by Walter Chaw
starring Lauren Ambrose, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Joelle Carter, Josh Pais
screenplay by Lisa Bazadona, Robert J. Siegel, Grace Woodard
directed by Robert J. Siegel
An insightfully-written, delicately-performed coming-of-age piece that is good enough not to be cheapened by that genre appellation, Robert Siegel's Swimming captures one summer at tourist-filthy Myrtle Beach. (A film professor, Siegel directs his first feature here in some 20 years.) Frankie (Lauren Ambrose) works at her family's restaurant, right on the main drag next to childhood pal Nicola's (Jennifer Dundas) piercing parlour. Frankie's plain and pale, Nicola's brash and blonde; their banal day-to-day is interrupted by the introduction of floozy bombshell Josee (Joelle Carter), who begins as the standard catalytic plot device but ends as something complicated and possessed of unusual depth. The same could be said of the rest of the cast, from Dundas's volatility to Ambrose's amazingly transparent and tricky performance. Even-handedly negotiating the tricky shoals of hormone-addled actions and emotions, Swimming excels in presenting the sort of small-town yearning I most associate with Steve Earle's early production, the cruelty of teens on the make smartly presented with the same kind of nostalgic affection as the moment when a plain girl recognizes the strength of her decency and the inimitable quality of her difference. Observations of the ebbs and flows of adolescent angst are interesting in Swimming, though not interesting enough to make this charming adolescent melodrama resonate with the melancholia of Bogdanovich's similarly themed The Last Picture Show, and the picture runs out of steam with a goofy subplot involving a sweet-natured ganja-burner played by Jamie Harrold.
WHO IS CLETIS TOUT? (2002)
starring Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia de Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss
written and directed by Chris Verwiel
A resoundingly bad entry into the post-modern noir sweepstakes, Chris Ver Wiel's Who is Cletis Tout? opens with a Blake Edwards-ian title sequence, proceeds into a Tarantino-esque riff on Deliverance, and then devolves into the worst kind of self-satisfied hullabaloo with remarkable speed and dedication. Tim Allen (bad sign #1) plays a movie-quote-spewing hitman--the sort of thing I used to think was neat in "Remington Steele" is that no longer, transplanted as it is here from a suave Irish detective to robotic, gone-to-seed Allen. Christian Slater (bad sign #2) plays Finch, who, after escaping from prison with bad sign #3 (Richard Dreyfuss), takes on the identity of the mysterious Tout, meets and falls in love with Dreyfuss's daughter (Portia de Rossi), and gets embroiled in a stupid plot to recover a box of diamonds buried in a prison yard. Told almost entirely in flashback, the framing story has Allen's hitman and Slater's Finch in a hotel room, with Allen prompting Slater to tell a "good story" according to the rules of the classic cinema he loves. What to make of a film that moans about "they" not making "them" like they used to that proceeds to be one of the shoddiest examples of the recent glut of self-referential films to come squeezing down the pipe? The pivotal scene of this sodden mess comes when the daughter makes a faux attempt on the life of Finch, making her getaway on a bicycle. Ms. de Rossi is many things, but a gifted athlete is not one of them, and her inability to handle a two-wheeler stands in as a peculiarly pithy commentary on the rest of the film: unwieldy, incomprehensibly inept, embarrassing, and ultimately utterly pointless.
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