End Games

This is the week of the new and improved: Man on the Moon resurrects Andy Kaufman in the form of superstar Jim Carrey, Julie Taymor turns Shakespeare's worst play into flashy Oscar fodder, and Oliver Stone tackles the great macho American metaphor.

Neither spectacle nor drama, Stone's 160-minute football saga Any Given Sunday is more like a visual concussion. The camera is moving, the actors are screaming—and those are just the locker-room scenes. Stone must've run five editors ragged assembling the game footage. Rub-your-nose-in-the-dirt close-ups alternate with dirigible high-angle shots, and there's a great recurring effect where the ball spirals downfield toward the camera until—wham!—some tight end flies on-camera to snag it. But mostly, the on-field trials of the Miami Sharks are rendered in the filmmaker's patented LSD-laced-with-strychnine effect—power blurs, slo-mo double vision, kaleido fades, lightning bolts, and celestial superimpositions.

How can Stone's flawed hero, Sharks coach Al Pacino, blame TV for the degradation of the game when the soundtrack suggests a two-and-a-half-hour loop of the theme to Sports Machine punctuated with Indian chants and the sound of snapping bones? Even Pacino is subsumed in the bombast, as is corrupt team doctor James Woods, until he gets the hook—still screaming, "They ARE gladiators, they are WARRIORS!" The action itself is interspersed with cutaways to dishy cheerleaders and Stone himself in the broadcast booth: "Holy mackerel—that is football!" What makes him so sure? You might see the same thing if someone clamped your head between those paddles the guys in Bringing Out the Dead used to shock stilled hearts.

Dropping the ball: Foxx, Pacino, and LL Cool J in Any Given Sunday
photo: Simon Mein
Dropping the ball: Foxx, Pacino, and LL Cool J in Any Given Sunday


Any Given Sunday
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stone and John Logan
A Warner Bros. release

Man on the Moon
Directed by Milos Foreman
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
A Universal release

Written and directed by Julie Taymor
A Fox Searchlight release Opens

The movie is its own half-time show, complete with beer commercials—as when the Sharks play touch football with a beachful of bethonged beauties. Any Given Sunday doesn't look like any previous sports film—He Got Game is Ozu by comparison—but the narrative is somewhat less novel. When the Sharks' star quarterback (Dennis Quaid) is injured, the unknown third-stringer (Jamie Foxx) takes over. Brilliant but moody, Foxx's character has a trademark upchuck routine and harbors some attitudes—indeed, the militantly square Pacino, suffering through a film-length midlife crisis, discovers that the kid is a sort of hip-hop black nationalist philosopher. Pacino is getting old. The team's ruthless boss lady (Cameron Diaz) criticizes his lack of intensity—even if his idea of relaxing has something to do with blasting the chariot race from Ben Hur on a wall-sized TV.

For a mad minute, it seems as though Stone might be making a movie about how football wraps religion, business, sex, and violence in one superbly telegenic package. Later, he settles for the less ambitious notion that America is all about kicking ass. (The socially conscious director does include a scene alluding to athletes and domestic violence: Quaid is verbally and physically abused by his harridan wife.) Ultimately, everything turns out to be corrupt and also beautiful . . . homosocially speaking of course.

Any Given Sunday slows to a crawl before the big game—a monstrous anthology of clichés, including the gimpy old quarterback's last hurrah, the young buck's coming of age, the coach fighting for his career, and the injured vet playing on bad debts and cortisone. The fate of the Free World hangs in the balance, and Stone is back in the booth warning that "this is where the famous rubber meets the famous road."

Everything from the goal-line stand to the 10-second Hail Mary happens more or less on schedule—although I did see one of the "screening extras" used to pad the press preview clap with excitement four plays before the game ended. Don't you make the mistake of bolting before the credits end. There's a last-minute zinger—although I'm pretty sure that in the real-life NFL it would be considered tampering.

** The second coming of the late Andy Kaufman is an appropriately self-reflexive affair. As star Jim Carrey staged a lame mock-Kaufman disruption at the Man on the Moon junket, so the movie itself opens with a pastiche of Kaufman's 1978 television special, Andy's Fun House (currently showing at the Museum of Television and Radio), which serves to introduce his key tropes of childhood, TV, and failure.

Cutting from the child Andy, singing a kid's song for his sister, to grown-up Andy 20 years later, provoking an incredulous Improv audience with an equally sincere rendition of the same inane song, Man on the Moon poses the central Kaufman enigma. Was this guy the holy innocent of stand-up comedy? A real-life Chauncey Gardner mimicking everything he learned on television? A conscious practitioner of Zen slapstick? A mass-market performance artist? A postpolitical yippie? (And if he was just doing his thing, what was that? Borderline autism? Split personality? Arrested development?)

"I'm not a comedian. I don't do jokes," Kaufman tells his prospective agent (played by Taxi costar Danny DeVito) in Man on the Moon. "I don't even know what's funny." Basically, Kaufman confounded expectations with a deadpan refusal to break character and a fearless willingness to bomb. Even at his late-'70s height, Kaufman was pretty much a cult taste. He placed himself beyond the pale as an outrageously sexist wrestler-villain, taunting the crowds while offering $500 to any woman who could pin him.

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