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CRAZY IN ALABAMA

SYNOPSIS:
In the backwoods of Alabama in the summer of 1965 Lucille (Melanie Griffith) kills her abusive husband, places his severed head in hat box and calmly tells her 12 year old nephew Peejoe (Lucas Black) she's off to Hollywood to pursue her dream of stardom. While his aunt travels to California via Las Vegas, Peejoe is sent to stay with his uncle Dove (David Morse), a funeral director in the small town where the civil rights movement is gaining momentum. Tension erupts when Peejoe witnesses bigoted Sheriff Doggett (Meat Loaf Aday) cause the death of a black boy during a protest at a segregated swimming pool. After attracting the attention of agent Harry Hall (Robert Wagner), Lucille wins a small role in a TV series and appears set for stardom. But Lucille's inevitable arrest and return for trial questions what constitutes crazy in a society that turns a blind eye to one murder because the victim is black but demands punishment for a crime in which the perpetrator was really the victim.

"Who remembers Melanie Griffith as the wartime secretary who skipped off to Germany to become the world's least likely spy in Shining Through? Well, she's at it again as a husband killer and mother of seven who skips off to equally unlikely Hollywood success in this forced comedy-drama directed by husband Antonio Banderas. This is a frustrating film in which effective scenes portraying racial tension down South sit uncomfortably with Lucille's dreary cross-country exploits which includes a perfectly dreadful re-hash of the 'sexy woman seduces naive cop and puts the handcuffs on him instead' routine. Another clunker is her husband's 'talking' head which goes where she goes and backchats to the point of distraction. For a much better example of this device, watch Warren Oates show for how its done in 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia'. The best moments in Crazy In Alabama belong to Lucas Black as Peejoe. The talented teenager shone in Sling Blade and again impresses with a naturalness far more effective in conveying the central theme of freedom and how we perceive it. Griffith, although frankly a little too long in the tooth to convince in the role, does have her moments but she's dealt the worst hand in the screenplay by Mark Childress who adapted his own novel. Banderas manages some neat visual touches but is wayward at times with performances. Rod Steiger, with the worst Southern accent you'll ever hear, is embarrassing as the judge and the sight of Cathy Moriarty almost exploding as Dove's racist wife only remind us yet again how this brilliant actress is wasted almost every time she appears on screen. This isn't a total disaster but teeters close enough to be considered at least a major disappointment, unless you're partial to severed heads with attitude."
Richard Kuipers

"Predictably, all the attention on Crazy In Alabama has been on its star Melanie Griffith and first-time director (and husband) Antonio Banderas and it's hard not to look at this movie purely from the perspective of how he's done the job and, specifically, how well or otherwise they worked together. The good news for fans of the star of The Mask of Zorro and, in his pre-Hollywood life, dozens of Pedro Alamadovar pictures, is that Banderas has a brain to match his Latin good looks. OK, some of the scenes were straight out of the Almadovar textbook and maybe the camera did linger a little too lovingly on Griffith's fading beauty but the result is an extremely watchable movie. We are transported back and forth between reality and fantasy as the central character Peejoe (Lucas Black) copes with the strange behaviour of his Aunt Lucille (Griffith): she chops off her husband's head and takes it with her on her quest for Hollywood stardom. Meanwhile, a young, black friend is killed in the brutal reaction to a civil rights protest. Peejoe witnesses the killing but is bullied into silence by the killer, the town's sheriff played with black-hearted menace by Meat Loaf Aday. Stuck in the middle, Peejoe's Uncle Dove (David Morse), the local undertaker and a decent man, tries to make sense of it all. And in a throwback to a movie with a similar theme, In The Heat Of The Night, Rod Steiger turns in a minor tour de force as the unconventional judge who is more interested in justice than he is in the law. There is not a lot of subtlety in this film: the issues are stark and the motivations are clear. But, like Griffith's Lucille, it has enough charm to keep us engaged and on-side. Things certainly were crazy in Alabama in the '60s. Perhaps the best way to show that is in a film that's a little crazy too."
Jimmy Thomson

"Writing this the day before the film's release, I've had a long time to anticipate it - which doesn't help this film. I agree with Richard Kuipers that it's a major disappointment, although I am sympathetic to its failings. For example, the opening credits seem to me like a colourful tribute to the man who directed Banderas' into the limelight, Pedro Almodovar; but they set the wrong tone. Some of the shots are clearly aching to be noticed and are notable, both in terms of angle and choice of framing, while the film's mood struggles for the kind of abandon that Almodovar makes appear easy. It isn't. Juggling two kinds of crazy (something like funny ha ha and funny peculiar only a bit darker) takes enormous experience with the subtleties and nuances of filmmaking. I admire Banderas' attempt but am not moved by it, not engaged by it. The film, based on a book by the screenwriter himself, tackles complex issues and uses the character of young Peejoe to staple them together: this is incredibly demanding for a filmmaker, considering what's involved. A husband's head in a tupperware container that continues to jibe at his murdering wife while she's trying to become a star in Hollywood, while back in her hometown the human rights movement of the 60s is exploding into death and civil dislocation. But story/stories aside, it's the demanding characterisations that defy the team here - with the exception of David Morse and Lucas Black. Griffith is over-exposed without enough cohesion to her character to make us buy it: it too often flips into situation comedy stereotype. Technically proficient and signalling good intentions, Crazy in Alabama doesn't sustain credibility and complexity sufficiently for its subject matter."
Andrew L. Urban

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

See Jimmy Thomson's interviews in Venice with

ANTONIO BANDERAS

and

MELANIE GRIFFITH

plus MEAT LOAF

CRAZY IN ALABAMA (M)
(US)

CAST: Melanie Griffith, David Morse, Lucas Black, Cathy Moriarty, Meat Loaf Aday, Rod Steiger, Richard Schiff

DIRECTOR: Antonio Banderas

PRODUCERS: Meir Teper, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Debra Hill, Diane Sillan Isaacs

SCRIPT: Mark Childress (based on his novel)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Julio Macat

EDITORS: Maysie Hoy ACE, Robert C. Jones

MUSIC: Mark Snow

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cecilia Montiel

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 2, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: May 17, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Video







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