Fierce Creatures (1997) -- Albino Alligator (1997)
One of the moviegoing experiences I'll never forget is seeing A Fish Called Wanda at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in 1988. It instantly became one of my all-time favorites, and I greeted the arrival of Fierce Creatures, a follow-up from the same four principals almost 10 years later, with heavy anticipation.
While the experience of seeing Fierce Creatures at the Highland 10 in Austin, Texas will be a considerably less memorable experience, the film is certainly full of entertainment and is worthy of an audience.
The plot concerns London's Marwood Zoo, which is purchased by cutthroat media mogul Rod McCain (an unidentifiable Kevin Kline). In Rod's employ is Willa (not Wanda; Jamie Lee Curtis), who is charged with making the zoo a profitable chain of theme parks. She turns to Rod's unloved son Vince (also Kline) for help, and hires ex-cop Rollo Lee (John Cleese) with making some big changes. Rollo seizes upon the public's love of violence for his direction, and enacts a plan to stock the zoo with only "fierce creatures" -- no more boring sloths, lemurs, or turtles.
The story gets murkier from here, involving rebellious zookeepers (including Michael Palin), a plan to sell the zoo, and lots of sex jokes, but basically the movie floats, thanks to liberal doses of humor from the principals.
On the other hand, the film does get a bit heavy into the fart jokes, making this whole experience seem more like "Benny Hill" than "Monty Python," but hey, now that Benny's gone, what are we supposed to do for crude British humor? Cleese and Kline are the acting standouts -- no big surprise. Rather, it's Curtis who proves to be, well, boring, wearing the same expression throughout the film as if she's constipated (hence the potty humor, I suppose).
It isn't Wanda, but it is funny. Any fan of the former will like this one as well.
One of a growing list of recent directorial debuts by actors, Albino Alligator is Kevin Spacey's (Best Supporting Actor winner from The Usual Suspects) baby, and his film is probably the best of the lot. Because with this movie, Spacey proves that he can work just as well on either side of the camera.
A "box drama" of classic design, Albino Alligator is a psychological thriller set largely inside a New Orleans Prohibition-era bar still open in the 1990's. Dova (Matt Dillon), Milo (Gary Sinise), and Law (William Fichtner) are criminals on the run. After killing three cops with their car, the trio holes up in Dino's Last Chance Bar until things cool over, but the cops catch up with them soon enough. A game of cat-and-mouse hostage negotiation ensues, with Faye Dunaway, Viggo Mortensen, Skeet Ulrich, John Spencer, & M. Emmet Walsh as the victims, and Joe Mantegna as the head cop on the case.
Christian Forte's script is top-notch, save for a few dialogue relics leftover from the Prohibition era themselves (I've never actually heard anyone refer to two dollars as "a deuce"). In fact, the script does most of the real work in the picture, leaving Spacey plenty of time to concentrate on building tension and experimenting with some cool camera tricks, all without getting too heavy-handed with his direction. And having all his talented friends act in the principal parts doesn't hurt, either.
Spacey does a nice job at getting across some relevant social commentary along the way, even if the film stays a little inaccessible due to the lack of any real heroes or very likable characters. A better editing job (especially continuity) could have made a big difference here as well.
But all is forgiven -- Kevin Spacey adds another title to his long list of credits, and it might prove to be one of his best.