Koch on film

Confidence (+)
The fast dialogue, excellent acting and attractive people who create interesting characters make this a very entertaining flick. But the script, which involves scam after scam and scam within scam, makes little sense and is difficult if not impossible to describe. The fast, hand-held camera work is similar to that used in the television series “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order,” and it creates lots of energy.

The main character is Jake Vig (Edward Burns), the leader of a group of grifters. Their first scam involves ripping-off a major sleaze called the King (Dustin Hoffman). Hoffman plays the role like his portrayal of Ratso in “Midnight Cowboy,” but a Ratso grown old, now with lethal power and money, and able to enforce his will using muscle-men to maim and kill. In another scam, Jake meets Lily (Rachel Weisz), who then becomes one of the grifters. The chemistry between Burns and Weisz lacks intensity.

Several smaller roles were well performed and created the mood which this movie is all about. It certainly isn’t about the script. Those actors are Luis Guzman portraying Manzanoa, the corrupt Los Angeles cop, and Andy Garcia portraying Gunter, a corrupt F.B.I. agent.

Burns, who not too long ago began acting and directing in the film, “The Brothers McMullen,” which for amateurs was a very good film, has come a long way. Everyone in my party had an entertaining evening at the movies. We found it difficult to recall the intricate details of what we had just seen, but we didn’t care.

City of Ghosts (-)
If you want to watch a travelogue of a trip from New York to Bangkok, Thailand, to Phnom Penh and the countryside of Cambodia, this is the movie for you. But if you want to watch a film with a coherent and understandable script, avoid this turkey.

The scriptwriter, director and principal actor responsible for this fiasco is Matt Dillon. He should stick to acting, which he is good at. He has come a long way, as I recall, from his first important film, “The Flamingo Kid,” which showed him to be an adolescent with great promise. It’s worth renting the video of that film, using the money you save by not going to see this current flick.

Jimmy (Matt Dillon) works in a New York City insurance company, which becomes the subject of an F.B.I. investigation. The owner of the company, Marvin (James Caan), is in Cambodia and Jimmy begins a perilous trip to find him.

Along the way, Jimmy meets Sophie (Natascha McElhone), whom he saves from a savage beating by her boyfriend and soon takes the boyfriend’s place. Sophie, who is exquisite and looks very much like a young Emma Thompson, doesn’t have much of a part.

Associated characters are now part of the landscape. Among them is Marvin’s confederate Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard). The only one who has a totally understandable role is Sok (Sereyvuth Kem), who operates a bike-taxi service and saves Jimmy time and again, generally after Jimmy has been beaten to a pulp by local thugs. One other less than memorable performance as a bartender and hotel operator in Phnom Penh is that of Emile (Gerard Depardieu).

This may all sound comprehensible, but take it from me, the film is not. It’s a pity, because the location scenes are far better than those pictured in the film on Vietnam, “The Quiet American.” The New York Times critic Lawrence van Gelder should be exiled to Cambodia for his comment enticing people to see this film: “Most of the people in the evocative “City of Ghosts” are not admirable, but the film is merde.

—Ed Koch


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