by David Cornelius
Here it is, the first theatrical feature from the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They’ve made countless direct-to-video movies, all of them helping to make them teenage billionaires, none of them I’d seen. If “New York Minute,” the duo’s big screen debut, is any indication, I have not missed much.There’s a Hollywood rule that twins on film or television can never, ever be alike. They must, in fact, be as kookily different as possible. And so we get the Olsens as those zany Ryan Twins. Roxy (Mary-Kate, I think, or maybe Ashley) is the “punk,” a hard- rockin’, school-skippin’ drummer; Jane (Ashley, or is that Mary-Kate, and why should I care?) is the “good girl,” an over-achieving, head-of-the-class-going preppie. This, I should add, is the extent of the character development.
"Two times the crap!"
The plot, as it were, has something to do with Jane having to deliver a speech at Columbia University so she can win a major scholarship to Oxford, while on the same day, Roxy is skipping school to check out a video shoot/concert for the “punk” band Simple Plan (who are about as punk as my aunt Wanda, but I digress.) Many mishaps fill their day with wacky adventures, and yes, the script even tries to add some crap about how these sisters, who have grown apart over the years, will learn just how important they are to each other.
I say the script tries because it doesn’t exactly, you know, succeed. But then, it doesn’t succeed at almost everything it tries - and that’s with the help of supporting players Eugene Levy, Andy Richter, Darrell Hammond, Andrea Martin, Dr. Drew Pinksy, and Jack Osbourne (who reads his cue cards quite well, actually). This is a screenplay that obviously hopes to ride solely on the talents and, more accurately, name recognition of the cast. It’s afraid to take any chances on its own. Consider the subplot involving Richter as the adopted son of a Chinese mob family; Richter’s character is a big white guy who speaks with a Chinese accent, which might have been funny had the movie not stopped to explain that the accent isn’t real, and Richter’s character is only pretending. Why do we need this elaborate character quirk if the script is only going to negate it?
This problem is even worse with the other main subplot, in which Levy plays Max Lomax, hard-nosed truancy officer. Many scenes play with this character as if truancy officers are a big deal, top job cops on par with homicide detectives. And could be a pretty funny idea, except that once again, the script negates itself. Lomax is introduced not as a serious cop but as a loser, the butt of jokes on the force. Why? The other idea is far better, far sillier. Were the writers afraid that we wouldn’t accept the silliness, instead grounding the joke with too many explanations?
Consider also the cameo from Bob Saget, who watches in slight confusion as the twins run past. Fun, yes? It was, for the first half-second. But then the camera just lingers on Saget, and dawdles and waits and forgets that timing is everything in comedy. By the time we’re finally off of Saget’s confused look, the joke stopped being funny long, long ago, the pacing of the gag completely ruined. “New York Minute” is a parade of mishandled punchlines and ignored possibilities.
The possiblities the film doesn’t ignore are, for lack of a better word, pure and utter crap. The film’s just a series of poorly thought-out sketches - the girls wind up getting made over at a Harlem boutique; the girls wind up in the New York sewers; the girls wind up center stage at the Simple Plan concert; the girls wind up in a manic taxicab chase through the city streets. And yes, by the end, Roxy will have to pretend she’s Jane, because that’s what happens in lousy movies starring twins.
It’s all lifeless material that might have been saved by the leads’ charms, but as it turns out, they have none. The Olsens sort of wander through their own starring vehicle without really doing much. They’re just there, and I wonder how these teens have been able to become so famous despite the apparent lack of any real screen presence or charisma.The Olsens are not all to blame for their movie’s failure, of course. It’s a mess from script to direction to performance, the result of too many people thinking that hey, this movie could be a “Ferris Bueller” for the next generation and too few people trying to figure out exactly how to do it. “New York Minute” is nothing but ideas that nobody bothered to work out, and an expensive reminder that maybe the Olsens should stick to direct-to-video.
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originally posted: 02/25/05 15:59:25