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On video: Ensemble cast is allure of 'Dr. T'

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


New releases

photo
[Photo: Artisan Entertainment]
Richard Gere and Shelley Long at the office in Dr. T and the Women, new on video this week.

Dr. T and the Women

(R) The notion of Richard Gere playing a gynecologist tickled fancies but not ticket sales when Robert Altman's offbeat comedy debuted in theaters last October. Dr. Sully Travis (Gere) has an eccentric high-society clientele and each of them adore Dr. T. New to his appointment book is Bre (Helen Hunt), who doesn't share everyone else's enthusiasm.

Altman, as always, paints colorful characters and odd scenarios. His ensemble cast, including Farrah Fawcett, Liv Tyler and Almost Famous ingenue Kate Hudson, is game for every gossipy turn of Anne Rapp's screenplay. Gere's somewhat arrogant appeal works well here.

First impressions: "Some observers might accuse Altman of being patronizing or condescending toward these women. But it would be just as easy to argue that the director, like the titular doctor, is in love with every variety of female: The camera and the script offer a loving regard for even the quirkiest characters. . . .

"Dr. T, as has been the case with the best of Altman ensemble pieces, by rights should run on its own fuel: Simply gather these actors together, encourage script improvisation and watch what happens. That works to some degree here. The characters . . . aren't as fully fleshed out as they ought to be, and Gere and Hunt demonstrate little screen chemistry." (Philip Booth, Times correspondent)

Second thoughts: Drop the nagging anticipation that Altman, 75, has one more great film left in him and this film becomes a pleasant diversion.

Rental audience: Gere-heads, Altman aficionados. Unless you're tired of seeing Hunt in every other movie.

Rent it if you enjoy: Altman's 3 Women, Cookie's Fortune, Kansas City and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

Whipped

(R) Three pseudo-cool fools -- actors' names aren't necessary, since they'll remain unknown -- spend their weekends chasing women and boasting about their sexual exploits. Each sets his sights on a gorgeous woman (Amanda Peet, The Whole Nine Yards) wise to their games. She seduces each guy, professing her love and waiting for the right time to burst their bubbles.

First impressions: "Whipped may set an all-time record for raw tonnage of sexual fear and loathing spewed per minute by a Hollywood movie. This bottom-feeding monstrosity of a comedy was produced, directed and written by Peter M. Cohen, whose screenplay conjures more leering euphemisms for male body parts and sexual acts than any film in recent memory. . . . There are moments when this dirty-mouthed revenge comedy becomes so mean-spirited that you almost gasp at its cruelty." (Stephen Holden, New York Times)

Second thoughts: Glad I didn't sit through this one. Destination Films knew it had a turkey on its hands and sneaked it into town without advance screening or much publicity.

Rental audience: People who will laugh at any joke dealing with genitalia, body fluids and sex.

Rent it if you enjoy: Clerks, Chasing Amy, the Farrelly brothers on a bad day.

Take me out to the drive-in

New and noteworthy for digital players . . .

Drive-In Discs, Vol. 1: The Screaming Skull and The Giant Leeches

Ever see an acrobatic hot dog? Do you remember when The Star-Spangled Banner played before anything else at drive-in theaters? Elite Entertainment does, turning campy nostalgia into a DVD novelty for anyone who ever hung a movie speaker on their car window.

Volume 1 of Drive-In Discs introduces an idea that, with a bit of tinkering and solid sales, could be the start of a fun DVD series. The concept presents an old-fashioned night at the drive-in complete with a double feature of schlock-horror flicks, an assortment of vintage intermission shorts, even a cartoon.

Visit the menu board, animated to look like a dilapidated drive-in box office. One option button produces a continuous 21/2-hour program starting with the national anthem, proceeding through previews, the cartoon Betty Boop in Wonderland and amusing public service announcements. Then a movie, followed by a few more intermission oddities, then the second flick.

