Ross, Joe Flaherty
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Comedy, 88 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2003)


If you had the opportunity to have the delightfully goofy Steve Zahn (Joy Ride, Happy, Texas) appear in your comedy, why would you cast him as a straight man? If you are going to make yet another buddy movie starring Martin Lawrence, why wouldn't you at least try to come up with some situations that the comedian hasn't already overplayed? Those are but two of the nagging questions that run through the mind while watching National Security, an improvement over Lawrence's What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Black Knight and Big Momma's House, but still a shoddy comedic effort. Directed by Dennis Dugan, who also sullied Zahn's resume with the anemic Saving Silverman (2001), National Security stars Lawrence as a failed police recruit who gets Zahn's character removed from the LAPD over trumped up brutality and racism charges. Wouldn't you know it, but Zahn and Lawrence both wind up as lowly security guards who get involved in the same investigation (yeah, like that would happen). National Security wants to be a cross between The Odd Couple and Beverly Hills Cop with more than a few shades of Lawrence's Blue Streak (1999), but the been-there-done-that tone of it all is unavoidable. (top) (back)

THE NEW GUY - C
Starring:
DJ Qualls, Eliza Dushku, Zooey Deschanel, Eddie Griffin, Lyle Lovett, Jared Mixon, Ross Patterson, Illeana Douglas, Horatio Sanz
Directed by:
Ed Decter
Comedy, 89 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)

With his gangly limps and bird beak, DJ Qualls was born to play a geek, but the central conceit of this relatively tame teen comedy is that, with only a little attitude and mystery, even a dork like Qualls can become the coolest kid in school. Frankly, I don't buy it, but at least there's some reasoning behind the filmmakers' message, something that can't be said for why they decided to place such a reliance on ancient parodies (Braveheart, Patton) and dated celebrity cameos (Gene Simmons! Tommy Lee! David Hasselhoff! Vanilla Ice!). Actually, much of The New Guy feels old, whether it is Qualls trying to get down with his inner funk (it was funnier in Road Trip), Eliza Dushku's appearance as a cheerleader (she was more interesting in Bring It On) or the bathroom humour (mild by Van Wilder standards, but predictable all the same). Here Qualls plays Dizzy, a high school nobody who, after being embarrassed beyond relief, gets purposefully thrown out of school so he can start on a new foot somewhere else, reinvented with the assistance of a badass prison inmate played by Eddie Griffin. I'm still not sure why Dizzy was in jail in the first place, a factor that only highlights the ineffectiveness of The New Guy's story and screenplay. (top) (back)


THE NEXT BEST THING - C-
Starring: Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Illeana Douglas, Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Comedy, 110 min (PG) (Paramount, 2000)

On the concert stage and in music videos, Madonna can be one heck of a great performer – full of verve, sexuality and fearlessness for traveling uncharted territory. As this sappy, hopelessly contrived dramedy reminds us, however, Madonna can also be one heck of a bad actor whenever she steps out of her rather narrow dramatic range. In The Next Best Thing, the material girl gives a dramatically inert performance as an aging yoga instructor who decides to raise a baby with her gay best friend (Rupert Everett) after he accidentally impregnates her during a night of drinking and dancing. Instead of taking the smart route and treating this scenario as a comical take on unusual family dynamics, director John Schlesinger – once the gritty realist behind films like Midnight Cowboy – makes the mistake of polishing it all up as a glossy soap opera, complete with shameless courtroom theatrics, last-minute plot twists and a dismaying, improbable lack of communication between its characters. (top) (back)

NEXT FRIDAY - C-
Starring: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Justin Pierce, John Witherspoon, Tamala Jones, Jacob Vargas, Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr., Sticky Fingaz
Directed by: Steve Carr
Comedy, 98 min (14A) (New Line, 2000)


Crude stereotypes, juvenile bathroom humour and a general contempt for women mark this inane sequel to 1995's uneven, but lively comedy Friday. Written by and starring Ice Cube, Next Friday takes the rapper’s character out of the hood and into the suburban home of his half-crazed, sex-hungry, lottery-winning uncle. The film could have used the new milieu for inspired fish-out-of-water farce or quick jabs about the similarities between the two neighbourhoods, but instead, Next Friday gets bogged down in uninspired There’s Something About Mary-style bathroom humour, a woefully dull revenge plot, countless racial slurs and shameless overacting. Sorely missed is motor-mouth comedian Chris Tucker, who used the first Friday to launch his career. Sadly, Ice Cube shows none of the skill he displayed in Three Kings or his surprisingly not bad directorial debut, The Player’s Club. (top) (back)

