Harley Jane Kozak does not get out to the movies much these days. Not unless the movie features animated fish or fluffy day-glo animals. She tells me this as we make our way up three flights of escalators inside the sprawling Metreon theater complex in San Francisco, where I am about to treat the L.A-based author-actress and mother-of-three to an afternoon matinee of Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. So movie-deprived has Kozak been, that after finding our seats, when the lights go dim and the mighty Metreon throws no less than eight high-volume previews at us, (everything from “Monster-in-Law” and “The Longest Yard” to Fever Pitch and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), my guest is fairly delirious with joy.
“I guess it’s just a reflection on how long it’s been since I went to a movie that wasn’t made by Pixar, but I found all the trailers to be really exciting,” Kozak laughs, of Los Angeles, cradling a cup of coffee after the show. “Just the idea that I was sitting in a movie theater watching trailers was exciting. It’s been so long.”
It’s been even longer since Kozak made a movie, having put her career on hold to raise her kids. Though she has recently accepted a small part in an independent horror film called “Sorrows End”—“It’s two days of work and my head implodes, how could I say no to that?” she grins wickedly—after years in the business, with prominent parts in such movies as “Arachnophobia”, “Parenthood”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “Dark Planet” and “The Amy Fisher Story” (Drew Barrymore version), Kozak says she’s happy enough taking a break to be a mom.
Of course, she also writes books.
Her buzz-getting, genre-blending mystery novels, Dating Dead Men and Dating is Murder (Doubleday), are the adventures of Wollie Shelley, a stunning, gun-phobic, crime-fighting graphic artist with serious dating issues. They are part action-adventure, part romantic-comedy, and part mystery-thriller-cultural commentary.
“I like books and movies that are stitched together from different genres,” she explains. “So of course I loved ‘Miss Congeniality 2’.”
For those who missed the trailer, it stars Sandra Bullock in the follow-up to her 2000 hit about tough, fashion-challenged FBI agent Gracie Hart. The first one was a romantic comedy, as agent Hart gradually falls for another agent played by Benjamin Bratt. In the sequel, Bratt is gone, and so is any hint of romance. This one is a buddy-comedy in which Hart is paired with an even tougher agent, played by Ray’s Regina King, who take turns walloping the Bejeezus out of each other on the way to becoming best friends.
“I liked this one better than the first one,” Kozak says, “but then, I’ve never seen the first one all the way through because I always catch it on T.V. while I’m folding laundry or something.”
“Bummer,” I respond.
“Tell me about it,” she tosses back.
“It was really obvious to me,’ she goes on, “that this film is one of those cross-genre films, it marries a lot of the conventions of action-adventure with most of the elements of romantic comedy. And that’s exactly what I’m playing around with in my books. How far can you stretch the various genres? What can you take out or sneak in without turning them into a completely different genre? What I loved was that they took a romantic comedy and just . . . removed the romance. And it worked. That’s very interesting.”
“I see a similarity between the tone of this film and your books,” I point out, “in that they both stretch plausibility a little bit, but just a bit.”
“I agree,” Kozak says. “There’s not that much that would make you go, ‘Impossible.’ And even when something is a little bit implausible, or even a lot implausible, you are willing to cut it a little slack because it’s so entertaining. That’s what kind of movie this is, and I hope that’s the kind of novel I write.”
Another other thing she enjoyed about “Miss Congeniality” was the realistic female-on-female butt-kicking. It turns out that Kozak is a student of Krav Maga, a form of martial arts taught in Israel to the army and to law enforcement. It’s become very popular in Hollywood, and in her latest book, Kozak’s leading lady attends a hilarious Krav Maga class.
“Krav Maga is essentially street fighting,” Kozak explains. “I took an introductory class, and I loved it so much I signed up for a year, that was two years ago, so now I’m, like, a yellow belt.”
“Street fighting?” I ask. “That’s what? Punching and kicking?”
“Punching and kicking, yeah,’ she smiles. “Putting people in choke holds. Breaking fingers. Gouging out people’s eyes. Fun stuff like that.”
“So the stuff Sandra Bullock and Regina King do to each other in Miss Congeniality 2, you can do all that?”
“I can,” she happily reports. “That’s why I loved those scenes so much. I loved what those women were doing to each other. I really wanted to have the pause and replay. Someday, I’ll get the DVD of this. So I can watch them beat each other up over and over.”
“Have you noticed that women beat each other in a different way than men beat do when they each other up?” I ask.
“In class,” she says, “I’ve noticed that the women all tend to have a lot of built in, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ It’s happened in class where I’ve gotten hit in the face, usually by accident, and when that happens my partner almost always goes, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ That happens all the time when women are training together, or when a guy is training with a woman, if someone gets hit—even though it’s usually the fault of the person getting hit, they let their guard down or something. But I don’t ever see the guys apologizing to each other.”
In Crav Maga practice, the instructors don’t mind all that much when people are accidentally clobbered, as long as they aren’t hurt, because, as Kozak explains, for anyone training to defend themselves against street violence, it’s important to know what it’s like to be hit.
“Most of us women have no sense of what it’s like to get hit, unless, God forbid, we happen to be in relationships like that,” she says. “But for most of us in the classes, white middle class women, we’re not used to the feeling of taking a punch the way men are from having experienced it on the playground at an early age. Women learn about social cruelty at an early age, even as early as preschool, but most women grow up without ever having been hit. So when it does happen, the feeling of being hit, the disorientation of that, is so strange, that it can make it harder to fight back. The first time someone attacks us on the street, it can completely throw us out of the game, just our first –time response to being hit. A trained fighter, when hit, reflexively knows the game is not over, it’s just begun, and they will fight back. It’s the reason why, when we’re training and we’re holding up a pad for another person to hit against, we sometimes hold the pad up against our bodies, so we can absorb the hit ourselves a bit, to learn what it feels like to be hit and to keep on fighting.”
“So in a fight on the streets, who could take who, you or Sandra Bullock?”
“Oh wow, I wouldn’t even want to think about that!” Kozak laughs. “I’d have a hard time hitting Sandra Bullock hard enough to make her go down. I guess I just like her too much.”
David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.