To be honest, you'll probably decide to skip past the movies. The Screaming Skull and The Giant Leeches are standard sci-fi junk from the drive-in era. Just excuses to make out, that's all.

More preferable are menu board options allowing viewers to pick and choose their flashbacks to drive-in nights. Elite Entertainment did a good job unearthing some classic time-fillers for intermissions, including concession items singing Let's All Go to the Lobby, a recent selection for National Film Registry preservation.

You also get a 10-minute countdown clock with various animated snack foods performing stunts, including that back-flipping wiener. An advertisement for Pic mosquito repellent (good old DDT) is a treat, but the capper is a stuffy professor type warning youngsters in the audience to remain quiet during the show.

The disc also includes an alternate Distorto audio track, adding ambient drive-in sounds such as honking horns, speaker static and gravel crunching under tires. Nice idea, but it gets old and the small talk overheard is worthless. Hire some writers, do a little Mystery Science Theater 3000 routine with better movies and Distorto might be fun.

The Internet is the most reliable place to locate Drive-In Discs, Vol. 1, list-priced at $29.95. Amazon.com offers a 15 percent discount before shipping costs. Another option is the Cinema Laser http://www.thecinemalaser.com/elite-catalog.htm)

Or ask your local video store to place an order.

Much to celebrate in Lemmon's 76 years

Videos worth another look: Jack Lemmon was born 76 years ago today in a Boston elevator when his mother went into early labor. Judging from his career, the lift must have been heading upward.

Lemmon is a consummate actor, at home with the lightest comedies or darkest dramas. He's a master at playing victims of fate and their own mistakes, and his habit of stammering through his lines conveys slapstick or sorrow with marvelous economy. Jack Lemmon is, quite simply, one of the finest American actors ever.

Need proof? Coincidentally, Lemmon now has 76 theatrical films on his storied resume and numerous television appearances to make his case. We'll skip the ones co-starring Walter Matthau that everyone knows and loves, and some like Glengarry Glen Ross that were recently recommended in this column. Try any of these lesser-seen twists of Lemmon:

Missing -- Forget the recent political kidnapping thriller Proof of Life. Lemmon and Sissy Spacek will tear out your heart as a father and daughter-in-law searching for her husband in a Latin American revolution. One of eight Academy Award nominations to Lemmon's credit.

Tribute -- Another Oscar chance, this time playing a pushy talent agent dying of cancer, trying to reunite with his estranged son (Robby Benson).

The Entertainer -- Vaudeville has-been Archie Rice is one of the stage's great roles and Lemmon proved the equal of his predecessors (including Laurence Olivier) in this TV adaptation.

Save the Tiger -- Lemmon won 1973's best actor Oscar for this searing portrait of a desperate garment designer plotting to torch his factory to escape debt. Nasty World War II flashbacks and a precocious hippie hitchhiker get in the way.

The Out-of-Towners -- New York was much more dangerous when Lemmon and Sandy Dennis played naive Midwesterners visitors. Everything goes wrong from transit and garbage strikes to a hilarious mugging. One of Neil Simon's few screenplays written directly for the screen.

Days of Wine and Roses -- Seeing this movie in my youth taught me how powerful the art of performance can be. Lemmon and Lee Remick hit the bottle, each other and the skids in Blake Edwards' film, still one of the best on the subject of alcoholism.

Irma la Douce -- Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were sharp foils in Billy Wilder's French farce. He plays a lovestruck cop paying for a prostitute's time to keep her away from other men.

The Apartment -- Another Wilder presentation, more support from MacLaine, this time more serious. Lemmon plays a businessman rising to power by loaning his apartment to bosses for adulterous trysts. Fred MacMurray is fine in a rare role as a jerk.

Mister Roberts -- Lemmon became an instant movie star with his turn as Ensign Pulver, an amiable hustler on probably the least vital ship in World War II. Lemmon won an Oscar for best supporting actor. This and Save the Tiger made him the first person to win Academy Awards in both leading and supporting roles.

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