Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

The hellacious curtain raiser for “Rogue Nation”, the fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” film franchise, finds the series’ recurring protagonist Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) clinging to a cargo plane as it lifts off. Ostensibly Hunt wants to board this plane mid-flight because it is piloted by Chechen rebels who possess nuclear arms. Yet the plane just as easily could have been piloted by treasonous Canadian Mounties who illegally possess Vermont Maple Syrup. Hunt, comically bickering with fellow agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and his ace technician Benji (Simon Pegg) by headset while dangling, seems less interested in what’s on the airbus than whether or not he can actually pull off this mid-flight stunt. It’s a sequence played more for amusement than dramatic effect, a sensation analogous of the whole film, where even its most tense moments are infused with action movie joie de vivre. It isn’t about self-serious heroism; it’s about wanton brinksmanship.

Wanton brinkmanship, in fact, is the phrase employed by CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) as he convinces a Senate committee to shut down the Impossible Mission Force. “They’re a throwback,” he dismissively declares in the midst of his plea. So is the film. While so many summer tentpole movies have acquired emotional baggage as a means to ground their stories in realism, “Rogue Nation” jettisons any pretense of reality the instant Ethan gets himself into that airliner pickle, no baggage to check, thanks.

Cruise’s characters so often have someone to avenge, scars of the past to heal, but for “Rogue Nation’s” Ethan everything is refreshingly present tense. He’s only got what’s he going after and that is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), chief of the vile Syndicate, a kind of “anti-IMF” used for evil rather than good, whose requisite diabolical scheme seems to exist of nothing more than daring Ethan to come and get him. That’s all “Rogue Nation” is really – one big dare and as Cruise’s Brian Flanagan once opined, When a guy lays down a dare, you gotta take it. So Ethan does, over and over.

Lane is admittedly a bland baddie, essentially faceless, seen as a sketch on a drawing pad just as often as in person. And that’s okay because the real villain here isn’t even Lane (he’s just the piece of cheese at the end of the maze); it’s Hunley, played with patented droll pomposity by Baldwin. His character’s shuttering the IMF has caused Ethan to become a fugitive, and so as Ethan chases Lane, Hunley chases Ethan. Hunley, though, is no match for our on-the-lam hero, and nor should he be.

Now you could read Hunley’s disdain for the IMF as commentary on governmental candidness mucking up the unmitigated secrecy necessary to keep us safe or you could see Hunley as something more akin to Margaret Dumont in old Marx Brothers movies, continually disgusted by the hero’s actions and eternally foiled by them nonetheless. (Psssssst...it’s the latter.) Steam practically billows from Baldwin’s ears every time Ethan gets the best of him, never more so than a rip-roaring, repartee-driven late film sequence where he goes from being one step ahead to thirty-nine steps behind in the blink of an eye. His reaction is worthy of a silent film. Curses!

In addition to Benji and Brandt, Ethan’s longtime cohort, dating all the way back to the first “M:I” movie, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) turns up, yet they all take a backseat to the suspiciously named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the fetching Swede who just like “Casablanca’s” immortal Ilsa Lund finds her allegiance pulled every which way. (Ferguson looks so much like the late great Ingrid Bergman that I kept waiting for her to pull off one of those famous “M:I” latex masks to reveal another face.) She matches right up to Ethan, eye-to-eye, though only after she kicks off her high heels, a little aside that feels humorously humongous, suggesting Cruise is on the whole joke. Though she transforms into his antagonistic love interest, this is PG-13 and they’re not allowed to have sex, which is okay because they just end up doing it, so to speak, in an intoxicating mountainside motorcycle chase anyway. That’s why Ethan acquires his most flamboyant article of clothing – an acid jungle print button-up – just prior to mounting his steed; it’s their first date and he wants to look his best. And even if she gets away, he catches back up, because that’s their push & pull, accomplices and enemies.

