Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

Sundance: Stars on parade, and the Doors doc

Posted on

Famous actors who star in offbeat movies that appear at Sundance are trying to “stretch,” but all too often the exercise doesn’t look good on them. Over the years, it’s become a little too obvious that they’re making a move, throwing their fans a curveball, Doing An Indie Movie. Still, some overly calculated image tweaks work better than others. Jim Carrey, in I Love You Phillip Morris, as a gay Texas role-playing con artist who keeps pulling weirder and wilder scams for love? Compared to some of Carrey’s misbegotten outside-of-the-comedy-box roles, this one fits him like a rubber glove. Ashton Kutcher, in the unfortunately titled Spread, as a Los Angeles hustler who beds rich women so that he can sponge off them? You’ve got to salute the Kutcher chutzpah, but at moments he comes close to punking himself.

When Jim Carrey tries to play ordinary Joes, he can seem like a replicant, using his elastic face to create facsimiles of feeling. Strangely enough, that quality sort of works for him in I Love You Phillip Morris. As Steve Russell, a Texas cop who is not what he seems, Carrey looks craggy and twitchy and a bit sinister, with spooked eyes and an overly coiffed shell of hair. There’s a vacancy behind those eyes, but this time it belongs there: Early on, Steve reveals to the audience that he’s a closeted homosexual, and that’s but the first of his many deceptions. Coming out of the closet, he moves to Miami, perpetrating insurance and credit-card scams to pay for his newly ritzy gay lifestyle, which gets him tossed into prison — at which point you realize that the movie is going to be one damn thing after another, with a plot that keeps twisting like a Rubik’s Cube.

Directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and supposedly based on a true story, I Love You Phillip Morris is like one of those out-of-the-frying-pan capers by the Coen brothers crossed with Catch Me If You Can,

featuring a hero as blithely comfortable with the metaphysics of

identity fraud as Tom Ripley. In prison, Steve meets and falls in love

with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a blonde blue-eyed Southern inmate

as sweet as he is pretty, and the novelty of seeing these two actors

smooch and get randy and make goo-goo eyes at each other is certainly

… well, novel. But their romance is just one more cog in the movie’s abundant machinery. I Love You Phillip Morris

keeps pulling surprises out of the air — I liked the way that Steve

wins, then executes, a white-shoe CFO job — but emotionally it barely

exists. It’s Jim Carrey reveling in the dark side of a put-on, trying

to fool the audience into thinking that he’s found a hidden truth in

one man’s lies.

I remember going to see American Gigolo back in 1980, and

being disappointed when the movie turned out to offer sleek alienation,

angled white architecture, Richard Gere looking mannequin-fabulous in

Armani — everything, in fact, but good old down-and-dirty sex. (It was

all, you know, implied.) What a difference three decades and the cachet of a Hollywood-boyz series like Entourage makes! Spread,

starring Ashton Kutcher as an L.A. ladykiller with no job and no home,

who moves in with the women he beds until they figure out that he’s

using them, doesn’t repeat America Gigolo‘s high-minded

mistake. It’s full of tawny skinny writhing bodies, at least one of

which belongs to Anne Heche, in one of those thankless,

lonely-corporate-vixen-looking-for-love roles. She hooks up with

Kutcher, and even after she discovers him making mischief in her

bedroom with a blonde in a football helmet, she doesn’t kick the bum

out. Sex with this dude is just, you know, too hot.

Did Kutcher, who in interviews comes off as a very shrewd guy,

realize that the role inevitably conjures thoughts of his real-life

relationship with Demi Moore? Maybe he thought he was having an in-joke

at the tabloids’ expense. Either way, in Spread, there’s no

denying that Kutcher has the heartless sex appeal, the killer nightclub

pickup moves, the conversation-as-market-tested-sound-bite

manipulativeness of L.A. sleaze down pat. The whole movie is pat —

very pleased with itself for being so up front about the bankrupt ways

of a 21st century California man-whore. I was with Kutcher’s portrayal

of a sociopathic stud, until the character meets his match. That’s

right: He tries to work his lewd magic on a girl who’s Just Like Him —

at which point the joke is on us, because we have to watch him develop

“feelings.” Spread gets worse as it grows more sincere. Which, come to think of it, makes it a lot like American Gigolo.

