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Wonder Boys

Rated [R]
Starring Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand
Screenplay by Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by Michael Chabon
Directed by Curtis Hanson

IN SHORT: A sweet, sweet comedy for us grownups.

A good hunk of stuff from Director Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys has already been revealed in the teevee ad: In any other movie, spilling the beans would be death. There would be no surprises left. Not this time. Hanson redefined the crime story with LA Confidential. He does the same with adult comedy in Wonder Boys, which will find the mark with anyone at any end of the traditional baby boom generation (which means the farther away your birth date gets from 1962, the fewer jokes you'll get. Cranky's a '57 vintage and he just wondered what the Rogers and Hart gag meant, among others).

And that paragraph was written after seeing the flick two weeks before release. In the time since, the ad referred to above has been supplanted by another which, essentially, reveals everything else in the flick. This is usually a sign that someone in the studio has no faith in their release. They throw everything in it at the wall (you) and hope that something will stick in your cranium enough to make you put down the green. Hopefully you haven't seen any of the spots, or have managed to ignore them.

In a university near Pittsburgh lives on Grady Tripp (Douglas), a disheveled dopehead of an English (Writing) Professor, Grady teaches budding young writers the basics of their craft. Once successfully published (a novel call the "The Arsonist's Daughter", seven years ago...) he's been struggling with a new book himself. Struggling as in 2600 pages and no end in sight. In his class there is a damn fine looking coed, Hannah Green (Katie Holmes), who conveniently rents a room in his house. There's a darn depressed student, James Leer (Tobey Maguire), later found walking around with a gun in his hand while the rest of the campus prepares for the onslaught of "WordFest". A weekend long event in which writer wannabees are matched up with editors who have flown in from wherever -- among them is Tripp's NY based editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr), -- Grady is more concerned with the fact that, in the a.m., his wife walked out. In the p.m., his lover, school Chancellor Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand), wife of fellow professor Walter (Richard Thomas), tells him she's pregnant.

What's a dopehead to do?

Well, he's got to deal with a whole mess o' incredible stuff, as the absurd events in each scene are trumped by the next. All the plot points are in one of the ads. If there's anything that's going to save the experience for you, it's Steve Kloves' script, which had Cranky giggling consistently, except for the jokes only his parents would've understood. I hope it works as well if you know all the plot points the gags hang on.

You don't usually get to see Michael Douglas playing a physically and emotionally "soft" character. He does it well. As for Robert Downey Jr., while his character may be a book editor, his function is to supply more below the belt comic relief than anything else. Holmes is more temptation than any middle-aged guy should have to suffer <g> and Maguire delivers his usual above average work. Considering that his character has all the emotional range of a snail, that's a major compliment.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Wonder Boys, he would have paid...


Cranky liked it. ('course, this was pre teevee. Hopefully the spots won't spoil it for you).

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