She’s also just as adept at ass-kicking as Ethan, saving his Yankee bacon not once but twice, most unforgettably in an underwater escape sequence where outfit with an armband that counts down his oxygen supply (movie prop of the year!), he has three minutes to hold his breath or else. The lead-up to this unforgettable bit of aqua derring-do comes to encapsulate “Rogue Nation” as a whole, a verbally dexterous sequence in which Ethan, Ilsa and Benji luxuriate in an opulent room, talking through strategic options of how to achieve their aim, dismissing plausible plans until they hit an idea that’s truly impossible. You can imagine writer/director Christopher McQuarrie doing the same with his think tank.

Ethan’s quest to find Lane is nothing more than a globe-trotting parlor game of action set pieces, each one effectively reaching its own level of OMG grandeur without piggybacking on the last, live action Loony Tunes that know the real stakes in these sorts of full-throttle epics are merely whether or not something is so electrically rendered it makes you laugh out loud. “Rogue Nation” made me laugh out loud more than most so-called comedies. Almost everything is electrically rendered. If the climactic sequence leaks just a little it’s only because the preceding two hours were walking on air, and upon re-entry I was more than willing to look the other way. As good as Hollywood gets, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is mindless escapism as art.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Glass Chin

Entering his gym, Bud Gordon (Corey Stoll), a one-time professional boxer known as “The Saint”, can’t help but observe how the janitor mops the floor as if “waiting for Life Magazine to show up.” It’s telling of the “Glass Chin’s” aesthetic, one born of an era when Life Magazine was a periodical mecca and boxing was a jewel in the American sports crown. Its characters borrow the postures of so many noir anti-heroes and heavies and gonna-get-mine dames while its narrative cribs whole-heartedly from countless black & white tales of fatalistic pugilists. This overriding familiarity is why Director Noah Buschel (who also wrote the script) imbues his gritty yet sumptuous little movie with all manner of stylistic flourishes, like recurring shots of characters seen head on, looking right at the camera, as if trying to convince us this isn’t simply “The Set Up” in color. Like Buschel and his cinematographic cohort Ryan Samul and the impeccable stable of actors are looking us square in the eye and daring us to tell them this isn’t real.

Perhaps because of its incessant nods to the past, “Glass Chin” deliberately makes clear its setting is Right Now. There are numerous allusions to the everyday, from throwaway references to movies and movie stars (“Wolverine” and Sandra Bullock) to an off-the-wall mentioning of Twitter at a spectacularly delicate moment to an iPod that Bud is gifted to replace his Walkman. All the characters here possess a certain fondness for nostalgia, wallowing in it even as they repeatedly state their future intentions, emblemized by the chief villain, charismatic if malevolent restauranteur J.J. (Billy Crudup), always prattling on about his purple future, whimsically lamenting “I miss heroin chic. Badly.” He claims he can aluminize The Saint’s future yet can’t let go of the past.

Bud wants to get out from under, scrap together enough to provide the life for his girlfriend Ellen (Marin Ireland) he thinks she deserves. He also wants to re-earn his “Saint” stripes. So he both agrees to tutor an up-and-coming welterweight with mellifluous throwback moniker of Kid Sunshine and take jobs as some sort of vaguely defined enforcer for J.J. who promptly pairs Bud with another nostalgist, glam rock exclusivist Roberto (Yul Vasquez), an invigorating character who might saunter around like a cock-of-the-walk put-on but also seems to be the single character entirely accepting of his lot in life. Maybe that acceptance, even if its born of psychopathic murderousness, makes a man as happy as a cartoon bluebird in Cuban heels.