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY - B+
Starring:
Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Anne Hathaway, Timothy Spall, Nathan Lane
Directed by: Douglas McGrath
Drama, 132 min (PG) (MGM, 2002)


There's so much going on in Charles Dickens' 800-page novel Nicholas Nickleby that it once resulted in an eight-hour stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Douglas McGrath's 132-minute film adaptation of the 1838 work is a comparatively sparse affair, but that isn't too say that it feels overly rushed, minimal or lacking. A lively and likeable treatment, Nicholas Nickleby's largest flaw isn't a lack of story or character, but rather its choice for a lead actor - Abandon's Charlie Hunnam - not nearly as charismatic as the splendid supporting cast. Hunnam plays the title character, an educated 19-year-old who, after the death of his father, travels to London with his family to seek help from his cruel and selfish uncle (Christopher Pummer). Nicholas then encounters a wide variety of comical, evil and sympathetic characters, all of which make vivid impressions thanks to an exciting cast. Among the highlights are a manipulative Plummer, Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell as a crippled boarder, Jim Broadbent as a sadistic school headmaster and Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries (in drag) as an opportunistic theatre couple. All in all, it's high fun, with McGrath (1996's Emma) retaining the heart of the story and making appropriate narrative reductions. (top) (back)

THE NINTH GATE - C+
Starring: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbra Jefford, Jose Lopez Rodero, James Russo
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Horror, 133 min (14A) (Artisan, 2000)


For more than half of its running time, this supernatural thriller harks back to some of the best work of director Roman Polanski, most obviously due to a sinister dark tone that is more than a little reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. During that time, one is truly intrigued by the work of Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), a rare book expert who is hired by a sinister collector (Frank Langella) to investigate the mysteries of an ancient guide to satanic powers. As is the case with far too many devil-themed movies, however, Polanski eventually runs out of places to take his story and he gets bogged down with pretentious art-movie cliches such as overdone European accents, unsexy sex, mysterious women and a bucket of spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Depp, as usual, makes for an engaging lead actor, but he too eventually gives in to Polanksi’s excesses and the ending is an unsatisfying bore. (top) (back)

NO MAN'S LAND - B+
Starring: Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Simon Callow, Katrin Cartlidge, Georges Siatidis, Serge-Henri Valche
Directed by:
Danis Tanovic
Drama, 97 min (14A) (United Artists, 2001)


For all of the political ideologies, victories, losses, life, death, passion, anger, sadness, fantasies and nightmares at the heart of war, large-scale attack is ultimately absurd, perhaps even doubly so in the case of civil conflict. That is undoubtedly the message of this Oscar-winning drama about the Bosnian war from writer-director Danis Tanovic, who was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and experienced the battle firsthand. Set in 1993, the film chronicles the terrible situation a group of soldiers find themselves in, with a Bosnian (Branko Djuric) and a Serb (Rene Bitorajac) trapped together in a trench between enemy lines and a third soldier (Filip Sovagovic) stuck motionless with them, unable to move without detonating the mine that lays beneath him. It's a harrowing situation - hardly improved by a well meaning, if helpless, U.N. official (Simon Callow) and a meddling TV reporter (Katrin Cartlidge) - but Tanovic adds hopeful, heartbreaking and satirical touches to his eloquent antiwar story. Wisely, Tanovic doesn't label one side of the battle as villains, instead rooting the war in the mistrust between the Serbs and Bosnians that grew beneath the soil for centuries, and the many shades of the relationship between Djuric and Bitorajac's characters - at once friends reminiscing about a girl, the next sworn enemies - marks the film's audacious heart. (top) (back)

NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE -
C-
Starring: Chyler Leigh, Chris Evans, Mia Kirshner, Jaime Pressly, Randy Quaid, Ron Lester, Cody McMains, Samm Levine, Deon Richmond
Directed by: Joel Gallen
Comedy, 90 min (18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)


