Tag Archives: steve buscemi

THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.

 

 

 

Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun


Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun is a high profile murder mystery set atop lofty political echelons, but it’s less about the murder itself and more doggedly focused on the culture clash between American and Japanese business factions, as well as the two detectives caught up in the whole hectic, East-scraps-West mess. A lot to cover in one film, but this one keeps its head afloat and then some, with a whip smart script based on a novel by Jurassic Park architect Michael Crichton that was libelled as ‘Japan bashing’ (this was in the 90’s, imagine the snowflake storm it’d garner in our day). It apparently toned down some aspects, but either way, it’s not only a searing detective story, but one set against a backdrop of fascinating urban and metropolitan anthropology. Sean Connery bites into one hell of a role as John Connor (not a T-1000 in sight asking his whereabouts, they’re slacking), a veteran legend of a cop with deep ties to Japanese culture, having spent many years there, married to a Japanese woman as well. He’s partnered with Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), lively enough to poke fun at Connor’s guru-esque patronizing, but with enough of a head on his shoulders to adapt in waters that are anything but calm or familiar to him. Their case? On the eve of a giant mega deal between two corporations representing both soil, a mysterious prostitute is found murdered in a Japanese high rise. Laser disc footage may yield the killer’s visage, and may not. A super racist LAPD detective (Harvey Keitel, volatile and riled up) is anything but help. The suspects? A sleazy US senator (Ray Wise), a Japanese mystery man (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa) with one foot in business and the other, suggestively, in organized crime. The list goes on, and doubles back on itself multiple times. Not only is the investigation riveting, the buddy cop banter between Snipes and Connery, both funny and grounded, is just so engagingly well drawn, and tense inter-company espionage thrills throughout all the acts. The cast deepens, with fine work from Steve Buscemi, stern Daniel Von Bargen, Tamara Tunie, Stan Shaw, Mako, Kevin Anderson and gorgeous Tia Carerre as a quick witted tech expert who assists the dynamic duo in deciphering that pesky 90’s laser disc, and the incriminating secrets therein. Not your garden variety police procedural, buddy cop flick or social commentary, but rather unique variations on all three, amalgamated into a film that demands patience and focus, but rewards with a great story. 

-Nate Hill

Don’t you want to know about Transformers 5, dude?

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Well, turns out Merlin was a bullshit artist and no wizard at all. Turns out he had him a lot of help from the Transformers who, as we learn from this movie, have been with us a lot longer than the 80’s.

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Now, bearing in mind I’ve not seen Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction, ‘cause, while the first outing was okay, the second was just plain old big dollar dumbshit; it didn’t inspire me to keep up with the franchise. Nowadays though I find myself a father and thus have an excuse to be found at such films like The Last Knight and still be able to maintain my image.

But, while TLK is the same brand of BDD that saw my interest in the Transformers franchise diminish – this entry is a return to form. It is on par with all those great Michael Bay comedies of 90’s and early 00’s. With films like The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and The Island – so Transformers 5 is bombastic, ludicrous, but also a bloody good laugh.

We team up with ‘The Legend’ Marky Mark, in a world that has too many Transformers. Bummer! So many in fact that there is a force set up to police and also destroy them – should the Cybertronic shit hit the fan.

 

After a round table prologue that justifies the films subtitle, we are straight into the guns and explosions along with kids doing things they shouldn’t, like hanging out in forbidden areas. Here we meet an orphan girl, who doesn’t really have much of a part to play other than pull the heart strings occasionally and be smart-mouthed in contrast. With Prime (Optimus) floating in space like the bear Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules knocked into orbit, the Autobots are bored shitless. They hang out in Marky Mark’s junkyard, waiting for the plot to catch up with them.

Megatron is hiding out too. He is after the ‘fabled’ weapon. It is Merlin’s rod, given to the so-called sorcerer by the medieval Transformers. The whole plot surrounding this feels ripped off from The Fifth Element. You remember – a weapon that was originally entrusted to humanity to keep until a great evil returns and it is needed once more?

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Anyways, Megatron is not opposed to negotiations. He meets with a team of lawyers to have ‘his crew’ released, and those brainy military cats are content to let him have his way because their plan is to have the Decepticons do the dirty work and lead them to the mysterious staff of legend.

Oh, and the planet is getting horny! (But more on that later.)

