DON'T SAY A WORD Gary Fleder directed the 1997 Morgan Freeman thriller Kiss the Girls, but for whatever reason, he wasn't involved with last spring's follow-up Along Came a Spider, about the search for a kidnapped girl. Perhaps suffering from franchise envy, Fleder opted to put his name on Don't Say a Word, which, oddly enough, also involves the kidnapping of a little girl. In short, Fleder was screwed from either direction with this particular plotline, making one wonder if he should have tried for a generic Disney comedy instead. Word doesn't have quite as many plotholes as Spider, but it also doesn't have Freeman's stabilizing presence; instead, its marquee draw is Michael Douglas, who seems utterly bored with this particular project. He plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a New York psychiatrist whose daughter is snatched by crooks whose defining trait is that they don't have a single defining trait between them. The good doctor learns that the only way he'll get his daughter back is by extracting valuable information from the mind of one of his patients (Brittany Murphy), a catatonic woman with a murky past. Murphy's disturbed character is the most interesting one in the film, and this might have worked had it bothered to treat her as more than just an occasional plot device. As it stands, this boils down to routine police procedurals (stretch), cars speeding through city streets (yawn), and Douglas trading climactic blows with the baddies (zzzzzz).
GLITTER Or, A Star Is Stillborn. If there's one positive thing to say about Glitter (and believe me, there really is only one), it's that, unlike their overreacting peers, its makers elected to keep the fleeting shots of the World Trade Center in the picture. The current rush to erase the buildings' presence in all modes of entertainment is just plain wrong (besides chalking one up for the terrorists, it dishonors the memory of not only the victims but also of the architectural wonders themselves). Glitter made me glad to see there were some folks who didn't go along with this questionable edict (my belief that people want to see the twin towers was validated by New York Times critic Lawrence Van Gelder, who, in his Glitter review, wrote that "the only sight that aroused the [audience] to applause was the World Trade Center"). But aside from offering shots of the WTC, there's absolutely nothing of interest in a vanity piece so self-absorbed, it makes Prince's Purple Rain look like a model of modesty and restraint. Mariah Carey, displaying all the acting ability of a chia pet, stars as Billie Frank, who goes from being a struggling back-up singer to landing a major label contract, putting out a hit album, recording music videos and attending awards shows -- all within a span of about six months! Drained of all vitality and refusing to embrace a single original notion, Glitter does offer several unintentionally funny moments -- enough, anyway, to make it a future camp classic.
GREENFINGERS By all appearances, Greenfingers appears to be veddy, veddy British, coming from the same well that sprung forth The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and other quirky, uplifting comedy-dramas from the other side of the pond. Go figure, then: The movie's writer-director, Joel Hershman, hails from Brooklyn and LA, and he based his picture on a New York Times article. All this really proves, however, is that this undemanding sub-genre has been ironed out to the point that anyone can join the party. Like most recent films of this sort, this one's the equivalent of a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park: pleasant, cheery, and forgotten by the following Sunday. Clive Owen, whose terrific performance in last year's Croupier should have won him an award or two, has such an incredible screen presence, it's a wonder he isn't already a star (many scribes, myself included, have noted that he should be the one playing James Bond). He brings that smoldering intensity to this otherwise featherweight feature about a group of prisoners who find a form of freedom through their newly gained interest in gardening. While serving time, the five men (including Owen's character) are encouraged to cultivate the compound's first garden, and it's not long before their achievement comes to the attention of noted horticulturist Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren). In true Hollywood style, the convicts are about as threatening as the Backstreet Boys, but the movie's charms nearly outweigh its narrative complacency. 1/2
ZOOLANDER After scoring big as part of the comic ensembles of There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents, it seemed like a natural progression for Ben Stiller's first solo starring role to thrust him into the stratosphere. Instead, Zoolander, which finds Stiller serving as actor, director, co-writer and co-producer, turns out to be the most ragged comedy of the bunch, a frequently timid spoof that's surprisingly arid in between the handful of genuinely splendid gags. Based on a skit created for the 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, this casts Stiller as Derek Zoolander, an imbecilic male model who becomes involved in a conspiracy plot that explains why there are no male models under the age of 30 (Logan's Runway?). Zoolander himself becomes the biggest patsy in this nefarious scheme, and it's up a fellow model (Owen Wilson) and a Time reporter (Christine Taylor, Stiller's wife) to help him bring down the villains. Throw your popcorn bag at the screen and chances are you'll hit a major star making a cameo appearance -- David Bowie, Winona Ryder, Jon Voight, Fabio, the list goes on -- but all the glad-handing between celebrities can't disguise the fact that there's not enough here to sustain an entire movie (even one that clocks in at 90 minutes). Still, there are some terrific bits scattered around (the gasoline scene is a riot), and Stiller and Wilson are perfectly cast as supermodels so idiotic, they think a bulimic is someone with the ability to read minds. 1/2