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Excess Baggage

Directed by Marco Brambilla. Starring Alicia Silverstone, Benicio Del Toro, Christopher Walken, Jack Thompson, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Connick, Jr. (1997, PG-13, 101 min.)

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Sept. 5, 1997

No end of outrage and fulmination has greeted Columbia Pictures' decision to grant vacuum-molded kewpie Alicia Silverstone this seemingly premature opportunity to star in, co-produce, and help cast her own film. Personally, though, I admit to some confusion over why Excess Baggage, as opposed to, say, Con Air, is being held up as an example of all that's wrong with Hollywood today. As with so many recent films, this innocuous little romantic comedy suffers far more from the effects of art-by-committee than the ruinous domination of any one person. For example, scuttlebutt has it that the screenplay, a 1994 Austin Heart of Film Festival award winner by Max Adams, has been doctored to the point of unrecognizability. These rumors seem credible, given the listless, slow-developing storyline, the gimme-a-break implausibility of numerous plot points, and the profusion of set-piece scenes that have little to do with anything else in the film. Surely you know the story by now: Petulant brat teenager Emily Hope (Silverstone) fakes her own kidnapping to get the attention of rich putz daddy Alexander (Thompson), but the whole plan is shot to hell when hunky car thief Vincent (Del Toro) steals her BMW moments after she locks herself in the trunk. This happens in the slam-bang opening 20 minutes which turn out to contain about 85 percent of the entire movie's kinetic energy. From there on, you can almost hear the low, groaning UNNNNGH! as the story's gears grind to a halt. Scene after static scene ensue, all devoted to hostage negotiations, threats and intrigues by crooks (Connick, Turturro and others) trying to find Vincent, and a slow-brewing romance between Silverstone and Del Toro. Perhaps the latter scenes would be more gratifying if the Emily and Vincent characters didn't conform so relentlessly to industry specs for the “tough chick” and “sensitive hood.” Silverstone smokes like a Serbian tank gunner, chugs liquor straight from the bottle, and alternately assaults her reluctant captor with seductive smiles and flying kicks to the head. Del Toro -- an endlessly intriguing movie face with tremendous latent star potential -- slouches in a black leather jacket, mumbles incoherently, and generally seems bent on singlehandedly reviving the dormant 1950s controversy over The Method. Director Brambilla is a net plus, displaying a bold, aggressively stylish visual signature that's especially effective in conveying the romance and mystery of nighttime. But sandbagged by a dull, slouching story and the absence of tangible heat between the two leads, his individual artistry results in little more than a paycheck, some résumé fodder and a slightly less tedious experience for late-summer moviegoers.
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