Reviewed by Russ Simmons
With all of the talent involved in Envy, one could easily be forgiven
for thinking that this comedy might have some redeeming virtues. Wrong.
The word waste keeps coming to mind. A waste of talent, a
waste of money, a waste of time
and, oh yes, its about waste
Ben Stiller (Starsky and Hutch) and Jack Black (School of Rock)
star as best friends, a couple of working stiffs at a 3M plant who just
cant seem to get ahead. Black is an inveterate dreamer who always
gets low marks for focus on his performance reviews. Stiller
is a realist who thinks that he and Black should just accept their limitations.
One day, Black has an idea for an aerosol spray that would eliminate dog
poop. Hell call it Va-poo-rize! He asks Stiller to join in his quest
to develop it and invest $2,000. Stiller scoffs, but Blacks idea
comes to fruition thanks to the help of a clever scientist. Black makes
millions and builds an ostentatious mansion across the street from Stillers
Stillers resentment over Blacks success becomes almost unbearable.
Ultimately, his envy leads him into a string of bad decisions that result
in comic mayhem. (Stiller kills Blacks prized white
stallion with a bow and arrow. Aint that hilarious?)
It is almost impossible to believe that this outrageously ill-conceived
mess is the work of Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson (Rain Man,
Diner). The only interesting directorial touches come in the opening
sequence that involves a continually revolving camera. Problem is, this
gimmick is pointless and starts to become a bit dizzying after a while.
Another Oscar winner, actor Christopher Walken, has an extended bit as
a creepy barfly who Stiller meets while trying to drown his sorrows. Instead
of being funny, his character succeeds at making everyone feel uncomfortable
Stiller and Black are gifted comics who, given the right vehicle, can
be very appealing. Here, their mannerisms seem to backfire on them. Stillers
brooding self-pity act is simply annoying here, and Blacks over-the-top
slapstick gesticulations seem like they belong in another movie. Rachel
Weisz (The Mummy) and Saturday Night Lives Amy Poehler
are, appropriately enough, utterly wasted in the roles of the dutiful
In a perfect world, someone would indeed invent a spray that could vaporize
waste material. Then we could use it to spritz each and every print of
Envy. (PG) Rating: 1; Posted 5/7/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Van Helsing's opening scene is a stunning and extraordinary
tribute to Universal's monster movies of the 1930s. The elaborate, electric
workshop of Dr. Frankenstein sparks and shines in glorious black and white.
A maniacal Dr. Frankenstein celebrates the animation (well... reanimation)
of his creation. Angry villagers storm the castle, furious over the doctor's
grave robbing. The doctor is killed and the monster flees, carrying the
lifeless body of his master. Shadows, clouds and flame cover a bleak landscape,
revealing the powerful monster escaping into a decrepit windmill, but
safety is short lived, as the fragile building is set ablaze. With a cry
of sorrow, the beast is consumed by the inferno.
The scene lovingly captures the strange otherworldliness that James Whale
painstakingly created for his two masterpieces: Frankenstein (1931)
and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale's world was a world
of shadows, and which shadow would bring forth the monster? When he appeared
the audience felt a peculiar mix of dread, fear and ecstasy.
Sadly, after this impressive beginning, color fades into the frame and
all life quickly fades from Van Hesling. We are introduced to Gabriel
Van Helsing. Be aware! This is not Bram Stoker's fragile, intellectual
Abraham Van Helsing, but a caped, immortal superhero struggling to regain
his lost memories (involking shades of Wolverine from the X-Men series).
He receives assignments from the Vatican's version of MI-6 to rid the
world of all monsters and evil. His latest assignment: kill Dracula.
This is no easy task. Dracula (Richard Roxsburgh) has the help of three
she-vampires, hundreds of goggled monster ewoks, two werewolves, a ballroom
of the undead, a pair of castles that rival the Chrysler building, and
trillions of unborn, undead, baby flying things.
Van Helsing enlists the help of vampire hunting warrior-princess Anna
Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), Frankenstein's lumbering monster (Shuler
Hensley) and wimpy but smart comic relief sidekick Carl (David Wenham),
and he arms himself with a spinning throwing star shooter, a Batman-like
catapult and a stake-shooting Gatlin gun.
The end result is a bloated and disastrous mess. Writer and director Stephen
Sommers is less interested in developing the characters and more interested
in smashing them into things. Jackman and Beckinsdale are thrown through
glass windows, slammed into rocks, pitched from buildings, hurled out
of moving carriages and smashed through castle walls. The computer-generated
effects, while impressive, arrive so furiously that they go by in a blur.
The audience is not awed or amazed but overwhelmed and exhausted by the
massive amount of visual data before their eyes. Even the monsters are
exaggerated in size and strength until they become as inflated and unreal
as Macy's Day Parade floats.
Van Helsing's opening scene promises scares, thrills and fun. Instead,
the film delivers a shapeless mass of sights and sounds. For true horror
excitement, check out the Universal DVD release called the Legacy
Collection. It contains all of the classic Dracula, Frankenstein
and Wolfman horror films. These films offer the macabre and the
undead. Sadly, all Van Helsing has to offer is a poor premise beaten
to death. (PG-13) Rating: 1; Posted 5/7/04