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Director’s Spotty Record Gains Some Luster With ‘187’

Over the years, film director Kevin Reynolds has done little to warrant the high-profile jobs that he regularly snares. He’s seemed to be a good example of someone who gets ahead more by who he knows than what he knows.

And the folks he knows are among the most powerful in Hollywood.

Reynolds, whose film “187” is available on video this week, came to filmmaking relatively late in his career. Born in 1952, he earned a law degree from Baylor University before deciding to attend film school at USC.

His student film “Proof” later, with the help of Steven Spielberg, became the big-screen feature “Fandango” (1984), which starred Kevin Costner in his first big role.

And the relative success of “Fandango” (basically an art-house, coming-of-age movie, it had a bigger run on video), Reynolds went on to direct “The Beast” (1987) before reuniting with Costner in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991).

Costner helped produce Reynolds’ next effort, “Rapa Nui” (1994), and then the two worked together on the ill-fated production “Waterworld” (1995). It proved to be a parting of the ways when Costner, in an atmosphere of confusion and even perhaps panic, helped recut Reynolds’ final print (it didn’t help).

Now, we can look at these films and disagree on the overall quality of them. Some would argue that “Waterworld” is (don’t laugh) an underrated classic. Others would say that the biggest problem with “Robin Hood” was not Reynolds but Costner and his wavering accent.

Whatever, there is virtually nothing in any of these films that would lead one to believe that Reynolds has talent enough to pull off a tough little script such as “187” (see capsule review below).

And yet he did.

Yes, the film has some flaws - a downbeat anticlimax being at the top of the list. But it is visually inspired throughout. And if nothing else, it boasts a feel for economy of storytelling and smooth pacing that is virtually nonexistent in any of the other films listed above.

For perhaps the first time, some of us are actually looking forward to the next Kevin Reynolds-directed movie.

Look up at the sky

Among the readers willing to share their thoughts on space-alien movies …

Kurt Hanson e-mailed that “the scariest one for me growing up was ‘Invaders From Mars.’ The images of falling through the sand and the underground tunnels stayed with me since I first saw it as a kid until this past year when I rented it for another look. Still great.”

For Bob Jenson, “‘2001’ is still probably my favorite SF movie.” As he e-mailed,”While being bored with it when I was 11, when I ‘forced’ myself to watch it many years later to see if I could finally understand it, the movie took me away like no other.”

Ruth Dixon, who left a message on voicemail, didn’t mention any favorites. She just urged moviegoers, and filmmakers for that matter, to think hard about what kinds of sci-fi films they watch (and/or direct).

“I think maybe we have a responsibility, all of us, to keep an open mind on these movies,” Dixon said. “Very few of them (the movies) are positive. They’re always about space creatures who are going to eat us up.”

Dixon has a point. When you think of the vast majority of Westerns, even (or especially) those by such great directors as John Ford and Howard Hawks, you can see what she means when she says, “I think the same thing happened with the Indians.”

Crazy Horse phone home.

Here are the week’s releases:

187 *** 1/2

Here is a “Blackboard Jungle” for the 1990s. Here is the flip side of such well-meaning attempts to capture the atmosphere of urban high school as “Dangerous Minds” and “Stand and Deliver.” Directed by Kevin Reynolds and starring Samuel L. Jackson, “187” - the police code for homicide - tells the story of an idealistic science teacher (Jackson) who loses not only his idealism but, ultimately, his humanity. Not for the timid, nor for those who prefer a less-fatalistic view of public education, “187” is bound to arouse controversy. Even so, and despite the fact that it has a few flaws, “187” is a riveting exercise in filmmaking. Jackson proves, once again, that he is among the elite of Hollywood actors. As for Reynolds, when did Mr. “Waterworld” learn to direct this well? Rated R

Spawn * 1/2

Killed by the same quasi-governmental agency that had employed him as an assassin, a former Marine comes back to life with the promise of immortality if he agrees to lead Satan’s armies in their showdown with heaven. Showing the wounds appropriate for a man who has been burned to a “crispy,” the ex-killer - now known as Spawn - carries vestiges of his humanity, which cause him to turn back to the side of goodness and light. Or does he? Based on the comic book created by Eastern Washington University graduate Todd McFarlane, “Spawn” is a low-budget creation that is abysmally acted, poorly written and incompetently directed to the point where it never rises above its genre roots. The only real bit of fun in the entire project is John Leguizamo as the meanest clown ever born. Rated PG-13

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