Saturday, April 5, 2014

Panic Room


With the casting of Andrea Boccelli as Rhadames in my exciting new production of Aida on Ice, things have really started to move forward. His skating still isn't what I had hoped. At yesterday's rehearsal, he plowed right into a group of chorines who had formed a human pyramid; it was as if he couldn't see them. There were no serious injuries, but a couple of the girls sprained their knees and elbows, forcing us to call up the Ice Follies and borrow a few of their spares. One of the girls also lost her skate on the way down and it went flying into the lens of one of the cameras being used by the Project GreenLester crew, forcing them out of commission for the rest of the day. My people are negotiating with Brian Boitano to come down for a week or so to give Mr. Boccelli some individualized coaching to keep such accidents from happening in the future.

My next major headache is casting just the right actress for the part of Amneris. She must be resplendent in the part, a capable vocalist, and carry herself with panache on the ice. At the same time, she should not detract from my star turn. Joseph, my manager, thought it might be fun to give Margo Channing a call, but the poor thing is still in traction from when she fell through the stage floor and ice skating is quite out of the question for a while. His next thought was Norma Desmond. I thought that was intriguing, but then I remembered that she's somewhere north of 102 and might have some problems remembering her lines. Besides, she's still living in that cute little retirement complex in Camarillo and doesn't take kindly to time away. Joseph promises to come up with some more names later in the week.

I am in the midst of having the master bath redone in Victorian Gothic with fixtures from the Cher collection. Mr. Brad, my personal decorator, has been surrounding himself with old cobblestones and walnut paneling. When I came home from rehearsal, I suggested he leave his gargoyles momentarily and that we attend a film about the trials and tribulations of interior design, so off we went to David Fincher's latest, The Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster.

The Panic Room is a standard issue damsel in distress thriller, the sort epitomized by Wait Until Dark nearly forty years ago. The damsel in this case is Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), who, as befits a modern woman, is much more empowered than most of her screen predecessors. Meg is a wealthy Manhattan divorcee who buys a brownstone just off Central Park on the tony upper west side. The house was recently vacated by a deceased financier who installed a so-called 'panic room' just off the master bedroom. Panic rooms are becoming de rigueur in upscale domestic architecture, a castle keep within the household fortress to which the seigneur and his lady can retreat in case the peasants should be running with pitchforks and torches through the formal dining room and gourmet kitchen with its granite countertops and sub-zero refrigerator. This particular model is shelled with concrete and steel, has its own phone lines, ventilation, and various supplies and has all the charm of Hitler's bunker. Once the door is closed, no one is getting in.

On her first night in her new home, Meg and her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart who is a good physical and emotional match for Jodie) are awakened by a trio of ransacking burglars. They know of a safe constructed by the previous owner and, thinking the house is still in escrow and deserted, come to make off with a treasure that was kept secret from the dead man's heirs. Meg and Sarah bolt themselves in the panic room. Trouble is, that's where the safe is as well. Our three burglars, the technical whiz (Forrest Whitaker), the whiny (Jared Leto), and the psychotic (Dwight Yoakam), then spend the rest of the night trying alternately to entice and force mother and daughter out of their haven so they can complete their crime.

The ubiquitous David Koepp has provided a script in connect the dots mode. Every clichéd plot point of such films is present in spades and there are no real surprises or original twists. There's the various bungled attempts to force the women to open the door. There are subplots involving cell phones and a gratuitous case of diabetes to make sure the door is opened at inopportune moments leading to last minute escapes. Both the police and the ex-husband (Patrick Bauchau) turn up to ratchet up the suspense quotient.

The film would be intolerable except for two factors. The first is the fierce earnestness of the performances. All of the principals approach their roles with absolute conviction, no matter how contrived the situation. Jodie Foster gives her usual strong performance as the embattled mother tigress, guarding her daughter and new comer Kristen Stewart nearly matches her. As the robbers, Forest Whittaker almost underplays his part as the expert on panic rooms and their construction. On the contrary, Jared Leto is all tics and neurotic mannerisms and his character's early departure from the film is a welcome relief. Only Dwight Yoakam is able to conjure up any real menace. The second is David Fincher's inventive direction and visual style. Despite his affinity for abjuring any sort of overhead lighting, he makes the film move, turning the brownstone into a sort of kinetic rollercoaster through which his camera swoops and dives, following the characters from room to room and up and down hallways and elevator shafts as the plot progresses.

Ultimately, the film fails as it has no really original ideas and the characterizations are perfunctory and the situations somewhat silly. This is one of those films where the plot requires its characters to do one stupid thing after another. Eventually, the audience feels that they're being treated as stupid as well and tunes out. This isn't helped by an endless prologue starring a couple of smarmy real estate agents that exists only to show us the layout of the house and a completely extraneous epilogue.

Wine drinking. Unpacked boxes. Flashlight Morse code. Gratuitous hypoglycemic episode. Barbeque grill propane tank abuse. Telephone hotwiring. Gratuitous Ron Jeremy look alike neighbor. Body switching. Flying bearer bonds.

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