Blind Faith

Theoretically an exercise in '70s nostalgia at its ugliest, Still Crazy is in fact a deft, small-scale Brit comedy, effortlessly knocked off from an age-old formula. A feel-good, character-driven lark, this goofy, unglamorous distant relative of Velvet Goldmine is brisk and entertaining enough to excuse its complete lack of originality. As unassumingly likable as The Full Monty(which it shamelessly echoes), and devoid of Waking Ned Devine's sickly coyness, Still Crazy revolves around the cash-in reunion of "seminal" but little-remembered rockers Strange Fruit, who disbanded at "the 1977 Wisbech Rock Festival."

Twenty years on, keyboardist Tony (Stephen Rea), now a condom salesman in the Balearic Islands, is ready for a comeback. The Fruits' virtuoso wild-child guitarist has long since gone missing, but with the help of the band's loyal assistant (Juliet Aubrey), Tony tracks down the other guys: the bassist (Jimmy Nail), now a family man with a roofing business; the tubby, perennially groupie-less drummer (Timothy Spall); and Ray (Bill Nighy), pretty-boy singer turned train wreck.

Written by English TV veterans Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (best known here for adapting The Commitments), Still Crazy is perfectly successful on its own low-key terms. True, some of the humor is broad and easy, most of the sentimental cues are hopelessly clumsy, and there's a surfeit of bloated prog-glitter on the soundtrack (original songs by, among others, Squeeze's Chris Difford and Foreigner's Mick Jones). But it's difficult to resist the good-natured casualness with which it's all thrown together, or the gifted actors, many of them maneuvering imaginatively within one-note roles. Nighy's Ray is especially memorable. His mental faculties visibly depleted, Ray is a ravaged, sequined picture of ridiculousness. In a comic tour de force, Nighy conveys Ray's absurd vanity and quiet despair, making his condition both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Still Crazy's Bill Nighy, memorably ravaged
Alex Bailey
Still Crazy's Bill Nighy, memorably ravaged

Details

Still Crazy
Directed by Brian Gibson
Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
A Columbia Pictures release
Opens January 22

At First Sight
Directed by Irwin Winkler
Written by Steve Levitt, from the book To See and Not See by Oliver Sacks
An MGM release

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From the Patch Adams and Stepmom school of audience manipulation comes At First Sight, a romantic melodrama cynically constructed around disability and a highly dubious representation of medical science (not to mention human nature). Irwin Winkler's weepie is every bit as fatuous as its current competitors, though not quite as abhorrent, for no other reason than its sheer listlessness: the film slips into a coma early on and never awakens.

Winkler wastes a soapy eternity establishing the central relationship, and takes even longer to subject it to the routine romance-under-pressure trials. An obviously strained Mira Sorvino plays Amy, a workaholic architect who's so tightly wound that a simple massage from kindly, hunky spa worker Virgil (Val Kilmer) sets her off on a weeping jag. Blind since early childhood, Virgil projects a naive, big-lug charm that Amy finds captivating. Go-getting Manhattan career woman that she is, she convinces him to try restorative, experimental eye surgery.

At First Sight, like Awakenings, is based on an Oliver Sacks case history, and it follows the same narrative arc: miracle recovery, traumatic adjustment, cruelly brief period of soft-focus wellness, inevitable relapse, last-minute coming-to-terms uplift. Winkler proceeds through this checklist with catatonic gracelessness, weighing scenes down with lead-ballast epiphanies (there's a difference between seeing and looking; you don't always see with your eyes; even the sighted sometimes live in darkness). John Seale's humdrum cinematography and the earnest, embarrassing performances only compound the constipated TV-movie tone.

 
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