Aesthetically Speaking

Reviews: Time Warner Cable’s Video On Demand – Leguizamo, cast excel in Empire; Auto Focus examines sex addict’s life

Who says you can’t win ‘em all? This week’s picks from Time Warner Cable’s Movies On Demand service are 3-for-3.

John Leguizamo, who did surprisingly mediocre stand-up a while back at the State Theatre,… Who says you can’t win ‘em all? This week’s picks from Time Warner Cable’s Movies On Demand service are 3-for-3.

John Leguizamo, who did surprisingly mediocre stand-up a while back at the State Theatre, acquits himself well in the above-average crime drama Empire. Successful South Bronx heroin dealer Victor Rosa sees a chance to double his money and get out of the game by investing a fortune — and money from his boss — with a shady, but prosperous Wall Street stockbroker. The deal, of course, goes sour (otherwise there'd be no story).

By the time we get there, though, it’s about more than business between crooks: first-time director-screenwriter Franc Reyes conveys compelling truths to reveal the humanity of drug-pushing, gun-slinging gangstas in complex circumstance. Leguizamo (who co-produces) gives Rosa intriguing presence, a striking note of vulnerability and, overall, a sure sense of self. Relative newcomer Delilah Cotto works well as Carmen, his ladylove. Fine support comes courtesy of Sonia Braga, Isabella Rossellini, veteran character actor Nestor Serrano (Showtime, City Hall) and rapper Fat Joe. There’s an extra special plus: Ruben Blades wrote the music. Reyes’ directing is solid. The writing suffers a lapse or two in plausibility, but is rich in immediacy and, on the whole, stands up a lot better than most of the stuff out there.

The saddest thing about the tragedy depicted in the biopic Auto Focus was it simply didn’t have to be. Television star Bob "Hogan's Heroes" Crane used fame and fortune to sexually exploit more women than a Roman emperor — including filming his trysts without some of the subjects’ knowledge. In the process, he put his wife through hell, destroyed their family life, and as the hi-jinks got kinkier and kinkier, eventually got himself murdered. The film’s strength is its candor: there are no excuses made for Crane, just a straightforward account of a sex-addict’s descent into complete and utter self-destruction. Regrettably, had Crane spent more time seeking therapy than he did feeding his addiction, he forseeably would’ve lived longer. Actor Greg Kinnear is sympathetic as the unhinged star. Willem Dafoe excels (as usual), playing the parasitic enabler John Carpenter (no, not the schlock director of the same name).

On the light side, special effects extravaganza Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams is fun for the young and a pleasant opportunity for oldsters to watch along with them and not be bored stiff at the silliness of two barely pubescent siblings saving the world from mass destruction. Highlights: guest appearances the ageless Ricardo Montalban, veteran Danny Trejo (Spy Kids, Heat) and genius at large Steve Buscemi.

May 12, 2003
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