THE COMPANY The latest from Robert Altman is a must-see for balletomanes but most likely a must-avoid for everyone else. With most of the cast comprised of members of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, Altman takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the way a dance company operates on a daily basis, with writer Barbara Turner jerry-rigging a fictional storyline that brings a minimal sense of cohesion to the whole enterprise. Scream's Neve Campbell, herself a formally trained dancer, plays one of the members of the troupe, who like her peers must contend with rigorous schedules, dance-related injuries, and the whims of the company's dictatorial director (Malcolm McDowell, suitably spiky). A few of the ballet pieces are adequately shot for the screen (most notably one that's accompanied by a haunting Angelo Badalamenti tune), but the backstage material is unremittingly dull, and the central romance between Campbell's dancer and a chef played by James Franco is a distracting disaster. The climactic production, a garish number in a show called Blue Snake, is meant to dazzle with its sheer extravagance, but truth be told, it's no less cheesy or campy than the notorious set pieces from Showgirls and Staying Alive. 1/2
DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS Just as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey infused the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing with their vibrant personalities and swift moves, so do Diego Luna and Romola Garai provide some lift to this otherwise forgettable "re-imagining." Set in 1958 Cuba, on the eve of Castro's revolution, the film centers on open-minded American student Katey Miller (Garai) and her attraction to the local color. While her Yankee cohorts prefer hanging out at the country club where they're free to insult the Cuban employees, Katey opts to strike up a friendship with pool boy Javier (Luna), a local lad who shares her passion for dancing. With a major competition just around the corner, Katey decides that the combination of her ballroom experience and his street moves might make them unbeatable; first, though, they must overcome the prejudice of members of both families. The storyline is trivial in the extreme, and the film never establishes its explosive era in any believable sense -- despite some tacked-on moments of chaos, the movie might as well be set in 1986 Miami as 1958 Havana. Yet Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Garai (Nicholas Nickleby) make an appealing couple, while fans of the original Dirty Dancing will be rewarded with an extended cameo by Swayze as a dance instructor.
THE FOG OF WAR Subtitled Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, The Fog of War might reasonably be expected to serve as a mea culpa on the part of the former Secretary of Defense for both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a plea for forgiveness for his role as one of the chief architects of the Vietnam War. Yet this latest documentary from Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) proves to be an infinitely more comprehensive -- not to mention more ambiguous -- piece of nonfiction, as McNamara discusses just about every facet of his life yet still remains tantalizingly opaque regarding certain subjects. Punctuated by vintage newsreel footage as well as Morris' blatant attempts to visually dress up what's largely a "talking head" movie, McNamara chats about his experiences during World War II (where he was involved with the firebombing of Japan), his stint as president of Ford and the Cuban Missile Crisis before inexorably circling back to the topic of Vietnam. The Fog of War offers many lessons to mull over, yet the most meaningful one might be the old axiom about history repeating itself: One look at the current mess in Iraq and it's chilling to note how little has been learned by those in charge.
WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT Maybe Ray Romano's shtick works on television, where undemanding sit-coms can easily amuse undemanding couch potatoes. But as far as his big-screen debut is concerned, the man's a washout, a zero, a big fat nada. Welcome to Mooseport has been designed to showcase Romano's comedic prowess, yet his performance is ultimately as funny as Sean Penn's in Mystic River -- which is to say, not funny at all. Luckily, he's surrounded by a cast of professionals who do their best to cover up his deficiencies -- when the team includes the likes of Gene Hackman and Marcia Gay Harden, you can at least count on a couple of base hits here and there. Hackman stars as Monroe "Eagle" Cole, who settles down in the town of Mooseport, Maine, following two hugely successful terms as US President. Eagle finds himself railroaded by the city council into running for town mayor, a potential p.r. nightmare once it's revealed that he'll face opposition from Handy Harrison (Romano), Mooseport's easy-going schlub of a plumber. Hackman's spirited performance is better than this movie deserves, while Maura Tierney, as the no-nonsense recipient of both men's amorous advances, brings warmth and resolve to an otherwise thin character. But the comedy quotient, waning from the start, becomes nonexistent whenever it's placed in Romano's clumsy mitts. 1/2