Even as the film winds toward its inevitable conclusion, J.J. eventually, inevitably impressing upon Bud the need to force his tutee to take a fall in his Big Match or else, each one of these characters remains delightfully vivid, controlled not by the machinations of fate but by their own longings. And each of those longings is illustrated in voices entirely singular to the respective character. J.J. is gloriously smarmy, not so much self-impressed as desperate to impress. Bud’s rambling monologues reveal deep pockets of wounded pride. Ellen is unaffectedly to the point, as if she’s endured enough of Bud’s crap over the years. Maybe she has. Their late movie sequence in a hotel restaurant out of their weight class in which they suddenly, beautifully, heartbreakingly hash out their relationship sets aside the pull of the plot to simply listen to them talk.

That scene is not only indicative of the film’s willingness to simply give itself over to its characters for long periods at a time but of its primary visual strategy, a dedication to wide angles and long takes. Unlike “Birdman” where those infamously extensive tracking shots were employed to highlight the film’s grandiosity, the oft-static extended shots of “Glass Chin” infuse the scenes with reality. These shots let you see, let you feel, the world around these characters, like the all-inclusive shots of Bud and Ellen’s bedroom that is always sure to take in their little Peanuts-esque Christmas tree listing alongside, hapless yet a looming reminder of the emptiness of their aspirations.

These long takes are never put to better effect than the elongated shadowy sequence in Bud kitchen in which he is confronted by J.J. who delivers his ultimate ultimatum and slips out just ahead of Ellen who then is forced to deal with trying to clean up Bud’s sudden emotional mess. As this unfolds, the camera gradually, almost imperceptibly, moves in closer and closer, narrowing the gap until all that’s left in the frame is Bud and Ellen, him weeping, her consoling, an effortlessly evocative portrait of the walls closing in.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Long Days of Junketry

You probably heard about the dust-up this past week between Cara Delevingne, star of the just released “Paper Towns”, and a triad of Sacramento morning talk show hosts tasked with interviewing her. To be fair, when you’re in the employ of something called Good Morning, Sacramento you’re probably not trained or encouraged in the art of the insightful Q&A, but still. Marianne McClary could have at least called Cara “Cara” rather than “Carla” which is how she kicked off the whole ordeal, foreshadowing all the ensuing gleeful if excruciating awkwardness. Like when Ms. McClary, making like a latter day David Frost, followed up her error by asking if Delevingne had read the book on which the movie in which she starred was based. Oy vey. Even Rebecca Donaldson over at Wake Up, San Francisco would have the mind wattage not to ask if a person’s read the book on which the movie in which she starred was based.

From that already god-awful point, things merely worsened – or not, depending on your viewpoint – when Delevingne decided to become sassily sarcastic rather than a gracious drone. “No, I never read the book. Or the script actually,” she said. “I kind of winged it.” Is that impolite? Sure. Is it funny? Hell yes.

Is that Cara Delevingne or McKayla Maroney?
Some though it was too, others didn’t. McClary sure didn’t. After they cut the chit-chat sure McClary exclaimed: “I mean these guys, they sit through all these interviews from 800 TV stations, but still.” Her co-anchor Mark Allen heroically jumped in: “But still! You make $5 million for six weeks worth of work, you can pretend to talk to ‘Good Day Sacramento’ with some oomph!” (Did Ms. Delevingne earn $5 million for making “Paper Towns”? I’m not sure, but it’s whole budget was only $12 million. It’s possible that Mr. Allen took his salary figures from the same legal pad that told Ms. McClary that Cara’s name was “Carla”.)

John Green, the author of “Paper Towns”, then entered the fray, authoring a brief essay at Medium in defense of Ms. Delevingne. He writes: “She refuses to indulge lazy questions and refuses to turn herself into an automaton to get through long days of junketry. I don’t find that behavior entitled or haughty. I find it admirable. Cara Delevingne doesn’t exist to feed your narrative or your news feed — and that’s precisely why she’s so f–king interesting.” And that brings me to the overriding point of this post.

