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The January Man

So much is wrong with The January Man that it's hard to decide where to begin. Ranking up there with Mission to Mars and Nell in the "When Bad Things Happen to Good Actors" Hall of Fame, this star-studded, schizophrenic movie can't decide whether it's a thriller or a quirky comedy — so it bounces back and forth, and the result is a stilted, nearly unwatchable mess. Kevin Kline (with a ridiculous Noo Yawk accent that comes and goes) plays Nick Starkey, a maverick fireman who used to be a cop until his police commissioner brother Frank (Harvey Keitel) set him up to take a fall in a payoff scandal. How do we know Nick is a loose cannon? Well, for one thing, he cooks (octopus). And he drinks espresso. And he has long hair, and his best friend Ed (Alan Rickman, in a rare comic turn) is a painter. Subtle, eh? But since this is Hollywood, "renegade" translates to "brilliant," and when the mayor's daughter's best friend becomes a serial killer's latest victim, Nick gets reinstated to solve the crime. He furrows his brow a few times, taps a few keys on some ancient-looking computers, happens upon a few convenient "aha!" moments, and figures out the method behind the killer's madness in about five minutes, working up to a weirdly slapstick climax that's ultimately a gigantic letdown. In the meantime, he squabbles with his brother, comes on to his ex-girlfriend/sister-in-law Christine (Susan Sarandon, with '80s helmet-hair of the worst kind), braves the wrath of the belligerent mayor (Rod Steiger) and excitable police captain (Danny Aiello), boinks the mayor's daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and muscles his way through John Patrick Shanley's clichéd, labored script as best he can. Unfortunately, between all the unexplained yelling, the artificial exposition (Sarandon's character actually refers to "the scandal that happened two years back" when chatting with Nick), and the unnecessary subplots, even Kline can't pull it off. Although once you know that Shanley is the scribe behind The January Man, the movie's weirdness makes a little more sense; he is, after all, the fella who wrote Moonstruck. (Using "if it ain't broke don't fix it" logic, Shanley even borrows a few elements from his earlier success, including a woman torn between two blue-collar New York brothers, an offbeat tone, and several resounding slaps for good measure.) But while Moonstruck is a charming, funny romance, The January Man is a flat, humorless film that lacks enough urgency to be a convincing thriller and enough laughs to work as a comedy. Nevertheless, MGM plays it up as a tense murder mystery for the DVD release, which is bound to mislead unwitting viewers. Those who do give it a spin will find a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) as well as a full-screen version on the flip side, English 2.0 audio (French 2.0, Spanish mono, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also available), and the original trailer. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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