Arrested Developments


Apologies for spoiler sporting, but Showtime should come with a disclaimer. Screened for critics on 3-11, the copland farce climaxes when the pool-equipped top deck of a skyscraper caves in and floods the floor below, forcing a death plunge and some precarious dangling—indeed, the latter is meant as a triumphant visual punchline. After 90 punitive minutes of eardrum-dicing gunplay, screeching-metal smashups, and flaccid odd-couple sniping, the grossly inapt finale is a sadist’s money shot.

Or maybe the moldy premise is warning enough: Gruff veteran detective and callow greenhorn team up to crack case, absorb life lessons. In its wildest dreams, though, Showtime (or 48 Rush Hrs.) is a pomo buddy movie, pleading immunity from its junk-TV setup by bringing its contentious heroes together via, yup, a junk-TV setup. Rogue lifer Mitch (Robert De Niro) earns tabloid notoriety in the midst of a botched drug bust when he’s captured on camera shooting out said camera. In need of a PR boost, the LAPD accedes to the coaxing of a network producer (Rene Russo, of Lethal Weapons three and four), forcing stone-faced Mitch to star in a Cops-like reality series that pairs him with actor-wannabe fuzz Trey (Eddie Murphy). Amid the smirky cameos (William Shatner, Johnnie Cochran) and deafening Dolby, the celebrity couple pursues a vicious kingpin (Pedro Damian) who’s equipped with sacks of cocaine and a cache of armor-piercing mini-Bazookas, but rudderless media satire seems the movie’s foremost concern. In a typically butterfingered meta-moment, Russo’s character remarks on the long-established guidelines of the buddy-cop narrative (“It’s a genre,” she muses)—rules that this rendition slavishly follows in the paper-thin guise of sending them up.

If Showtime spoon-feeds expired formula to the audience, at least it doesn’t cut the dose with male-bonding saccharin. The rural-Welsh quirkfest Very Annie Mary leaks treacle from every pore, tsk-tsking the plight of a former opera prodigy who hasn’t sung since she was 16, the year her mother died. Since then, Annie Mary (Rachel Griffiths, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Hedwig during her Kansas-homemaker phase) has hovered in Tenenbaumian suspended animation, stumbling about in little-girl frocks, waiting hand and foot on her cruel, Puccini-bleating dad (Jonathan Pryce). Writer-director Sara Sugarman hedges on whether Annie Mary is differently abled or simply a glutton for punishment, but she makes no bones about emptying the humanist-whimsy war chest: the angelic dying friend who smiles through her pain, the snappy gay couple who run the grocery and wax motivational, the ample hausfraus who perform “Y.M.C.A.” And if Merchant Ivory hasn’t already sullied “Nessun Dorma” for you, Very Annie Mary goes and finishes the job.

Rich with gratifyingly nontoxic local color, Margarita Happy Hour casts an empathic eye on late-twentysomething Brooklynites set apart from their art-damaged boho milieu by motherhood. Hardly the ethno-culinary niche entry its title might suggest, Ilya Chaiken’s wry feature debut centers on Zelda (Eleanor Hutchins), an erstwhile party rat and aspiring illustrator with a two-year-old and a good-at-heart fuckup boyfriend (Wendigo director Larry Fessenden) increasingly prone to boozing and tantrums. Chaiken ably balances real-time rhythms with propulsive incident, just as she contrasts bland-storefront patches of Brooklyn with the busy Billburgian kitsch of the scenesters’ lofts and warehouse bashes. She catches subtler interior strains, too: the boredom and confinement that can gnaw at even the most loving mothers, and the knotty, resentful symbiosis of a relationship that holds together for all the wrong reasons.

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