The teen movie bubble is ripe for pricking, but since most successful parodies mock films that aren't goofs in the first place, it takes an extra level of wit to spoof comedies. With its focus on Scary Movie-style crudeness, dependence on simply rehashing scenes from high school flicks and outright refusal to bring anything new to the table, Not Another Teen Movie is, it is safe to say, not up to the task. Drearily taking most of its cues from She's All That, the film is jammed with all the usual teen movie types, including the pretty ugly girl with a pony tail (Chyler Leigh), the cocky jock (Chris Evans), the bitchy cheerleader (Jaime Pressly), the token black guy who speaks in exclamations (Deon Richmond) and the group of freshman out to lose their virginity. Though some of the spitballs aimed at past teen flicks are juicy (Lacey Chabert does a killer impression of her former Party of Five costar Jennifer Love Hewitt in a Can't Hardly Wait blow), many others still seem stuck in the early development stage (including lobs at Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Never Been Kissed, American Beauty, Varsity Blues and The Breakfast Club) and some are downright tasteless (disgusting jabs at Cruel Intentions and American Pie are clearly below the belt). (top) (back)

NOVOCAINE -
C+
Starring:
Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Scott Caan, Elias Koteas, Kevin Bacon, Keith David, Lynne Thigpen, Chelcie Ross
Directed by:
David Atkins
Suspense, 95 min (14A) (Artisan, 2001)

Steve Martin first slipped on dentist's whites fifteen years ago in Little Shop of Horrors and he returns to the profession with Novocaine, a dark comedy-thriller that never numbs, but still fails to hit a nerve. Martin, only semi-successfully ditching his comedic roots, plays Frank, a mild-mannered dentist with a successful practice and leggy fiancée (Laura Dern) whose life goes spinning out of control when he falls for the grungy bad-girl charms of a vamp played by Helena Bonham Carter. Before long, Frank is implicated in a scheme involving drugs, murder, revenge and mutilation, but first time writer-direct David Atkins fails to find a balance between the suspense and laughs. Though there are some interesting dental- and X-ray-related touches to the visuals, much of the film looks like it was made on the cheap and the screenplay is often too irreverent, asking the audience to treat a theme like incest or addiction as light-hearted comedy. About half of the cast plays everything straight (Carter, Elias Koteas as Frank's brother), others go mad trying to reach the funny-bone (Dern, Kevin Bacon as an actor doing "research"), and Martin is left somewhere in between, never really assisting the film to be successful on either counts. (top) (back)


NURSE BETTY - B
Starring:Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Aaron Eckhart, Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Directed by: Neil LaBute
Comedy, 110 min (14A) (USA Films, 2000)


There's a fine line between fantasy and reality, purity and darkness, and it's along this line that director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) sets this wonderfully unpredictable comedy, his first picture based on a script other than his own. Renee Zellweger gives a terrifically daffy performance - her best to date - as Betty, a Kansas housewife who, after witnessing the murder of her husband by two hitmen (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock), reverts into the fantasy world of her favourite soap opera, convinced that the lead character (Greg Kinnear) is her true love. LaBute has said that he chose this script to prove to his critics that he can do something other than the casual savagery of his previous work and, although Nurse Betty isn't as smooth a ride as one might have hoped, he still pulls it off, turning the film into a media-age, cross-genre Wizard of Oz. Certainly helping matters is the slyly comic cast, with particular accolades going towards Zellweger, warm-hearted Freeman and a gleefully self-absorbed Kinnear. (top) (back)

NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS - C
Starring:
Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Larry Miller, John Ales, Anna Maria Horsford, Gabriel Williams, Melinda McGraw, Jamal Nixon
Directed by:
Peter Segal
Comedy, 104 min
(14A) (Universal, 2000)

An air of vulgarity overwhelms this overloud sequel to 1996's Nutty Professor, in essence stripping the original's heart for a bunch of sex and fart jokes. Eddie Murphy once again takes on multiple roles, playing not only overweight professor Sherman Klump and his alter ego, the smooth-talking Buddy Love, but also Sherman's entire family, including his flatulent father, excitable mother, dim-witted brother and horny grandmother. These family figures may be fondly remembered from the first film, but they are all woefully overused here and many scenes are made up of little more than one noisy Klump yelling at another noisy Klump. The plot is essentially a dirty version of Flubber, with Sherman extracting Buddy from his DNA only to have the released Buddy (don't ask me how it works) wreck havoc on Sherman's recent experiments (he's found a fountain of youth) and his love life (Janet Jackson barely registers in the thankless role of Sherman's sweetheart). (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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