Mediocre: A Dangerous Woman

A Dangerous Woman (1993)
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Written by Mary McGarry Morris, Naomi Foner
Produced by Patricia Whitcher, Naomi Foner, Kathleen Kennedy
Starring Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Hershey, David Strathairn, Chloe Webb, John Terry, Viveka Davis, Richard Riehle, Myles Sheridan, Laurie Metcalf, Jan Hooks
Even when it descends into maudlin melodrama, its gifted players and Gyllenhaal’s proficient (if pedestrian) direction buoy this seamy drama of manslaughter in a small Californian town, produced and adapted by his wife with a similarly uninspired competence from Morris’s novel. Winger believably creates by vociferation and gestural subtleties the ipsism of an intrusive, ingenuous simpleton, whose turbulent relationships with friends (Webb, Davis), a disreputable co-worker (Strathairn), her lonely aunt (Hershey) and a drunken, drifting carpenter (Byrne) in her employ confound and agitate her delicate, often uncomprehending psyche with tragic results. Many of the commonplace contretemps enacted are self-consciously stagy for Morris’s hackneyed dialogue, but in sequent sanguinary and sexual extremes, Gyllenhaal presses his performers to plausible potency, proving that they deserve a better story. Despite an intolerably twee score composed by Carter Burwell (when he was penning his best music for the Coens), there’s plenty to enjoy here, such as Robert Elswit’s warmly balanced photography, and a plenitude of familiar character actors; among others, Paul Dooley and Jan Hooks respectively peddle Tupperware and cosmetics. From and for Winger, this is to be expected: a premium performance of a modest role, trapped in a middling picture.

Mediocre: The New Kids

The New Kids (1985)
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Written by Stephen Gyllenhaal, Brian Taggert
Produced by Sean S. Cunningham, Andrew Fogelson, Barbara De Fina
Starring Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, David H. MacDonald, Eric Stoltz, Paige Price, Vince Grant, Theron Montgomery, Eddie Jones, Lucy Martin, Jean De Baer, Tom Atkins
They grow up so fast! Crazed by cocaine, malfeasant teens might graduate quicker from petty vandalism and harassment to kidnapping and attempted murder as from high school, as in this alternately fluffy and frightful thriller. Army brats (Presby, Loughlin) suffer the most taxing of their adolescent years when orphaned after their parents perish in an unspecified accident, lodged by a bumbling uncle (Jones) aspiring to revive his downscale amusement park, and both harried and harrowed by a redneck gang who locally dabble in dogfights and narcotic traffic after Loughlin’s decent demoiselle rebuffs their unhinged honcho (Spader). Too tough to buckle, the titular transplants requite after taking their lumps, and the ensuant, escalating exchange of hostilities swells with violence of an intensity inversely proportionate to its plausibility, administrated adequately by genre journeyman Cunningham. It’s much more attractive than agreeable, relying on its fit and photogenic leads, especially lovely Laughlin and specially stunning Spader, here spruce and bleached, playing what seems initially a particularly previsional cosplay of Milo Yiannopoulos. Gyllenhaal’s trite dialogue and stale scenarios seem as apropos to a televised feature from the late ’70s as Lalo Schifrin’s untypically, oddly outmoded score. Worse, Atkins is squandered as the heroic, fatherly colonel dispatched not ten minutes into the picture, as is Stoltz as Loughlin’s pissant love interest. Its routinely motivational montages submit: can our protagonists lick the iniquitous hicks, profitably repair the theme park, rescue the community center, find true love and punctually attend the school dance? Sure.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Tuff Turf.