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'Unbreakable' doesn't quite make 'Sense'

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 28, 2001


NEW RELEASES

Unbreakable

photo
[Touchstone Pictures]
Bruce Willis, left, and Samuel L. Jackson star in Unbreakable, a poorly contrived story of personified comic book heroes not worthy of being a sibling of The Sixth Sense.

(PG-13) The sole survivor of a train wreck (Bruce Willis) wants to know why he emerged without a scratch. A mysterious art collector (Samuel L. Jackson) thinks he knows the answer: Comic book superheroes are always indestructible. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan drenches everything in moody blues and quiet dread, but this is still a dumb idea, although carried out with class.

First impressions: "Fewer (viewers) will be captivated by Shyamalan's Unbreakable than his 1999 smash, The Sixth Sense, for one reason: More people believe in ghosts than in comic books. . . . Nobody expects or wants an obviously talented filmmaker to make the same movie twice. But Unbreakable seems like the kind of script that gathers dust until a filmmaker creates a hit. He gets a pet project made and the studio has a presold commodity for fans of The Sixth Sense, who don't realize until it's too late that lightning hasn't struck twice. . . .

"The lack of faith Shyamalan has in his own story is evident. . . . An introductory list of factoids about the popularity of comic books feels like an alibi for what won't be important for nearly an hour. The fade-out offers one of those annoying, bogus updates about fictional characters, telling us who ended up happy or sad. It wouldn't be necessary, if anything made us believe these folks were credible to start with."

Second thoughts: I see disappointed people.

Rental audience: Willis and Jackson fans; comic book enthusiasts. That's enough to guarantee a video hit.

Rent it if you enjoy: The Sixth Sense making less sense.

You Can Count on Me

(R) A single mother and orphan named Sammy (Laura Linney) has enough trouble fumbling lovers, including her boss (Matthew Broderick). Then, Sammy's wayward brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) visits, disrupting things even more. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan doesn't follow standard family melodrama formula as Sammy's life takes unexpected turns.

First impressions: "(Characters) have been freed from the formulas of fiction and set loose to live lives where they screw up, learn from their mistakes and bumble into the future. (Lonergan) shows possibilities without immediately sealing them with decisions. Linney and Ruffalo are open actors, who give the impression of spontaneous notions; they are not programmed. . . .

"Beyond and beneath, that is the rich human story of You Can Count on Me. I love the way Lonergan shows his characters in flow, pressed this way and that by emotional tides and practical considerations. This is not a movie about people solving things. This is a movie about people living day to day with their plans, fears and desires. It's rare to get a good movie about the touchy adult relationship of a sister and brother. Rarer still for the director to be more fascinated by the process than the outcome." (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

Second thoughts: This movie sneaked into the Tampa Bay area without fanfare, then earned Oscar nominations for Linney and Lonergan's screenplay.

Rental audience: Alternative film buffs; sibling rivals.

Rent it if you enjoy: Terms of Endearment, One True Thing.

REWIND: Videos worth another look

Great films from the King of Broadway

Mel Brooks has gone legit, at least on Broadway. This incorrigible comedian is burning the toast of the town with The Producers, based on his 1968 movie. The production recently set records for most Tony award wins (12) and immodest acceptance speeches by Brooks (3).

Brooks' birthday is today. No, he isn't 2,000 years old yet, in spite of the character he created opposite Carl Reiner in classic recordings. He's 75 and still gleefully offensive: old enough to know better and mischievous enough to not care.

That brazen streak was honed on screen, beginning with voicing the Oscar-winning 1963 animated short The Critic. Since then, he's made audiences cringe and laugh at everything from Adolf Hitler to racial slurs, with a few tidy Hollywood tributes along the way. Celebrate Brooks' birthday with these video choices:

The Producers -- Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are Bialystock & Bloom, conning old ladies into investing in a surefire Broadway flop. Who knew Springtime for Hitler would be a smash 33 years later? Brooks won his only Oscar for the screenplay.

The Twelve Chairs -- Overlooked comic gem about vagabonds in czarist Russia searching for jewels in dinner chairs. Ron Moody, Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise are hilarious. So is Brooks in a brief role as a drunken servant.

Blazing Saddles -- Mention any line of dialogue from this Western spoof and someone's ears will perk up in recognition. Cleavon Little plays the new black sheriff of Rock Ridge, a bigoted community threatened by Hedy Lamarr (Harvey Korman). No, wait. That's Hedley.

Young Frankenstein -- Gene Wilder builds the perfect beast. Especially if you're Madeline Kahn.

High Anxiety -- A frivolous valentine to all things Hitchcock. Brooks takes the Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart role of a man who knows too much and not enough about a murder plot.

History of the World, Part 1 -- Things they don't teach in Western Civilization classes. The Roman Empire, French Revolution and Spanish Inquisition according to Brooks.

Spaceballs -- Timing is everything for comedians, and this is where Brooks started losing it. The Star Wars phenomenon passed long before Brooks took his swipe. His film works since have been repetitive (Dracula and Robin Hood comedies) or inconsequential (Life Stinks).

The Elephant Man -- Don't laugh. Brooks was co-producer of this fact-based drama starring John Hurt as disfigured John Merrick. Don't look for Brooks' name in the credits, though: he thought it might make audiences think this is a comedy.

DVD: New and noteworthy for digital players

An irreverent view worth seeing again

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[Photo: Darren Michaels]
Although it was lambasted as blasphemy, Kevin Smith’s Dogma shows the filmmaker’s respect for the cause of religion. The film, starring Chris Rock, left, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes and Linda Fiorentino, is now released on a Special Edition DVD.

Dogma (special edition)

Kevin Smith's 1999 satire of Catholic lore was considered blasphemy in some corners before it even opened. If those eagerly offended folks took time to see Dogma, they might realize that Smith isn't the Antichrist, but pro-faith when it's offered for truly sacred reasons.

In Smith's vision, an abortionist (Linda Fiorentino) can immaculately conceive God's son, fallen angels (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck) might prove the creator fallible, and there's really a 13th apostle (Chris Rock). The new, user-friendly Catholic church has George Carlin for a crafty archbishop and Alanis Morissette as a deity.

Dogma sounds more inflammatory than it plays. But Smith's respect for the religious cause, not its greedy effects, is obvious to anyone paying attention. The new special edition DVD of Dogma covers Smith's viewpoint six ways to Sunday.

No fewer than three alternate audio commentaries are provided: Smith with co-stars Affleck and Jason Lee, Smith with producer Scott Mosier and a film historian, and Mosier with co-producer Vincent Pereira. If that's not enough to convert the offended, the documentary Judge Not: In Defense of Dogma is offered.

Nearly two hours of additional footage is a la carte, including 100 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes from the set. Storyboards for three scenes, plus cast and crew biographies, are commonplace extras.

Smith still has a prankster streak, though. There's an option titled Follow the Buddy Christ -- one of the film's best sight gags -- allowing users to track a path of hijinks with Smith, Affleck, Lee and other actors. Smith's recurring character Silent Bob and Jay (Jason Mewes) even have a Secret Stash Spot, a DVD easter egg waiting to be cracked open.

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