* * *

You’re either a Beatles person or a Stones person, and when it comes

to the Doors, you’re a true believer or you’re not. Either you think

that Jim Morrison was a lugubrious hippie who wrote overblown ’60s doom

poetry, laid over music that sounded like a calliope from hell. Or —

like me — you believe that Morrison, though he certainly did

write a lot of overblown ’60s doom poetry, also led the Doors in

recording some of the most incandescent music of the 20th century. Just

think of the spangly stoned grandeur of “The Crystal Ship,” the driven

ecstasy of “Take It As It Comes.” I was 8 years old the summer that

“Light My Fire” first came on the radio, and I remember feeling that I

could listen to those two glistening back-and-forth minor chords

forever — Morrison, with his lordly sex-on-peyote baritone, seemed to

be entering hell and heaven at the same time.

When You’re Strange, a documentary history of the Doors directed by Tom DiCillo (Living In Oblivion),

is for people like me, who can stumble onto the scrappiest Doors video

on VH1 Classic at 3 in the morning and still sit there, mesmerized. As

a chronicle, the movie is ardent and fairly well done, an obvious labor

of love that includes never-before-seen home-movie footage of the Doors

backstage and in the studio. There are fluky clips, woven throughout

the film, of Morrison, bearded but not yet bloated, driving a blue

Mustang through the desert (they’re from an aborted 1969 film project

called Highway), and DiCillo does a haunting job of

reconstructing, through films and photographs, the legendary Miami

concert where Morrison was arrested for an indecent exposure he never

actually got to commit. The singer’s elevation into a leaping, writhing

Dionysian prince in dark curls, conch belt, and leather pants is one of

the great operatic-erotic spectacles in rock, and the movie does

justice to it, and to his descent as well. It’s clearer now that

Morrison’s over-devotion to improvised apocalyptic dirges onstage was,

in fact, an expression of his alcoholic despair masquerading as

creativity.

Yet for all the tantalizing moments on display, When You’re Strange

is a bit impersonal. There are no interviews — with anyone at all — a

decision that might have been more justified had DiCillo not stitched

the movie together, in lieu of talking heads, with a narration that

sounds like a Wikipedia entry read by the melodramatic narrator of a

cable-TV serial-killer special. And though it’s fine, to a point, that

DiCillo doesn’t even attempt to psychoanalyze Jim Morrison’s demons, I

wish that he had presented the music with more of the momentousness it

deserves. Too much of it is just there in the background, and there are

too many ’60s montages, which end up reducing the Doors to dark freedom

fighters, rather than the gorgeous mystic spellbinders who first called

out to me 40 years ago in the night.

Directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and supposedly based on a true story, I Love You Phillip Morris is like one of those out-of-the-frying-pan capers by the Coen brothers crossed with Catch Me If You Can,featuring a hero as blithely comfortable with the metaphysics ofidentity fraud as Tom Ripley. In prison, Steve meets and falls in lovewith Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a blonde blue-eyed Southern inmateas sweet as he is pretty, and the novelty of seeing these two actorssmooch and get randy and make goo-goo eyes at each other is certainly… well, novel. But their romance is just one more cog in the movie’s abundant machinery. I Love You Phillip Morriskeeps pulling surprises out of the air — I liked the way that Stevewins, then executes, a white-shoe CFO job — but emotionally it barelyexists. It’s Jim Carrey reveling in the dark side of a put-on, tryingto fool the audience into thinking that he’s found a hidden truth inone man’s lies.

