THE BANGER SISTERS Not to be outdone by daughter Kate Hudson's Oscar-nominated turn in Almost Famous, Goldie Hawn herself turns up as a groupie in The Banger Sisters, an affable and even occasionally poignant picture that unfortunately falls apart toward the end. Hawn plays Suzette, a rock & roll babe who was legendary in her day for bedding scores of rock stars (including Jim Morrison); her partner in crime was Lavinia (Susan Sarandon), and together they were known as The Banger Sisters (so named by Frank Zappa). Now having just been fired from her long-standing job as a bartender at an LA nightclub, Suzette hits the road to look up Lavinia after a 20-year separation, but what she finds is a respectable, matronly woman who has suppressed all memories of her wild, wayward youth. Sarandon and especially Hawn are aptly cast in their respective roles, yet the picture is stolen by Geoffrey Rush as a failed writer whose tidy existence is disrupted by Suzette's whirlwind personality -- this character would seem completely extraneous were it not for Rush's quirky performance. Yet while the film threatens to develop from a breezy comedy into a thoughtful drama about the choices that people must make as they become older and are expected to embrace more responsibilities, the transition never works because the second half is rushed and disjointed, with character transformations occurring at an absurdly accelerated rate and plot resolutions being handled in an annoyingly tidy fashion. 1/2
BARBERSHOP Despite the presence of rapper-actor Ice Cube and the occasional booty shot, it's the PG-13 rating and the tag line "From the Producers of Soul Food and Men of Honor" that should tip viewers off that this ensemble comedy has more in common with Sunday school values than Friday film vileness. Forsaking the raunchiness of that Ice Cube hit (as well as its sequel, Next Friday), this one is mostly a sweet-natured and sweet-tempered affair, with the Cube cast as a decent bloke who, like Jimmy Stewart with the Bedford Falls Savings and Loan in It's a Wonderful Life, has inherited a business from his kindly father that has become like an albatross around his ambitious neck. He agrees to sell the shop to a loan shark (Keith David) who plans to turn it into a strip joint, but immediately regrets his decision once he realizes how his establishment serves as a bedrock for the local black community. Ensemble comedies rise and fall not only on the strength of the humor but also on the appeal of the various characters, and in both instances, Barbershop only manages to part down the middle, with some choice wisecracks (most courtesy of Cedric the Entertainer as an opinionated, elderly barber) and amiable personalities having to wrestle screen time away from an inane subplot involving the theft of an ATM machine. It's nice to see Ice Cube in such a relaxed mode, though, and film buffs will want to note that actor Troy Garity (as the shop's sole white barber) is the son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. 1/2
CITY BY THE SEA With apologies to James Brown, Robert De Niro just might be the hardest working man in show business, but that counts for naught since he's also turning into the dullest working man in show business. Just as the networks over the years have produced their Movie-of-the-Week, De Niro seems to have settled into churning out his own Movie-of-the-Season, sandwiching this fall release between the spring comedy Showtime and the Christmas flick Analyze That. But lately, this once-unpredictable actor has seemed capable of only two speeds, self-parodying clown and street-smart loner, and it's the latter persona that turns up in this tedious cop flick inspired by a true story. De Niro plays Vincent LaMarca, a veteran detective working the Manhattan beat and doing his best to remain emotionally distant from everyone, including his inquisitive girlfriend (Frances McDormand). LaMarca abandoned his home turf of Long Beach, Long Island, years ago, leaving behind a fed-up ex-wife (Patti LuPone) and a neglected son (James Franco), yet he finds himself drawn back to his old stomping ground once it appears that his junkie son might be involved in a murder. An interesting premise gets completely wasted in a sluggish drama that grows less interesting as it unfolds.
CURRENT RELEASESTHE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH This Eddie Murphy comedy has been sitting on a studio shelf since circa the time the wheel was first invented; it cost $100 million to make; it wasn't screened in advance for critics; and it grossed a paltry $2 million on its opening weekend. A review at this point might seem rather anti-climactic, but in the mere chance that there's somebody out there still intrigued at the prospect of seeing the diverse likes of John Cleese, Pam Grier and Burt Young all gracing the same film, I'm here to say it ain't worth the time, cost or deterioration of brain cells. The sad thing about this abysmal effort, set on the moon in the year 2087, isn't that it's terrible; it's that it's terrible without even being enjoyable in a bad-movie sorta way. Even the gang from the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have trouble finding much to riff off in this turkey, which is unremittingly dull more than anything else. Murphy plays the title character, an entrepreneur whose wildly successful moon-based nightclub becomes the focus for a shady gangster interested in muscling his way into the business. After his club gets destroyed, Nash takes it on the lam, dragging an aspiring singer (Rosario Dawson) and a horny robot (Randy Quaid, annoying but trying hard, bless his heart) along with him. Imagine if the Total Recall sets had been placed in a fire sale, and you'll get an idea of the film's drab visual scheme. As for the comedy quotient, I counted exactly two laughs, which breaks down to $50 million per chuckle -- definitely not a sound return on investment.