 

So the Decepticons track down the Autobots and they fight. Hey, it’s what they do. Marky Mark has inherited an amulet from a crash-landed ‘old’ Transformer back during the kids being naughty in the forbidden area sequence. Megatron wants this thing too. So fighting and chasing ensues. (This adds to a nice little joke when Marky Mark is asked if he (SPOILER!!! BEING THE LAST KNIGHT) is chaste. Okay – so I laughed at it.)

Then there’s polo. And I don’t mean Marco. Enter the British Megan Fox – smart and beautiful and very late for work.  She hangs out, in her spare time, at her mother’s house where a bunch of old ladies sit around, drink and play cards. All the while they taunt Brit-Fox for not having a boyfriend.

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Anthony Hopkins is in this flick too. The narrator who actually shows up as an eccentric earl and the last surviving member of the Witwiccan order and has his robo-butler go fetch Marky Mark as well as ‘he likes the French accent’ Hot Rod (who, if you remember that great animated Transformers movie from when we were kids, became Rodimus Prime) round up Brit-Fox to have them round to the castle for tea and some long-winded exposition. We get to hear Hopkins say dude and dickhead in this movie, which are a couple of high points, and his robo-butler has some chuckle-worthy moments  adding, or should I say making the lofty expository scenes more epic with his mad skills on the pipe organ along with his choral-like singing ability.

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But all this cannot forestall the impending doom that shall be visited upon the earth by an evil Transformeress who makes Prime her bitch as she nears the planet looking to tear humanity a new one.

Marky and Fox leave Hopkins to go break into the Prime Minister’s office while they dive down into the ocean’s depths to grab Merlin’s rod. Evil Optimus shows up, ruins everything, and is about to go all the way over to the dark side when Bumble Bee pulls a Silent Bob, bringing him back into the fold. Megatron is as horny as the Earth (SPOILER!!! We are really piggy-backing on Unicron) for the impending destruction that will occur when he hands over ‘the rod,’ which he has taken to the evil Transformeress.

It’s time for the BIG CLIMAX!

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I thrilled at the notion of Hopkins versus Megatron – but it was momentary. At this point of the film the laughs sputter out, except when the think-tank boys decide they’re the ones who can conjure up a Hail Mary to save the world using the power of physics. But no, that’s a job for Prime and the Autobots; and that cool dragon Transformer-thing which you get a little of at both battle-bookends of the movie.

T5 is a grand, dopey comedy. I may have been the only one laughing in the theatre, but people today I find take this stuff  and themselves far too seriously. I suppose if you sit by the (Michael) bay long enough, you’ll start thinking this way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and The Last Knight is funnier than what meets the eye…

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As always, happy viewing.

THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE.

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Forgotten gems:  Remembering 1988’s hypnotic, bizarre Heart Of Midnight 


Somewhere between the dustbowl basilicas of 1980’s VHS town and the restless urban decay of metropolitan Americana lies the Heart Of Midnight, a dilapidated abandoned sex fetish nightclub full of nightmarish corridors, dead end rooms with ominous stains on the wall and a perpetual sense of acrid dread. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the reluctant heir to this heap, passed on to her by a weird old uncle she barely remembers, now deceased. It’s in a ruined, crime ridden part of town that still seems safer compared to the various themed rooms of this erotica dungeon, but she’s a trooper anyways, giving her best efforts to fix the place up and make something decent of it. Leigh seems to have deliberately go out of her way to pick kinky, controversial roles since her career began, always with sexual undertones and never short on psychological turmoil. She’s put through a wringer here, as the sordid, perverse and highly disturbing history of both the club and her uncle comes back to haunt her in full sleazy swing, a turn of events not for the squeamish or puritan side of the crowd. Walls seem to move, eyes peer through cracks and haunted cries echo through the fissures in the structure, as well as howling bad dreams that distort her reality. When a detective (Peter Coyote, brilliant work) shows up to help, he’s just as unsettling and shady as the building itself, clearly in the know or up to something. The only borderline sane character is another cop played by Frank Stallone, getting some of the best much needed comic relief of the piece. It’s priceless to see Leigh wander into the police station looking for answers only to find him in the middle of a ukulele folk ballad with the rest of the precinct belting out the chorus. Things don’t go very well for our heroine, as the dark forces playing with her seem to close in for a suffocating finale that leaves you feeling violated and disoriented. This is a film that seeps right to the root of human unpleasantness and psychosexual decadence, and one should firmly equip oneself mentally before going in. It’s also a film of startling dark beauty and alluring atmosphere, like a dreamy black velvet orchid that warbles a lullaby both dangerous and seductive, beckoning you to let your guard down until you wish you hadn’t, and are under it’s spell. One of the most overlooked mood pieces of the 80’s, a gorgeously horrific phantasm of a film that gets under your skin and crawls into your dreams. 

