Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
Everyone’s talking about In the Company of Men because it has been designed specifically to get everyone talking about it. The only real danger this frustrating, schematic, entertaining scenario harbors is for those who stop to think about it. They will find there’s no there there.
Men’s premise is one Hollywood likes to call provocative, and the product inevitably attracts the word “controversial,” but it isn’t quite either. LaBute’s idea (he also wrote the script) that a cavalier middle-management yuppie might hatch a scheme to seduce and abandon a vulnerable female for the thrill of random cruelty is more insulting than provocative, and a controversy must allow interested parties to take sides. No one is actually arguing over whether the guy did right.
The pressure bearing on Chad (Aaron Eckhart), a bitter, ambitious young executive at an unnamed company, isn’t sexual but financialin LaBute’s small world, capitalism has bred its own struggles, and the result for the worker is a kind of economic impotence. When haranguing his meeker pal, Howard (Matt Malloy), by way of bonding, Chad equates his sense of powerlessness in the bedroom and the boardroom with a touching transparency. One minute he’s ranting that if he turns in low numbers for two months “they’ll feed on his insides,” the next he’s sighing that the problem is women “getting out of balance.” The line between the superbreed of up-and-coming businessmen and heterosexual women is thinning, vanishing, and guess which one makes a better target? As Chad lays out his plan, he clearly states the objective and the object as interchangeable: Whatever humiliations and failures lie ahead in his or Howard’s work life, “We can always say, ‘Yeah, fine. They never got me like we got her.’”
This is chilling for about two seconds. After that, it’s pitiful. Of course, the object of this payback, the pretty, fragile, profoundly deaf Cristine (Stacy Edwards), is the object of our pity as well, but she has dated before and will againanyone who has experienced a bad or botched dumping has wondered if the whole thing was a joke to begin with.
The real revelation of In the Company of Men comes after the scheme has been pulled off and the men return to their hometown. It’s supposed to come as shock that the men capable of such a callous jape aren’t embittered, psychopathic young men who’ve suffered a sizable romantic loss, but nice, normal, good-looking smoothies fully able to sustain relationships. But this reveals that the movie’s morality, not its plot, is responding to its time. The ’50s were rife with movies about swinging office menoften including Tony Randallseducing unsuspecting chippies on a bet, or worse, and that sort of thing was considered lightheaded romantic fluff, not searing social drama. It might be controversial to make a film that avers that men are pigsthe audience can argue for or againstbut there’s not a lot of substance in the argument that men who act like pigs are pigs.
If In the Company of Men functions as obliquely feminist for its rash depiction of men behaving badly, G.I. Jane is more of Ridley Scott’s blatant fake feminism for its depiction of one woman behaving very very well. That woman is Jordan O’Neil, played with wooden determination by Demi Moore. Despite the objections of her boyfriend (Jason Beghe, who makes an excellent insensitive hunk), O’Neil moves forward with her dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.
What O’Neil doesn’t want is to make headlines as the first woman Navy SEAL, but she doesn’t realize she’s been set up by her government, in the shape of crusty, overacting Sen. Lillian DeHaven (soignee, overacting Anne Bancroft). They are hoping that O’Neil will fail and slink away and no woman will bother the boys about sitting at the big table anymore. Woodenly determined, O’Neil refuses to fail.
Moore is a perfect embodiment of the new harassment heroineshe doesn’t tearily complain about getting groped, she mouths off to her superior officers about the double standard of her training. Push-ups on her knees? I don’t think so. A little step to help her over a slick wall? Will there be a little step in actual combat, sir? To point up how she has to work twice as hard to succeed on the same terms as the men, the movie indulges in montages of fitness porn in which Moore does sweaty calisthenics in every position. It’s like Striptease with abs instead of boobs.
G.I. Jane is divided into three parts: her basic training under the tough but fair command of Master Chief John Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen), harder training at a combat-simulation camp where her platoon is taken prisoner thanks to a sexist’s error, and for-real combat action when the trainee SEALs just happen to be floating off the coast of Libya when hostilities erupt. They couldn’t have designed a more accommodating progression for spunky O’Neil than this Disneyland of aerobic grit.
The script relies on a lot of shouting, sassing, and macho aphorisms available on any tourist-strip T-shirt”When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”; “Even a broken watch is right twice a day.” It isn’t really about politics or feminism or even patriotism; it’s an old-fashioned David-and-Goliath story plugged into the very zeitest of geist. There’s a conspiracy up high, and the little guy, the butt of it, uncovers the truth. O’Neil’s
training is less preparation for wareven though she actually goes to warthan for her internal fight. Broads
Scott is too competent a director to make a boring or incompetent movie, and G.I. Jane is neither. If it’s pat (uniformed smuggies playing snooker direct arch comments at the lone pink ball), it’s pat in interesting ways (O’Neil’s climactic smartass retort gets the whoop and applause it deserves), and the acting is uniformly fine, even though it’s impossible to watch Demi Moore playing a part and think of anyone but Demi Moore. There’s some creditable beefcake, too, with all those Navy boys doing crunches in wee shorts.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cronos was Pinocchio retold as a vampire story, a lurid and sincere Christ parable that could only come out of Mexico, a country whose lurid, sincere Christianity accommodates bloodsuckers and magical golden beetles as well as the tensile strength of family love.
Mimic shows glimmers of Cronos’ uneasy pact with nature, but each time something beautiful or genuinely harmful appears, it devolves into a swampy mess. Like Ruth Rendell, Del Toro repeats a motif of sudden, piercing hand injuries, and Mimic is the first film to pick up where Howard Fast’s short story “The Large Ant”perhaps the most moving and concise consideration of the misunderstandings between science and natureleft off, although it reverts to the usual horror scenario soon enough.
Children are dying of an awful disease, but entomologist Susan Taylor (Mira Sorvino) develops a hybrid bug to sterilize the disease carriers. The “Judas bug,” as she calls it, is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism. The disease is wiped out, but as generations of urban legend has proved, nothing released into the New York City sewers will self-destruct on cue. As Dr. Taylor’s mentor (F. Murray Abraham) puts it when she whines that they all died in the lab, “Nature has a way of keeping things alive.”
This bug has chosen a particularly unpleasant wayit is mutating at an accelerated rate, climbing up the evolutionary ladder daily. Dr. Taylor, her boyfriend (Jeremy Northam, a little nobody), kindly old Manny (another of Del Toro’s Gepettos), and a helpful subway security guard (Charles Dutton) must find the colony of rapidly growing underground beasties, seek out the one fertile male, and kill him.
Mimic is an odd mixture of hoary Hollywood cliché and vague half-explanation. The heroes are trapped in a disused subway car for a 40-minute chunk of the movieshades of The Lost Worldand the administration of deaths is preordained by decades of such moviemaking. Then again, Manny has a strange little boy whose talents happen to be recognizing men’s shoes and imitating clicking sounds, and his fate, once he gets interested in the insects’ lair, seems clear from the title and a trail of suggestive narrative bread crumbs. But if his story plays out that way at all, it does so in a muffled, unrecognizable manner.
Mimic is a great idea, but the insects never plausibly pass as other species, they just get biggertoo big, in fact, to do their haunting work. There’s something very dreadful about an insect that’s just a bit oversize, but an enormous, man-size insect is just another great big bug, all of its f/x artistry on display. At the risk of being romantic about a promising director, it’s almost as if Del Toro secretly shot the movie he wanted in spite of moneymen gunking it up with the obvious; Mimic is a palimpsest that can be read two ways.CP