Kevin Kline is one of those theater-to-movies kind of actors who seems never to have found his niche.
As a movie star, he began as a dramatic sort, debuting opposite Meryl Streep in the Holocaust-themed/Southern-gothic study “Sophie’s Choice.”
Yet he probably gained his greatest fame onstage as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance,” a role that he reprised in the 1983 movie.
His whole career has been like that. Just when you think his Shakespearean air is most appropriate to drama, he comes back in a comedy.
Despite being nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for “Sophie’s Choice,” his only Academy Award to date came courtesy of his role as a crazed conman in 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda.”
He plays much the same character in the sort-of sequel, “Fierce Creatures” (which is now available on video). I say sort of because “Fierce Creatures” really has nothing to do with “Wanda” other than the fact that the four principal actors - Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Cleese’s fellow Monty Python cast member Michael Palin - were reunited to make it.
Whereas “Wanda” boasted the typical kind of outrageous British humor involving repressed men ogling big-breasted women and contemplating the death of beloved pets (just to name a couple of joke types), it also was more or less a straightforwardly written comedy.
There’s little about “Fierce Creatures” that is straightforward, from the potential closing of a beloved zoo, to the intentional misperception of Cleese as a sexual beast, to Kline’s double performance as a flatulent father-son team.
“Fierce Creatures” has its comic moments, most of them involving Kline. But the film boasts ample dead time, too.
** 1/2 Rated PG-13
Nicholas Hytner directs this adaptation of the Arthur Miller stage play about the 1690 Salem witch trials, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as an average citizen whose illicit affair with Winona Ryder dooms his wife (Joan Allen) and ultimately himself. The acting by Day-Lewis, Allen and Paul Scofield (as a virtual hanging judge), but also - and surprisingly - by Ryder, is uniformly fine, even if director Hytner doesn’t always do favors for his cast members. The film’s main problem, besides offering what is now a familiar-if-stillharrowing story, is a tendency to emphasize setting and image over character, with scenes set unaccountably on windy beaches and teeth that seem to go overnight from Ipana-white to goat yellow. In the end, though, Miller’s glorious dialogue plays like a Beethoven symphony. Rated PG-13
Jackie Chan’s First Strike
“Jackie Chan’s First Strike” is another in the Hong Kong action star’s “Supercop” series. Alternately comic and fight-heavy, this one features Chan being recruited by various intelligence agencies to track down some bad guys. But just who the real bad guys are is kept in doubt. For that matter, so is Jackie’s actual mission, which points to the film’s basic flaw: sloppy plotting. Of course, the real draw in Chan films - especially those directed by Stanley Tong - are the fight scenes, which here feature Chan holding off a gang with a ladder, skiing one-footed while wearing a toy-animal hat and swimming in the shark tank. What makes this film less enjoyable than, say, “Rumble in the Bronx,” is the heavier level of deadly violence. Chan is best when he makes us laugh. Rated PG-13
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