American Potluck

At WorldFest, variety doesn't always prove spicy

Michael DeLuise (21 Jump Street) is creepily riveting as a 19-year-old murderer in the confused Midnight Edition, an unrealized thriller about a sicko's relationship with an obsessive reporter. In Floundering, a social comedy about the aftershocks of the L.A. riots that's less subversive than it intends to be (though it has great cameos), James LeGros is very appealing as a scruffy Venice Beach nice guy. With a body of work that includes Drugstore Cowboy, My New Gun and Gun Crazy, he's one to watch.

But don't watch Fresh Kill. Featuring fish with lips, TV wastelands, condom-wrapped fruit, accordion-involving cunnilingus and lots of gibberish, this "eco-cybernoia" film supposedly has something to do with a Staten Island landfill. Two Small Bodies, made by New Waver Beth B., is a claustrophobic, unearned cat-and-mouse study of a macho cop (Fred Ward) and a self-loathing mother of missing children (Suzy Amis). A monotonous dance that strips away the characters' souls as well as their clothes, this movie taints the actors' otherwise impressive track records. Top of the World, with its strained, truth-telling thirtysomething couples sharing Thanksgiving in Colorado, is The Big Chill without the soundtrack, humor or acting skills. Houstonian Eagle Pennell's Doc's Full Service is a woeful attempt to make a bunch of Texas goobers at a small-town gas station interesting. Pennell's script is full of lame Aggie jokes, conga lines, a big-spending floozy, a slick car salesman, a sweet young thing and a plump momma's boy named, of course, Pee-Wee.

The November Men, a thriller about an obsessive filmmaker's preoccupation with assassinating the president, had the potential to be interesting in a Manchurian Candidate sort of way. But the film -- which is sometimes a movie about a real assassination plot and at other times a movie about a movie about an assassination attempt -- mentally masturbates too much over its art-versus-life motif. Natural Causes is a conspiracy movie that dies such an early, suspenseless death that not even its Bangkok setting comes across as exotic. Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II is a low-budget, cheap chills and thrills midnight movie that'll make you grateful that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is still around. (It has one good gag: ex-jailbait porno queen Traci Lords plays a barren scientist.) There are also two tame comedies ready for cable and as obvious as their titles: Men Lie and Acting on Instinct.

After viewing all these new releases, it was interesting -- and gratifying -- to once again see A Streetcar Named Desire. This 1951 classic has been rereleased in a director's cut complete with four extra minutes not found in the familiar version, though the only addition I immediately noticed was a close-up of Stella (Kim Hunter) returning hungrily, even lasciviously, even triumphantly to a repentant Stanley (Marlon Brando) after he's slapped her around and wailed his "Stel-la!" remorse in the streets. It may be unfair to contrast the other Worldfest films with this masterwork, for which Hunter, Karl Malden and Vivian Leigh won Oscars but Brando, director Elia Kazan and writer Tennessee Williams incredibly didn't. But with nothing remotely potluck about it, Streetcar is a reminder of what American films are capable of. It shouldn't be missed.

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