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Down with the clones 

When I was about eight or nine, my dad got sick for the first time I could remember --- I think it was the Hong Kong Flu or something. I remember being pretty concerned, seeing him abed all day in a fairly weakened state. But then, a few days into the illness, he perked up when Pillow Talk came on television. At the time, that didn't strike me as being particularly odd.

            I just got out of a screening of Down With Love, which is meant to be a throwback to those old Rock Hudson/Doris Day films from 40 years ago (they made three pictures between 1959 and 1964, and Pillow Talk was the most popular). Now, with 20/20 hindsight, I realize my dad must have been sicker than I thought, because Love is harebrained and insufferable, and it completely misses the line between camp and crap. Apparently there's a good reason why they don't make movies like this anymore.

            Love is the perfect counter-programming for movie lovers who don't want to see The Matrix Reloaded. Essentially, Love is a film about sex, particularly pussy, although it, uh, pussyfoots around that dreaded word by using supposedly clever double entendres.

            Love borrows much more from Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl than anything with Rock or Doris (aside from the producers digging up their 83-year-old co-star, Tony Randall, for a cameo here). It's set in 1963 Manhattan, where farmer's daughter/librarian Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger) has just arrived from Maine, on the eve of the printing of her first book. The book, also called Down With Love, preaches female empowerment in a world where men still say things like, "That woman thinks she has a mind of her own." It's an instant hit, heralding the genesis of the sexual revolution.

            This presents two problems. For Barbara, it means she can't get any guys to come near her, because they all hate her and the unexpected repercussions of her book. For ladies' man Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) --- the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer from Know magazine, who Barbara outs on national television as an unmitigated womanizer --- it means his never-ending trail of tail has dried up.

            So Catch assumes an alter ego to woo Barbara, in hopes of turning the experience into the greatest magazine piece in the history of the world. Meanwhile, there's a subplot involving the romance between their editors (played by David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson). This is just stupid, as it's so obvious the editors just want to sleep with their writers. Pierce playing a guy who isn't sure if he's straight? Groundbreaking cinema, that.

            On the plus side, this is, like, the fourth film in a row where McGregor manages to keep Ewan, Jr. in his pants. As talented an actress as Zellweger is (I think she should have won Best Actress the last two years), in Love she's merely a clothes hanger for an endless parade of crazy duds. Kudos to the folks who designed the sets and costumes, but whoever was responsible for the score (or the insane decision to crank it up that loud) should be taken out back and shot. The old-school Fox and Cinemascope logos were a nice touch, as was the scene in which director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) combines Pillow Talk's infamous split-screen with Austin Powers' (near) nude scenes.

            What is unforgivable, though, are writers Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake (of the upcoming Legally Blonde sequel) and their groan-worthy attempts at snappy dialogue that constantly fall flat. And just when you think you've made it through the whole stupid thing without that big song-and-dance number (because it's apparently a contractual obligation at this point for McGregor and Zellweger to do one in every film), there it is, during the closing credits. Anyone who sticks around until the end deserves every last second of it.

There's one particular part of Patricio Guzmán's documentary The Pinochet Case (screens Friday, May 16, at the Dryden) that seems like a spoof cooked up by Michael Moore and Christopher Guest. In the scene, former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher meets with former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who is under house arrest in England for scores of human rights violations. Thatcher graciously praises Pinochet for "bringing democracy to Chile," which is quite a hoot, considering the general gained power in his country via a US-backed coup that overthrew democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende back in 1973. (In the controversial festival short collection 11'09'01, Brit filmmaker Ken Loach points out that this coup happened on September 11.) No, she's not kidding, and she never asks why his amps go up to 11, either.

            The rest of Case isn't that bone-chillingly ironic. Essentially, Guzmán's doc is two separate films: One deals with the massive struggle to re-try Pinochet for the horrible stuff he did (over 3,000 were murdered under his reign, and a million more went into exile), while the other features heartbreaking interviews with the loved ones of the many people who were tortured and/or killed. The gruesome details of the latter aren't exactly the stuff of cinematic dreams, but it sure makes for an effective and persuasive documentary.

            Aside from stumbling over some clunky visual metaphors --- especially the repeated use of a chess board and pieces --- Guzmán does a decent job of telling a story many outside Chile simply don't know. In a way, Case can be considered a fourth chapter to Guzmán's three-part epic, The Battle Of Chile.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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