Film Scouts Reviews

"Strange Days"

by Kathleen Carroll

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It's the final days of 1999 and the city of Los Angeles appears to be still reeling from the aftershock of the O.J. Simpson verdict. The Christmas lights are still up but Tinseltown is in a total funk. Streets are littered with burning cars. Armed tanks and helicopters patrol the poorer neighborhoods. Oh yes and get this. The Los Angeles Police Department is continuing to recruit some bad apples. Cruising the city are two cops whose racist attitudes and sadistic behavior are all too evident.

Thanks to the admittedly inventive Steadicam shots in STRANGE DAYS you, the poor unsuspecting viewer, are thrust smack in the middle of this Beirut-like hell. In the jarring opening scene you experience the same chilling sights and gun blasts as a certain armed robber, a careening camera exposing at breakneck speed the panic of a restaurant staff as they obey shouted commands and are herded into a single room. But the worst is yet to come.

The sequence turns out to be just a sample of what Lenny Nero, the movie's supposed hero, is actually up to. Wallowing in the dirt and grime of this unlikely role is no other than the Academy Award-nominated British actor Ralph Fiennes. For Lenny is yet another disgraced L.A. cop who now gets his kicks from selling SQUID disks, namely electronic headgear that records your emotional reactions and visceral sensations on a disk so others can share the same experience.

Lenny describes the thrill of getting "wired" like this. "It's a piece of somebody's life - pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex," says this dealer in vicarious brain waves. Lenny gets high on just conning an entertainment lawyer and other easy marks into buying his disks. Suddenly, for no obvious reason, he begins to pine for his ex-girl friend Faith, an aspiring rock singer played by the punky pale-faced Juliette Lewis. He then links up with Mace, a limo-driving security specialist and a part that makes the most of Angela Bassett's muscle power and fiesty energy. Mace thinks Lenny is just "a goofy romantic." She is clearly blinded by love.

The script becomes more laughable by the minute. But there are scenes that are definitely not funny. One of them recalls the Rodney King video in a way that is nothing short of inflammatory. There are other incendiary scenes such as an excruciating close-up view of a terrified woman being assaulted, manacled and violated at knifepoint and then killed.

Had these scenes been shot by a male director feminists would have been out in force, publicly denouncing the filmmaker. But because this relentless, distressingly violent movie was directed by a woman, namely Kathryn Bigelow, it is being passed off as art by the New York Film Festival. Bigelow may succeed in proving her point that she can play as tough as the boys and direct a high-powered Hollywood action movie that is as mean and nasty as anything her husband and collaborator, James Cameron, might cook up. She's, unquestionably, in command of her craft and her filmmaking technique is something to marvel at.

But STRANGE DAYS is just a lot of sound and fury that, with its ludicrous attempt at a happy wind up, signify nothing in the end. It's a blatant example of the kind of offensive, irresponsible filmmaking that enrages such Hollywood critics as Senator Robert Dole. That the festival would show such a movie is, frankly, outrageous.

My favorite reaction came from an equally appalled friend who turned to me at one point and said "I blame MTV for the entire thing."

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