Risk Management

Gambling Pros and Mutant Superheroes Spread the Odds

Initially engrossing, The Dancer Upstairs slackens in its second half—particularly as the viewer, like Ezequiel, can easily keep a few steps ahead of dogged Agustin. Shakespeare's novel had the benefit of a more complex and distancing narrative structure, which the movie cannot reproduce. (Instead, Malkovich frames his story with a live recording of the late Nina Simone introducing and singing "Where Did the Time Go?") Given the abundance of solemnity and absence of suspense, The Dancer Upstairs could easily have lost 20 minutes—starting with the yodeling "All Along the Watch Tower" that Yolanda uses to choreograph her dance to the martyred drama students.

After a shape-shifting blue terrorist attacks the White House and very nearly impales the president, an arrogantly bigoted personification of the military-industrial complex (Brian Cox) begins agitating for a Mutant Registration Act—and worse. Sound familiar?

Can the depressed, adenoidal schlub hold the movie? Hoffman in Owning Mahowny.
photo: Ava Gerlitz
Can the depressed, adenoidal schlub hold the movie? Hoffman in Owning Mahowny.


Owning Mahowny
Directed by Richard Kwietniowski
Written by Maurice Chauvet, from the book Stung by Gary Ross
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens May 2

The Dancer Upstairs
Directed by John Malkovich
Written by Nicholas Shakespeare, from his novel
Fox Searchlight
Opens May 2

Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Dan Harris & Michael Dougherty
20th Century Fox
Opens May 2

Although a good 40 minutes longer than its predecessor, X2—Bryan Singer's sequel to his millennial adaptation of the venerable Marvel comic book X-Men—is an equally nifty action ballet. The movie is funny, reasonably crazy, and unpretentiously faithful to its source. There's no overweening design. The incoherent gothic/chrome dome/cybercity/plastic fantastic mise-en-scène is frequently disrupted by rhapsodic dreams and recovered memories, and the effects are often playful, as when the mischievous metamorph Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) vamps the ever excitable Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Yet the movie is remarkably unfacetious, in part because Singer clearly respects the various hang-ups that bedevil his outcast mutant protagonists.

The X-Men mythology has its baffling aspects, but the movie's ensemble format insures that the mutants' personalities will be as boldly telegraphed as their idiosyncratic powers (or the actors' ripe perfs). Halle Berry seems understandably bored as the silver-haired lightning goddess Storm, but Famke Janssen brings near lunatic conviction to the role of the agonized telekinetic telepath Jean Grey. Patrick Stewart is a bit of a snooze as founding father Professor Xavier; the juiciest line readings belong to Ian McKellen as his bad-boy rival, Magneto. There's a priceless bit where Magneto and Mystique share a snigger over the hyper-sensitive junior X-Gal Rogue (Anna Paquin): "We just love what you've done with your hair." On a less successful note, the resident new kid-cum-Jar Jar Binks, Alan Cumming's cowering Nightcrawler, has a propensity to babble the Lord's Prayer in a heavy Bavarian accent.

The original X-Men comic books were a smoldering Breakfast Club of adolescent ressentiment, and Singer remains true to his school. A jealous kid brother routinely drops a dime on his mutant sib; the collateral damage from an inexplicable lovers' tiff fissures the Alpine equivalent of Grand Coulee Dam. For the moody, neurotic, persecuted denizens of this Kmart Olympus, it's a nonstop teenage gotta-gotta-Götterdämmerung.

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