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Overnight Success Mcconaughey: Good-Looking Talent Or Just A Hunk?

Fri., Jan. 3, 1997

Like all overnight successes, Matthew McConaughey burst upon the scene with a lifetime’s worth of publicity - much of it written in that ingratiatingly adoring magazine style.

If you don’t read those kinds of magazine, they specialize in quoting McConaughey on such subjects as:

Being linked with Ashley Judd, Patricia Arquette and Sandra Bullock: “I am a single man,” McConaughey said. “I’m from Texas. I was born in ‘69. I’m livin’ in California. What do you expect?”

Family relations: He has an older brother named “Rooster.”

The gold ring he wears: “It’s a meltdown of Mom and Dad’s class rings and gold from Mother’s teeth,” he said.

Clearly, McConaughey is a publicist’s dream. But can he act? Playing the lead in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of the John Grisham best-seller “A Time to Kill” (which is now available on video, see capsule review) doesn’t make this clear.

But with the possible exception of “The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” his previous work does.

“Dazed and Confused” (1993): As the older sleazebag Wooderson, who still hangs around the high school, McConaughey gives Richard Linklater’s film a firm character base. The great thing about high school girls, his T-shirted character says, is that while he gets older, they stay the same age.

“Boys On the Side” (1995): In this Herbert Ross offering, McConaughey is virtually unrecognizable as the same actor from “Dazed and Confused.” As a straight-arrow policeman who follows a tough-love philosophy with Drew Barrymore, he more than lives up to his character’s name: Abe Lincoln.

“Scorpion Spring” (1996): He enters the film only in the final reel, but he makes an effect as a tough drug dealer who’s as quick with a quip as he is with a gun.

“Lone Star” (1996): Again, McConaughey makes the best of a role that is little more than cameo. But as the only man tough enough to back down the supremely bad Kris Kristofferson, McConaughey gives his character the complexity worthy of this excellent John Sayles study.

“Larger Than Life” (1996): Working against his hunk-like image, McConaughey plays a crazed trucker in this comedy that pairs Bill Murray with an elephant.

McConaughey’s two other films include the B-grade “Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1993), co-starring Rene Zellweger of “Jerry Maguire” fame, in which he portrays “homicidal truck driver” Vilmer, friend of Leatherface. And he had a minor role in “Angels in the Outfield” (1994).

But his potential is more indicative of his current projects, both due sometime this year. “Making Sandwiches” is a 30-minute film, written, produced, directed by and starring Sandra Bullock as the owner, with her husband (McConaughey) of a sandwich shop.

And then there’s “Contact,” Robert Zemeckis’ big-budget adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel.

Not bad for a guy who got famous “overnight.”

Reader review

So, I asked, what’s so funny about “Beavis and Butt-head”? Reader Dyche Alsaker e-mailed me the following response, which I had to edit for space. Regardless, his comments remain both intelligent and well-stated:

“I think that B&B; are the ultimate caricature(s) of adolescent American males in all their pathetic shortcomings and malevolence,” he wrote. “The movie ribs us for our cultural failures and stereotypes. And in spite of all the other shoddy production values, the voice characterization is unadulterated brilliance.

“Of course the movie is idiotic and puerile. I’m not saying it isn’t. But in case you’ve been living in a cave for the last 50 years, so is almost everything else the entertainment industry puts out. At least this is humorous and unapologetic, and more interestingly it gets a lot of people upset. I think a better question is: ‘Of all the things that suck, why do so many people hate ‘Beavis and Butt-head?”’

A Time to Kill ** 1/2

As if attempting to do a literal translation of John Grisham’s book, director Joel Schumacher hits all the marks but misses the larger point in his latest adaptation (he also directed “The Client”) of Grisham’s oeuvre. The story, pure Grisham, involves a white attorney in Mississippi who agrees to defend a black man accused of killing the two white thugs who raped his daughter. Other than the leads, which include new hunk Matthew McConaughey and reigning star Sandra Bullock (who has yet to turn in a bad performance), the casting is predictable - M. Emmett Walsh, Donald Sutherland, Kurtwood Smith, Oliver Platt, etc. Worse, Schumacher links scenes in a manner that builds virtually no momentum (much of the back-andforth cutting makes watching the film seem as if you’re at a tennis match). Finally, despite decent acting - especially by McConaughey, Bullock and dependable Samuel L. Jackson - the court scenes are embarrassing (particularly McConaughey’s summation). Even “The Firm” was better than this. Rated R

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “A Time to Kill” (Warner), “The Stupids” (New Line). Available Tuesday: “Fled” (MGM/UA), “Kingpin” (MGM/UA), “Red Shoes Diary 7” (TBA), “Danger Zone” (LIVE), “Scorned 2” (TBA).

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “A Time to Kill” (Warner), “The Stupids” (New Line). Available Tuesday: “Fled” (MGM/UA), “Kingpin” (MGM/UA), “Red Shoes Diary 7” (TBA), “Danger Zone” (LIVE), “Scorned 2” (TBA).

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