"Charming in spite of itself"
Dir. & writ. Marc Lawrence; feat. Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, Mark Feuerstein, Dorian Missick, Robert Klein, Dana Ivey, Alicia Witt (PG-13) It's a good thing that he and Sandra Bullock are such well-established screen personalities; we have been programmed to want to see them hook up in the end, despite the fact that Marc Lawrence's script gives them no reason to be together, other than the fact that they clean unwanted food scraps off each others' plates. Grant is a wealthy rogue, Bullock a flower child lawyer who falls into working for him. In between keeping his corporate life afloat, Bullock is expected to do things like help her boss dress himself. The law part she loves, but being his valet is driving Bullock crazy; she tells him she is quitting, which is romantic comedy shorthand for, "Okay numbskull, time to realize how much you adore me!" and vice versa.
The film provides plenty of petty reasons for naysayers to nitpick it: The politics are condescending, the climactic conflict is annoying, the pop-music cues are horribly obvious and in the end — with a blah Al Green medley that manages to rip off at least six of his most wonderful songs without containing an ounce of charm — pretty much sum up everything that's crappy about the music in modern meet-cute cinema. But Two Weeks Notice succeeds in spite of itself, delivering enough laughs to make you forget that it's only star power that makes you care about this couple. It's a mistake for the script, halfway through, to allude to Katherine Hepburn's films — so many of which contained not only personal magnetism but whip-smart screenplays — but Grant and Bullock make it all worthwhile. JD
"The band plays on, predictably"
Dir. Charles Stone III; writ. Shawn Schepps, Tina Gordon Chism; feat. Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones. Leonard Roberts, GQ (PG-13)
In his best-known play, Tom Stoppard pushed two familiar minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, out of the wings and onto center stage. Director Charles Stone III does the same for an entire institution. For most of the crowd in a college stadium, the half-time marching band is merely a distraction if not an intrusion. But football players occupy the frame for less than 10 seconds during the two hours of Drumline. The rest belongs to a peculiarly American institution — the college marching band. Though its characters are stereotypes and its story predictable (down to the final, triumphal freeze frame), the film is a work of lively ethnography. It immerses us in an odd subculture of portable tubas and volatile passions.
Devon Miles (Cannon) is the kind of sassy, gifted comer who is a convention of sports movies. Recruited on a music scholarship from the streets of New York to play snare drum at Atlanta A&T, he has more raw talent — and self-assurance — than all of the rest of the predominantly black school's percussion section. But the band's director, Dr. Lee (Jones), an artistic martinet who combines the qualities of Arturo Toscanini and George S. Patton, is determined to break Devon down, if not in. So, too, are Laila (Saldana), a half-time dancer and full-time student who, though majoring in philosophy, seems unperturbed by Descartes' mind-body problem, and Sean (Roberts), a rival drummer who used to wield the wickedest sticks on campus. "One band one sound" is Lee's motto, and his brash young freshman eventually learns the virtue of adapting musical virtuosity to the team effort.
The thunderous finale comes at the annual tournament of marching bands, where the drumline, not the brass, drives the competition. There A&T meets Morris Brown (a college that in reality just lost its accreditation) for the national championship — a viewer who has any doubt about this outcome is marching to the beat of a different, dim-witted drummer. SGK
Films reviewed by:
JD: John DeFore
SGK: Steven G. Kellman