THE NANNY DIARIES
There are two wholly different films at war in Shari Springer Berman's and Robert Pulcini's The Nanny Diaries, and unfortunately, the wrong one wins.
An adaptation of Emma McLaughlin's and Nicola Kraus' novel, the movie finds a recent, lower-middle-class college graduate (Scarlett Johansson) accepting an ill-fated nanny gig on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and whenever they're sending up the rituals of New York's über-elite, the writers/directors display invention and a goodly amount of visual daring. The framing device, set in the Museum of Natural History, is supremely well-handled, there are wonderfully unexpected flights of fancy (some of them literal ones, such as Johansson's descent into her strange new terrain à la Mary Poppins), and Laura Linney, as the definitive Mom from Hell, gives a fiendishly clever, dryly hilarious performance, registering her disappointment with jaw-dropping condescension.
After about 40 minutes of vibrant caricature, though, the movie takes an unwelcome detour into predictable, exasperating sentimentality, as Johannson's brattish little charge becomes a devoted ally, Linney's matriarch proves herself a browbeaten sad sack (with a loutish husband played by Paul Giamatti), and the violins on the soundtrack begin telegraphing Life Lessons by the truckload: People Aren't Always What They Seem. Money Can't Buy Happiness. And above all, Be Nice to Your Kids. The Nanny Diaries is always smartly edited and snappily performed - even Scarlett Johansson appears more alert than of late - but it's less an entertainment than a self-improvement exercise for well-to-do WASPs; the movie ends up flattering the very audience it started out satirizing.
RESURRECTING THE CHAMP
Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but can Josh Hartnett do, you know, anything? The man has been a frequent screen presence for nearly a decade now, and I've yet to figure out where his "talents" lie. He's a dreary, self-regarding romantic lead, he's a somnolent drag in period roles, and he shows no discernible sense of humor. How does this guy stay employed?
Hartnett's latest endeavor, Rod Lurie's Resurrecting the Champ, details the downfall of a desperate, egocentric journalist who's played for a fool by a homeless former boxer (Samuel L. Jackson), and it has a lot going for it. The script, despite being laden with obvious dialogue and heavy-handed moralizing, is at least well-structured, and there are enjoyable supporting turns by Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, and a vibrantly cartoonish Teri Hatcher. But the film's fatal flaw is that it implies that our go-getter protagonist is, in fact, a good journalist seeing hard times, and Hartnett does nothing but suggest a hopelessly bad one; his petulant, self-pitying tones and flaccid earnestness not only make the reporter seem all wrong for his job, but make Hartnett seem all wrong for his. In the end, Resurrecting the Champ is like Shattered Glass without Peter Sarsgaard - which is to say, completely pointless. Thanks, Josh.
As it's all but left a theatre near you - with thanks to discerning viewers who have ensured its early departure - there's little point in discussing the offensive, heinous blunder that is September Dawn, which dramatizes the 1857 massacre (on September 11, no less) of peaceful Christian settlers by a group of bloodthirsty Mormons. Suffice it to say that yes, you did read that correctly, and that Christopher Cain's dawdling, obvious, and depressingly sincere movie feels like the bastard love child of The Passion of the Christ and Little House on the Prairie. Its grisly "high point" comes in a flashback, when one of the Mormons castrates a Protestant and nails his testicles to the wall of a barn - an experience, in all likelihood, just slightly more painful than sitting through the movie.
MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY
Some 15 minutes into Mr. Bean's Holiday, Rowan Atkinson's near-mute sketch character - an idiot savant, sans the savant - sits opposite a pre-teen boy on a train to France, and attempts to make the kid smile through his customary facial grotesqueries and guttural mumblings. The kid stares at him, stone-faced, and finally reacts to Bean's mime show by slapping him in the face. It's the role I was born to play.
I know viewers the world over are enchanted by Atkinson's shtick as this elastic, accident-prone dufus, and Bean has made me laugh in the past - in 10-minute skits, with an accompanying laugh track to remind me what's supposed to be amusing. But as in 1997's Bean, I found 90 minutes of Atkinson's incessant mugging just too exhausting; even the inspired routines seem to last forever, and director Steve Bendelack's movie is criminally short on inspired routines. (A scene in which Bean feasts on a plateful of crustaceans feels particularly endless, and nearly a fourth of the film finds us watching the character's antics through his hand-held video cam, which just makes Holiday aesthetically ugly and unfunny.) The film does, however, feature a delightful poke at egomaniacal directors, with Willem Dafoe doing a savage Vincent Gallo parody; the snippets we see of the director's existential cop drama, Playback Time, make it look unbearable, but I actually found more laughs in Dafoe's faux movie than in Bendelack's.