Director At His Best With ‘Evita,’ But Even So, It Makes Mild Salsa

FRIDAY, AUG. 8, 1997

One night last winter, while visiting an America Online movie-oriented chat room, I got a little overexcited while arguing the merits of film director Alan Parker.

When I was done typing, the screen went uncharacteristically blank for a couple of moments. And then somebody - Was it Bestboy? Was it Gaffer? - answered.

“So,” he/she typed, “what’s your point?”

Good question. The point I was trying to make then is a little different from the one I want to pass on now.

I tried then to make a case for Parker’s being one of the most overrated of the major directors. In film after film, he creates wonderful images with the help of lush cinematography that amounts to a virtual short course in filmmaking.

At the same time, Parker’s films typically fail to make the most of their respective themes. Plot problems run rampant in a Parker production.

For example, despite all its creepiness, “Angel Heart” is hampered by a “Twilight Zone”-type plot predictability. “Mississippi Burning” is an artistically rendered lie.

And “The Road to Wellville” is an adaptation of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel about health food fads that, like Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, is more caricature than character study.

On the other hand, we have “Evita.”

With “Evita,” which is just out on video (see capsule review below), Parker utilizes all his talents in a single shoot. In fact, “Evita” may be his most complete film since maybe 1982’s “Shoot the Moon.”

Even then, not everyone thinks so. In a superbly written reader’s review last January, Denae Veselits of Spokane wrote how disappointed she was with Parker’s handling of the movie’s musical score. Comparing the film’s use of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music with the recordings from the 1979 stage show, Veselits wrote that it seemed as if Parker were “making salsa and leaving out the jalapenos.”

“We came to watch the tango,” she wrote, “and all we got was the waltz.”

Wonder what Gaffer would say.

Double feature

If your video-viewing tastes run to the demented, you might consider seeing “Crash” and “Lost Highway” as a double feature when the films become available on Tuesday.

“Crash” is Canadian director David Cronenberg’s look at love and car wrecks, and “Lost Highway” is David Lynch’s exploration of love and bad dreams.

One film fan I know actually sat through back-to-back theatrical showings of the films. Twice.

His double-feature suggestion: See “Crash” first. “Then you can mellow out with ‘Lost Highway,”’ he said.’

Editor’s note: If you do, remember your Prozac.

The week’s releases:

Evita ***-1/2

The main question about this adaptation of the Alan-Parker directed adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical is this: Does Madonna, finally, pull off a convincing performance in the lead role of a major movie? And the answer: Since she has no dialogue to speak, yes. Madonna not only looks the part of the late wife of Argentine strong-man Juan Peron, but she sings adequately as well (even if she is, clearly, no Patti LuPone). The film’s main problem is the script (cowritten by Oliver Stone) that fails Lloyd Webber and lyricist Rice by removing most of the overt political content (Antonio Banderas’ narrator, for example, is transformed from Che Guevera to a sort of generic Everyman). Aside from that, though, the music should hold up for most Lloyd Webber fans, the acting by Madonna, Banderas and Jonathan Pryce as Peron is more than serviceable, and Parker has - as is his style - created a sumptuouslooking Buenos Aires from what is actually Budapest, Hungary. This is no credible biography, no, but that’s not the film’s purpose. In substituting as a study of appearance vs. reality and an object lesson in the grass-is-always-greener vein, “Evita” works quite well. Rated PG

Booty Call **

“In Living Color” veteran comics Tommy Davidson and Jamie Foxx do a riff on safe - and other kinds of - sex in this modern romantic comedy. It has the occasional funny moment, and even one or two poignant scenes, but not enough to warrant even the film’s abbreviated (77 minutes) running time. The main problem is Foxx, a genuinely funny guy, who simply hasn’t developed a side to his zany characters that warrants the sympathy we would afford anyone more hormone-driven than smart. Rated R

Murder at 1600 *

Following a plot that owes a lot to Clint Eastwood’s “Absolute Power,” director Dwight Little studies the investigation surrounding the death of a woman in the White House. What begins as an ordinary study in suspense becomes increasingly ridiculous, climaxing in a scenario involving the president that seems like something out of a Monty Python skit. As for who done it, that person is obvious after the first five minutes. Starring Wesley Snipes, Diane Lane, Alan Alda. Rated R

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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