It’s easy for the public to roast these stars for going gonzo in these interviews BECAUSE GODDAMMIT IT’S THEIR JOB. But, like, don’t you have Monday Morning Meetings at your job? Aren’t they utterly pointless? Aren’t they rife with the same vapid statements and questions as the last 260 Monday Morning Meetings of the previous 5 years? Aren’t you always wondering, “Why am I even here?” Don’t you yearn to do what Cara did and make a mockery of the sham that this whole 8 AM debacle is and always has been? The press junket interview is the Monday Morning Meeting for a star. And they don’t just have one a week. They have a multitude of them for months. They have to listen to dozens and dozens of Maureen McClary’s call them “Carla” and wonder “is it hard to memorize all those lines?”

Movies have occasionally broached the topic of press junkets. “Lost in Translation” did to hilarious effect when we got a glimpse of Anna Faris’s ditzy star being asked McClary-ish questions and offering responses that probably would have made McClary guffaw with forced joy. “Notting Hill” did even better job where Julia Roberts brilliantly played it in a despairingly patient yet tired way that you just know was culled from real life. But I want more. I want a movie that’s nothing but press junkets. I want a movie called “Long Days of Junketry” (John Green, you’re a genius). I want it to star Parker Posey. I want it to show what this mindless shit does to a person. And I want the final sequences to show Parker Posey being “asked” to “Talk about what it was like working with James Franco” before smashing up the set of Top of the Morning, Tacoma with an axe.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: Blind Date (1987)

The thing about a Blind Date, of course, is that you don’t know the other person, haven’t seen them, have no idea how they act, etc. That’s what can make a Blind Date such a torturous, potentially humorous, situation. What’s interesting about “Blind Date”, however, is that it gives away the reveal before the reveal happens. Everybody tells Walter Davis (Bruce Willis) not to let his Blind Date drink. And yet, he fails to abide, perhaps because this is an eighties screwball comedy and in the eighties Reagan ran things and because Reagan ran things everything was perfect and nothing bad could happen and so if someone tells you not to give your Blind Date a drink you do anyway because fate isn’t something to be tempted but ignored. We are masters of our fate.

This revealing of the reveal takes some air out of the whole premise, and that’s how much of “Blind Date” feels – airless. It’s directed by Blake Edwards, who in 1987 would have been considered a venerable professional of the sort of hijinks hilarity required by this screwball comedy. Though he also helmed sobering dramas like “Days of Wine and Roses”, he was perhaps best known for this “Pink Panther” movies, films in which he demonstrated his knack for staging pratfalls. They were, however, elevated to greatness on account of Peter Sellers immortal riotous turn as Inspector Clouseau. Edwards knew just where to put the camera for Clouseau’s practice tangles with Kato, sure, but it was Sellers’ body language that took it to the next level. Director and Actor sang in harmony. “Blind Date”, however, suffers from a lack of a comparable performers.

Willis is primarily the straight man, tasked with conveying alternating charmed and exasperated reactions to Nadia Gates, the woman who gives the film its title. She’s played by Kim Basinger in a performance that is simply too un-manic to be the heroine required of a screwball. When he first meet her, she seems perfect, as she must, sort of a live-action embodiment of Holli Would. With one drink, though, she becomes a destructive force, wasting no time in screwing up Walter’s big dinner for whom she goes as better half and then getting him fired. Yet the manner in which she levels destruction is so disappointingly low-key. She’s a far cry from Elaine Benes getting soused on Schnapps. It’s, like, 57 years too late but imagine Jean Harlow in the role and the alcohol-infused chaos would be electric. Or imagine modern day Parker Posey having a few cocktails and going mainstream. The best we get in “Blind Date” is the moment Walter pleads with a bouncer while Nadia subtly slides into his stool in the background and quietly knocks back his scotch and soda. Even worse, the script calls for her to swing from drunk to sober on a dime, again and again. Nit-picking isn’t my forte but even I know you can’t get a clear head without at least a couple gallons of water and a 2lb burrito.

