The storm clouds of backlash are gathering around She’s the One, and though a lot of the film’s detractors overstate their case, it’s true that writer/director Edward Burns’ second effort is too slick and a little hateful. More fun to watch than to think about, She’s the One is both a frothy romp and a bad omen: It’s clear that Burns cannot get away with making a third movie with these well-worn themes and this self-serving worldview.
As has been widely observed, One is a reprise of The Brothers McMullen, Burns’ tale of three Irish-American brothers with problems committing to the women in their lives. Though this time the director has a substantially larger budget (and a Tom Petty score), he only proffers two brothers: Mickey (Burns himself) and Francis (McMullen principal Mike McGlone). He has added a father, though, played by one of the film’s two sitcom stars, Frasier’s John Mahoney. Dad is a retired fireman whose first love is his Brooklyn-docked boat, The Fighting Fitzpatricks. (Burns resisted the logical gambit of naming the film for the boat, but it’s unclear why.) Dad loves his boys, yet likes to keep them in their place by calling them by girls’ names.
When the movie begins, Francis is married to Renee (Friends’ Jennifer Aniston), but cheating with Heather (The Mask’s Cameron Diaz), who just happens to be Mickey’s ex. Francis and Heather both work on Wall Street, while Renee doesn’t seem to do anything except try to deduce why Francis won’t have sex with her anymore. When she tantalizes him with lingerie and taunts him with a vibrator, Francis insists he’s too overworked to get aroused.
Meanwhile, the cabdriving Mickey, still shattered over having found Heather naked with another man several years ago, is touched by grace. Or rather Hope (Maxine Bahns), who hails his cab, invites him to drive her to a wedding in New Orleans, agrees to marry him at the reception, and then does, on the spot. This improbable marriage (and cab trip) makes about as much sense as Francis’ fury that he didn’t get to be best man, but it’s intended as the Real Thing. While Francis overanalyzes his lust for Heather, Mickey must accept the gift of Hope—even when he finds that she didn’t mention her imminent move to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. (Bahns is Burns’ real-life girlfriend and a nonactress who abandoned her own Sorbonne enrollment to play Burns’ on-screen girlfriend in McMullen.)
There are a few complications, some of them smarmy, others borderline: Mickey knows (but Francis doesn’t) that Heather paid her way through college as a hooker, Renee concludes that Francis is gay, Mickey discovers that Hope’s female co-worker has a powerful (but tidily unconsummated) passion for her, Dad suspects that Hope married Mickey to get a green card. And then there’s the boys’ mother, who’s never glimpsed throughout the movie, but whose final action provides a kicker to the tale of her befuddled husband and sons.
She’s the One has plenty of predictable sitcom exchanges (for instance: “You don’t even believe in God.” “That doesn’t mean I stopped being a good Catholic”), but it’s Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s absence that seems most contrived. The device recalls Diner, another boys-club parable, in which one of the guys’ fiancée is hidden from the camera as she endures a prenuptial football-trivia quiz. Mom’s invisibility merely accentuates how little there is to the female characters who do actually appear on screen.
Burns’ post-McMullen clout attracted some better-known actresses, but he didn’t give them much to work with: Heather is barely a caricature (and Burns admits that Diaz helped flesh out the part he had written), Renee gets the crowd-pleasing vibrator gags but is otherwise marginal, and Hope is an avatar of benevolent female caprice, played one-dimensionally by the lovely but inexpressive Bahns. The film may be called She’s the One, but the guys are it.
That is, one guy is it: Burns’ alter ego and role, Mickey. He’s the moral one, the sensible one, the (relatively) smart one, and the lucky one, too. Uncorrupted by Francis’ materialism and only slightly damaged by his Catholic outer-borough upbringing, he deserves happiness, a beautiful wife, and a serendipitous reason to move to Paris. (In short, he’s the most self-congratulatory hero of a Manhattan comedy since Woody Allen’s latest.) Perhaps Burns also should consider following his better half to France; She’s the One indicates that the director hasn’t traveled far enough from his old neighborhood to get much perspective on it—or on himself.
If there’s anything worse than the urban paranoia of pampered Hollywoodites—most recently typified by John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A.—it’s those pampered Hollywoodites’ prescriptions for contemporary social maladies. Delivered from the same moralistic perch as Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect is a sermon from the church of why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along. The film’s persuasive force is puny, but it should unite audiences nationwide in common irritation.
Koepp is a first-time director, but he’s had enough successes as a screenwriter to command a significant budget for this effort. (After running the Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible scripts through his word processor, he probably also has a home in the L.A. area that’s worth protecting from the forces of anomie.) Despite its production values, however, Effect is basically a student film. In fact, it plays a lot like Spark, a 28-minute indie movie that screened at AFI earlier this month. Both pump paranoia into a series of everyday events, and both ominously skirt the gulf of mistrust between black and white Americans.
After some footage of flesh-ripping coyotes that apparently symbolize humanity’s feral heritage, Koepp’s film opens with a big-budget flourish, a lengthy tracking shot through a shopping mall in an unidentified Western city. (The locations are in and around Sacramento.) The shot captures numerous acts of everyday rudeness and hostility and also introduces Raymond (Richard T. Jones), a black man who will resurface later; swooping into a movie theater, the camera settles on the central characters, Matt (Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie (Elisabeth Shue), a young white married couple with a baby at home. In a racially tinged semi-incident, Annie tries to quiet the conversation between Raymond and a friend.
The new parents return home to find that their daughter has a fever, a situation that only adds to the tension between them. The couple’s squabbling is soon overshadowed, however, by a massive (and never-explained) power failure. Only electricity stands between mankind (or at least California) and anarchy, and soon Matt, Annie, and their friend Joe (Dermot Mulroney) have hunkered down to await the apocalypse with candles, booze, and a newly purchased shotgun. If the movie followed this section to its logical conclusion, it could have been called Subdivision of the Flies.
After plenty of rumors and a few untoward incidents, the couple and their friend decide to head out of town. For some reason, they end up on a sparsely used two-lane road, where they meet Gary (Michael Rooker) and encounter Raymond for a second time. One of them will harm them, while the other will help. (Predicting which is which shouldn’t be too hard.) When things return (somehow) to normal, it’s not clear that the principal characters have learned their lesson, but the audience can hardly have missed it.
Koepp’s concern is that the polity is fragile, and that impatience, anger, and prejudice threaten it every day, massive power failures notwithstanding. (This message has been delivered much more succinctly in various Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints TV spots.) Though the film includes one overly studied composition that features a buzzard in the lower left-hand corner and nuclear-power-plant cooling towers in the upper right-hand one, the writer/director is not much concerned with the threats posed by nature or technology. The essential scenes come early, when Raymond seethes at a woman who cut in front of him at the popcorn counter and when Matt rages at the pharmacist who won’t give him the medicine his daughter needs without a prescription. So please remember: Don’t shove or trip anybody in your rush to get out of the theater after this pious stinker.CP