Somewhere along the road to becoming squillionaires, the purveyors of Hollywood action films figured out that in order for weekend grosses to reach the size of small hedge funds, movies have to do more than blow whole cities into so much computerized confetti: Action movies must offer up a little something for the ladies. It is for this reason that Con Air forces us to endure not only another performance by John Malkovich as a wry psychopath, but also Nicolas Cage’s obsessive attachment to a stuffed bunny. The paroled prisoner is, after all, just trying to get home to his wife and young daughter, for whom he’d like to have a present.
The makers of this past summer’s multiplex fodder, however, worked harder than ever to deliver product that would appear chick friendly. Deep Impact (just out on videocassette) serves up a lesson in sisterhood: A subplot has TV newswoman Jenny Lerner remaining fiercely loyal to her urbane mom (Vanessa Redgrave) when Daddy takes up with a younger woman. And Godzilla (due Nov. 3) has an almighty beast who is expecting a litter. Both films, moreover, examine the struggles of women trying to get ahead in the all-consuming world of news. What we get are two 30ish blonds stumbling into the kind of stories — a mammoth comet is headed for earth! giant lizards are about to hatch! — that, were urban life and its tradition of awards dinners not coming to an end, would land them more trophies, medals, and platefuls of chicken paillard than they could count.
But the girl-power act turns out to be just that. The films ultimately come off as pre-feminist parables about the dangers of female drive and ambition, the victory of wile and whim over perseverance and hard work.
As a reporter for MSNBC (that’s right, MSNBC), Jenny Lerner is the kind of female journalist Hollywood adores — the angular, husky-voiced sort who chases down the hot story with the same vigor she applies to downing an expensive martini. You almost have to commend the writers for resisting the urge to virilize her even further, with a name like Sam or Hunter. Perfectly cast in the role is Tea Leoni, who possesses a natural I-can-play-with-the-boys swagger that worked against her when she played ditsy tabloid columnist Nora Wilde on NBC’s defunct sitcom The Naked Truth. Now the fit seems right because Leoni gets to leave the costume jewlery behind, amble around Washington in smart skirts, and pry open slow-talking government officials with lines like, ”there’s no such thing as two weeks in the news business!”
If Jenny is angling for Diane Sawyerdom, Godzilla‘s Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) seems to be dreaming more along the lines of Deborah Norville. As an assistant to anchorman Charles Caiman (played with enjoyable smarminess by Harry Shearer) Audrey isn’t asking to be sent to Islamabad; all she wants is a chance to prove she can handle more than sorting mail. Caiman won’t stop hitting on her and won’t give her much to do. But we can’t blame him really. Audrey is meek and confused, a naif prone to calling her ex ”my college sweetie.” And given her wardrobe of bell-bottom-sleeved shirts and long knit vests, she doesn’t look fit to cover much more than a Jefferson Starship reunion.
From His Girl Friday to I Love Trouble, girl-reporter movies have made the quest for the big story the path to true love. Godzilla is no exception. Audrey learns that Godzilla is nesting from her college sweetie, biologist and radiation-induced mutation expert Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick). So unfamiliar is she with the concept of journalistic ethics, not to mention trust, that she steals a sensitive videotape from him to break part of the story. Broderick is unconvincing both as a Nuclear Regulatory Commission scientist and as a Greek American but that’s beside the point really. He’s the unpretentious fellow Audrey dumped for what she thought would be a glamorous life of big-city journalism.
Does Audrey get her just desserts? Absolutely not. Never mind that Jenny, dogged and independent, is never even given a love interest, her fate being to die on the grounds of her family’s beach house in a comet-caused tidal wave. Audrey, on the other hand, survives Godzilla’s wrath, every Felicity-like curl intact, and wins back Dr. Nick. Who knows, maybe when cable’s back up she’ll even land a job at MSNBC. Someone call Gloria Steinem for a rewrite. Deep Impact: C+; Godzilla: C