The MVP of the cast, in fact, turns out to be its principal supporting player, John Larroquette. He plays David Bedford, a lawyer and Nadia’s former beau, still fancying himself her primo suitor, showing up an early scene, as nice as can be, before quickly devolving, threatening Walter, punching out anyone’s lights who gets in his way, ably embodying the sort of crazy we might have expected from Nadia. Throwing himself into each gag with abandon, a White Knight whose chivalry is communicated exclusively in hysteria, Larroquette comes across like the true spirit animal to Blake Edwards. The absolute best involves his stalking in the new happy/unhappy couple by automobile, turning up like it’s “Duel”, and then repeatedly crashing through storefront windows. He’ll do whatever it takes for the joke. This is a man with the mania required of a screwball comedy.

For a good awhile it appears “Blind Date” might be going the all-in-one-night route, like a more classically inclined “After Hours.” It runs out of steam, though, and tosses Walter in jail and saving his skin requires representation from David which requires Nadia to say yes to David’s marriage proposal. So a third act of Walter running in to break up a wedding ensues which is done professionally enough but without any real hectic glee as Larroquette is required to tone down his antics so Willis can take center stage. Alas. Larroquette’s character may not have deserved the heroine, but he deserved a better end than to stand aside and watch the movie pass him by.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned Flashes Back to the Eighties

It's everyone's favorite time of year! By which I mean, it's my least favorite time of year. By which I mean, the dog days of summer (ugh) combine with the countdown to my dreaded another-year-has-passed-and-I-have-done-nothing-with-my-life-and-it's-all-meaningless birthday at the dawn of September. And so I find myself, as I do every year at this time, nostalgically and cinematically returning to the decade of my youth – The 80’s. Which is why this year once again Cinema Romantico’s “famed” Friday’s Old Fashioned column - the only classic film column on the internet named after bourbon, bitters, sugar, orange, and maraschino cherry - is going straight 80’s for the next month (with a bonus July 31st edition). Hawks gets traded in for Hughes. Jean Harlow takes a momentary respite to allow face time for Jean(ie) Bueller. Harold Lloyd cedes the stage to Lloyd Dobler.

Four of the five films this year are new to me, though I must stress, as always, the selections are not, shall we say, “quintessential”. Either way, I hope you don’t hold it against me. So strike up the Taylor Dayne, crack a Capri Sun and climb into my blogging DeLorean.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Which Did It Better?

“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” is set to drop to drop in theaters this week and this got to us thinking, as each new “M:I” release gets us to thinking, about the not-really-immortal moment in “M:I-2” when Tom Cruise totally goes Daniel Day-Lewis and apes perhaps the most famous moment of my all-time favorite movie “Last of the Mohicans” and yells at Thandie Newton “Just stay alive!” And each time I think about Cruise yelling it at Thandie, I think about when Jerry yells “Just stay alive!” at Kramer in the 175th episode – “The Maid” – of “Seinfeld.”

It’s the hip thing these days on the Interwebs, you know, to take one thing and pit it against some other thing by positing the question “Which Did It Better?” and then proceed with a breakdown to determine the winner because this is America and in America you're either first or last. So, which did the “Just Stay Alive!” homage better – “M:I-2” or “Seinfeld”?

First things first, I haven't actually seen “MI:2” since seeing it in the theater all the way back in 2000 and so I totally forgot about this Tom Cruise expression.

Look at that! In retrospect it seems obvious he would grow up to jump up and down on Oprah’s couch and ruin his career, doesn’t it? Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick. Wait, wait, wait. Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my third favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick and “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise. No, no, no. Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my fourth favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick, “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise and “The goldfish are coming with me” Tom Cruise. Uh, well, actually Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my fifth favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick, “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise, “The goldfish are coming with me” Tom Cruise and the Tom Cruise that smacks his hands in “Eyes Wide Shut” (00:40 of this trailer).

