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Hey! They're Workin' Here!

Playing the mild, schlumpy schoolteacher who falls for the beautiful, eponymous thief in B. Monkey, Jared Harris puts on the self-deprecating air of someone who can never make his words come out quite the way he wants, whose full intelligence and humor is always halted by self-consciousness. None of these nuances exist in the script, which finds Harris chasing his raven-haired fashion plate down a dark, rain-slick London avenue on second sight; rather, Harris devises means for edging around the histrionics of the film, which seems awfully humorless for such a rote retreading of the one-last-fix-and-then-I'm-going-straight hoodlum plot.

In fact, all of the principal players escape unscathed. As B. Monkey herself, or Beatrice as she's known at her desk job, Asia Argento emanates cool, confident sexuality. Rupert Everett portrays an old-money, layabout starfucker whose debts to loan sharks detain his pal Beatrice in her life of crime; as in An Ideal Husband, Everett murmurs all his lines with melancholic absent-mindedness. On the other end of the spectrum is Jonathan Rhys Meyers, flinging himself headlong into his role as Beatrice's getaway driver and Everett's mercurial boy toy, screaming and thrashing and flapping those lips like She's the Boss–era Mick Jagger. Director Michael Radford (Il Postino) doesn't give anyone enough to do—Harris broods, Argento pouts, Meyers plays Mr. Furious, Everett smokes an assload of pot—but the cast tries their darndest anyway, even once Beatrice follows her man to the Yorkshire countryside (of course, every time she thinks she's out, they keep pulling her back in); indeed, when Beatrice says, "I couldn't be happier," the movie has finally found a suitable key of bittersweet resignation. B. Monkey is crawling with smart actors saying things they don't quite mean, and while that's not enough, it's a good time watching them extricate themselves from one sticky situation after another without tripping any wires. A new conceit: acting as cat burglary.


Details

B. Monkey
Directed by Michael Radford
Written by Michael Thomas and Chloe King
A Miramax release

Blue Streak
Directed by Les Mayfield
Written by Michael Berry, John Blumenthal, and Steve Carpenter
A Columbia release
Opens September 17

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— Likewise searching for means of extrication is recent heatstroke victim Martin Lawrence, who'd surely like to divorce himself from an ongoing string of public mishaps. In Blue Streak,

Lawrence also plays a jewel thief, albeit one who impersonates a cop in order to locate a diamond lost in a botched heist. Lawrence's gun-toting safecracker is just a nice guy earning honest pay (Dave Chappelle, in the Jonathan Rhys Meyers role as Lawrence's hothead driver, sums it up during a cartoonish convenience store shootout: "Hey! I'm workin' here!"). The contortional physical shtick familiar from Lawrence's sitcom, laden with a dollop of Three Stooges violence, should keep the boys happy, and Lawrence's deft byplay with Chappelle (who benefits from smashing lines like "I'll rip ya lips off and kiss my ass with them shits") showcases a comedian still somehow on his game.

 
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