New Line (1991)
This unusual, unnerving film keeps you off balance as it delivers a chilling portrait of blind faith. Indeed, the main character's transformation from sexual deviant to born-again Christian is so swift and without question that initially you wonder if you haven't walked into some Sunday morning television drama produced by an evangelical church.
This highly original film marks the directing debut of screenwriter and novelist Michael Tolkin. It's an auspicious debut for an original talent. (Mr. Tolkin also wrote the screenplay, which is based on his novel of the same name. Mr. Tolkin's only previously produced feature script was "Gleaming the Cube," but Robert Altman recently directed his screenplay of his first novel, "The Player," which will be released next month.)
Inspiration for "The Rapture" is said to have come from the rise of religion in America, as well as Mr. Tolkin's spotting of a bumper sticker that read: "Warning: In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unmanned." Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, a bored telephone information operator who spends her off-hours seeking orgiastic sex with her pal Vic, played by Patrick Bauchau. Just as things get empty beyond belief -- Sharon gets into increasingly dangerous sex and attempts suicide -- she finds belief in God. Becoming a born-again Christian, she easily hooks up with a cult at the office. When her boss hears her answering information calls with the word of the Lord, he hauls her into his office for what we assume will be a reprimand. It turns out, though, he's in on the secret, too, and takes her to listen to the prophecy of a young boy. Sharon converts her dissolute boyfriend, Randy, played by David Duchovny, and they marry and take up a pious life dedicated to God and grooming their souls for judgment day. When Randy meets an untimely end, Sharon takes their daughter, Mary, played by Kimberly Cullum, into the desert to wait for a lift to heaven. A concerned young sheriff, played by Will Patton, becomes caught up in their spiritual drama. The tragic journey turns hallucinatory as Mr. Tolkin captures the anguish of a woman doomed.
The performances are all fine, from Mr. Bauchau's Vic, a sexual predatory animal, to the young Ms. Cullum, who plays Mary with a rigid innocence. Ms. Rogers is most impressive as Sharon, her cat-like eyes and off-kilter mouth capable of a jaded weariness as the sexual scavenger, her transformation to the proselytizing Christian is total. And as a tormented mother she cuts to the bone. If you'd only known of her as Tom Cruise's former wife -- her film credits aren't all that substantial -- she shows here she's nobody's cipher.
This is not a light evening's entertainment. Nor is it everyone's cup of sacramental wine, particularly those who sport religious bumper stickers. But for those who share Mr. Tolkin's fascination with religion's role in the late 20th century, it is riveting. He succeeds here in expressing the pain of a society starved for meaning. I look forward to seeing what captures his interest next.
HANGIN' WITH THE HOMEBOYS
While there are some lively characters and performances here, ultimately this is a predictable coming-of-age film. Just as it begins, you know how it will end -- by the Saturday morning finish of this Friday night on the town with his buddies, the sensitive Hispanic grocery store clerk will finally fill out that application for a college scholarship.
"Hangin' With the Homeboys" has been favorably compared to "Saturday Night Fever," but it lacks the power and intensity of that film. Set in a '90s South Bronx neighborhood instead of a Northern California suburb of the early '60s, it borrows from "American Graffiti." It should have borrowed more.
Director and writer Joseph B. Vasquez is performing the filmmaker's autobiographical rite of passage here. This is the land whence he came, or rather escaped, as the world inhabited by these four pals is, of course, oppressively limited. But if he were half as naive as Johnny, the film's lead character, who borders on the retarded, he would never have survived, let alone gotten himself into college on a scholarship.
Johnny, played by Nestor Serrano, has been working the past two years in a supermarket. This particular Friday night, as he readies for his weekly ritual roam of New York with his gang, the subject of that scholarship application is raised. The deadline for filing is nigh. Enter Tom, played by Mario Joyner, the other responsible party in the crew. He works as a telephone solicitor but is really an actor. Filling out the foursome is Doug E. Doug as Willie, who assumes every slight and question of his character has to do with the fact that he's black when it's really just that he's an irresponsible bum, and Fernando, alias Vinny.
Save for Johnny's jejune yearnings, the other characters are plausible and fun. Vinny takes pride in the fact that he lives off his girlfriends, and he is always in the market for a new source of loans -- carrying with him a disease-zapping condom to protect his collateral. Willie's mouth ignites, his Rastafarian dreadlocks shaking at any chance to claim a racial injustice. Tom, whom you believe when he says he was the most talented member of his college acting class, will probably never get to use his dulcet voice for much more than sales pitches, yet he hangs on to his hopes of something more.
The film's faults lie mostly in its contrived situations, and while the events themselves are amusing -- such as the salsa party they crash by saying Jose sent them -- the young men pile up like the cold cuts Willie is caught cadging at the buffet table and
begin to take on the stale flavor of artifice.