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Post Coitum opens with a feline wail, and at first its instincts seem almost entirely animalistic: A shot of a cat rolling and screeching yields to a woman in bed doing the same, then to the same woman storming into a man’s bedroom to awaken him, and finally to an older woman, who punctuates Sunday dinner by stabbing her husband in the neck. In the film’s first few minutes, frustration, despair, and anger have become murder.
Despite the blood flowing from the husband’s neck, writer-director-actress Brigitte Roüan’s second film (after her period French-Algerian romance Overseas) is not a thriller. Nor is it a mere wallow in (apparently semi-autobiographical) feelings of abandonment. Technically, it’s a comedy, and one of its great pleasures comes from gradually discovering how smoothly its jagged pieces fit together.
Diane Clovier (Roüan) is a Paris book editor, self-confident enough to stampede into that bedroom to rebuke one of her authors, François (Nils Tavernier), for his lack of productivity. That technique doesn’t do much for François, who’s having the customary trouble writing a second novel with the passion and immediacy of his first. In the process, though, Diane meets François’ roommate Emilio (Boris Terral), a well-sculpted Italian primitive who takes her to dinnerhe eats with his fingersand then follows her into the ladies room for an enveloping embrace. Later, at a garden rendezvous with Diane, Emilio seeks her by howling like a wolf.
Soon Diane is neglecting François, her two adolescent children, and her husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais) to spend more time with Emilio. She rushes to him, tearing her clothes off, as the murderer, Madame LePluche (Françoise Arnoul), is inspected naked by a policewoman. It turns out that the older woman also has overpowering passionsas is explained to Diane by the killer’s new defense attorney, Philippe. Philippe’s suspicion that Diane is having an affair gradually increases his empathy with his client.
Emilio is a hydraulic engineer who specializes in altruistic Third World projects, so it’s clear that he won’t be around for long. Still, Diane is willing to sacrifice everything she hashusband, family, jobto be with him; when her lover does eventually vanish, Diane is in no condition to return to her former life. In a metaphor that would be too overt if Roüan didn’t wisely render it comic, the Emilio-struck Diane has a tendency to set things on fire. In the end, an unexpected savior takes Diane to a casually foreshadowed location for a resolution that would be too tidy if Post Coitum were a wrenching drama.
It isn’t meant to be, though, despite the intensity of Roüan’s performance. The film’s full French title, Post Coitum, Animal Triste, is derived from Ovid: After sex, all animals are sad. Yet the film isn’t fundamentally joyless, and it even includes a few brief fantasy sequences. (These are the least successful elements, but their whimsy does make the director’s intentions more clear.) Even when the forsaken Diane hits bottom, the film’s rhythm never loses its suppleness; Roüan is having fun while her alter ego suffers.
Like Diane Kurys’ Après L’Amour, Post Coitum takes a certain pleasure in romantic distress, in an attractive, independent, middle-aged woman who can dally with a younger man, even if only temporarily. (Diane is clearly more alive than Philippe, seen practicing a speech to the jury that warns, “Absolute passion is a tragedy.”) Diane may be bereft, but she still retains some glamour. At the pit of her anguish, she inspects her nude body in the mirror, wondering aloud, “Am I still fuckable?” If the answer were no, this would be a different sort of movie.
The opening sequence of He Got Game is so audacious you might well laugh. It begins with slo-mo footage of a solitary farm-belt teenager practicing his hoop skillsto the strains of some Aaron Copland orchestral corn, no less! As the montage moves east, rural white kids yield to urban black kids, implicitly presenting writer-director Spike Lee’s claim: that every healthy American male today secretly wishes he were an African-American basketball star molded by the inner city’s mean courts.
You couldn’t prove this by me; I’ve never watched a professional basketball game in my life, and no more want to slam dunk than I want to bowl a googly (which I’m pretty sure is a cricket term). Lee, however, just assumes that his audience will be fascinated by the film’s basketball action. At heart, Lee is a propaganda-film maker, but he prepares his sermons for the converted.
Although the director has said he’s proud of He Got Game’s authenticity, this is not primarily a sports movie. Instead, it mixes broken-family drama, professional-sports-avarice satire, and a Jungle Fever-ish subplot. Summoned to the office of Attica’s warden (Ned Beatty), murderer Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is given a chance at early parole. All he has to do is convince his son Jesus, the nation’s top high school player, to attend the governor’s alma mater. The complication is that Jesus (Milwaukee Bucks player Ray Allen) hates his father, and with good reason: Jake killed Jesus’ mother. (How did she die? Conveniently.)