I remember going to see American Gigolo back in 1980, andbeing disappointed when the movie turned out to offer sleek alienation,angled white architecture, Richard Gere looking mannequin-fabulous inArmani — everything, in fact, but good old down-and-dirty sex. (It wasall, you know, implied.) What a difference three decades and the cachet of a Hollywood-boyz series like Entourage makes! Spread,starring Ashton Kutcher as an L.A. ladykiller with no job and no home,who moves in with the women he beds until they figure out that he’susing them, doesn’t repeat America Gigolo‘s high-mindedmistake. It’s full of tawny skinny writhing bodies, at least one ofwhich belongs to Anne Heche, in one of those thankless,lonely-corporate-vixen-looking-for-love roles. She hooks up withKutcher, and even after she discovers him making mischief in herbedroom with a blonde in a football helmet, she doesn’t kick the bumout. Sex with this dude is just, you know, too hot.

Did Kutcher, who in interviews comes off as a very shrewd guy,realize that the role inevitably conjures thoughts of his real-liferelationship with Demi Moore? Maybe he thought he was having an in-jokeat the tabloids’ expense. Either way, in Spread, there’s nodenying that Kutcher has the heartless sex appeal, the killer nightclubpickup moves, the conversation-as-market-tested-sound-bitemanipulativeness of L.A. sleaze down pat. The whole movie is pat –very pleased with itself for being so up front about the bankrupt waysof a 21st century California man-whore. I was with Kutcher’s portrayalof a sociopathic stud, until the character meets his match. That’sright: He tries to work his lewd magic on a girl who’s Just Like Him –at which point the joke is on us, because we have to watch him develop”feelings.” Spread gets worse as it grows more sincere. Which, come to think of it, makes it a lot like American Gigolo.

* * *

You’re either a Beatles person or a Stones person, and when it comesto the Doors, you’re a true believer or you’re not. Either you thinkthat Jim Morrison was a lugubrious hippie who wrote overblown ’60s doompoetry, laid over music that sounded like a calliope from hell. Or –like me — you believe that Morrison, though he certainly didwrite a lot of overblown ’60s doom poetry, also led the Doors inrecording some of the most incandescent music of the 20th century. Justthink of the spangly stoned grandeur of “The Crystal Ship,” the drivenecstasy of “Take It As It Comes.” I was 8 years old the summer that”Light My Fire” first came on the radio, and I remember feeling that Icould listen to those two glistening back-and-forth minor chordsforever — Morrison, with his lordly sex-on-peyote baritone, seemed tobe entering hell and heaven at the same time.

When You’re Strange, a documentary history of the Doors directed by Tom DiCillo (Living In Oblivion),is for people like me, who can stumble onto the scrappiest Doors videoon VH1 Classic at 3 in the morning and still sit there, mesmerized. Asa chronicle, the movie is ardent and fairly well done, an obvious laborof love that includes never-before-seen home-movie footage of the Doorsbackstage and in the studio. There are fluky clips, woven throughoutthe film, of Morrison, bearded but not yet bloated, driving a blueMustang through the desert (they’re from an aborted 1969 film projectcalled Highway), and DiCillo does a haunting job ofreconstructing, through films and photographs, the legendary Miamiconcert where Morrison was arrested for an indecent exposure he neveractually got to commit. The singer’s elevation into a leaping, writhingDionysian prince in dark curls, conch belt, and leather pants is one ofthe great operatic-erotic spectacles in rock, and the movie doesjustice to it, and to his descent as well. It’s clearer now thatMorrison’s over-devotion to improvised apocalyptic dirges onstage was,in fact, an expression of his alcoholic despair masquerading ascreativity.

Yet for all the tantalizing moments on display, When You’re Strangeis a bit impersonal. There are no interviews — with anyone at all — adecision that might have been more justified had DiCillo not stitchedthe movie together, in lieu of talking heads, with a narration thatsounds like a Wikipedia entry read by the melodramatic narrator of acable-TV serial-killer special. And though it’s fine, to a point, thatDiCillo doesn’t even attempt to psychoanalyze Jim Morrison’s demons, Iwish that he had presented the music with more of the momentousness itdeserves. Too much of it is just there in the background, and there aretoo many ’60s montages, which end up reducing the Doors to dark freedomfighters, rather than the gorgeous mystic spellbinders who first calledout to me 40 years ago in the night.

Comments