Saturday, June 19, 2004


In Hollywood, it’s not the lunatics running the asylum, but the janitors.

In other words, the mechanics of putting together and marketing movies -- editing and the “notes” given by studio execs to keep a story racing along, no matter what -- seem to be overwhelming the artistry of storytelling, if the use of the word “artistry” isn’t a little much for an industry best known for such things as Julia Roberts as a hooker, Freddie Prinze Jr. as anything and Sylvester Stallone’s entire output from 1984 to 1992.

Still, watching “Eight Legged Freaks” and “Hollywood Homicide” on DVD and “The Stepford Wives” in the theater in quick succession has made it clear that consistency, clarity and exposition are endangered in A-list Hollywood stuff, just as they always have been in the B-list, Ed Wood school of filmmaking. Count on the audience to fill in the gaps, or at least not to notice that there are gaps, and maybe -- if in a generous mood -- put the missing stuff in the “deleted scenes” when the DVD comes out.

That’s where you’ll find the pesky details in “Eight Legged Freaks,” the scary spider movie in which David Arquette meets the young son of the woman he loves but doesn’t know who he is -- and then somehow does. See the deleted scenes for how. And for plenty of other boring fill-in-the-details stuff that clearly got in the way of the movie’s frantic, slightly slap-happy pace. It’s not so much a DVD as it is an ADHD.

Don’t bother looking for any answers on the “Hollywood Homicide” DVD, though, as there are no deleted scenes. So the conspiracy haunting the hero police detectives throughout the movie, the connection between bad guys Lt. Bennie Macko and Leroy Wasley, who are in essentially different story lines, is never explained. The hero detective played by Harrison Ford is plagued by an internal affairs investigation, and there is clearly cause for the investigation, but the resolution to that question is forgotten in the rush to wrap up the story. Which is odd, since the 116-minute movie sure as hell wasn’t in a rush for its first 110 or so minutes.

As to “Stepford Wives,” what are the wives, other than peroxide? They’re referred to as robots, but when the bad guy explains how a Stepford wife is created, it involves implanting microchips into a woman’s brain. At one point Nicole Kidman looks down at a bald, eyeless body that, it’s implied, will replace her, but since she’s not replaced -- oops, just gave it away -- what is it she’s looking at? Especially since all the women become de-Stepford-ized -- oops, gave it away -- at the end of the movie and revert to their old selves? Apparently, the moment is worth the confusion, or the audience is intended to be so dazzled by the mastery of the filmmakers, which is generally not a safe bet to make on a Frank Oz film, that this won’t be noticed. The filmmakers almost get their wish, in that their work induces enough cringing that this one question, important though it may seem, never seems worth getting angry (or even confused) about.

Surely no one’s crying out “Author! Author!” for these films. It makes more sense to cry out “Editor! Editor!” and much, much more sense just to cry out.

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