Take Three

Life with Mikey is one of those execrable exercises in sitcom sentimentality that leaves even the uncritical viewer with one question: What were they thinking?

Let's be charitable. Maybe the filmmakers were inspired by Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose, but the only way they could obtain financing was to cast Michael J. Fox in the lead role. If that was the case, at least Life with Mikey will have one positive side effect: another reduction in Fox's perceived bankability.

When a movie's highest aspiration is merely to be cute and it fails, you know you're in for a long day at the cinemaplex. Mikey opens with a flimsy premise and goes downhill from there. Fox is Michael Chapman, a chain-smoking former child actor who now runs a struggling talent agency with his brother. The Chapmans specialize in -- you guessed it -- child actors. The film has some fun with woefully untalented kids auditioning, but even those are disappointing for anyone who remembers Danny Rose. Eventually Fox/Chapman discovers a street urchin with a talent for creative exaggeration and takes her on as a client. They argue, they bond, they land the big account, they almost lose it (surprise!), they hug and save the agency.

It's even more precious, self-conscious, and formulaic than it sounds. Fox should be ashamed. Better still, he should be unemployed.

Sleepless in Seattle has inspired lively national debate. To wit: is it or is it not a "chick movie?"

The answer is a qualified no. Beaches, Steel Magnolias, and Fried Green Tomatoes -- now those were chick movies. Writer-director Nora Ephron's muse, An Affair to Remember, was the prototypical chick movie. ("Guys never get this movie!" weeps one of Sleepless's female characters to another over George Cukor's 1957 tearjerker starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.)

While Sleepless's sniffle index runs high, the film manages to be romantic and sentimental, yet sarcastic enough to remain guy-friendly. It's more date movie than chick movie.

Much has been made of the chemistry between stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I've never been much of a believer in this chemistry stuff A there's good acting and there's bad acting, and the same can be said for casting -- but I have to admit that in some weird way Hanks and Ryan make an appealing couple. But then, so did Ryan and Billy Crystal in the Ephron-penned When Harry Met Sally..., and so did Hanks and Geena Davis in -- League of Their Own (technically they weren't a couple, but you knew they wanted to be one). Then there were Hanks and Daryl Hannah in Splash, Hanks and Tawny Kitaen in Bachelor Party, Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins in Big, Hanks and Beasly (the pooch) in Turner and Hooch, even Hanks and Ryan in the otherwise insufferable Joe Versus the Volcano.

It seems like Hanks is capable of brewing up chemistry no matter who you pair him with or how bad the movie. (Remember Punchline or The Money Pit?) On second thought, maybe chemistry really is just a question of good acting. Maybe the problem is that male actors best known for their comic roles -- Hanks, Steve Martin, Michael Keaton -- will never be accorded the respect of the big three dramatic leads -- DeNiro, Pacino, and Hoffman. Give Hanks his due. His subtle turn in Sleepless in Seattle is the stuff that dreams are made of.

It must be tough to be gay in Japan, a country where Donna Reed is considered a model for radical feminism. That's pretty much the gist of Okoge, showing at the Alliance in Miami Beach.

Sayoko is an okoge, a woman who hangs with gay men. Goh and Tochi are the lovers she befriends at a beach and later at a gay bar. Sayoko loans the men the use of her apartment as a trysting place (cheap hotels being too prudish to accept gay men and the more expensive ones being, well, too expensive). The arrangement sets in motion a chain of tragicomic events culminating in a hysterical fight scene between a carful of loansharks and a parasol-wielding transvestite chorus from a La Cage aux Folles-like revue. John Waters would have killed to have come up with it first. The climactic confrontation is at once an homage to and a sendup of Japanese gangster films.

No doubt Waters would also appreciate the shock value of Okoge's urine-drinking as part of a floor show's audience participation, or the guy dancing around a dark stage with a sparkler on his penis.

But don't let the sensational stuff deter you (or entice you, as the case may be). Okoge's strength is the humor it draws from understated observation. Its weakness is a tendency to lapse into dialogue that lectures the audience on gay themes, rather than shedding light on a character's thoughts or motivations. The acting ranges wildly from subtly brilliant to overwrought and melodramatic. And while meticulously avoiding frontal nudity, the sex scenes are plentiful, steamy, and with one brief exception, all male. Given the depth of homophobia in Japanese society depicted in the film, Okoge's biggest accomplishment may have been that it got made at all.


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