Starring Chris Farley, Matthew Perry, Bookeem Woodbine, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Lisa B
Directed by Christopher Guest
A slapstick comedy, Almost Heroes also has a poignant side. This road tripper, set in Lewis and Clark country in the 1800s, turned out to be Farley’s last — he died of a drug overdose in December. But the star’s troubles had little effect on filming, “aside from Chris going off to AA meetings after a shoot,” says costar Levy. Ironically, Farley plays a tracker whose expert musketry is matched only by his ability to drink. Perry (Friends) plays the cohort who helps lead a crew of misfits across the frontier. “It’s fitting that this was Chris’ last movie because he does a little bit of everything,” says Perry. “It’s a broader acting part than he’d done before.” Not that Farley got too serious. Says Levy: “One take, he’d come in with his fly unbuttoned. Take two, his pants would be down around his knees. Take three, he’d basically moon his way through the scene.” (May 1)
UPSIDE It’s got sentiment going for it. DOWNSIDE Scenes of a moonshine-swiggin’ Farley might rate higher on the reality meter than on the comedy meter.
He Got Game
Starring Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Zelda Harris, Ned Beatty, Walter McCarthy, John Turturro
Directed by Spike Lee
You’ve seen him courtside at Knicks games. You’ve seen him buddying up to Michael Jordan in old Nike commercials. But you’ve never seen writer-director Lee do his own basketball movie. “Most sports films suck,” he explains, “but I’m a huge fan, and I think it can be pulled off.” Washington stars as a prisoner paroled on the condition that his son — a basketball prodigy played by NBA luminary and acting newcomer Ray Allen — must sign with the governor’s alma mater. “We look at where the pressure comes from,” says Lee, “not just the coaches and schools, but also women and, more important, family.” Allen drew on both his Oscar-winning costar and his own experience to prepare for the role. “I thought, All I have to do is drop back to those high school years,” says the former all-American. (May 1)
UPSIDE The first Spike Lee joint actually written solely by Spike since Jungle Fever. DOWNSIDE Most sports films suck.
Starring Liam Neeson, Claire Danes, Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Bille August
Les Misérables had some miserable days of its own, beginning with a revolution that wasn’t in the script. Roman Polanski was originally supposed to direct the historic epic in its latest on-screen retelling, but when he walked off the set of 1996’s stillborn The Double, which was to be produced by Mandalay Entertainment, he forfeited a shot at that company’s Les Misérables. Filming of the period piece — based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel — was delayed until director August (The House of the Spirits) was recruited. Rush, making his first movie since Shine, then came on as Javert, the policeman obsessed with prosecuting the elusive Jean Valjean (Neeson). The story, says Rush, is about defining “oneself morally, which is a pertinent question in the United States at the moment. It’s got a more prurient angle now, but it’s the same baseline.” (May 1)
UPSIDE There’s not a lot of competition in the all-star-adaptation-of-French-classic-literature category. DOWNSIDE For good reason.