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Reviews of The Manchurian Candidate and De-Lovely

click to enlarge Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate. - KATHRYN EASTBURN

*The Manchurian Candidate (R)
Paramount Pictures

De-Lovely (PG-13)
MGM


Director Jonathan Demme recycles the plot and characters of John Frankenheimer's great 1962 Communist paranoia film, The Manchurian Candidate, in an earnest and frequently affecting remake. Irwin Winkler tosses the sappy Cary Grant version of the life of Cole Porter, Night and Day, out the window in his lush redo, De-Lovely. With both films, the results are a mixed bag.

The notable problem of Demme's Manchurian Candidate is that comparison is inevitable. That's because the original was audacious, perversely funny, wicked and bold for its time, and the new version is merely a competent, serviceable drama.

The plot has been altered to keep the audience from knowing exactly what will happen next. Liev Schreiber is Raymond Shaw, a decorated war hero from Operation Desert Storm, a senator who has just received his party's vice-presidential nomination, with more than a little help from his domineering mother, Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, played with aplomb by Meryl Streep. When Shaw's former commander, Major Marco (Denzel Washington) shows up asking questions about strange dreams he and others of their unit brought home with them from Kuwait, the paranoia begins.

This time, the suspected culprit is not Communism but capitalism in the form of mega-corporation Manchurian Global, an all-purpose multinational with a strong resemblance to Halliburton. As Marco desperately tries to prove that his unit, including Shaw, was part of a brainwashing operation designed to hand pick a president who will be a corporate stooge, and Shaw edges closer to election victory, the film picks up pace with some interesting and weird asides. In one gutsy scene, Marco impulsively sinks his teeth into Shaw's shoulder to remove the microchip he knows is implanted there.

Washington's is the strongest performance of the three -- Marco is fully human, edgy, determined, frayed, deeply troubled.

Ultimately, the newly remade Manchurian Candidate stands on its own, but not as a breakthrough piece of cinema like its predecessor. Notably missing is any inkling of humor or satire, the key ingredient of Frankenheimer's classic.

Irwin Winkler's De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd as Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee, is being touted as some kind of breakthrough because it tells the truth -- gasp! -- about Porter's erotic taste for men. Be still my heart, the effect is about as revelatory as the come hither wave of a daintily gloved hand.

The structure is awkward and slows down the film's forward motion. As the film opens, Porter, elderly and bitter but still composing, is led away from his piano by Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), an angelic or ghostly figure who walks Porter through his career on a musical soundstage. From there, long scenes are presented as digressions into the past.

At the center of the story is Porter's long marriage to socialite Linda Lee -- a marriage of convenience by both, but presented here as a great, if compromised, love affair. Kline is fresh and lithe and charming throughout, but Judd seems out of her league in the scenes where she is required to merely appear amused and happy. For almost an hour of screen time, she jauntily points her chin upward and squints her delight, leaving us to wonder how long it took her to unfreeze her face after shooting each day.

As a musical De-Lovely is largely successful, but for an excess of numbers. Some are rip-roaringly entertaining, like Elvis Costello's "Let's Misbehave," while others fall flat, like Sheryl Crow's slow-footed "Begin the Beguine." Most affecting are the numbers Kline sings himself, sitting at the piano, the place where Cole Porter was most at home in the world.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

The Manchurian Candidate is playing at Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16 and Tinseltown. De-Lovely is playing at Tinseltown only.

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