Monday, April 3, 2023

Once Upon a Time at the Dollar Theater – April 4, 1997

 by Adam Riske

Retro reviews of The Relic, Beverly Hills Ninja, Ransom and more! Plus, awards!

Welcome to a new quarterly column series celebrating the second run theaters of my youth. Today we’re going back to early Spring 1997 where the Showplace 8 played seven movies (Dante’s Peak was on two screens! Probably unnecessarily!), some of which were hits from the 1996 holiday movie season (101 Dalmatians, Ransom, Michael) and others were early 1997 programmers (The Relic, Dante’s Peak, Metro, Beverly Hills Ninja).

Here’s my ranking from worst to best based on recent revisits:
Beverly Hills Ninja: This movie makes me sad. It’s a rare case where I feel like the filmmakers, and the movie itself, are laughing at Chris Farley more than laughing with him. Also, him being a bumbling ninja is just too obvious, so why not make the joke be that he’s unexpectedly a good ninja? Mortal Kombat’s Robin Shou comes off best in the David Spade role. The biggest laughs in the movie come from his elaborate disguises and ninja methods to blend into his surroundings. I didn’t like Beverly Hills Ninja back then and I still don’t like it now. Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars.
Dante’s Peak: Dante’s Peak is the Deep Impact to Volcano’s Armageddon. It’s fine. Pierce Brosnan is earnest and effective in a ‘50s Sci-Fi movie scientist kind of way and Linda Hamilton elevates what’s written for her just by being effortlessly sympathetic. The pair (and their tentative, burgeoning romance) are the best part of the movie. After a tedious first hour, the movie picks up steam in the second half after the volcano erupts. Dante’s Peak is a bit less fun than other disaster movies of this era (era) because it’s happening to a single small town and the smallness of it makes it seem sadder and more tragic when you get glimpses of extras whose world is collapsing around them. It’s well-made and has great special effects that hold up well, but revisiting Dante’s Peak was not as fun as I wanted it to be. Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars.

101 Dalmatians (1996): First and foremost, this movie’s very cute. The courtship between Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson is charming and the Dalmatians are adorable. I’m mixed on the Glenn Close performance (#NotMyCruella) in the same way I am with Dustin Hoffman in Hook (which Close appeared in briefly). I feel like what she’s doing is more amusing to herself than it is to the audience. The first half of 101 Dalmatians works much better than the second when it devolves into tired Home Alone style slapstick (both movies were written by John Hughes so he’s ripping himself off). One bonus is Jeff Daniels’ character plays a video game designer and the game he designed is one of the most fun-looking “fake” video games ever put into a movie. I wonder if this was the actual game tied in with the film when it was released. I’d look it up, but I know I never will. Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars.

Michael: This was my first revisit of Michael since 1996 and was surprised to see that John Travolta (despite playing the title character) is much more of a supporting actor, with William Hurt being the true lead. Hurt gives a great performance and is the highlight of a pleasant, second-tier Nora Ephron outing. Andie MacDowell is charming; Travolta seems like he’s having fun and the dog sidekick is adorable. Not a great movie, but you can do a lot worse. Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars.

Ransom: Full disclosure: I used to love Ransom. I thought it was a kick ass, mean little thriller from Ron Howard (who rarely goes this dark). On revisit, I’m right and wrong. It’s certainly mean (the child endangerment moments leave me much queasier as an adult than they did as a teenager) and the movie’s suspenseful and exciting in its final act. But, back in 1996, I didn’t have a Mel Gibson allergy like I do now. I’m not rooting for the villains exactly just to spite Gibson, but I’m certainly not on Mel’s side anymore either. Gary Sinise as Det. Jimmy Shaker (great movie name) has become an Adam meme at our site over the years and I think it remains a fun, scenery chewing performance by Sinise. I don’t believe the character at all, but I appreciate that he’s less a criminal mastermind than an easily flustered, raging, evil hot head. I’m knocking Ransom down a half-star because Dan Hedaya plays a character named Jackie Brown and it’s distracting as hell because the characters always say his full name and not just his first or last. Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

The Relic: I’ve been mixed on The Relic over the years, but this recent viewing was by far the best. It works very well as a fun, schlocky updated ‘50s sci-fi monster movie and makes great use of its location (Chicago’s Field Museum). My biggest complaint has always been the film’s lighting (director Peter Hyams did the cinematography), which obscures the image in certain moments to the point where it goes past being atmospheric and just makes the action incomprehensible. I still feel that way and think it dings the movie slightly, but there’s a lot to like here, including a great movie monster (Kothoga) and maybe the best (certainly the most likable) performance by Tom Sizemore as a superstitious detective in charge of taking the monster down. Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Metro: This movie kicks all of the ass and is my pick of the most underrated movie of Eddie Murphy’s career. Metro was the immediate follow-up for Murphy after his comeback with his The Nutty Professor remake the previous year. I think it’s finally the movie Murphy had been trying unsuccessfully to make work for years where he’s believable as an action hero just as much as a comedic lead. The movie is boosted tremendously by a fantastically evil Michael Wincott as the heavy and great action sequences (including one on the streets of San Francisco that bests the one in The Rock). Director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance, Coach Carter) did an amazing job with this underseen, forgotten gem of ‘90s action cinema. Rating: 4 out of 4 stars.
And now on to some awards:

Best Trailer:
Nominees: 101 Dalmatians, Beverly Hills Ninja, Metro, Ransom, The Relic

Winner: Ransom

Best Song:
Nominees: “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas from Beverly Hills Ninja, “I Thought About You” by Frank Sinatra from Michael, “The Christmas Song” by Nat ‘King’ Cole from 101 Dalmatians, “Oh Yeah, It Feels So Good” by New Edition from Metro

Winner: “Oh Yeah, It Feels So Good” by New Edition from Metro

Best Animal/Creature Performance:
Nominees: The high-fiving raccoons in 101 Dalmatians, Perdita the dog in 101 Dalmatians, Pongo the dog in 101 Dalmatians, Sparky the dog in Michael, Kothoga the monster from The Relic

Winner: Kothoga, the monster from The Relic

Best Duo:
Nominees: Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton in Dante’s Peak, Eddie Murphy and Michael Wincott in Metro, William Hurt and Andie MacDowell in Michael, Mel Gibson and Gary Sinise in Ransom, Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller in The Relic

Winner: William Hurt and Andie MacDowell in Michael

Best Villain:
Nominees: Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians, Michael Wincott in Metro, Gary Sinise in Ransom, Kothoga in The Relic, Chi Muoi Lo in The Relic

Winner: Michael Wincott in Metro

Best Supporting Performance:
Nominees: Robin Shou in Beverly Hills Ninja, Linda Hamilton in Dante’s Peak, Michael Wincott in Metro, Andie MacDowell in Michael, Gary Sinise in Ransom

Winner: Gary Sinise in Ransom

Best Lead Performance:
Nominees: Eddie Murphy in Metro, William Hurt in Michael, Mel Gibson in Ransom, Penelope Ann Miller in The Relic, Tom Sizemore in The Relic

Winner: Tom Sizemore in The Relic

Best Director:
Nominees: Roger Donaldson for Dante’s Peak, Thomas Carter for Metro, Nora Ephron for Michael, Ron Howard for Ransom, Peter Hyams for The Relic

Winner: Thomas Carter for Metro

Best Movie:
Nominees: 101 Dalmatians, Metro, Michael, Ransom, The Relic

Winner: Metro

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