I have this recurring nightmare. I’m watching the new Joel Schumacher thriller, and it’s so bad that I have an aneurysm about an hour into it and die. I soon find out there really is a Heaven, but they won’t let me in because of my poor attitude and my mood swings would upset everyone already up there. So, I go to HELL.
In HELL, there are seven circles reserved just for film critics and journalists. In the top and least severe ring, you’re forced to interview Roberto Benigni and Carrot Top back to back to back, forever. In the circle below, where I’m sent, you’re forced to watch Hitchcock films remade by commercial and music video directors (below that, it’s remakes of French comedies, below that, the combined filmographies of Benigni and Carrot Top). Anyway, I’m in the middle of watching Gwyneth Paltrow whine her way through Simon West’s “Spellbound” when I awake in a cold sweat. Oh, and now I find I’m watching “Arlington Road”.
In what should have been an NBC movie of the week starring Jim Belushi and Robert Urich, we meet Professor Michæl Faraday (Jeff Bridges, always acting as if he’s two fat rails into an eightball of coke). Faraday and his young son, Grant (Spencer Treat Clark) have been a little squirrelly since the wife and mother, an FBI agent, was killed during a botched raid based on incorrect information. The professor now spends his time hunkerin’ down with an ex-grad student (Hope Davis) and teaching a course on the history of terrorism. He finally reaches out of his shell to new neighbors Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, taking the film none too seriously). Faraday starts to notice massive inconsistencies in Oliver’s stated history, and his paranoia slips into overdrive. Might his new best friend be a…a…a… TERRORIST!?!? Hilarity ensues.
This extravaganza is brought to you by Mark Pellington, the director of the nice, but little seen “Going All the Way” and Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” video.
How many botched thrillers is it possible for me to see in a year? Apparently we’re going to find out. I’ve already ground my teeth through “Entrapment”, “The General’s Daughter” and probably half a dozen other films I’ve blocked from my memory. It makes you realize what a goddam genius Brian De Palma is. So what if he occasionally rips off Sir Alfred? At least he CAN DO IT RIGHT. Fellas, there’s more to directing than lighting, editing, and the thumpin’ soundtrack.
This monstrosity contains one of the worst manipulative images I’ve seen year (outside of “Life is Beautiful”). When we see Faraday’s wife, on the ground in this West Virginia compound, shot by a 20-year-old white trash girl in a sun dress with a baby in one hand and a sawed-off shotgun in the other.
We’re also treated with repeated references to a fictional bombing eerily similar to the Oklahoma City bombing for a ripped-from-the headlines FOX-Night-at-the-Movies flavor. Yay. This masterpiece started out at around three stars, but after the credits, it just got sillier and more lurid until… suddenly I wake up and I’m watching Stephen Hopkins’ “North by Northwest” with teens set in a mall. AHHHHH!!!! I’M IN HELL! I’M IN HELL!