Naturally, we want this Indominus to get loose --there wouldn't be a film without it. And having the pterodactyls and pteranodons attack the fleeing, fanny pack-bedecked tourists en masse is a lovely Roger Corman-esque event. This being a big budget movie, these CGI monsters aren't just video game-style chroma keyed-up overlays but detailed creatures with perfect amounts of shade and sun glinting --they're gorgeous! It's the people that aren't properly shaded and shadowed, especially Dallas-Howard's uptight caricature of female executive control freak bitchiness ("it's all about control with you people," snaps raptor-whisperer Owen [Chris Pratt]). Claire expects men and monsters alike to heave to when she pouts and stamps her corporation-gray heels; she's the type of person who uses the royal "we" when speaking as if ever-giving a tour to investors: "we'd like you to visit the tiger cage on your way out", for example. Her sister (Judy Greer) is the same way, sending her two young boys off to the park to visit "Auntie Claire" and her monsters, freeing her up to divorce their dad without having to look into their wounded doe eyes (which is apparently their chief genetic survival trait). Naturally Claire fobs the boys onto an assistant and naturally they escape her, break lots of rules, get lost, and Claire will have to kick off those grey heels and come crawling back to the one man who can find them for her (she's scared more of telling her sister than the kids being eaten, making her the female version of the dad of great adventure, the spinster 'aunt desexed by her ambition' who'd rather not have them on her hands). Do I even need to mention that he and Claire went on one date awhile back and didn't get along because she brought "an itinerary" and her "diet wouldn't allow tequila."
Meanwhile for a zoo executive, Claire clearly knows less than a five year-old about her corporation's stock and trade. Owen has to remind her that "animals raised in isolation aren't always the most sociable," though part of that is the scripts trite inference she needs to get laid. Illustrating the validity of Camille Paglia's anti-feminist theories, Claire dismisses everything Owen says as sexist dogma, a skeevy male's attempt to use nature to get into her pants. She calls the dinosaurs 'assets' and presumes smirking at Owen's survival tips will somehow bend the reality of nature to accommodate her like a patient doorman angling for a tip.
The alleged human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to sniff out and eat the Taliban, but hey--at least he tries to be friendly to everyone else. Claire's the real villain, the symbol of woman as desexed ball buster blind to the dangers around her and so dismissing attempts to protect her as more male bullshit. Owen notes 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' He's the only one to call the killer dinosaur hybrid a "she" instead of an "it." You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or eye-hand coordination. It's amazing it's gone one day without crashing.
Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged tough guy who for once is not Australian. Pratt offers belated proof that American masculinity is not an oxymoron. The ultimate hybrid animal himself, Pratt is able to play a range worthy of a real human, despite dialogue homogenized into banal bytes by legions of overpaid writers. Part quasi-sincere slacker/stoner comedy bro/ part hyper-competent SEAL / Ranger romantic lead, Pratt's able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, cool without callousness, sensitivity without sentiment, and self-awareness without self-absorption. No non-Australian has been able to manage such a combination since Brando. And he's already proven his ability to take orders from a bossy redhead (Zero Dark Thirty).
Alas, there's only so much he can do to counteract the cliche'd overkill. Do I need to mention that when Claire comes to his trailer to ask for help, he's outside by the river fixing his badass vintage Triumph motorcycle in a T-shirt and jeans, while she's stomping around in the mud wearing unflattering (waist-hiding?) 90s business skirt/slacks combo and rocking terrible Prince Valiant hair?
|Pout at the devil: Claire demonstrates the 'hurt puppy eyes' method of leadership.|
At least the "you're playing God!" sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy (hairy arms, golf shirts and a big gold watch) and BD Wong's dispassionate mad scientist (racistly Asian) gene splicer, and even there it's more along the lines of animal rights rather than the 'awing baby chicks at the 4H Fair' vibe, which is far easier to take, even if the lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail casts a sickly pall. One longs for at least one 'real' termite detail. We used to get some: Jeff Goldblum's relationship with his black daughter (in part II); how Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid (in part III). But here in the fourth film, we're at a whole new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept., make-up, script, and actor are all presuming they're the only ones who are supplying the character's essence. It's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur he's supposed to watch has slipped away from him, he's cramming a sandwich into his fat face right at the moment the dismayed visitors point it out and even then doesn't stop eating or get his fat ass off his stool. There's the nerdy comic banter of two of the techs (he's got a big collection of plastic dinosaurs on his desk, which makes no sense, dude you see these things every day for real); there's the glassy-eyed slack-jawed handler who falls into the 'raptor cage's, the guy running the hamster balls who can't just say "they're all present and accounted for," he has to add "it's my job." Vincent D'Onofrio saying "if only we'd had these things at Tora Bora;" there's the Asian geneticist drinking green tea in a clear glass cup in a Bruce Lee style black sweater; and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion. Wouldn't want to break Jurassic tradition.