Second, however, is that Tom Cruise doesn’t actually completely homage Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis, of course, yelled “Just stay alive! No matter what occurs, I will find you!” Cruise yells: “Just stay alive! I'm not going to lose you!” Jerry, on other hand, does the full Day-Lewis. I imagine Robert Towne, who admittedly cribbed from all over the annals of Hollywood for his “M:I-2” script, was afraid of getting hit with a Michael Mann right hook at some screenwriter's cocktail party. That, however, allows “Seinfeld” to score some massive bonus points.

I also like this idea of Jerry and Kramer at their most vulnerable just sort of inadvertently admitting to their 90’s-styled neighborly bromance.

“I'm infected with Chimeria.” God, does Thandie Newton sell that line. I like that line so much that I’m surprising myself and giving it a slight nod over Michael Richards’ patented and eternally hilarious through the phone Kramer-ish shriek.

Let’s be frank. It’s hard for me to say that my all-time favorite TV show paying homage to my all-time favorite movie could ever be topped by anything else paying homage to it. “Seinfeld” and “Last of the Mohicans” intersecting is an astonishing case of worlds colliding; it’s almost as good as this photo. Of course, “Seinfeld” did it better! And yet…

I didn’t really like “M:I-2” the first time around…or, at least that’s how I remember it. But was the whole movie’s tone equivalent to this scene? Because this scene has an operatic romance, so heightened in cinematic inflection, so merrily absurdist that I find myself to drawn it. Tom & Thandie are not Hawkeye & Cora because they can’t be because no one is. And so even if Mr. Cruise’s homage is still, like, a billion miles away from the impassioned yell of Mr. Day-Lewis, they nonetheless exist in the same solar system, one where the homage trends away from parody and more toward tribute. And yet...  

Jerry was never earnest. Jerry was always a horse’s ass. For a moment, though, even if it was a couple lines explicitly referencing something else, Jerry afforded himself an actual heartfelt moment. Yes, there was the episode earlier in the 9th season that found Jerry becoming briefly emotional when a girlfriend encourages him to get mad, but this is something else. This isn’t just Serious Jerry; this is Selfless Jerry. And the fact that “Last of the Mohicans” triggered it, warms my heart. Even Jerry Seinfeld, sitcomland’s pre-eminent tin man, found himself moved by Hawkeye & Cora. How can we not say “Seinfeld” did it just a little bit better?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wistfully '95: Waterworld

Since I could finally both drive and get into R-rated movies in 1995, it doubled as the year in which I fell head over heels in love for the experience of Going To The Movies. And so, here in the future in 2015, we will periodically re-visit a handful of the offerings to which I first paid homage in various multiplex cathedrals of Des Moines, Iowa. 


“Waterworld” has always been discussed in terms of hugeness. It was, after all, as the title suggests, a film set predominantly on the water. That’s a mammoth undertaking since water is often less cooperative than lowly crew members at whom directors can holler through a bullhorn. The movie’s budget, which excessively exceeded estimates, was $175 million, probably the cost of a hammer and a few nails on a modern day Marvel production but the largest ever in 1995. Its shooting schedule ran over by 54 days. Its shoot primarily took place in a vast artificial seawater enclosure. Colloquially it’s still known as a floppiest of flops even if stats prove that unfounded. Its production was so extreme that director Kevin Reynolds either walked off the set before shooting completed or was fired by star Kevin Costner who took up the auteur chair, whichever you want to believe, though either one works fine for the purposes of our thesis. This is because for all its immensity, “Waterworld” itself is really quite small, the story of one man – make that manfish – who is played by Costner and just seems to wish everyone around him would go the hell away.

