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Hanks and Batman dominate a mediocre year

By Rob Wagner

After a movie like Forrest Gump won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1994, one might have thought the movies were going to have a better year-gone-by. They didn't. Despite a few good flicks, on the whole 1995 was far from a banner year for the big screen, and with good reason: Pasty sequels and over-hyped flops marked a distinctly average twelve months of popcorn and soda.

As an indicator, a mediocre threequel like Batman Forever grossed more than any other film this year, although it offered nothing but cartoon action and bad acting. Despite his versatility, Val Kilmer just looked too young to be Batman.

In addition, the comeback performance of the year, that of television Batman Adam West in Ride for Your Life, was completely ignored. (Thankfully, so was the movie.) The success of Batman Forever, coupled with critics' ignoring West's passionate performance, not only serves to kick West in the face but also shows audiences' attention shift from the good old quality of West in the 60s TV series to the empty glitz of the new-and-improved body-armored caped crusader.

The year also saw the release of a new Ace Ventura film, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, comedian Jim Carrey's latest project. Of course, it wasn't as good as the first one, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but it's unreasonable to expect it to have been as fresh as 1994's unexpected smash hit. No matter how good the writing or the acting in When Nature Calls, it wasn't new, and therefore just wasn't as good.

There was much other undeserved praise this year. A highlight in many people's minds was Apollo 13, which some critics think will be Tom Hanks' third Oscar-winning performance. Quite honestly, I fell asleep in the middle of it.

Likely among the most talked about releases of 1995 was Showgirls. Though it did well at the box office, Elizabeth Berkley, formerly of the television show Saved by the Bell, offered nothing but overacting and a propensity to prance around naked.

Unbelievably bad

Like every year, a number of B-movies and just plain flops deserve mention. There was another Highlander movie, Highlander: The Final Dimension. From the love interest to the evil immortal with a name starting with K to the characteristic tongue flapping of the villain, it managed to follow the exact same plot as the first movie. Maybe producers wanted to make up for massacring of the story behind the immortals in the second film. Hopefully the rumored fourth Highlander movie will be a little different.

Top Dog marked the return of Chuck Norris (now also of Walker, Texas Ranger) to the big screen. Though he takes more kicks to take down the single-file line of enemies, he still looks tough.

The most noteworthy bomb of the year was Fishtar, which, while widely released as Waterworld, made very roughly only half of what it cost to make the film. If you really want to see the movie anyway, just go rent The Road Warrior.

Not to be outdone, though, was Man of the House, the latest Chevy Chase movie, which also starred Home Improvement's Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Not even my sister Julie, who is 11 and a huge fan of Thomas, could sit through it. Please let this be the last Chevy Chase film.

Congo, Michael Crichton's latest book-turned-movie, was more unexpectedly a letdown. Unfaithful to the book, the film was a hugely boring disappointment, as were other films that attempted to be exciting about something world-threatening. Outbreak and Species used two oscar-winning actors in Dustin Hoffman and Ben Kingsley to try to draw viewers. They should have saved the money for hiring a good writer instead.

Circle of Friends used an Irish setting to try to win praise and attract viewers. This film was pitifully clich and very predictable, even to a semi-conscious two-year old. It offered nothing to its audience. Other films of the same type, like French Kiss or While You Were Sleeping, tried to offer "unlikely" love stories, but proved like all films in their genre to be unfailingly emetic.

As far as radio-personality-to-movie-star-fame wannabes go, Howard Stern spent the year still preparing for his big movie release, hoping to reaffirm his position as King of All Media. Many viewers actually eagerly awaited this film. The OJ trial missed the theaters and went right into video, disappointing the many fans who looked forward to seeing it on the big screen. What a shame.

Perhaps more so than in recent years, Star Wars mania took hold again in 1995. From the Sci-Fi Channel marathons to Kenner action figures returning to toy store shelves, the hype seemed to be building up to something; too bad there's still no sign of a new movie soon.

Somewhat better

This year did have a few good points, though. James Bond returned to the big screen in Goldeneye, with erstwhile Remington Steele Pierce Brosnan as the new British super agent. Bruce Willis was back again, and balder than ever, in the latest Die Hard movie, Die Hard With a Vengeance. This time, he teamed up with Samuel L. Jackson to fight yet another powerful bad guy, who seemed to have everything all planned out.

In Virtuosity, we got to see Denzel Washington do battle with a virtual Russell Crowe, the Australian star of such films as Romper Stomper and Proof, and with Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide. In the latter film they nominally fought over control of a submarine, but really fell in love. Aww.

Braveheart saw Mel Gibson as yet another character with a distinct facial feature; this time, his face was blue. Seven was a truly dark, suspenseful murder story with a unique ending.

Desperado was also mightily impressive with its sound quality and visual flash, and featured Antonio Banderas jumping off a building backwards shooting his enemies. Unfortunately, it ignored much of what happened in El Mariachi, to which Desperado professed to be a sequel.

Toy Story, Disney's latest film, sucked us into a world of toys; and though we had to sit through Robin Williams, we got to see rhinos running through walls in Jumanji. Some films were a bit amusing, like the Brady Bunch Movie and Tommy Boy; others, like Shallow Grave, had me laughing out loud.

Roll out the Kevorkian machine

But despite these few good points, nothing was very spectacular in 1995, and nothing was very memorable. It was just a year filled to the rim with lackluster performances. In fact, I had to go through a year of reviews just to remember what movies actually played this year.

True, there was a late rush of well-received movies sneaking in at the end of December for 1995 Oscar nominations. But these films hardly contribute to 1995 when they are released nationwide in 1996.

Films like Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas, and Twelve Monkeys may get Golden Globe or Oscar nominations, but they don't really belong to 1995.

In a sense, then, the year's films were like the past 12 Super Bowls: No matter how much you hoped the AFC would surprise everyone, you knew the NFC was going to win. And despite all the pre-game hype, in the end the game was invariably a letdown.