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"Being John Malkovich"

Directed by Spike Jonze.
Written by Charlie Kaufman.
Starring John Cusack, Catherine Keener and Cameron Diaz.
Release Year:  1999 
Review Date:  1/20/00


This week, I hit the big 2-5.  25 years of age is, to some degree, a sign of maturity.  As such, I regret not seeing “Being John Malkovich” until Tuesday night; like my high school years where everyone had a car except for me, everyone I know seems to have seen this movie except for moi.  And, it takes a strong mature man to admit that I made a mistake by not seeing it until now; hell, the National Society of Film Critics named “BJM” best film of 1999.

So, Kristine “Hot Corner” Hankinson, so named for having a better arm than most guys on the UVA alumni softball team while manning third base last summer, covered me for my birthday movie over at stadium-seated Regal Cinemas in Ballston.  I tell you, when movies are $8 (and you see them every 3-4 days like I do), you don't turn free away!

Since almost all of you know what this movie is about if you haven't already seen it, I'll skip right to the nitty-gritty:  this was not, by any long stretch of the imagination, the best movie of 1999.  No, no, no.  Obviously, the biggest draw about this movie is its acknowledged originality and its witty screenplay—that in some office building in New York City, there's a portal to another person's mind.  I admit first off that the world created by “BJM”'s writers is quite different than your average, run-of-the-mill script.  Moreover, this movie has some flat-out hilarious lines, like Charlie Sheen's banter with Malkovich about Maxine (Catherine Keener):  “Hot lesbian witches!  How hot is that?” and Cameron Diaz stuck tied up in a cage:  “Honey, I haven't showered, eaten or brushed my teeth in four days!”  I was really laughing hysterically when the monkey in the cage with Diaz falls asleep and has that flashback of when his parents were tied up in the forest, and there are monkey subtitles running across the bottom of the screen:  “Hurry, Elijah!!”  Classic.

But, my three biggest problems with the movie, which bring this movie down to a Matinee (warning:  I'm about to give away certain parts of the plot, so if you haven't seen this movie and still want to, stop reading here):

1.  All three main characters

I admit that I really like John Cusack.  I still think his best movie is “Grosse Point Blank,” which I'm pretty sure no one saw in the theater but they really missed out.  Besides a couple of really funny scenes (when he gets punched out during his opening street performance), he is totally wasted and his part didn't click with me at all.  Diaz, who I applaud for playing so against type in this role, is so whiny and so ridiculous that even as a fantasy, her role didn't make sense.  By the time she is shooting at keener while running through the portal (and then, falling back in love with keener by the end of the film!), I started to question the movie.  And, Keener...well, beyond the fact that (and again, I understand it is fantasy) she just picks up the phone and five minutes later has an actor's home phone number, I thought she played the bitch part so well that when she didn't get her comeuppance at the end of the movie, I was more than a little disappointed.  Conversely, I thought Malkovich was better than in any other movie he has appeared in.  Every time he was on screen, I was silently giggling as I waited for him to do something.  Which leads to problem #2...

2.  Not enough Malkovich

Once we meet Malkovich 45 minutes into the movie, I wanted to see more of him.  I thought he was really funny, but then there would be another Cusack/Diaz scene.  Give me some scenes of Malkovich cussing out another big-name actor, or Malkovich going to a nightclub...after the 4th Keener/Malkovich sex scene, I decided that I was sure I knew what it would be like to have sex with the guy, so get over it and show me something different!  The subplot with Keener's Maxine looking through Malkovich's eyes to see Diaz's character was, I thought, the dumbest device of the script.

3.  The ending

Admit it:  even if you thought this was the best movie you've seen in years, the ending sucks.  Kristine and I both thought that the screenwriters didn't know what to do when they realized that they had a cool idea in being Malkovich for a while, but they had to end the movie.  So, having Malkovich become a master puppeteer, while funny, just seemed to be a convenient segway to end the film, but then they realized, wait, we've got to get Cusack out of his head!, and wait, let's have Diaz turn on Cusack, run away with Keener...and, raise Malkovich's baby!  Yeah, that'll work!  No.  Ridiculous, and I was really looking for something better.

But, I will admit: even with all of those things, the first hour of the movie is as good as anything made in the 90s.  I just thought it didn't know what to do with itself after establishing such a groundbreaking premise.  Oh, and one more snide comment for good measure:  I know that movies keep telling me this, so it must be the truth:  there really are no blacks and Latinos in New York City!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09