Latinos: first in the field; first to be eaten.
The most offensive is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic (and no offense to the actor, who kicks ass when he has great Shane Black dialogue like in IRON MAN 3), who professes to love dinosaurs yet is clearly terrified of bending a rule, even in the company of his 'cool' older brother, whose smoky eyes (new from Coverboy mascara?) keep playing tag with gaggles of conveniently cute and similarly parentless girls, to whom, rather than try to play along and pick up a girl himself OR get shy and blush, the younger kid acts like Bambi watching his mom flirt with the hunters. In other words, older brother has to constantly remind younger that they'll always be brothers, in dialogue clearly written by an only child raised in a test tube.
I'm not asking for Eugene O'Neill here, man, but it's not that fucking hard to write good brotherly dialogue, even simple improv exercises might help. But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same square mile of cords and gaffers; unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks better at talking their way into jobs than actually listening to what other non-Hollywood people are saying. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are, the more universal the appeal; generalities work only in how equally they bore audiences of all nations and ages.
Not to harp this point but I keep imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon might have provided some dialogue like that or just letting the kids improvise. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore like my buddy Alan and I at the same approx. age, but they can't be this square... man. Just can't be.... but when they finally overcome their terror and feel exhilaration through zapping an attacking raptor as it tries to climb in the back of their SWAT vehicle, the kid's first exclamation is "I can't wait to tell mom!" What, is he gonna run in and tell her after he smokes his first joint... when he's 45?
Maybe their arrested maturity can be explained by the way mom (Judy Greer) calls them on the phone constantly, nagging them for not calling her the minute they got off the plane, the minute they got to the park, etc., asking if they're having fun while trying to guilt trip them at the same time; no matter what level of fun they do have, it's not enough and/or too much of the wrong kind. If they enjoy the park without her, they're ungrateful. If they don't, they must not be trying, in order to piss her off.
There's other good moments: the comical punchlines and counter bites of the flying dinosaur attacks, all very indebted to Spielberg and Joe Dante. And Pratt practically does save the film as well as the day : "Your boyfriend's a badass." says the older brother. One can't deny that, what with Owen's driving a motorcycle into battle, his raptor squad racing around him; but actually being her boyfriend seems just too dangerous, maybe worse in the long term than being torn to shreds by a pterodactyl (I'm amazed I can still spell that word, it's been at least 40 years!). Claire's idea of parenting is to drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck and leave them there; don't even let them watch the take-down from a remote feed, which at that point is like one of those things where the returning Vietnam vet can't get into see an R-rated movie. That the brothers can even recognize Pratt's badassery is testament to their resilience, not hers. If they ever screw up bad enough they get sent to military school then maybe they'll finally have a fighting chance to be men. If not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.
Some gals at the typing pool might argue women have to be ball-busters in order to earn men's respect at the office but that argument evaporates when you experience the magnificence of Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997). Full of quick-thinking expertise, geologic insight, and decisive commands that arouse only respect and affection (no male ire whatsoever), her dialogue is so rich that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are not a reflection on women's competence in the workplace but reflections of hack, lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand the field they're writing about. Rather than doing some actual research and then using their wordsmithery to boil complex adult ideas down to engaging natural dialogue, these lazy hacks just write neurotic female 'experts' and let us exult in the fact that they don't know shit, either.
Part of the fault, naturally, falls with the way Hollywood coddles the beautiful children of the rich and famous. A lifetime of being beautiful, rich and connected has left them with no real idea of what life is like. Like any child with limited world experience, they confuse adulthood and seriousness with scowling and prohibition. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is. Being an adult female means keeping kids from eating candy for dinner, making them going to bed on time, and being an all-around meanie pants.
I say to these writers and actors of professional working female characters: look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take some goddamned notes.
If you've already seen VOLCANO and thought 'meh' due to some of its more groan-inducing Crash-esque post-Rodney King LA healing incidents and the dimwit clingy daughter played Gaby Hoffmann, then I say look again, and ignore everything but the Heche.
She's so damn good in this film she had to be demeaned by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man (or the daughter of some major power player or icon). She should be as honored and A-listed as Robert Downey Jr. If she's not, well, it's because she's crazy and because the man is scared of her. And you can see why when you watch VOLCANO.
There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) A too on-the-nose (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around, then they work together to halt the flow, etc. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, though. The city's national geologist spokesperson, Heche's character is mature, gutsy, engagingly written and acted, sexy and in the moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent.