Indie Gems: 13 Moons


It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package. 

-Nate Hill

28 Days


I’ve always had a thing for 28 Days. So often in Hollywood there are films that try tackle real issues, but not all of them feel like they’ve achieved anything, or even portrayed said issues in a realistic, compassionate way. This one shines a probing, nonjudgmental spotlight onto alcoholism, in all it’s subtleties and absurd truths, like few other films have. Many films portray alcoholism like a raging mania that turns you rabid and irrational, and while that certainly can be the case, I like how here they show what a semi-functioning addict looks like, as opposed to your atypical abusive archetype. It’s also just more pleasant fare too. Despite being a story about great struggle and personal woe, there’s lightheartedness to it that’s welcome in such stressful territory. Sandra Bullock, that luminous brunette, is pretty much instantly likeable in anything, a beautiful, effortless, natural born movie star, giving any film an instant advantage simply by having her headline. Here she plays Gwen, a NYC newspaper columnist who, along with her Brit boyfriend (Dominic West), has a fairly serious problem with the booze. After spectacularly ruining her poor sister’s (Elizabeth Perkins) and recklessly crashing a stolen limousine, the thin line between functionality and outright self destruction is crossed, and it becomes time to seek help. Court ordered into rehab, Gwen ships off to an upstate clinic to sleep off the hangover, but the real progress comes from first admitting she has a problem at all. Like any film about rehab, the facility is home to many quaint, quirky people for her to meet, bond and squabble with, fellow addicts on the road to whatever recovery means to them. Steve Buscemi underplays a sly turn as the program founder and lead social worker, Viggo Mortensen is sorta kinda a love interest, but also not really, in an ambiguously written supporting role, and there’s solid work from Alan Tudyuk, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Azura Skye and Margo Martindale too. Parallel to her treatment we see hazy flashbacks to Gwen being raised by her severely alcoholic mother (Diane Ladd), and get a glimpse of how the hectic, sprawling life of someone who drinks just seems like the mundane to them, internally until they decide to swallow that proverbial red pill, step outside the routine and examine their choices. It’s a great little film with an organic, realistic arc for Bullock that she inhabits with grace, humility and humour.

-Nate Hill

Romance & Cigarettes: A Review by Nate Hill 

Romance And Cigarettes is the strangest musical you’ve never heard of. Strange as in awkward, because most of the songs are just too overdone and absurd to work, but I’ll concede that that very quality makes them unforgettable, if for not quite the same reasons the filmmakers intended. Going for a sort of pseudo Jersey Boys look, they set their cluster of stories in working class New York City, focusing on a number of hot blooded Italian American scamps and the mischief they get up to, all set to a raucous medley of musical numbers, some pleasant and others pretty darn tone deaf. James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a rowdy blue collar construction worker who finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his long suffering wife Kitty (an even rowdier Susan Sarandon) finds out about his secret mistress Tula (kinky Kate Winslet). This seems to be the last straw for Kitty as far as their marriage goes, and it all erupts into a series of volcanic confrontations and spats as only New Yorkers can spectacularly stage. In Kitty’s corner are her three handful daughter’s (Aida Turturro, Mary Louise Parker and adorable Mandy Moore) and her helpful Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken). Nick turns to a co worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), is scolded by his stern mother (Elaine Stritch) and receives advice from an ex military tough guy (Bobby Cannavle). The film sides with both parties for one long and often chaotic look at marriage, infedelity and extremely short tempers, peppered with songs that, like I said before, are hit and miss. Walken has the best bit (doesn’t he always?) when he gets to a rip roaring riff on Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ that jazzes up the film quite a bit. Not destined to go down in history as one of the best musicals ever made, but worth it for the spoofy fun had by the impressive cast. 