Lee intersperses this soap-operatic plot with sports mockumentary, populated by well-known players and coaches portraying themselves; although the film is, mercifully, short on climactic-game scenes, it does feature lots of fake testimonials and TV-sports braying. Jesus discovers that his high school coach (Arthur J. Nascarella), uncle (Bill Nunn), and girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), as well as a college coach (John Turturro, still in character from The Big Lebowski), all hope to profit from his success; only his little sister Mary (Crooklyn’s Zelda Harris) has no self-serving agenda. Then Jake is released to a Coney Island flophouse, with a week to win his son’s trust and get his signature on a letter of intent.
Both father and son mean well, despite their quick tempers, and both have the powerful sexual magnetism characteristic of Lee’s protagonists. When Jesus visits the campus of a university he might attend, slutty coeds ooze all over him, and two busty blonds take him to bed. Meanwhile, Jake magnanimously screws Coney Island hooker Dakota (Milla Jovovich!), and the experience frees her from the clutches of her abusive pimp.
Most of Lee’s movies lose some of their momentum after their opening credits, but by the time He Got Game gets to its final urban-fairy-tale sequence, it’s completely winded. Copland’s compositions keep their bravado, but the film is as thin as its other music: seven songs by the reunited Public Enemy. Crafted on the Puff Daddy model, these tracks disappointingly forgo the dense, propulsive style of the group’s best work for a bland dependence on well-worn hooks (notably from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and the James Bond theme). Where Public Enemy’s music gave emotional coherence to Lee’s Do the Right Thing, here it can’t even compete against the director’s mix of broad humor and brazen wish fulfillment.
The latest Hollywood debut by a Hong Kong veteran, Kirk Wong’s The Big Hit features a few spectacular action sequences. As the movie’s trailer goes to great pains to disguise, however, this is not primarily an action flick. It’s mostly a comedy, closer in spirit to the work of Jackie Chan than to that of executive producer John Woo. (Actually, Woo directed his share of comedies in Hong Kong, although they’ve seldom been seen in the U.S.)
Wong is as deft with a sight gag as any of his better-known colleagues, but he’s fettered by Ben Ramsey’s script, which reduces most of the characters to a single, often stereotypical, trait. Maalox-guzzling Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg) is a nice hit manyes, this is another hit-man comedywho’s being fleeced by two gold diggers: his girlfriend Chantel (Lela Rochon) and his fiancée Pam (Christina Applegate). He’s also being played for a chump by his team leader, Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips), who has encouraged Melvin to join him in a kidnapping that hasn’t been authorized by their boss, Paris (Avery Brooks).
The victim is Keiko (China Chow), the willful daughter of Japanese businessmanyes, this is another willful-rich-girl-kidnapping comedyJiro Nishi (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nemesis Sab Shimono). Alas, Nishi has just gone bankrupt making a movie with the unlikely title of Taste the Golden Spray; he’s also a close colleague of Paris, so when Cisco, Melvin, and compulsive masturbator Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine) nab Keiko, they bring the wrath of their own organization on themselves.
Cisco orders Melvin to hide Keiko at his place, a cookie-cutter town house in regimented suburbia. This arrangement is complicated by the arrival of Melvin’s potential in-laws, problem drinker Morton Schulman (Elliott Gould) and his wife Jeanne (Lainie Kazan), who doesn’t think her Pam should marry a goy. The script’s characterizations of gangsta-wannabe Cisco (who speaks in arch hip-hop patois) and the vulgar Schulmans are as crude as its attempts to parody the movie and video businesses. Add some brutal violence and Ramsey’s curious obsession with urine, and it’s clear why The Big Hit has been widely condemned as hateful and moronic.
It is, but then so are many Hollywood movies. In the movie’s favor are its relative brevity, its lively pace, and the chemistry between Wahlberg and Chow (reportedly real-life paramours). Despite its off-key gags, this is a stronger U.S. debut than celebrated Hong Kong directors Ringo Lam or Tsui Hark managed. Half the time, it’s hard to figure how this screenplay ever got approved, but during the other half Wong pirouettes around the dumb jokes so gracefully that the script hardly matters.CP