Hell and High Water

Crystal, who coproduced and cowrote America's Sweethearts, is true to his conceit in demonstrating more promotional than writerly wisdom. His script forces Cusack to play a pointless rooftop rescue scene and gives Crystal himself a sequence in which he is fellated by a rottweiler. In somewhat the same spirit of masochistic self-indulgence, director—and two-time former production chief—Joe Roth gets Stanley Tucci to give a terrible one-note performance as a terrible studio boss. Maybe America's Sweethearts is Roth's complaint. Basically, it's about pampering the ungrateful talent. (It's not the PR diva but the aggrieved star who crashes an SUV into a restaurant.)

The real sweetheart, of course, is Julia Roberts, who plays Zeta-Jones's long-suffering personal assistant and sister. (Identifying the elder sib would make an interesting audience Rorschach test.) Can our Julia out-adorable the boringly beauteous Zeta-Jones? Guess which part she turned down? If you don't know the answer to that one, you haven't been doing your publicity homework.

Anomie of the state: Lee in The River
photo: Leisure Time/KimStim
Anomie of the state: Lee in The River


The River
Directed by Tsai Ming-liang
Written by Tsai, Yang Bi-ying, and Tsai Yi-chun
Leisure Time/KimStim
Cinema Village
Opens July 27

America's Sweethearts
Directed by Joe Roth
Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan

Bob Le Flambeur
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville and Auguste Le Breton
Film Forum
July 27 through August 9

America's Sweethearts is one more softcore Julia Roberts Cinderella story. Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 Bob Le Flambeur, revived for two weeks in a new, re-subtitled 35mm print, is a more hard-boiled fable: "As told in Montmartre, here is the curious tale of. . . Bob Le Flambeur," the narrator promises, by way of introducing a silver-haired, trench-coat Galahad who lives in an artist's atelier, tools around Montmartre in a two-toned Plymouth, and gambles each night until dawn.

Something like the cinematic Birth of the Cool, Melville's drollest, most likable gangster movie is set in the '50s, but it deliberately evokes Paris's pre-World War II underworld. There's a nostalgia to Melville's love of smoky dives and Pigalle at dawn. His tough-guy hero, heading home to sleep at 7 a.m., catches a glimpse of his weary reflection in a storefront mirror and mutters, "a real hood's face." (Actually, Bob is played by Roger Duchesne, a distinguished-looking actor with a real-life shady past.) A former bank robber, now the most formidable high roller in Paris, Bob hates pimps but has a soft spot for young lowlife, mainly his protégé (Daniel Cauchy) and an outrageous piece of jailbait (played by then 15-year-old Isabelle Corey).

A model for Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight, among other movies, Bob Le Flambeur was actually Melville's answer to the elaborately choreographed heists of The Asphalt Jungle as well as Rififi, which he had once hoped to direct. (August Le Breton, who wrote Rififi, was recruited to work on Bob's script.) Here, too, the caper is presented as a commando mission. Bob Le Flambeur is brilliantly scripted to build up to the grand casino heist—even the insistent checkerboard patterns that make the movie so emphatically black-and-white culminate with the gaming tables of Deauville.

Bob Le Flambeur takes itself seriously, but as attitude thrillers go, it's exceedingly light on its feet. The movie is a superb riff with a boffo finale, a terrific, cynical punch line, and a crazy closing image of Bob's Plymouth on an empty beach.

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