The Last Outlaw: A review by Nate Hill

  

The Last Outlaw is a revenge themed western written by Eric Red, and if you’re at all familiar with his other works (he also penned The Hitcher and Near Dark), you’ll have some idea of how bloody and intense it is. It’s a smile story populated by hard bitten, gruff sons of bitches, and the violence comes fast and hard from all directions as soon as a few backs are stabbed, and several ravenous tempers ignited. Often in westerns the violence is clipped and minimal, the damage which a six gun does to flesh oddly shirked in favour of theatricality. This one has no use for that, and messily displays exactly what such a weapon does to people, repeatedly and with no discretion. It’s rough, gritty, Walter Hill style stuff, with not a trace of levity, smash or buckle, and every character kicking up dirt and anger the whole time. The film opens with a daring bank robbery, executed by former civil war Colonel Graff (Mickey Rourke), and his brutal gang. Their victory turns sour when mutiny looms among them in the form of Graff’s second in command, Eustos (Dermot Mulroney). He can’t abide by Graff’s sadistic methods, and bitterly betrays him. The rest is a bullet ridden cat and mouse game in the dusty deserts and shanty towns of the southwest, as the bodies pile up and the blood spatters in the dirt time and time again. Rourke is an implosive, grade A dickhead as Graff, a man less concerned with the fruits of his labor and more driven by the desire to exact violent retribution. One wonders if that’s what he’s in the game for anyway, to bide his time until something goes amiss, and the revel in the carnage. The supporting cast is just epic, with work from Steve Buscemi, Ted Levine, Paul Ben Victor, Richard Fancy, John C. McGinley and Keith David. It’s essentially one big stylish bloodbath, a pulpy ride through the gutter of arrogant machismo. Terrific fun, if that’s your thing. 

Animal Factory: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Animal Factory is a prison set film directed by actor Steve Buscemi and based on a novel and subsequent screenplay by Edward Bunker, a real life ex convict, who played Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs. If that sounds like an irresistible team up to make this type of thing work, you’re thinking right. And I haven’t even mentioned the epic cast yet. It’s a scrappy little film that almost takes stage play form, as we watch a plethora of raggedy and very diverse inmates navigate the difficult, tragic and often touching life of incarceration. Edward Furlong (before he ballooned out) plays a young man barely out of his teens, locked away for marijuana possession, essentially a victim of the extremely harsh system they got down there in ‘Murica. He’s a sitting duck on the inside, but receives kindness and mentorship from veteran con Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe, excellent). It’s all done in an almost Robert Altman style way; characters jump in and out, events trundle by in centrifugal motion with little regard for one solid narrative, instead choosing to arbitrarily shift focus from prisoner to prisoner, whilst periodically checking back in on Furlong, who is the closest thing to a main protagonist. The cast is wonderful: Danny Trejo shows up (another guy who has done time in real life), Tom Arnold plays a pervert sicko who preys on Furlong, and Mickey Rourke is an absolute standout as Jan The Actress, a transvestite cell mate with a peppy life lesson or two for young Furlong. Watch for Bunker himself, Seymour Cassel, Mark Boone Jr., Chris Bauer, Buscemi as a parole board member and John Heard as Furlong’s father. Bunker no doubt based much of the story on his actual prison experience, and the dedicated authenticity shines through in every aspect of the film. Buscemi is no doubt an actor’s director (being one himself), and he lets every player have their moment to shine, while always contributing to the story as a whole as well. Prison films don’t get much better than this. Not to be missed. 

The Wedding Singer: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’m not usually very stoked on Adam Sandler movies, I’ll say that right off the bat. I mean, there’s a lucky select few that are either geniunly funny or have nostalgic value (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and the absurdly fascinating Little Nicky come to mind), but he’s just such a ball of cancer onscreen it’s hard to actively see his stuff. The Wedding Singer, however, is a really sweet little movie, and works well thanks to an impressive 80’s soundtrack and the presence of Drew Barrymore, who frequently hangs around in Sandler’s stuff. He plays Robbie Hart here, a singer who belts out the hits of the 1980’s at weddings, parties, you name it. After being left at the alter by his fiance, he spots waitress Julia (Barrymore), who uncannily seems to be working every event she is. The two form a bond, but she is engaged to another dude (Matthew Glave), who quickly is revealed to be kind of a jerkoff, prompting Robbie to go to great lengths to prove, and win Julia’s heart. The film makes the absolute most of its setting, as any period piece should. The music is a delight, right down to the amusing dawn of the ‘CD’, and a great little cameo from a rock legend aboard an airline. Some of the usual troupe of Sandler disciples pop up here, including Christine Taylor, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante, Jon Lovitz and Steve Buscemi, who can be counted on to appear in pretty much any Adam flick you can think of. Sandler and Barrymore handle the comedic romance well and have decent chemistry (perhaps while theyre always paired). It’s light, sweet, carried on by the rockin soundtrack and detailed production design.