NEW REVIEWS 

My Wife Is an Actress
(Ma Femme est une actrice)
"And his Muse is Woody Allen"
Writ. & dir. Yvan Attal; feat. Attal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Terence Stamp, Noemie Lvovsky, Laurent Bateau (R)
Yvan is a sportswriter married to a famous French actress named Charlotte (as Yvan Attal, the film's writer, director, and male lead, is married to his female lead, a famous French actress named Charlotte Gainsbourg), and he envies men whose wives are dentists. "Does it bother you that your wife is an actress?" asks a stranger, whose prurient interest is aroused by Charlotte on screen. Yvan is vexed by the question, intrusive autograph-seekers, and the possibility that amorous scenes in movies are not just simulations. He follows Charlotte to a shoot in London, where John (Stamp), her suave co-star, dazzles her and frazzles him.

Attal has identified Woody Allen as inspiration for his directorial debut, and to observe that My Wife Is an Actress is very French is no contradiction, since Parisians respond with hauteur to Americans who dismiss Allen as grand auteur.

Expect Allenian effects, including a jazz score over opening credits, a lovable neurotic for protagonist, and repeated claiims that his city — Paris, not New York — is the greatest. Yvan's shrill sister, Nathalie (Lvovsky), is even a continuing source of Jewish jokes, arguing with her Gentile husband, Vincent (Bateau), over whether to circumcise their baby.

In the most memorable scene, Charlotte, uncomfortable with being exploited as a sexual image, refuses to appear in front of the cameras unclothed unless the entire crew strips, too. So the set becomes a temporary nudist colony, and when Yvan wanders by he concludes of movie people: "They're all hysterical wackos." My Wife Is an Actress bares a few truths about acting with humor that is mildly hysterical. Stephen G. Kellman

Serving Sara
"A humorless frolic through cattle country"
Dir. Reginald Hudlin; writ. Jay Scherick and David Ronn; feat. Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley, Vincent Pastore (PG-13)
Once upon a time, America made madcap comedies in which someone like Katharine Hepburn adopted a tiger and drove paleontologist Cary Grant crazy (Bringing up Baby), or Claudette Colbert got stranded with Clark Gable while trying to escape her father and join her low-life fiance, as in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. These films were delightful to watch. They were witty, funny, fast-paced. They had a lot going for them: Hepburn, Grant, Colbert, and Gable, for example.

Unfortunately, Serving Sara has none of these, though it follows the format by sticking two unlikely companions together and waiting for romance to bloom. Sara is the wife of a wealthy Texas rancher, whose husband wants to serve her with divorce papers while she is in New York. Perry is the process-server called upon to drop the papers. He lets her know that if she had served her husband first, in Texas, she would get a fatter settlement by employing New York divorce law. (Texas, he notes, is the most husband friendly state in the nation). The two then team up to turn the tables on her scheming husband, and the action moves to Dallas, Amarillo, and Durango, Texas.

Lackluster performances from the two leads — including a dismal Hurley, who seems to act with her lip gloss — make the film fall flat. What fun there is comes from watching clichés about our state unfold in a veritable stampede of Stetsons, snakeskin boots (with snake heads attached), and bovine semen harvesting. The most remarkable thing in the film has to be the scene where the bad guy manages to travel from DFW airport to Reunion Arena in less than 10 minutes. Nope, those boys don't know Texas. They also don't know how to make a funny film. Retha Oliver

Undisputed
"For Ving Rhames and boxing, rent Don King"
Writ. & dir. Walter Hill; feat. Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk, Michael Rooker, John Seda (R)
Many things about Undisputed are just that: The plot is contrived, the writing is stilted, the stereotypes are numerous. Oh, and one more indisputable fact: Ving Rhames will never host a children's show.

screens-undisputed-wkjpg
Ving Rhames in Undisputed

I mention that only for the reason that Rhames (who plays James "Iceman" Chambers in the film) looks, as he repeatedly tells us thoughout the film, like "a mean motherfucker." Who knew?

And now for the main event: Undisputed is a boxing film that aspires to be much more, but fails to make weight in even that genre. In one corner we have Monroe Hutchen (Snipes), a formerly-ranked heavyweight boxer turned unbeatable king of the prison ring after a murder lands him life in the pokey. In the other we find the Iceman, a braggart and bully and undisputed heavyweight champion who is brought down by a rape charge (take the ego of Ali and the thuggery of Tyson; mix liberally). The venue: a maximum-security prison in the Mojave Desert.

Dispensing with the fact that such institutions do not normally offer extended prisoner interaction (not to mention a state-of-the-art boxing cage complete with stage lights and ringside announcers), the film launches us into the world of Sweetwater, an Oz-like society where it seems only the biannual boxing matches seem to matter. Among the inmates we find: Mendy Epstein, an aging Jewish mobster and boxing historian (milked by Peter Falk with cock-eyed glee); a gentle member of the Mexican mafia, played by Jon Seda (who in an unexplainable twist of underworld fraternité is paid by the Italian mob to be Epstein's caretaker); Saladin, leader of the El-Fazin Assassins (a gang of black Muslims who confirmed my suspicion that only assholes wear sunglasses at night); and Mingo Sixkiller, an American Indian who steal white man Mercedes and go jail.

The lack of plot and character is supposedly overcome by a series of tailor-written raps, flashbacks, and cheap narrative tricks lifted straight from a Guy Ritchie flick. Tension is feigned until the film culminates in a fight we ultimately care little about, proving once again that everyone loses when all the good guys are bad. Tucker Teutsch

XXX
"Not as racy as the title, but action-packed."
Dir. Rob Cohen; writ. Rich Wilkes; feat. Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas (PG-13)
Just who the hell is Vin Diesel? Other than fabulous beefcake for those with a hard-body fetish (and yes, he has that) he seems to be a mumbling, mush-mouthed cylinder head. His tattoos look great, but neither he, nor the venerable Samuel L. Jackson, usually right on target, can pass a Stanslavski test in this 21st-century James Bond pretender.

That said, I liked it. It's a take-no-prisoners action yarn, with a plot that offers just enough turns to keep the viewer on his toes, and employs all the classic 007 story characteristics, including the solo agent undercover and the wizard with a bag of technological tricks. This time around the car is a GTO instead of Bond's more usual Mercedes or Jaguar, but this is, after all, an American hero. The stunts are great, and oddly more believable than in your usual spy thriller, in part because the story tells us that our anti-hero is an internationally recognized extreme sports enthusiast. He's also a counter-culture type; his best line in the film is "Next time you send someone to save the world, you'd better make sure he likes it the way it is." Yet by the close of the film our hero is thoroughly corrupted by the status quo he resisted in the beginning. Are we supposed to believe that the world he rescued is now hunky dory? Great action, questionable political message. But then, it's only a movie. Retha Oliver

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