At one time, of course, Costner was a box office magnet. He was something of an American Everyman, so much so that even when he played England’s seminal mythic son, Robin Hood, he did so with an American Everyman accent. Yet if you look at his roles from this Costner Era just a bit closer, you’ll see emergent dabs of peculiarities. Ray Kinsella of “Field of Dreams” was a wholesome Midwesterner but he also heard voices. His Jim Garrison of “JFK” was portrayed as a hero, yet the real life man was also often termed eccentric, and Costner isn’t afraid to let that seep out of the performance too, like in the shot when he literally bounds from the staircase after kissing his wife goodnight to his study. Even his Eliot Ness, an eternal emblem of truth & justice, could, in the right light, come across less like a white-hatted winner than an odd duck teetotaler. Eventually the Costner we all know now, the seemingly apathetic introverted Costner, the one who showed up to the Emmy’s as if he would have rather been anywhere else, the daffy and disinterested Costner who spent much of “The Upside of Anger” just chilling on the couch, would have to emerge. He did, and it just happened to coincide with a $175 million behemoth.

“Waterworld’s” story turns on the polar ice caps having melted, flooding the entirety of earth and rendering the planet as one singular ocean. Yet its most memorable – er, rememberable – liquid-based image stands apart from this colossal sea. The film opens with Costner’s character, the Mariner, drinking his own urine. Well, not exactly; it’s his urine run through a rudimentary filtration system, but still. A character’s introduction is crucial and the Mariner’s introduction works less as an invitation than a repellent. And his character does repel. “It could have made me care about the characters,” the late great Roger Ebert wrote of the film, and that’s true, it could have. But it doesn’t want to. Costner, it seems, doesn’t want to. When the whole world’s a sea, you’re out to it pretty much all the time, and when you’re out to it pretty much all the time, you’re gonna be a little standoffish. You don’t get eager at the sight of people, you get suspicious, and so it’s like the instant the movie-watching audience gets settled in its seats, the Mariner’s suspicions of us arise and he pushes us away with his pee.

Not long after, the Mariner winds up at an atoll, a kind of floating city, where the local lawman solemnly explains this lone visitor has “two hours” to get what he needs and hit the watery road. “I’ll only need one,” the Mariner replies. Here’s a guy so untaken with people that when he finally encounters a whole mess of ‘em he actively wants less time around them. And as quick as the Mariner wants off the atoll, you sense the movie wants the same. From this point forward, it never feels comfortable. In the lead-up, a sequence in which the Mariner encounters a few shady characters and fends them off, the film is content to unspool its action exposition-free, letting us glean the world and the way it works by just watching it happen. And the Mariner’s almost balletic movements about his 60 foot trimaran are visually intoxicating, quite likely the film’s strongest element, to the point that when others are on his boat they just seem to be in the way, to him and to us.

If it’s a movie called “Waterworld”, though, then there has to be a Dryland, and if there’s a Dryland there has to be a map to find it, and if there’s map to find it then, hey, why not make it a tattoo on a little girl’s back because then the Mariner can encounter the little girl (Tina Majorino) who can help cheer him up (because he needs to be cheered up) and the little girl can have a mom (Jeanne Tripplehorn) with whom the Mariner can fall in love (because the Mariner needs to fall in love).

None of this especially noteworthy, just a series of passable to decently entertaining action sequences also involving a villain played by Dennis Hopper who might be partially amusing but feels like he’s still running on “Speed” fumes. For such extravagant expense, “Waterworld” never feels awe-inspiring, perhaps because deep down in the places it didn’t talk about at budget meetings it wanted to primarily be a movie about a solo sailor that couldn’t be because you can’t spend that much money on a movie that’s just about an introverted mutant manfish. And so what we’re left with feels un-involving and as glum as the costumes.

Even when the Mariner is meant to be smitten with the mother and charmed by the daughter, Costner never makes it feel convincing, like he’s play-acting, like this is what the script calls for, nothing else. It’s not accurate to say that this is when Costner stopped wanting to be a movie star because he never really wanted to stop being a movie star (see: the messianic complex of “The Postman” two years later). But maybe it’s when he stopped caring if he was Everybody’s Everyman and decided to start being a prickly ass who would demonstrate empathy only at his time and place of choosing. I can’t quite decide if that’s commendable or reckless.