The Batman we've all been waiting for
By Lady Liberty
The Perfect Man
** out of ****
Okay, I admit it: I was saving Batman Begins to see with a friend, and I didn't have anything else to fill up some time prior to another commitment this weekend. That's how I ended up sitting in a darkened theatre and waiting for The Perfect Man. I don't know that I can say it would have been worth a lot of trouble to see, but I can tell you that the movie is better than you might think it is.
Jean Hamilton (Heather Locklear) has spent much of her life looking for the perfect man. Instead, she keeps ending up with singularly imperfect men who break her heart. Over the years, Jean has determined that leaving is better than staying and getting through the hurt of a break-up and so she goes from place to place with her two daughters in tow. Holly Hamilton (Hilary Duff) is a high school student long used to her mother's all-too-regular moves. She's made a practice of getting too friendly with anyone at any of her schools because she's all too well aware that her time there is going to be limited to the length of time her mother keeps her next boyfriend. Sure enough, Mom endures another break-up which results in the little family's move to New York City.
Brooklyn is quite a bit different from the places they've been before, but Holly adjusts quickly in part because she refuses to care. Younger sister Zoe (Aria Wallace), a precocious child with a penchant for spelling, is young enough to be resilient, too. Jean, who has taken a job in a bakery run by a friend, isn't too happy, though. She needs a man, she says, and to her elder daughter's embarrassment, isn't shy about saying so. After what Holly considers a particularly awful date with Jean's coworker, bread baker Lenny Horton (Mike O'Malley), she decides on a course of action: Since her mother can't find the perfect man, she'll create one for her.
With the unknowing help of a friend's uncle (restaurant owner Ben Cooper, played by Chris Noth), Holly manages to put together a man who is a whole lot like Ben, and who sends her mother flowers and writes her romantic e-mails. In the meantime, though, Holly accidentally gets closer than she ever intended to Adam Forest (Ben Feldman), a young man with whom she shares a few classes. Zoe, too, is getting invested in her new community after she's thrilled to be tapped to participate in a spelling bee. Jean, though, is getting ready to settle for less than she deserves again, and if the perfect man doesn't result in more than e-mail soon, she just may do it.
Warning: The Perfect Man is unabashedly a chick flick, and the storyline is about as trite as it comes. Though the script does have a few amusing moments, it's sweet as treacle throughout and almost as predictable. Heather Locklear in her 40's is still as beautiful as ever, and it's hard to believe she has any trouble dating at all let alone as much as Jean does. But she's well suited to this light kind of role, and does just fine. Hilary Duff is a bit strained at times though is largely also okay. Aria Wallace, the seven year-old who plays Zoe is quite good, and so is Ben Feldman. Chris Noth is good (though I've never considered him the stud that Sex and the City and — apparently — this movie do), while Mike O'Malley is very funny as the trying-way-too-hard Lenny. The real highlight, though, is Carson Kressley (best known as one of the queer eyes on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) who is hysterical as a bartender in Ben's bar.
If you're looking for reality, go see Cinderella Man. There's no way that a cake baker like Jean can afford the apartment she finds in Brooklyn. There's no way that anybody could get away with keeping up the front of an imaginary man as long as Holly does. There's no way that the kids are fitting in at a new school so immediately. Yet The Perfect Man, while far from the perfect movie, really is a sort of heart-warming piece of fluff. Should you forgo Batman Begins to see this film? Absolutely not. But if you want to be nostalgic for your own dating days, or if you're looking for a sweet movie for your teens, or if you're trying to find a date movie for the younger set, this one will fill the bill nicely.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Perfect Man is rated PG for "some mildly suggestive content." There's no rough language, no nudity, no overt sexuality, and no violence whatsoever. Like I said, the movie's sweet. The only problem I have with the idea of really young children seeing the film is that they won't understand it and will probably be bored by it. I'd say that anyone age 10 and up, though, should be fine, and I'd certainly recommend it for those just beginning to date. As far as adults go, well, I suspect most grown-ups will be seeing this movie because they've brought their young Hilary Duff fan to see it. The good news is that they won't hate having to sit through it themselves, though it'll help quite a bit if you're a woman.
*** 1/2 out of ****
Between the 1960's slapstick TV series and the first four Batman movies (some of which were good, some of which were not so much), the Batman mythology has been fairly fleshed out in every direction and, one might think, mined out as well. It now appears, however, that we were wrong about that on both counts.
We all know that a young Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered, and that his anger and fear stemming from that incident caused him to become Batman. But what happened between times? Why Batman as opposed to, say, Hawkman? How did Batman become so physically capable? And where did Batman get all that cool stuff? In Batman Begins, we get the answers to these questions as well as some we didn't even think to ask.
