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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Movies

Soapy and I went to the movies last weekend. Scheduling prevented my customary 2 for 1 loitering trick (Kung Fu Hustle was our other target,) so we settled for a mildly satisfying single shot. The post-movie dialogue at IHOP revealed that Soapy disliked the film much more than I did, but we tended to agree on the strengths and weaknesses.

Garth Jennings (best known for directing an REM video and appearing as an uncredited zombie in Shaun of the Dead) takes on the Herculean task of pleasing fanboys and geeks everywhere by refilming Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It almost succeeds, due to the well produced Guidebook interludes, and the efforts of many talented actors (Alan Rickman as the lugubrious voice of Marvin the Robot, Malkovich as an evil genius almost too scary to fit the film's mood, Bill Nighy as William Hurt as Slartibartfast) but is mired in mediocrity by uninspired casting choices for Arthur Dent and Trillian, a sadly lackluster narration by Stephen Fry (who Stave It Off loved as Wilde), and by the director's poor feel for comic timing. What should be a very witty and punchy script instead drags.

One person you cannot blame is Mos Def. Better known for his hiphop (Stave it Off loves Black on Both Sides) than his acting chops, many fans (especially those of the English persuasion) thought that casting an American rapper as Ford Prefect was anathema. Instead he brings a liveliness and presence to the screen that helps keep us awake though Arthur's tedious hissy fits and Stephen Fry's dry wit. His performance bears little resemblance to acting forays by other musicians (like Frank Sinatra or Ice-T) who seem to bank on their stage presence instead of attempting to act. Mos Def entertains by actually trying.

Perhaps the real problem with this film is my own excessive familiarity with the source material. I didn't have any issues about strict adherence to the script or missing subplots. Rather, the jokes just aren't as funny anymore. But have they lost their potency because I've heard them too many times or because they're bound in a previous era's sensibility? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that someone unfamiliar with the books or the original BBC movie version would probably enjoy the absurdity of this cosmic morality play more than I did.

Overall score: 6 out of 10 _Cinema



At 5/07/2005 03:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alas, I have not viewed a film in weeks. I even cancelled Netflix because the only time I found to watch movies was beginning at midnight, which really cut into my sleep time. So I appreciate your time-saving review John...I won't allocate scant resources to a mediocre flick when potential jems like "Kung Fu Hustle" call out for my time. Even my beating heart desire to just listen to my fave Alan Rickman's voice will not move me to spare 2 hours on what you have so eloquently described as a feeble and failed attempt to inject comic timing into faded jokes.
P.S. Hate Frank Sinatra, love Ice-T.

At 5/14/2005 11:21:00 AM, Blogger walaka said...

Don't forget that Frank actually acted in a few of his movies... as much as he was a brute and a thug, he had talent.


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