Clueless in Chicago

by Robert J. Hawkins | May 10, 2001
Clueless in Chicago The question for today, guys: The ability to read women`s minds - handicap or blessing? In "What Women Want" (Paramount, PG-13, VHS/DVD) slick chauvinist womanizer and all-around top ad agency creative guy Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) doesn`t know how to answer that. He can tell you a million ways to get into a woman`s bedroom, but into her head? No idea, doesn`t care.

In imagining Nick, a description from another movie ("Armageddon") comes to mind: "handicapped by a natural immaturity." Admired by men, a guy`s guy, the Nick-man hasn`t a clue that he is on the brink of extinction. His success at the agency has been built largely on installing a demi-clad damsel beside a product - let`s say beer, for example - and calling it a can`t-miss ad campaign. It works in a boy`s world - but the Nick-ster hasn`t noticed that the hot expendable-income demos have been slipping downstream to young-single-female. These women aren`t buying running shoes because Pamela Anderson is bending over in a pair of them in a TV commercial.

Into the Chicago shop where slick-Nick rules comes a new exec with a whole new game, Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt). She`s bright, ambitious, beautiful, creative, demanding and driven - or, to put it the Nick-olodeon`s way, "She`s a man-eating bitch." Darcy is hired over the top of Nick-arooney to bring in a piece of the billions going to other agencies that "get it."

As Nick-dude plots her destruction, a strange thing happens. A freak accident involving a tub-full of water and an electric hair-dryer suddenly enables him to hear exactly what women are thinking. All women. Every woman. Little-girl women. Female dogs. His own, shudder, teen-age daughter. And Darcy, too. For Nick, it is a revelation. Or several:

1. Some women despise him.

2. He`s not the sex god he imagined himself to be.

3. Women can be just as crass and self-absorbed as he is.

Some would say Nick has been handed a gift. Nick, who already considers himself a gift to all womankind, considers it just the coolest toy in his arsenal of sexist jokes, come-on lines and seductive grins. The more he uses it, however, the more it reshapes him. Nick starts to listen to women, including his estranged 16-year-old daughter, who more-or-less despises him for the pig he appears to be.

Then there`s Lola (Marisa Tomi), the Starbucks barrista/actress who is a jumble of fear, cynicism and anger behind the sweet lips and laughing eyes. Often burned, she`s been resisting Nick`s charm. Nick finds all the right buttons while reading her mind, but when it gets down to crunch time, he uses her thoughts to help him guide her into the most pleasurable sexual experience of her life. (No sweat, it is the most chaste seduction scene you`ll find in a movie today.)

Darcy, meanwhile, is rather dazzled by a guy who can anticipate her every thought. She buys into the "great minds think alike" scenario. All the while, Nick is finessing the Nike Women`s Division account right our from under her nose.

Inevitably, Nick falls in love with her mind. The man from Mars has found his Venus. Unfortunately, the trigger has been pulled on his career-assassination plot. She`s going down, baby. The clock is turning back. It`s just about to be a boy`s world once again. Only Nick has no appetite for it.

Having lived a few days in the heads of women, he`s able to see himself for what he is. As the wise one said, "Perception is the doorway to change." So, again, class: The ability to read women`s minds - handicap or blessing?

Celebrity note: Bette Midler has an uncredited role as the shrink who tells Nick to relax and enjoy his new gift - and his status as the only guy in the world who has a shot at truly understanding women.


"Quills" (Fox, R, VHS/DVD) - The ever-provocative director Philip Kaufman brings to cinema the most scandalous provocateur in history, the Marquis de Sade, for which role Geoffrey Rush justly earned an Oscar nomination.

In this black comedy with a potent measure of suspense, the marquis is living out his final days in a madhouse from which a laundry maid (Kate Winslet) smuggles out his stories of eroticism and sexual adventure. His titillating writings have all of France a titter, but they pit him against the asylum`s director (Joaquin Phoenix) and a conservative doctor (Michael Caine).

The DVD version contains several short features on the Marquis de Sade (who inspired the word sadism) and on the making of the movie.

"Duets" (Hollywood, R, VHS/DVD) - Bruce Paltrow directs his famous daughter Gwyneth and an ensemble cast in the story of a half-dozen people who dump their 9-to-5s to pursue a few moments of fame in the dizzying world of - karaoke? The six converge on Omaha and the world series of karaoke singing, where they hope to successfully bankroll canned music with scrolling lyrics and passable voices into a grand prize.

Others in the cast are rock musician Huey Lewis (who used to make fun of this kind of thing from the stage), Maria Bello, Andre Braugher, Paul Giamatti and Scott Speedman.

"Sunshine" (Paramount, R, VHS/DVD) - Ralph Fiennes plays multiple roles in this three-hour epic that follows the rise and fall of three generations of the Sonnenschein family.

The story begins in the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as the family struggles with its Jewish heritage and assimilation in a hostile world. The film also stars real-life mother daughter actresses Rosemary Harris and Jenifer Ehle. Also, Rachel Weisz and William Hurt. Director is Oscar winner Istvan Szabo ("Mephisto.")

"Incubus" (Winstar, VHS/DVD) - Before there was Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise there was a guy named Marc - also portrayed by William Shatner.

This 1965 sci-fi horror piece was a favorite of several film festivals before it disappeared for 30 years. He`s a good soldier, returned home from war to recover from his wounds. An evil female demon Kia (Allyson Ames) sets out to kill him but - and isn`t this always Shatner`s fate? - she falls in love with him. Her sister demon isn`t so easily seduced. She sends the Incubus to wreak havoc.

The 76-minute film is shot in black and white and - shades of the `60s - the dialogue is in Esperanto with English subtitles.

"Yi-Yi (A One and a Two)" (Winstar, VHS/DVD) - Currently making the art house rounds, to strong acclaim. The middle-class Taiwanese Jian family is undergoing turmoil to which many an American Family can relate.

The middle-aged father`s executive position in a software business is in jeopardy, the mother is going through a midlife crisis and the teen-age daughter and her younger sibling are a handful. It`s crunch time. The dialogue is in Mandarin with English subtitles.

"The Legend 2" (Dimension, R, VHS/DVD) - Legendary Cantonese folk hero Fong Sai Yuk (Jet Li) returns as an apprentice martial arts practitioner under the guidance of this godfather - respected head of the secret Red Flower Society. Sai Yuk must stop the overthrow of the society by a traitor, and win the hand of the governor`s daughter in order to retrieve a box holding the secret to his godfather`s birthright. This is all accomplished with much martial arts butt-kicking.


A classic western rides on to DVD this week for the first time: "The Magnificent Seven." Based Akira Kurosawa`s epic "Seven Samurai," the movie boasts a cast of superstars - Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn among them.

The seven gunslingers ride to the rescue of a small Mexican village under siege from a band of marauders. The DVD from MGM includes a new documentary, as well as audio commentary by Coburn, Wallach and executive producer Walter Mirisch.

Winstar brings three classic foreign films to DVD: Director Michelangelo Antonioni`s study of alienation and decay, "La Notte," starring Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau.

Seven directors contribute vignettes to the anthology pice titled "Love and the French Woman." And, finally, in the comedy "Tito and Me," a 10-year-old boy is obsessed with the Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito.


May 29: "Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection" - a DVD box set containing five of her greatest films, plus the TV movie "Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days." The actress would have been 75 years old on June 1. Ponder that.

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins


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