HIDE AND SEEK It's becoming increasingly rote to review junky, generic thrillers like Hide and Seek: Critics would do well to simply cut-and-paste their slams of last year's Secret Window (this film's doppelganger) and leave it at that. But let's not stop with that Johnny Depp dud: If Hide and Seek were a math equation, it would read something like Secret Window plus The Shining plus What Lies Beneath plus Cape Fear plus The Sixth Sense plus May plus The Bad Seed plus Happiness multiplied by a high level of improbability and divided by a lack of any genuine scares. Robert De Niro, in full paycheck-gorging mode, is miscast as David Callaway, a New York psychologist who, after his wife (Amy Irving) commits suicide, moves upstate with their traumatized 9-year-old daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Still struggling to cope with the tragedy, Emily invents an imaginary friend named Charlie, and a subsequent string of disasters leads David to wonder whether Emily suffers from a split personality, whether another person is manipulating his daughter, or whether there's a supernatural presence in their new home. Hide and Seek contains the usual visual "scares" always found in this sort of nonsense, such as the cat that suddenly springs out of a closed closet (which begs the question: How did a cat get in a closed closet in the first place?). Equally daft is the dialogue credited to first-timer Ari Schlossberg, with the defining moment of unintentional hilarity arriving when, after it appears that Emily has mutilated all her dolls and drowned the cat in the bathtub, David gives his reason for not wanting to take her back to the city: "I'm afraid it might make her condition worse." 1/2
THE INCIDENT One of the featured attractions during this week's Project Lovelight event (check out See&Do for details), this hard-hitting film from 1967 proves to be the sort of raw drama that, sad to say, never loses its topicality. So constricted that it's hard to believe it wasn't a stage play first (the script was penned by TV series vet Nicholas E. Baehr), the film stars Tony Musante and Martin Sheen (in his film debut) as two NYC street thugs who corner several passengers on a subway car and proceed to brutalize and humiliate them. Someone like Dirty Harry (or even Billy Jack) would only need 10 seconds, tops, to lay waste to these punks, but most of the passengers adopt a mind-my-own-business passivity that not only allows the abuse to continue indefinitely but also encourages some of the victims to turn on each other. Director Larry Peerce establishes a mood of jangly tension by allowing several of his actors to play to the rafters (or, in Musante's case, to the stratosphere), and during its best moments, the film's gritty efficiency brings to mind early Scorsese or Cassavetes. The actors playing the passengers are an eclectic bunch: A baby-faced Beau Bridges, Thelma Ritter (winding down a stellar career as Hollywood's favorite supporting actress), Ruby Dee, and The Tonight Show's Ed McMahon are among the many familiar faces.
THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON / THE WOODSMAN Nixon, inspired by actual events of the mid-70s, centers on an ordinary joe (Sean Penn) who's a failure both professionally and personally. Tired of being constantly beaten down by life, he decides to murder Nixon, the man he feels best exemplifies everything that's wrong with America. The Woodsman, meanwhile, casts Kevin Bacon as a former convict trying to adjust to life on the outside after spending years in prison for molesting young girls. He does his best to stay clean, but discovers it just might be a losing battle when those around him aren't willing to give him a chance to start anew. Nixon focuses on a man succumbing to sickness while Woodsman centers on someone who's trying to escape it - both films dole out the will-he-or-won't-he? tension in comparable doses. Both movies:
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 A favorite of critics and cultists alike, John Carpenter's 1976 Assault On Precinct 13 was a nifty little "B" flick about an LA street gang that descends upon a police station with the sole purpose of wiping out everyone inside. This flashy update is a competent but entirely generic action opus in which it's a group of rogue cops who attack the precinct in order to kill a captured crime lord whose testimony would put them behind bars. Laurence Fishburne plays the cool-under-fire kingpin, who reluctantly teams up with an honest officer (Ethan Hawke) to ensure his own survival. Expect few surprises from yet another needless remake.
THE AVIATOR This sprawling biopic about Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the notorious billionaire-industrialist-producer-flyboy, employs all the cinematic razzle-dazzle we've come to expect from Martin Scorsese, yet there's an added layer of excitement as the eternal cineaste finally gets to step back in time via his meticulous recreations of the sights and sounds of Old Hollywood (look for Cate Blanchett in a show-stealing turn as Katharine Hepburn). Still, the behind-the-scenes movie material takes a back seat to other aspects of Hughes' life - namely, his adventures in the field of aviation and his lifelong battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. At its best, the film is a stirring tale about a man whose inner drive allowed him to climb ever higher and higher, grazing the heavens before his inner demons seized the controls and forced the inevitable, dreary descent. 1/2