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Areasonably effective bit of family-value-mongering, While You Were Sleeping quickly puts lust in its place. A hopelessly lonely Chicago Transit Authority token-taker, Lucy (Sandra Bullock), nurses a crush on a passenger (Peter Gallagher) who uses her station daily. Working one Christmas, she sees the guy pushed by two attackers onto the trackbed, where he lies unconscious. Rushing to the rescue, she rolls the inert dreamboat off the tracks just in time to prevent his being crushed by an oncoming train. At the hospital, a nurse misunderstands Lucy’s forlorn muttering and assumes she’s engaged to the comatose man, who turns out to be named Peter Callaghan. Peter’s family is surprised to discover he has a secret fiancée, but welcomes her. So much for the dreamboat—Lucy discovers she can’t bear to tell his parents and siblings the truth because she doesn’t want to lose them.
This is not exactly convincing, and full enjoyment of Sleeping will probably come only to those who manage to disregard the premise entirely. Surely the best time to explain the mistake is right after it’s been made, for things can only get more awkward for Lucy if she continues to pose as Peter’s fiancée. And it’s not as if Peter’s family has no other reason to be attached to her. After all, she did save his life.
Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric Lebow’s script improves—or least becomes less intrusive—when the subplot arrives, in the form of Peter’s salt-of-the-earth brother Jack (Bill Pullman). Lucy and Jack develop a quick, natural rapport—the likes of which, the film hints, would be impossible between Lucy and Peter, a wealthy lawyer whose success is clearly suggested to be evidence of a character flaw. (Peter is also lacking a testicle, while his dislikable ex-fiancée has had plastic surgery on her nose and breasts; the rich, apparently, are not whole people.)
There are other not-so-hilarious complications. Jack briefly assumes that Lucy is involved with a ludicrously lecherous neighbor, Joe, who’s actually been getting nowhere with her, and Peter’s sister incorrectly concludes that Lucy is pregnant. “To get pregnant, you have to have sex,” Lucy ruefully notes, and she’s safe on that count. Nobody in this movie is having sex.
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That’s not very convincing either. Though she has a tendency to brood about her dead parents in voice-over, Lucy is attractive, engaging, and well-liked by her co-workers. Yet Lucy’s social life is summarized by a scene in which she eats a TV dinner in her crummy apartment, setting the place across from her for her cat. And, until Peter is pushed onto the tracks, the only suitor she’s allowed is the utterly unsuitable Joe. Nor is Lucy overly picky: You need only watch her smile indulgently at a maddeningly disconnected Callaghan family dinner-table conversation to realize she’d be happy with any halfway decent guy who invited her to warm herself at his nuclear family’s hearth. (Sure enough, when Jack finally does ask Lucy to marry him, he brings the whole family with him.) Funny thing about lonely, mousy, pitiable Lucy, though—she bears a striking resemblance to movie star Sandra Bullock.
Lucky for director Jon Turteltaub she does, for he and his cohorts have done almost nothing to individ ualize this formulaic sitcom. From the opening upbeat love song (Natalie Cole) to the closing love ballad (Dusty Springfield and Daryl Hall), it’s up to Bullock, Pullman, and the supporting cast (which includes Jack Warden, Peter Boyle, and Glynis Johns) to redeem the filmmakers from their own cloddishness. (Sleeping‘s idea of combining “romantic” and “comedy” is to end Lucy and Jack’s falling-in-love scene by having him step in dogshit.) It’s largely to the performers’ credit that this tale of desperation and delusion ends up more charming than creepy.
Chronicling the lives of perversely prideful small-timers in white-ethnic New York, writer/director Nick Gomez’s low-budget debut, Laws of Gravity, was admirably street-level. Transferring his skills to African-American adolescents in nearby Newark, however, Gomez has lost his bearings. Though executive produced by Spike Lee (whose upcoming Clockers is also set in Newark) and based on an exposé of the Newark police by New York Times reporter Michel Marriott, New Jersey Drive lacks both authoritativeness and the semblance of authenticity.