In Batman Begins, young Bruce Wayne is, indeed, traumatized by the death of his parents. Though the ever faithful butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) does his best to raise the boy to be a credit to his father, the adult Bruce (Christian Bale) remains on the edge, a balance he loses when the man who killed his parents is set free. Bruce wanders the world for some time, trying to find answers when he's unsure as to even the questions to ask. Fortunately for the lost young man, he's found by Ducard (Liam Neeson) who is willing to teach what he knows. After meeting the mysterious Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and learning the lessons Ducard wishes to teach, Bruce reaches a crisis of conscience that results in his decision to rejoin the rest of the world at long last.
Alfred, of course, is delighted to see the boy. Earle (Rutger Hauer), the man running Wayne Industries since the elder Wayne's death, is less so, but he puts on a friendly face to welcome Bruce back to the fold. Bruce's childhood friend, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), is also glad to see him, but her pleasure is mitigated by the darkness she senses inhabits her friend's soul. While Rachel — grown up to be a lawyer in the District Attorney's office — busies herself with working to take out Gotham's biggest crime lord (Carmine Falcone, played by Tom Wilkinson), she delves into a plot that's much deeper than she knows. A psychiatrist who runs an asylum for the criminally insane (Dr. Jonathan Crane, played by Cillian Murphy) is somehow involved, though Rachel is unsure how; and a single incorruptible cop by the name of Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is one of her few allies. But no matter their motives, the two are far outgunned in their battle, both literally and figuratively.
Though pretending to be the rich playboy he could have been, Bruce is also all too well aware of the crime in Gotham and he's determined to address the problem. With help from Alfred and a Wayne Industries researcher named Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce begins to develop his crime-fighting alter ego. As Bruce works on his own agenda, neither Rachel or the police know the danger the entire city is in, nor are they aware that they're about to get some help in the form of a mysterious masked man who calls himself Batman.
Christian Bale is well cast as the young caped crusader, and Michael Caine is positively brilliant as Alfred. Gary Oldman, who usually plays a bad guy, does a good job here as a frustrated cop who is wearied from beating his head against the proverbial brick wall but who still can't quite give up. Both Rutger Hauer and Ken Watanabe are wonderful in limited but juicy roles; Liam Neeson is also quite good. The only major performance that lacks is that of Katie Holmes. With her youthful appearance (even younger than the 26 year-old actress' real age would dictate), her little-girl voice, and her relatively shallow acting abilities, she's entirely unbelievable as a district attorney let alone one who is as courageous as the character she's supposed to be.
The script, however, has no such flaws. Penned by Christopher Nolan (Memento) and David Goyer (Blade films), the story is both fascinating and suspenseful despite the fact we know how things must work out because we know what happens later in Bruce Wayne's/Batman's life. Nolan also directs this movie, and he does so without a stutter (not unexpected from the man who helmed the brilliant Memento). The editing is excellent, and the special effects flawless (the CGI Gotham is spectacular, the wire work terrific, and some of the gadgets are so believable and so cool that you'll want one as much as I do). If there's any fault to be found in Batman Begins, it's that time constraints preclude some additional information we might find both interesting and impactful. At almost two and a half hours, the film is already long. But I'll tell you the truth: I would have quite happily sat through an additional 30 or 45 minutes of footage if it was anywhere near as good as the rest of the movie is!
POLITICAL NOTES: There was one line in Batman Begins that I found so profoundly true that I actually pulled a pen from my purse and wrote it down on a napkin in the dark: "Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society." In a country where criminals are often coddled (with television, college classes, good medical care and more available to most prisoners), it's impossible not to draw the obvious parallel between a Gotham overrun with crime and a country with the largest per capita prison population in the world.
FAMILY SUITABILTY: Batman Begins is rated PG-13 for "intense action violence, disturbing images, and some thematic elements." Everything you've heard about this movie being a "dark" film is true. Most of us know that the circumstances that created Batman aren't happy ones, and that the heroic crimefighter is a lonely and often angry and unhappy man. But this film brings that darkness to light, so to speak, and much of what Bruce endures isn't pleasant for him — or for us. His evolution, particularly his training, is also relatively complex, and the storyline has gaps a mature mind can fill in but which are unlikely to be fully understood by children. I think the PG-13 rating is probably about right, and I wouldn't recommend Batman Begins for kids under 12. For those old enough to understand the story and appreciate even its darker aspects, however, Batman Begins is at least as good as many of the critics have claimed — and that's saying something.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at
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