The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: JAMES SPADER

James Spader has always been one of my favorite actors. He made his bread and butter in the 80’s playing Yuppie Scum before moving on to eccentric character work in classics such as Secretary. Lately though, he’s spent most of his time on the small screen starring in stuff like Boston Legal and The Office. No matter what The Spade Man does, he’ll always be a Legend of the Silver Screen to me.

Our first Spader joint is…

THE STICKUP (2003) ** ½

James Spader steals a half million dollars from a small town bank (dressed as a clown) and holes up in a church. Flashbacks reveal that he’s actually a former cop gone rogue. More flashbacks reveal… well… I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The Stickup is one of those neo-noir crime thrillers that rely heavily on flashbacks and back-and-forth storytelling to tell its tale. This one benefits from a terrific performance by Spader, which helps it from feeling too “been there done that”. He’s simply great in this flick. There’s one scene in particular I want to talk about that shows you why Spader is a Legend. It comes when Spader narrowly avoids getting killed and he says, “What a day!” afterwards. And it’s just fucking hilarious. It’s funny not because he’s making a joke out of it, like most actors would’ve done. It’s funny because he says it so damn seriously that you have to laugh.

You know, this probably would’ve been a Three Star movie, but there’s a twist at the end that kinda ruins everything. In the beginning we see Spader rob the bank, then later we learn the whole thing was a total lie, so what’s the point of even showing it to us? The movie thinks it’s being clever with this type of The Usual Suspects bullshit. This plot twist however, is not clever; it’s straight-up cheating. I enjoy a good plot twist as much as the next guy; it just sucks when you have to resort to cheating to pull it off.

The flick was directed by Rowdy Herrington, who also directed Spader in Jack’s Back. I guess it would be unfair of me to judge this movie against his previous work, since this is the man who made Road House. He also did the grossly underrated Striking Distance, and this movie is sure as shit no Striking Distance.

Despite its flaws, The Stickup is a mostly enjoyable thriller. I did like the novel touch that the FBI agent investigating the robbery was a wet behind the ears rookie who said stuff like “wicked!” He breathed a little life into the movie and almost made up for the dishonest plotting in the third act.

The next film in the Spade-ography is…

KEYS TO TULSA (1997) **

Eric Stoltz stars as Richter, a spoiled rich dude who works as a movie critic in Tulsa. Facing a severe loss of his inheritance, he reluctantly gets embroiled in a blackmail scheme orchestrated by Ronnie (James Spader) to fleece some wealthy jackass who murdered a stripper. Things get predictably complicated when Richter falls in love with Cherry (Joanna Going), a hot ass stripper.

The late 90’s were littered with lousy quasi-film noir flicks and that certainly sums up Keys to Tulsa. You can definitely feel the Tarantino influence on this one. It features 1.) One of the stars of Pulp Fiction (Stoltz). 2.) Jokes that revolve around the “N-Word”. 3.) Nearly all the characters doing drugs. and 4) A bunch of oldies on the soundtrack.

What’s remarkable about Keys to Tulsa is that it wastes a killer ensemble cast. In addition to Spader and Stoltz, we’ve got Michael Rooker, James Coburn (who starred in a lot of these kinds of films), Mary Tyler Moore (!), Cameron Diaz, Deborah Kara Unger (who was also in Crash with Spader), and the Spacehunter himself, Peter Strauss. It’s amazing that a casting director was able to get all these great people together for a movie, but the screenplay gives them virtually nothing to do. It’s like they thought just having all these actors in one space would be enough.

Basically this movie is just a bunch of neo-noir posturing (lots of people drinking and smoking cigarettes) and would-be plot twists in search of a story.

Thankfully, the Legendary James Spader is fun to watch. With his big ass sunglasses and mutton chop sideburns, he looks (and talks) like Elvis with a soul patch. That is to say, he’s pretty awesome in this flick.

The movie really belongs to Joanna Going though. She’s fucking hot as Hell in this flick and takes off her clothes at the drop of a hat. Whenever she’s on screen, the flick perks up… in more ways than one.

And our final Spader film is…

2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY (1996) ***

James Spader and Danny Aiello are two hitmen; one suave and smooth and the other, slovenly and down and out. (I’ll let you figure out who’s who.) After performing their hit, Spader double-crosses Aiello and tries to kill him. Danny’s wearing a bulletproof vest though and he winds up taking a secretary (Glenn Headley), a nurse (Marsha Mason), and a washed-up suicidal film director (Paul Mazursky) hostage until he can think up a revenge scheme. Meanwhile, two cops (Eric Stoltz and Jeff Daniels) stumble onto Spader’s victim while he’s off getting it on with Charlize Theron. All of these crazy characters finally intersect in a hail of bullets.

Of all of the hitman comedies in the post-Tarantino era, 2 Days in the Valley is definitely in the upper echelon of the genre. It probably owes as much to Short Cuts as it does Pulp Fiction as it features a bunch of disparate characters and plotlines that intermingle with one another. Like Tarantino’s stuff, the film features references to other movies and hitmen using a gimmick before they kill someone. (In this case Spader uses a stopwatch and says, “You have one minute to decide the rest of your life” before he blows someone away.)

The flick is not particularly well written and it sometimes tries a little too hard to be hip (like the scene where Aiello holds people hostage at gunpoint while making spaghetti). Then again, the cast is so good that you don’t really notice. Aiello is pretty funny, Mazursky is excellent, and Stoltz (who re-teamed with Spader the next year for Keys to Tulsa) is good as the wide-eyed cop who’s probably too eager to solve the murder.

And Spader is flat-out awesome in this. Let me clue you into how great he is in this flick. Around 2000 or so, I got a new pair of glasses. The only reason I got the pair I did was because they kinda made me vaguely resemble Spader in this movie. If making lifestyle choices based on a particular movie star doesn’t qualify said actor as a Legend of the Silver Screen, I don’t know what does.

Of course the real reason 2 Days in the Valley exists is to show you Charlize Theron naked. Not only that, but she has a heck of a catfight with Teri Hatcher. I’m sure those two sentences alone have convinced you to add this to your Netflix Queue.

I like this movie a lot although I do have my fair share of quibbles. I was particularly disappointed that the most potentially interesting character (Jeff Daniels’ burnt out cop) was completely left out of the climax. Still, Spader rules and Theron’s naked; so what more do you want from a movie?

Next week on Legends of the Silver Screen we’ll review three films from the lovely Traci Lords.

Tags: .legends of the silver screen, comedy, drama, k, s, t, thriller
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