Despite its impulsive protagonists and its aura of imminent violence, Gravity was something of an art film, and Drive is best when it emulates its predecessor’s stylized propulsion, spinning through inner-city locations with a handheld camera. This time around, though, Gomez’s script is overloaded with events and characters, and the result is often shapeless. In addition to recounting the car-stealing and joy-riding activities of Jason (Sharron Corley), Midget (Gabriel Casseus), and their pals, the film also takes on Jason’s relationship with his mom (Gwen McGee) and sister, and the corruption of the Newark police, emblematized by Lt. Roscoe (Saul Stein, also a heavy in Gravity). The result is a film that’s not especially cohesive, either in tone or technique.
Early in Drive, Jason and a friend are ambushed by cops, who open fire without apparent provocation. The provocation, it turns out, was stealing a cop’s car, and Roscoe spends the rest of the film trying to ensure that Jason doesn’t testify against him before a grand jury investigating police overreaction and brutality. This narrative thread is insufficient to interlace the film’s random events, however, and the portrayal of the Newark police as an all-white occupying army seems several decades out of date. (In fact, the Newark police department is 34 percent black.)
Like Gomez’s first film, Drive achieves a twisted grace when it documents its protagonists’ amok willfulness: Jason and his friends take potshots at a police cruiser from a roof and fight with cops over their right to drink malt liquor on the street. Still, on the subject of the interchangeability of cops and crooks—right down to Midget and Roscoe’s matching toothy smiles—Genet’s The Thief’s Journal is considerably more instructive. And where Gravity concedes that macho heedlessness could only lead to doom, Drive attempts to pull redemption out of its overstuffed hat: While some of his crew take a disastrous drive, Jason reconciles with his mom and decides to go back to school.
Such a tidy resolution doesn’t make sense of this messy movie, which fails to unify its real-life elements and Gravity‘s swagger. The final shots, for which Gomez breaks out the elegiac music as his camera pans over graffiti obits of dead gang members, suggests what went wrong with this not-quite-exploitation movie: A master of posturing bluster, the director seems to have stumbled over his own sincerity.
In The Cure, a hideously sentimental incurable-disease uplifter, a boy befriends his new next- door neighbor, who has AIDS, even though his mother and schoolmates are terrified of (and ignorant about) possible contagion. Setting out to heal his new pal, Erik (The Client‘s Brad Renfro) improvises a variety of foul herbal potions for Dexter (Joseph Mazzello) to drink, eventually causing his patient’s trip to the hospital’s poison center. Viewers may well understand how Dexter feels at that moment. The Cure isn’t literally poisonous, but it could make your stomach hurt.
The film, directed by actor Peter Horton from Robert Kuhn’s script, is a tale of saints and schmucks. The latter include the local boys who torment Dexter and Erik, as well as Erik’s ignorant, alcoholic mom (Diana Scarwid), who forbids her son to play with the sick boy. Since Erik is a resourceful latchkey kid, he can ignore that order and selflessly dedicate his summer to saving Dexter. Also a candidate for canonization is Dexter’s incredibly warm, patient, and forgiving mom (Annabella Sciorra), who nurtures both boys. For, you see, Erik needs to be cured too—of the virus of parental neglect.
Dexter’s mom comes to love Erik because Erik comes to love her son. But Erik is a horrific and unconvincing creation, a dangerous know-it-all who’s always risking Dexter’s well-being by jumping to incorrect conclusions. In the film’s centerpiece, Erik decides to take his pal down the Mississippi from Minnesota to New Orleans, where he believes a cure for AIDS has been found, misinformation he gleaned from a supermarket-tabloid headline. This sequence provides the “great escape” promised by Marc Cohn’s clunky country-rock theme song, including a preposterous confrontation with some powerboat pirates, and also an adolescent-male-bonding moment when Erik shows Dexter his first Playboy centerfold. (“My mom doesn’t look like that!” protests Dexter, as if Annabella Sciorra weren’t a movie star too.)
Unlike the Mississippi, this Tom Sawyer-confronts-the-AIDS-crisis plot line thins to an unnavigable trickle as the boys head south. There’s nothing left but for them to return home, for Dexter to die, and for Dexter’s mom to tell off Erik’s mom once and for all. A fierce, tender avenging angel, the good mother hauls the bad mother inside after the latter slaps her son, barking, “If you ever lay a hand on that boy again, I will kill you.” This Dirty Harry approach to maternal advice is so bizarre that’s it’s almost interesting, but the character, the line, and the moment—like the movie itself—are preposterous and false.