Red Eye

If hell really is indeed other people, then the hospitality industry is where hardened sinners go to serve their time.
Go ask Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), manager of a swanky hotel in Miami in Wes Craven’s new thriller Red Eye, if Existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was right to call his famous play No Exit. Trapped in an airplane next to a hired killer asking too many questions and supplying too many troubling answers, poor Lisa has only her skill with negotiating with jerks to help her survive.
Craven’s newest film takes place in a fast, self-help, self-serve world. Lisa has learned how to smooth over the edges, giving guests exactly what they believe they deserve without compromising the hotel’s reputation or security. Her only meaningful relationship is to her recently divorced father, and she’s mastered the revolving-door realities of the hotel business where everyone must be made to feel special while sleeping in beds rented by the night.
Lisa is stuck at an airport while flying back from her grandmother’s funeral when she meets Jackson (Cillian Murphy) at a layover. This chance encounter has serious sexual undertones, but Lisa sidesteps them with practiced ease. She seems distant and reserved even when Jackson turns up his creepy charm in a bar, though she eventually warms up to him when the pair are unexpectedly seated next to one another on the plane.
Their intimacy, however, is a sham, less the flirtations of strangers passing in a train that the sadistic game a predator plays with its prey. Locked in the belly of the beast next to a man who becomes more fiendish every minute, Lisa somehow emerges from her isolation just in time to discover how much her connections mean to her.
Red Eye is a great graphic description of the rabble, and Craven makes excellent use of space to define relationships. In the cavernous Twilight Zone of an airport at 2am human beings become lumps in the dark, sleeping next to one another yet avoiding all contact with one another. In the plane, where contact is forced, Lisa and Jackson are the opposite of lovers: People engaged in undoing one another at every opportunity.
The film is best when it’s operating in the friction zone, when we don’t fully understand Jackson’s interest in Lisa. Having set up a world where connections are fleeting and difficult, there is something oddly satisfying in Jackson’s cat-and-mouse game of seduction. It is natural to wonder about a quarter of the way into the film, when Jackson has carefully explained the film’s plot to Lisa, how Red Eye can sustain suspense? How can Craven keep us at the edge of our seats after he’s given away all his secrets?
He can’t.
Something goes out of the film after Jackson steps out of the closet and exposes himself to us. The movie becomes slack and rote rather than taunt and well paced. The film dies in the endless chase scenes that follow, the inevitable stabbing involving a pen, the cartoon-like use of violence, and Craven is all too happy to reverse suspense in the final moments of Red Eye, leaving us rolling our eyes rather than gasping for air.
No one expects Craven to be Alfred Hitchcock, but there is something disturbing about the nose dive he makes in Red Eye. In his Scream franchise he poked fun of the horror genre and gave his audience the benefit of the doubt. In Red Eye he seems to be happy to tread on familiar ground while serving up a mismatch of leftovers that have seen better days. There’s something pathetic in his effort since it betrays what he thinks we want: Gore, blood, explosions and predictable happy endings.
In the end Red Eye is thoroughly competent without being completely satisfying.


Dukes of Hazzard

The mind is a forgiving master. It erases traumatic memories, protecting us from having to relive the unthinkable over and over again.
I escaped seeing the television series the Dukes of Hazzard throughout the car wreck that was the late 1970s and early 80s or, if I did see it, my mind was resilient enough to blank out the memory. In an age of incredibly terrible television, the Dukes of Hazzard was the ultimate in bad entertainment, suitable only for cranky fans of Hee-Haw who resented not having any southern bell T&A to ogle on network TV.
I would rather see a feature-length remake of Mr. Whipple imploring hapless housewives to not squeeze the Charmin. At least there’s a subversive subtext to this scenario. Why do these women feel the need to squeeze toilet paper? Why does Whipple himself give way to the temptation, his eyes furtive and dark as he secretly caresses the Charmin? What’s happening in culture and in these characters’ private lives to create such an odd compulsion?
Ah, but I digress.
In fact, of all the annoying characters I do not need to revisit from those days – Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island, Doc from the Love Boat, Barretta, Kojack and all the cops of Barney Miller – Bo and Luke Duke rank at the very bottom. They are the sorts of losers you avoid at high school reunions, not because they’ve changed, but because you fear they’ve remained horribly the same.
Why anyone would drag these cadavers out of the sitcom morgue is beyond me, but here they are, just a couple of dumb-ass rednecks, erm, I mean good old boys, making their big-screen debut in Dukes of Hazzard. Bo (Sean William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke are reckless moonshiners beating the crap out of a 1969 Dodge Charger that would probably sell for more on Ebay than their kidneys, outrunning the local police, and blowing shit up.
Dukes of Hazzard is a movie for people who like to see things go boom. Cars explode in a rain of fire, people shoot at one another for engaging in low-grade petting, and the film endorses violence as a form of recreation. There’s a strong argument for gun laws – or forced sterilization – in this movie, and it’s difficult to wonder how a film this irresponsible can be made post-Columbine.
Burt Reynolds makes an appearance as Boss Hogg, cashing in on his good mojo to play a character that seems somehow more superficial than the original. There is a kind of waxed quality to Reynolds that might unnerve those accustomed to seeing actors with flesh that has rebound and other human qualities, but his performance pales in comparison to Jessica Simpson’s.
Simpson plays Daisy, Bo and Luke’s Barbie-Doll cousin. Simpson isn’t so much an actress as an occasion to shut all mental functions down. I believe that having sexual feelings for something so plastic and ineffectual is a kind of fetish, like being turned on by carpet or shoes, and Simpson almost makes the rest of the cast seem passable by comparison, which is like saying AIDS makes syphilis seem like a seasonal cold.
There’s also a helpful voice-over which is oddly NOT Morgan Freeman for those who are not swift enough to keep up with the plot. And the plot? Things go boom. Guns are cool. Cops are corrupt and stupid. Men will do foolish things for a bimbo wearing short shorts.
Ah, but that’s not all: The film also has an embarrassing cultural critique of the Confederacy flag that’s so far beyond it’s depth that it actually argues against it’s own point. 
Dukes of Hazzard takes place in a fantasy world where strong, southern men overcome corruption by tapping into the almost primal power of good old American steel – Mopar muscle – and good luck. The flip side is, however, a horrific vision of America gone mad and watching these white-trash hot-rodders shooting at cops, breaking into homes, and blowing things up, you can’t help but wonder if we’re taken a wrong step as a nation.
Thank god there’s no idea ugly enough that the mind can’t blot it out in time.

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