Its attempts racial unity and a trite daughter and her dumb last minute rescue aside, VOLCANO is the opposite; it certainly should have put Anne Heche in the same A-list company of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock if she wasn't already, but she got ground up in the hot button issues with Ellen and mysticism. Nothing as bad as Robert Downey Jr., but she was a woman, from a poor family, and 'out' (and then straight again) and suffering from a mental illness, which makes it harder to insure you without feeling guilty (which they then resent you for).
That's part of it, but I also feel the mainstream press is far warier of recognizing scary assertive talent in women. They like their female stars to be either stunning beauties with very little range, or else moms and/or daughters first, professionals second. They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre. If they're going to play single professional career women they must be frigid bitches just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to gentle them down off the ledge. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional Anne Heche. So real life has to punish her if the world of the film won't.
Here's a small example of her cool: Thinking of her friend who was sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits the night before, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--eyes wide, she says sincerely, "Rachel would have loved this!"
I almost fell out of my chair with joy when I finally re-watched this movie last week and heard that line. Why is it that Heche is the only woman cool enough to say that kind of shit, EVER? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a female character this resilient and ahead of the curve, this free of buzzkill mom morality, since FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. Usually a woman is left at home with the kids, there to make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We need you here, too, David!" and then when he's in trouble calling the precinct or wherever and demanding they do something! If they end up tagging along they certainly disprove of heroism and any display of enjoyment in courting danger. They provide exposition gaps, rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, his excuse not to come home. Come home, David!
Heche's Anne is light years ahead of all that. Stunned but invigorated after her near death experience in the subway tunnels below the street, she hangs around in the thick of the eruption all morning, day, and night, not whining for Tommy Lee Jones' attention like his idiot daughter does, but doing her job, improvising, finding the path of the lava by watching a ball liberated from a looted toy store window, making calculations, etc. and barking them out super fast to Jones, who doesn't question them or give her shit cuz she's a woman but merely reacts and mobilizes his team to follow her instruction without a second thought. There's no spare time to second guess whether her advice is just that of a girl... standing in front of a man... and asking him to evacuate the city blocks between La Brea and the Pacific ocean. There's not even time for her to go "Tommy! Tommmeeee! I have something to say." Her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city form a fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to in ways their opposite numbers in DANTE'S would never dream possible... being too busy trying to dig themselves out of stupid predicaments created by idiot grandmothers of idiot children and idiot superiors worried about idiot tourists and clearing everything through idiot councils, like how the French lost to the Nazis.
But daughter's dumb decision has little to do with Heche, who doesn't have a daughter to deal with. In fact, Heche is the one who rescues them more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure there's little of the annoying tics of the type, since the good aspects of Tommy Lee's character (he's able to stay cool and process loads of information during a natural disaster--and after all, it is his job) are also the bad (he can't ever just relax and let someone else take over even for an hour or two). We generally loathe micro-managerial bosses but we know Jones is cool because his staff tease him about it and he just rolls with it. As with his back-and-forth with Heche, dialogue with the staff (including second-in-command Don Cheadle) is all believable, the jokes and banter and character etching deftly woven into the action and exposition, rather than the 'here's three pages of character banter and now three pages of exposition and now three pages of disaster management' lameness of DANTE'S PEAK, a film that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.
In the 90s I loved the effortlessly generated between mayor Linda Hamilton and coiffed vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan--I loved his Bond, and loved her Sarah Connor and it was the late 90s. In PEAK she made me want to date a mother of two and move to a cool house in the shadow of gorgeous Colorado mountain. VOLCANO seemed much too busy, too full of business (then again, I was probably drunk when I rented it). Now I don't get how I didn't get it then, or how I let a few Rodney King hand-holding "we are the children" moments rush me to snide dismissal. But now, on widescreen DVD it's DANTE that looks willfully naive; Brosnan especially seems much too handsome and composed to be believable as a roving geologist. Look at him up there, not a single fleck of ash in that hair, and baby that ain't snow outside. Hamilton's mayor meanwhile leans on her maternal sweetness to convince the town to blindly follow and believe everything Brosnan says, his immaculate TV looks carrying a kind of absolute law she's been waiting all these years to capitulate her mayoral authority to.
Maybe not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond a tolerable actress with a pedigree (rather than a great one with possible problems).
My guess? Heche has suffered (a rough childhood, unstable parents, etc.), Howard hasn't. Even after all the bodies are hauled away the next morning, Howard's Claire doesn't seem changed, sharpened by trauma, adrenalin, and exaltation; she just seem tired from being up all night and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's only from exhaustion and relief --take the damn kids! Now if they get eaten, it's on you.
At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated, turned-on. You can feel her blood surging in her veins, singing with life. That's my kind of crisis-handling bitch.
If only it was America's.