(4 of 4)
Every ambitious picturemaker should be allowed one wild misfire at no lasting cost to his reputation. Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) can now put this aside and go back to making good films. As for Cruise: after Eyes Wide Shut, Mission: Impossible II and this serioso goofball psychodrama, he might want to wait a while before he does another movie in a mask. --R.C.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
STARRING: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
The Tenenbaum kids are--or were--child geniuses, adept at playwriting (Paltrow), tennis (Wilson) and the stock market (Stiller). When we meet them, however, they are still overprotected by their mother (Huston) and have aged into various forms of hostile fecklessness. Director and co-writer (with Owen Wilson) Anderson has confessed admiration for J.D. Salinger's Glass family, and The Royal Tenenbaums can be seen as his take, more comic than tragic, on the costs of being smart in a world that resents intelligence as much as it pretends to admire it.
But these smarties need a good shaking up, and that's the function of their estranged patriarch Royal (Hackman), who reappears in their lives after his own shady career has fallen to tatters. They're not especially happy to see him, but we surely are. For Hackman embodies the energy and outrage the rest of this rather twee family lacks. Royal stirs them all to life, and this great, bumptious performance by an actor gleefully rediscovering his funny bone stirs us to appreciative life too. As with Anderson's Rushmore, there's a certain annoying preciousness to this film--it's not so consistently wise or amusing as he thinks it is--but it has its moments. --R.S.
STARRING: Michael Gambon, Jeremy Northam, Maggie Smith, Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe, Emily Watson DIRECTOR: Robert Altman
It's not a bad idea--Agatha Christie meets Upstairs, Downstairs. But something goes wrong in the telling of this tale of murder at the Gosford Park house party, circa 1932. That something can be summed up in two words: Robert Altman. People want him to return to the form of what they fondly recall as his glory days--Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. But those days are long gone, and we are pretty much left with Altman's signature mannerisms (improvisatory off-camera and overlapping dialogue), attitudes (a glum and witless misanthropy about his characters) and, above all, the lack of dynamics in his direction.
Basically, what we have here is a huge cast of flat-liners. There are exceptions, of course. Smith is both noisily and funnily imperious as an eccentric, impoverished dowager; Northam invests a real character, music-hall star Ivor Novello, with a wry and wistful intelligence; and Fry's self-important detective, cluelessly investigating the murder of their host (Gambon), is also funny. Altman wants us to sympathize with the servants, and it turns out that the crime is justified by a back story of Dickensian sentimentality, but tedium overwhelms caring well before this endless film finally concludes. --R.S.