Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Blurbin' cowboy

Since earlier this year, a small but always enjoyable part of my still-new freelancing lifestyle is writing two-sentence movie blurbs in Madison's Isthmus newspaper. (FYI, my first full-length review for the paper, of the documentary The Party's Over, ran last week and is up on the Isthmus web site.)

I'm still not sure what algorithm determines which movies I get assigned, but much of what I have seen for blurbing purposes is Z-grade American films, really terrible stuff like House of the Dead, The Order, and Boat Trip. (I would link to my blurbs, but Isthmus doesn't seem to post them.) That last one may be the worst movie I've ever seen--not only inept but also grotesquely offensive.

However, I've also blurbed films of surpassingly high quality, like The Magdalene Sisters and The Good Thief. And I've caught a few films that I assumed beforehand would be pleasant enough, and were--many of the kids' films I've seen fall into this category, like Piglet's Big Movie and The Lizzie Maguire Movie. I've seen quite a few foreign movies, like The Navigators, Unknown Pleasures, and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, and even middling foreign fare like those three always has a frisson associated with its foreignness.

Happily, a couple of times now I have been caught completely off guard and found myself captivated by a movie I almost certainly would never have sought out. One was The Rundown, the action comedy starring the Rock, Seann William Scott and Christopher Walken, which kept surprising me by how smart and funny it is.

And it happened again just now. I'm home from seeing Love Don't Cost a Thing, a remake, with a mostly African-American cast, of the 1980s Patrick Dempsey comedy Can't Buy Me Love. And hurrah! I showed up prepared not to particularly like the film (for this gig that's often the case), but I walked away smiling. It's a romantic comedy about a geeky teenage pool boy (Nick Cannon) who bribes the most popular girl in school (Christina Milian) into pretending to be his girlfriend for two weeks. I found that premise crass for a nanosecond, until I realized it seems like the kind of stunt I might have tried to pull in high school.

The cast is enormously attractive, and director Troy Beyer smartly gives her actors time just to be charming and goofy. TV comedian Steve Harvey, especially, kept me guessing with one eccentric turn after another as Cannon's dad.

It's refreshing to know movies can still surprise me by being good when I least expect it.

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