Film Reviews for 2-13-08

‘Youth Without Youth’ a Coppola original

(Starring Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz and Zoltan Butuc. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Rated R; 2:04. LEO Report Card: B-)

Amid all the critical verbiage generated (mostly in the 1970s) by Francis Ford Coppola’s meteoric rise in the film industry, there is one charge that has never been leveled. No one ever accused Francis of biting off less than he could chew. He has never been called short on ambition. He has always made moves thought foolhardy (check the doc his wife shot, “Hearts of Darkness,” about the making of “Apocalypse Now”) and ended up usually proving his detractors wrong.

So it is somewhat less than surprising that for his first film in 10 years, he has chosen to adapt (on his own, without studio financing) a book by the notoriously “difficult” Romanian novelist Mircea Eliade.

Eliade’s novel is about an aging and somewhat bitter Romanian linguist who has never gotten over losing the woman of his dreams. Tim Roth plays the linguist Dominic. Roth is excellent in a role that, paradoxically, since he is a linguist, relies quite heavily on non-verbal acting.

Indeed, the character serves as a symbol of the place language holds in human existence and of the limits mere words fail to transcend. Roth has the added responsibility of having to play multiple characters: the young Dominic (in flashback), the old Dominic, and then the old man restored to a fantastical, perhaps metaphorical, return to his mid-30s as a result of — no joke — being hit by lightning.

Dominic is actually struck and whisked back into a potentially new past. It is a time game familiar to fans of Philip K. Dick (and modern sci-fi in general, for that matter), but one that seems odd coming from the pen of a grim historian like Eliade or through the lens of a classically romantic realist like Coppola. He is a true artist, though, one whose failures are often more interesting than his peers’ successes. So, although “Youth Without Youth” inhabits the screen awkwardly at times because of its reality-challenged plot, every frame looks as gorgeous as a Gauguin or a Rembrandt or a David. The old painters always seemed to inspire the director more than earlier (or even contemporary) filmmakers ever did.

So, when the newly young Dominic finds a woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) just like his old flame, and she too is struck by lightning, a viewer is asked to wonder if this is Frank Capra Hollywood bullshit or profound magical realism. Coppola has trod this turf before, most notably in colossal flop “One From the Heart,” but he has often said these are the kinds of quirky projects he prefers. If a man can make a film this good using only $20 million of his own money (by selling good wine) and avoid the corporate alligator jaws that chew up the youngsters, then he can only be commended. —Paul Kopasz

‘Welcome Home,’
please leave
(Starring Martin Lawrence, Louis CK, Nicole Ari Parker and James Earl Jones. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Rated PG-13; 1:54. LEO Report Card: C)

“Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” is to the revitalization of great American family comedies as Chuck Norris is to the backing of winning political candidates. Maybe that statement doesn’t contain the airtight logic to make it past the ACT analogy test-question committee. But going to see this Martin Lawrence vehicle while the strongest crop of Oscar Best Picture nominees in years is still playing in wide release doesn’t really pass the logic test, either.


So maybe “There Will Be Blood” doesn’t fit the bill for an evening of lighthearted escapism (which is the modest if perfectly respectable aim of “Roscoe Jenkins”). Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (“Undercover Brother”) wants us to love the movie’s characters as much as he does. Lee supplies his ensemble cast with generous improvisational room and a casually ambling length for many of the movie’s scenes. But the “quirky” character details and the sex jokes are as recycled as the movie’s plot.

Lawrence plays the title character, a successful host of a Jerry Springer- type show. He’s engaged to a winner of “Survivor,” a shrewish media whore. For reasons left somewhat murky, Roscoe hasn’t been home for almost a decade, but his adolescent son coerces him into returning to the South for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

The family (including a sporadically funny Mo’Nique and Michael Clarke Duncan) greets Roscoe’s return with insults typically followed by a beat-down. And so it goes. Lee gives his actors room to breathe in scenes that unfold with the relaxed air of a summer barbecue. And then every 15 minutes, an uppercut arrives to knock the wind out of Roscoe — and the movie’s charm. —Jamie Peters