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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cimino Strives After Metaphors But Gets Lost In Pretty Scenery

On the surface, life is good for Dr. Michael Reynolds.

He's young, rich and handsome. He's got a beautiful wife and daughter. He's slated for a major promotion in a prestigious medical facility. He drives a candy-apple red, $176,000 Porsche. His biggest dilemma is whether to exceed $2 million in his bid on a house.

What, one might ask, is the crack in this veneer of happiness?

Perhaps a more pertinent question is: Who cares?

And that is the unfortunate query which reverberates throughout "Sunchaser,'' a film that lusts to convey, through metaphor, the stuff of the soul -- but uses wan stereotypes and thin dialogue in its effort.

The movie's director, Michael Cimino, who won an Oscar for the 1978 film, "The Deer Hunter,'' never fully engages the viewer's empathy for Reynolds or the 16-year-old gangbanger, Brandon "Blue'' Monroe, who wrests the physician's past from a deep trough of denial.

Imprisoned for shooting his abusive stepfather to death, