Short Subjects

Ralph--I beg your pardon, "Rafe"--Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, his first full-fledged Hollywood hero, in Strange Days, a futuristic thriller from the penof James Cameron and the eye of Kathryn Bigelow. He's a schmoozing ex-cop street hustler who deals in illegal virtual reality discs of addictive quality, and Lenny's fiddling around while Los Angeles burns. It's New Year's Eve 1999, and L.A. appears to be on the verge of becoming a police state or having an all-out race meltdown. Or both.

Cameron's plot (he co-wrote the script with Jay Cocks) has Lenny being given a disc with some scandalous information on it, which makes him a marked man. In other words, Strange Days is just another follow-the-McGuffin chase movie, with the disc standing in for the jewels or the microfilm or the government documents of countless other pictures.For roughly the first hour of this unconscionably overlong movie, it's not bad, as dumb thrillers go. Fiennes is engaging as the fast-talking Lenny, and Bigelow keeps having him beat into bloody messes by huge goons. She seems to realize that there are few things sexier than a degraded pretty-boy Brit (the Coens did the same thing to Gabriel Byrne in Miller's Crossing). Angela Bassett is surprisingly heartfelt as Lenny's pal, a butt-kicking limo driver with a heart of gold. Lenny lost sympathy points with me by mooning over his lost love--Juliette Lewis!--while the awe-inspiring Bassett is right there in front of him.

But Strange Days goes badly sour as it drags on and on. The mystery at its center is awfully easy to figure out, and the film's graphic rape and racial hatred, its cautionary tone toward technology and its apocalyptic pretensions all seem like issues too big to fit inside this puny action picture.Besides, the secret the disc turns out to be holding is, in light of recent revelations about at least one member of the LAPD, a major anticlimax. Fiennes and Bassett act as if it's the shocker of shockers. For the audience with whom I saw the picture, it was just another not especially strange day in the City of Angels.There's a dazzling armored-car robbery at the end of Dead Presidents, a melodrama from the directing team of Allen and Albert Hughes of Menace II Society. The robbers wear terrifying skull-white face makeup, black jackets and black stocking caps, and they shoot it out with bank guards on expressionistically empty dawn-gray New York streets. It's a brutal, riveting sequence any action filmmaker would be proud of. The trouble is, it seems to be this film's raison d'tre. It's as if the plot, which includes nostalgic coming-of-age comedy-drama, horrific depictions of Vietnam and grueling scenes of domestic conflict, was needed only as lead-in.There's a certain theoretical logic in the idea that the surreal horrors the protagonist (Larenz Tate) experiences in the war, and the more mundane urban horrors he then meets when he gets back to the Bronx, could cause him sufficient alienation to commit an antisocial act. But the film remains too disjointed for this theme to become more than theoretical. The Hugheses have talent and taste, so Dead Presidents never quite gets silly. But whenever there's no hideous violence going on, it never gets very interesting, either.Going through O.J. withdrawal yet? I didn't think so. But if you do find yourself missing the presence of ol' Orenthal James on your small screen, be comforted--Simpson's film and TV work is prolific, and most of it is available on video.

O.J. made his first attempts at acting in the '70s, and soon became a familiar face in cheesy fare like The Klansman, The Cassandra Crossing and Firepower. He was also slyly cast as the village runner in episode one of Roots.

He was never more than an honorary actor, making up for his timid, stilted delivery with his handsomeness and pleasant manner. But these attributes, along with his name value, were enough for him to get by in Hollywood--he's made about a dozen movies in all.Those who believe in the heroic O.J. can enjoy him rescuing Jennifer Jones' kitty in The Towering Inferno and handing it to Fred Astaire at the end. In an oddly similar vein, he later co-starred with Lillian Gish in the sentimental Hambone and Hillie, about an elderly lady and her lost dog. Those who would have preferred to have seen O.J. punished might get a kick out of him as a lost astronaut in Capricorn One, suffering and dying in the desert.But in an irony that would gladden the heart of Kenneth Anger, O.J. is most fondly remembered by moviegoers for his work in the three Naked Gun comedies--asa bumbling L.A. police detective. Who writes this stuff?--M. V. Moorhead

 
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