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"i am sam"

Directed by Jessie Nelson.
Written by Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson. 
Starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dakota Fanning.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  2/6/02 


Offerings like "The Mothman Prophecies", "A Walk to Remember" and "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" have made the incentive to head over to the multiplex less than appealing.  But, I remembered that I wanted to see "i am sam" because I wanted to see if all the hype behind Sean Penn's performance as working-class retard Sam Dawson was worth $9.

"i am sam" is a Hollywood movie about retards, which is very difficult for me as a subject mostly because actors don't play retarded citizens very well.  I end up laughing more often than not, because the performances fall into over-the-top cheesy.  But, Sean Penn delivers the goods in this film with a combination of incredible acting and a well-written, well-layered story.  The story is deep--what might happen if a man whose max mental capacity is that of a seven-year-old child tries to raise a daughter that is seven years old?  Might she outsmart him?  Might she be better served with more intelligent parents?

As Sam--employed by Starbucks as a busboy during the day--Penn is simply incredible.  Then again, I struggle to think of films where he was anything less than incredible, so this is not too much of a surprise.  What is great about "i am sam" is the attention to details and especially the film's great supporting cast.  In fact, the X factor in this film--rookie Dakota Fanning, as Sam's daughter Lucy--might be the best thing going for it.  Fanning is so cute that some people sitting near me started crying every time she was onscreen, which got annoying but hey, the girl is damned cute.  It helps that Fanning can act too, which is more than just smiling her cute smile every time the director yells action.  Plus, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Dianne Wiest, and Richard Schiff ("The West Wing") are great in their roles and for the most part, make their characters real people, not just parts in a film.  This is especially true for Schiff, who turns a hack TV prosecutor job into a guy that has seen enough of the system and has got more to do than disagree with "the good guys."

[Editor's Note: My roommate Laura just popped her head into The Inner Sanctum--my room--to say good night, but instead, she said "Love you long time."  Slowly, my ways are taking effect...]

The film does drag on in the final act, but not so badly that it ruins the film.  And, the court case itself seems to just be generated at random, rather than researched or played out with any sense of logic.  Random facts come out that are so farfetched, it seems like they were shooting those scenes without a script.  But overall, this is a great film and is both dramatic enough and humorous enough for pretty much the whole family.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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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