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January Man, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Jejune 'January'"
1 stars

It died a quick death at the box office, for which we can all be eternally thankful.

Coming off his deserved Oscar win as the goofy eccentric assassin in A Fish Called Wanda, it's quite depressing to see Kevin Kline headlining a piece of horrid mishmash like The January Man. It's supposed to be a dark comedy about a serial killer terrorizing upper-class Manhattan, and is about as amusing as a case of gout. To his credit, Kline tries injecting some wit and style into the proceedings, but his is a hopeless task playing another eccentric, Nick Starkey, a fireman who used to be an ace police lieutenant and is temporarily transferred back to the force to find a killer who's claimed eleven victims, all women, to his credit. The latest one was the mayor's daughter's best friend, and because of that and the woman's former heiress status, the newspapers are having a field day with the story. The mayor, Eamon Flynn (Rod Steiger), orders Police Commissioner Frank Starkey (Harvey Keitel), Nick's estranged brother, to reinstate him; there's bad blood between Nick and Frank from two years ago when Nick resigned under suspicion of graft, though we eventually learn he was taking the fall for Nick. Added to which, Nick used to be in a relationship with Christine (Susan Sarandon), who's now married to Frank; and eventually Nick starts having a fling with Flynn's daughter Claudette (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio), who was the last one to see her murdered friend that fateful night. And then there's Captain Vincent Alcoa (Danny Aiello), Nick's former commanding officer who's none too happy at having him back under his command, especially since, with juice from the mayor's office, Nick is given free rein to investigate in whatever freewheeling manner he so chooses, like bringing in his artist neighbor Ed (Alan Rickman) as his assistant. None of these characters are even remotely well-drawn, the context linking them together holds no interest, and because of all the screen time introducing and establishing them, it takes a good forty-five minutes for the crime plot to finally kick in, and even then it progresses only in fits and starts in between more and more trite talking-heads scenes that keep the movie from actually getting anywhere. Most of the time we forget there's a killer out there, so the story never really seems grounded in anything genuine, and we're left baffled what the cast saw in this dreadful script.

It's difficult to imagine what in the world the screenwriter, John Patrick Shanley, had in mind. With his 1950s coming-of-age tale Five Corners (with Jodie Foster and Tim Robbins) and Italian family comedy-drama Moonstruck (with Cher and Nicolas Cage), Shanley proved that he can write enjoyably quirky characters and piquant dialogue, but with The January Man all he serves up are wisps of behavior coming off weakly-drawn characters who we simply have no interest or stake in. And being that the thriller aspects have been all but neglected, with not a single intriguing police-procedural element to be found, there isn't anything viable to make up for the half-baked ideas and shoddy story construction. I'd say the movie could've used another half-hour to flesh out Shanley's ideas, but I'm not sure there are any at play; the scenes are badly sketched and don't interconnect with anything resembling a narrative through-line -- it's one big disjointed production lacking both focus and compression, not to mention telling observation. The director, Pat O'Connor, already at a huge disadvantage with Shanley's puerile blueprint, can't get any kind of rhythm going. He's not technically inept, but it's obvious that working with a big-name American cast for the first time (his previous work were well-respected foreign ones like 1984's Cal) he left it up to the actors to try to bring something out of the material; still, his timing is often deadly, with visual payoffs that never make the grade and one raggedly shaped sequence after another (particularly the ludicrous grand finale in a high-rise with Nick wrestling the killer down several stories of staircase crosscut with the police descending upon the scene with the acuity of the Keystone Cops) further reminding us just how Jerzy Zielinski's snazzy cinematography is forever being wasted. Keitel and Sarandon are sleepwalking, Steiger embarrassingly overacts, the game Rickman is wasted, Aiello doesn't come up with anything fresh. Mastrantonio, however, gets into things and remains spry, and Kline valiantly tries making an entree out of finger food and occasionally succeeds. But they're at the service of Shanley's startling ineptitude, of which there are no winners, only a couple of survivors.

For better entertainment value, try flicking through your calender.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5865&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/18/12 19:17:18
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User Comments

6/22/03 Jack Sommersby Too much plot for so little relevance. Absurd to the nth degree. 1 stars
4/23/02 Charles Tatum Smarmy, unfunny, and dull- and that's just Kevin Kline. 1 stars
4/04/02 Ashley Corpening Mary Eliz. M. shows promise: a less succesful actres than Julia Roberts by luck, not talent 4 stars
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  13-Jan-1989 (R)



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