Sophistication meets the supernatural in `The Simian Line'

Movie reviews

March 23, 2002|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Simian Line

Rated R (profanity, sexuality)

SUN SCORE ***

The curious title of Linda Yellen's The Simian Line, a blithe but tart romantic comedy with a supernatural twist, refers to what the dithery psychic Arnita (Tyne Daly) discovers when she reads the palm of her elegant neighbor Katharine (Lynn Redgrave). The line suggests that Katharine's heart and head are "tied up together" so that her head short-circuits the promptings of her heart.

It is a painfully accurate reading of Katharine, a lovely, radiant woman who lives in a splendid turn-of-the-20th-century house on the promenade in Weehawken, N.J., which has a glorious view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River.

Katharine is a real estate agent, a chic, brisk single woman, possibly a divorcee. She rents out portions of her great-grandfather's home, and, to her astonished delight, the "older woman" has found herself caught up in a romance with one of her tenants, Rick (Harry Connick Jr.), a young artist whose medium is leaded glass.

Unfortunately but understandably, Katharine goes into a tizzy when Rick and her new next-door neighbor, Sandra (Cindy Crawford), strike up an acquaintance.

While Katharine becomes increasingly jealous of her stunning neighbor, Sandra actually is coping patiently with her husband, Paul (Jamey Sheridan). He is under immense pressure to complete a high-stakes corporate deal, and takes out his stress by trying to dictate to his wife how to run her burgeoning party-planning business.

With uptight mates, Sandra and Rick find respite in each other's company, but that is all. (The Simian Line offers the all-too-novel suggestion that even beautiful people can possess high morals.) In the meantime, Katharine's attic tenants, struggling rock musicians Billy (Dylan Bruno) and Marta (Monica Keena), are experiencing their own crisis.

Much of the tension among the three couples is inadvertently escalated on Halloween eve because Rick has hired Arnita to read fortunes at Katharine's dinner party. Forever protesting that her psychic gifts aren't taken seriously, Arnita foresees that one couple won't be together by New Year's Eve, which sets everyone on edge even as they scoff.

Arnita also discovers that Katharine's house is haunted by the ghost of her great-grandfather (William Hurt) awaiting the return of his wife, who left him in 1905. Keeping him company is the ghost of Mae (Samantha Mathis), a razzmatazz flapper gunned down in a speakeasy, and a resident of Sandra's house when it was a '20s bordello. Only Arnita can see and hear them.

Yellen focuses primarily on Katharine and Rick. In our notoriously ageist society, Katharine has shown courage in allowing herself to become emotionally involved with Rick, but in her escalating insecurity, she is in danger of selling short both herself and her beau.

She doesn't realize that the aging woman in her mirror is not the woman - certainly not the entire woman - whom Rick loves. Rick is uncomplicated because he possesses a self-knowledge that Katharine lacks.

Redgrave comes through with yet another unsparing, illuminating and stylish portrayal. Equally accomplished, Daly shows Arnita to be likable and wise beneath a deceptively neurotic surface, and possessed of genuine psychic gifts.

These formidable actresses, abetted by a persuasive Connick and by Hurt as the most genteel and benevolent of ghosts, set a high standard for a splendid ensemble cast that includes Eric Stoltz as a social worker and Jeremy Zelig as Marta's adorable 4-year-old son.

Yellen, a distinguished TV veteran, has been moving into theatrical features with increasing impressiveness. The Simian Line reveals her mastery of artifice and theatricality in the service of eliciting genuine emotion and insight into human nature.

Sorority Boys

Rated R (profanity, nudity)

SUN SCORE *

With Sorority Boys, the title pretty much does tell all.

Adam (Michael Rosenbaum), the social chairman of Kappa Omicron Kappa, and his two best pals, Dave (Barry Watson) and Doofer (Harland Williams), get drummed out of their fraternity when they are falsely accused of misappropriating funds - and wind up taking refuge in drag in the sorority across the street.

Delta Omicron Gamma is home to the campus' female misfits, which means girls who are rabid feminists, unattractive or both. Naturally, both the fraternity and the sorority are known by their obvious acronyms. The pals' foray into drag is part of an elaborate scheme to get back in the good graces of their fraternity brothers and to expose the actual thief.

First-time writers Joe Jarvis and Greg Coolidge and director Wally Wolodarsky use the trio's predicament ostensibly to subject the guys to a little consciousness-raising about the crudeness with which fraternity guys treat coeds. There's also some sentimental business about the friends seizing the opportunity to build the DOGs' self-esteem.

This is also a lot of hooey: The makers of Sorority Boys have only one thing on their minds, and that's to revel in as much tried-and-true frat-boy raunchiness as an R-rating will bear. The result is exuberantly crass but reasonably harmless, although to hear one guy hold forth on how much he's learned about family and loyalty in just one week living with the DOGs is enough to make a person gag.

The movie has the requisite abundance of gross-out humor, some of which results in laughs. Watson, Rosenbaum and Williams are game, and costume designer Melinda Eshelman, makeup designer Tommy Cole and hair designer Donna Gilbert come up with amusing and passable drag camouflage for the guys.

Sorority Boys, however, is best left to the easily pleased.

Kevin Thomas is a writer for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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