October 17, 1997 in Seven

J.T. Walsh Masterful Playing Good-Old-Boy-Gone-Psycho

Randy Myers Contra Costa Times
 

Videos

He’s kidnapped Kathleen Quinlan and tormented Kurt Russell in “Breakdown.” He’s hired Nicolas Cage to bump off his cute wife, Lara Flynn Boyle, in “Red Rock West.” And he’s lusted after his baby sitter, Alicia Silverstone, in “The Babysitter.”

His name may make you mutter “J.T. who?” But in person, J.T. Walsh’s face is instantly recognizable, even if removed from the good-old-boy-gone-psycho roles he’s mastered on screen.

Looking more like a guy from the plant you’d spot at the bar after quittin’ time, Walsh doesn’t act or dress the part of a celeb. Wearing a well-worn and stained pair of jeans and a button-down shirt that hasn’t seen an iron, Walsh is a refreshing change from The Stars we see in People magazine. Joking about playing “ethically challenged” characters - a term he borrowed from a reporter - Walsh says he’s content playing the bad guy.

“It’s fun,” says the 53-year-old actor who didn’t break into the biz until he was 31. “I mean what the hell, what’s the choice? Or another way of looking at it is: Tom Cruise gets women one way, I get them another. I’ve just got to tie ‘em up.”

In the tense pulse-pounder “Breakdown,” now on video, Walsh does just that. As a trucker who offers a hand to Russell and Quinlan, whose car has gone kaput in the desert, he’s at his devilish best.

It’s one of Walsh’s most satisfying roles, especially since the director allowed him to do what he wanted: demonstrate “the banality of evil.”

Gaining trust and then stomping on it is what Walsh’s character, Red, does. It’s a method of manipulation you hear about all too frequently on the news, Walsh says, as “normal”seeming individuals gain the confidence of the unsuspecting, then terrorize them. That’s what is really scary, he says.

Although Walsh doesn’t create a buzz like his “Breakdown” co-star Russell, he has had his share of embarrassing moments when fans realize who he is. “At the movies I was taking a leak one time and this guy said next to me, ‘A Few Good Men.’ That never would have happened in New York.”

Although Walsh’s asking price might be a pittance compared to Russell’s, he isn’t whining. “It’s a business,” he says. Stars getting millions are “just being Americans. It’s raw capitalism. What I find disturbing is the expectations people put on these people,” he says, referring to the close scrutiny of box-office figures.

Walsh is glad he doesn’t have to be so dependent on a film’s success. “Like Robert Mitchum said: “I just do what comes next.”’

Austin Powers

**-1/2

This parody of ‘60s-era spy thrillers features Mike Meyers (“Wayne’s World”) as a swingin’ English secret agent who, after being cryogenically frozen for three decades, has been revived to fight his long-time nemesis, Dr. Evil (also played by Meyers). As with most extended “Saturday Night Live”-type skits, the film misses as much as it hits. And trying to make Powers, whose bad teeth and expanded waistline tend to overpower his positive qualities, into a lovable character is a hard sell. But the film does feature moments of brilliance: the father-son therapy session with Dr. Evil (a hilarious creation) and his test-tube adolescent, the various ways that both Dr. Evil and Powers remain out of touch with 1997 mores and Powers’ vocabulary - “Groovy, baby!” As one reviewer said, “Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery” is more fun to talk about than to see. But that’s really a good measure of how much fun it is to talk about. Rated PG-13

Batman and Robin

***

Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) take on a new partner, Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), in their battle with the evil Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). The result is the lightest Dark Knight tale thus far, so removed from Tim Burton’s original version (which starred Michael Keaton) that it nearly feels like the old television show. But that isn’t necessarily bad. Director Joel Schumacher still can’t stage a convincing fight scene, but he does allow the film to deal with issues - in this case the working out of natural family dysfunctions associated with a congregation of orphans. Thurman goes over the top, doing a kind of Judy Davis/Bette Davis thing, and Schwarzenegger can’t begin to match the deliciousness of either Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. But Clooney shows he has the chops to be a movie star, and so is a worthy successor to Keaton and that other guy who temporarily wore the batsuit (oh, yeah, Val Kilmer). Rated PG-13

Night Falls on Manhattan

***

In adapting the novel “Tainted Evidence,” director Sidney Lumet studies what happens when a copturned-lawyer (Andy Garcia) is forced to confront the sleazy world of police corruption through a headline-making trial. This is familiar territory for Lumet, the legendary director of such street-mean studies as “Serpico” and “Prince of the City.” And he responds, at least in the first half, which is superbly filmed. Following the trial, however, Lumet falters a bit, as he introduces a romance with little context and essentially shorthands his transitions so much that you have to wonder what was left on the cutting-room floor. Still, it’s a noble effort, centering on Garcia, Ian Holm as a veteran cop and Ron Liebman at his showiest as a tap-dancing district attorney. Rated R

Wild America

**

Based on the real-life stories of nature photographer Marty Stouffer and his brothers, this kid’s movie concerns the summer that the three boys decide to take off and photograph the last vestiges of American wildlife. But the film can’t decide what it wants to be, a serious-minded story of family struggles or a farcical romp that puts the boys in harm’s way only to find a Disney-like way of saving them. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) shows some acting ability, but the script simply asks him, along with the other characters, to do too many silly things. Rated PG-13

MEMO: Videofile writer Dan Webster is on leave until December.

This sidebar appeared with the story:

WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW

Now available: Babes in Toyland (MGM/UA), Breakdown (Paramount), Double Team (Columbia TriStar), Grosse Pointe Blank (Buena Vista) All Over Me (New Line), Whole Wild World (Columbia TriStar)

Available Tuesday: The Sixth Man (Buena Vista), Annabelle’s Wish (Hallmark), Austin Powers (New Line), Batman & Robin (Warner), Night Falls on Manhattan (Republic Pictures), Wild America (Warner)

Videofile writer Dan Webster is on leave until December.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: Babes in Toyland (MGM/UA), Breakdown (Paramount), Double Team (Columbia TriStar), Grosse Pointe Blank (Buena Vista) All Over Me (New Line), Whole Wild World (Columbia TriStar) Available Tuesday: The Sixth Man (Buena Vista), Annabelle’s Wish (Hallmark), Austin Powers (New Line), Batman & Robin (Warner), Night Falls on Manhattan (Republic Pictures), Wild America (Warner)

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