What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
Yes, it is a really radically weird concept that somewhere in a surreal (or ultra-real) office building, a portal exists that places a person inside the head, the very being, of someone else, and spits them out later near the New Jersey Turnpike. Pretty darned wacky, you bet!
And for people who are basically impressed by anything somewhat off the beaten movie path: say something besides an action adventure, a romance, a girl picture, or a slapstick comedy, this film is going to be a pretty pleasing glimpse into a different way of thinking and imagining the world.
Those lucky humans that can sometimes turn off their analytical minds and simply enjoy a movie for its laugh lines and special effects without dissecting plot holes and character development (I include myself in this group), will enjoy some very strange sets, effects, and meta-jokes.
However, enough of these people came out of the movie theaters raving about what a great time they had seeing the film, that it removed my ability to suspend my critical faculties by the time it came out on video. Their enthusiasm snowballed into a hype that made this video watcher, yours truly, expect great things.
If it weren't for the Filthy Critic's penetrating eye and cut-through-the-flash review, I'd have been even more let down by this Woody-Allen rip-off. Yes, there. I said it. Was there ever a more Woody-Allen-sounding punch line than "And then it spits them out next to The New Jersey Turnpike"?
Apart from the bizarre story and special effects, what else does this movie have to offer? Not a lot. None of the characters are sympathetic. We might feel sorry for Malkovich himself, having to give up his body and all, but we're not given then chance. His soul is the invisible butt of everyone else's cruel joke.
At first, we feel sorry for John Cusack, playing Schwartz (Gee, do you think Woody Allen would have also used a Jewish name for his bumbling anti-hero?) the puppeteer. The first half-hour makes him out to be a pathetic loser. But he quickly loses sympathy by trying to cheat on his wife and failing. Now, not only is he a creep, but he's also bad at it.
His wife is such a pitiful creature, that she doesn't draw much sympathy. Even knowing that it's Cameron Diaz behind that frumpy, frizzled look doesn't help. Now this is something filmmakers usually don't do: strip a sex symbol of all sexual appeal. How avant garde! My preference for seeing Diaz play a sexy role rather than an empty, plain-Jane role may reflect on my part a lack of vision. I admit that director Spike Jonze is much hipper than I am.
The other corner of the collapsing love-square is Catherine Keener. playing the usurious, manipulative hottie that Cusack falls for. She's a sleaze throughout the picture but pulls an unprecedented and unbelievable 180 in the last 15 minutes of the movie.
A few funny things happen. Some clever variations on a theme occur. What happens when two people enter Malkovich at the same time? What happens when Malkovich enters Malkovich? We get to go through all the possible permutations, each one bringing a new (and quickly fading) spark of novelty.
The film finally ends after bunches of cameos, animal tricks, silly jokes, and one of the most useless explanations I've ever heard. (Why bother to explain weird phenomena? Woody wouldn't have.) It ends on a note of pity for Cusack, I think. But it's hard to tell. It's clear he has a tortured soul, and it's clear he deserves it. But watching a creep get his creepy comeuppance is not particularly pleasant.
Spike Jonze gets 9 and a quarter stars for using John Malkovich, who
carries his convoluted role with skill. And for the seven and a halfth floor
effect. And for the choreography. All the rest was background noise for
some spackling I had to do.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.