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Film

THE WHOLE TEN YARDS
Directed by Howard Deutch
Warner Bros., in release

An anemic attempt at Coen-style bodies-and-bowling deadpan, The Whole Nine Yards compensated for its comic shortcomings with a casual, uncharacteristically likable performance by Bruce Willis. The broader, more desperate Whole Ten Yards transforms Willis's stoic character—retired mafia hit man Jimmy "the Tulip" Tudeski—into an apron-donning homemaker who nicknames his pet chickens and threatens to murder guests who don't scarf his "lobster à la Tudeski." Next to Jimmy, Matthew Perry's paranoiac dentist—who packs a gun while answering the door for a Girl Scout—registers as mellow. Bonding over drinks, the two men achieve a truly cosmic level of fatuousness, with Perry serving as a patient listener for Willis's unconvincing paternal yearnings ("I could teach my son to play baseball. I've always been great with a bat"). Only Amanda Peet, as Jimmy's sexually frustrated assassin-wife, manages to transcend caricature, but she's given little to do except spar with Willis over marital woes. A heavily made up Kevin Pollak—(over)playing a Hungarian gangster—best sums up the mood: "Thees ees reminding me of my favoreet soup opera." BEN KENIGSBERG


ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
Directed by George Sidney
Warner Bros., April 16 through 22, Film Forum

Producer Arthur Freed bought Annie Get Your Gun as a vehicle for Judy Garland—she was to play sharpshooter Annie Oakley in MGM's screen version of Irving Berlin's hit musical, with Busby Berkeley directing. But the studio differed with Berkeley's approach and he was replaced by George Sidney, the least distinguished director of MGM musicals. To top it all, an ailing Garland was put on suspension; her role went to Betty Hutton. With such a troubled history, it's astonishing that the finished product turned out as smoothly as it did. Annie (1950) has never enjoyed the critical rep of Singin' in the Rain or The Band Wagon, to name but two of the Freed unit's triumphs, but then it hasn't been available for proper evaluation in quite a while—this revival is its first theatrical screening in over 30 years. Sidney's Annie stays close to the original book, opening it up a bit in places. Stalwart baritone Howard Keel makes an impressive Hollywood debut as Hutton's leading man. During the nonmusical scenes, Betty Hutton gives a crude and strident performance, exhausting to watch, but she belts out the songs with an appropriately rowdy energy. And it's the songs that matter—Berlin's marvelous score, even with lyrics bowdlerized to placate the Breen office, comes through loud and clear. ELLIOTT STEIN


KLEZMER ON FISH STREET
Directed by Yale Strom
Castle Hill, opens April 16, Quad

Ambivalently referencing Poland's post-Schindler's List tourist boom, Yale Strom's documentary examines the recent resurgence of klezmer music in that country, a revival that has occurred largely in the absence of Jews. Loosely organized around a Krakow klezmer festival featuring bands from as far away as Boston, Klezmer on Fish Street consists mostly of interviews with festivalgoers, expatriate Polish Jews, cultural commentators, and even a few death camp survivors. While one journalist compares the ethical issues raised by the existence of non-Jewish klezmer bands to those of whiteboy blues, the film is ultimately less concerned with questions of authenticity and appropriation than with the music's importance to contemporary Jewish identity—as both a cultural pipeline to the pre-Holocaust past and a stereotypical emblem of tourist-friendly exoticism. Strom's attempt to represent contemporary Polish-Jewish tensions through a recurring confrontation between a group of prayer-chanting Jews and a policeman responding to a noise complaint is an unnecessary contrivance, but the nearly wall-to-wall music overcomes any rough patches. JOSHUA LAND


GYPSY 83
Written and directed by Todd Stephens
Small Planet, opens April 16, Village East

Leaving behind the oppressive blandness of Sandusky, Ohio, a zaftig-fabulous Stevie Nicks idolatress (Less Than Perfect's Sara Rue) and a Robert Smith wannabe (Kett Turton) pack as much rhinestones, velvet, and lace as their '79 Trans Am can hold, and hightail it to NYC's long-running Nickstock, the annual "Night of 1000 Stevies." En route they pick up, variously, a lounge chanteuse (the showstopping Karen Black), a hunky Amish runaway (Anson Scoville), and trade (Paulo Costanzo). A surprisingly pragmatic take on the joys and perils of diva worship, Gypsy 83 has as many emotional ups and downs as its protagonists' road trip: Emerging love interests threaten to disrupt the delicate goth boy/fag hag balance, only to fade after the glitter. Fully steeped in ersatz Street Angel-era Nicksiana, Rue belies her sitcom's title. Her Stevie twirl, after an early karaoke mishap, progresses from spastic to ecstatic, even as the film's initially dizzy whirl slowly spins down. Co-writer-director Todd Stephens (coming-out-in-'80s-Sandusky tale Edge of Seventeen) convincingly dances around the conspicuous absence of real Nicks tunes, but now it's time to leave both the town and the decade. JORGE MORALES


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