Now in theaters: Under the Tuscan Sky, Secondhand Lions, Cold Creek Manor and Duplex.
Under the Tuscan Sun
You know the three most important things about buying real estate? Location, location, location. If that were true for films, Under the Tuscan Sun would win the Oscar. Tuscany is so beautiful. This is the kind of movie that makes you want to shout at the actors, "Get out of the way, I can't see the scenery."
When Diane Lane buys a broken-down villa in Under the Tuscan Sun, we know its a metaphor for her broken heart. And, yes, it gets mended as Hollywood turns a best-selling true story into mediocre, cliché-ridden fiction.
In fact, there's more clichés in this script then there is tea in China. There's an incompetent contractor, a sidekick friend, a burly construction crew and a gorgeous Italian named Marcello.
In the book, the author moved to Tuscany with her husband. In the movie, she's recovering from a bad divorce. They add a stupid happy ending, insulting our intelligence. Besides, I want to see the guy who left Diane Lane. I understand next summer he's starring in a remake of Dumb and Dumberer. Grade: B
Secondhand Lions Haley Joel Osment comes to live with his eccentric uncles in a dilapidated Texas farmhouse, where they shoot fish, serve it with the skin still on, and you just have to hope they've removed the bullet.
Comedy needs to be anchored in reality. The amateurish direction in Secondhand Lions makes everything silly beyond belief. Not even Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, two of the best actors ever, can involve our hearts and minds in the story.
End result: You can't believe any of it. And poor Haley Joel Osment. Now he sees dead movies. Grade: C+.
Cold Creek Manor
"It was a dark and stormy night …"
Snoopy started his scary stories with that old cliché. Wouldn't you think Hollywood writers could come up with something better? Think again.
Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move out of Manhattan into Cold Creek Manor. They never ask why the mansion is for sale, why it's so cheap, and what happened to the prior owner, who eventually shows up and has everything but the words "Homicidal Maniac" tattooed to his forehead.
Talk about your fixer-upper — the script needs fixer-uppering. Grade: C
Duplex Duplex is beyond fixing up. It's a teardown, with an uninhabitable premise.
Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore buy their dream house. But for their dreams to come true they have to murder the 90-year-old lady who rents the upstairs apartment.
Director Danny DeVito made a similar premise work in the deliciously dark Throw Mama From the Train. But the difference in Duplex is that is we love this lady — 81-year-old British actress Eileen Essel.
Stiller and Barrymore share producing credits for this film, so they share responsibility for it, and their characters come across as selfish yuppies, not tragic victims.
True, this old lady can be a bit demanding. But you don't kill someone when the garbage bag breaks. That's not a capital offense, even in Texas.
When Essel falls asleep with the TV on loud, they don't ask her to turn it down. Instead Stiller sneaks in for sabotage. It's great schtick. He's a terrific actor. But didn't they steal this joke from Martin Lawrence in Big Mamma's House? Not even great talent can fix the holes in Duplex — soon to be vacant at a theater near you. Grade: C.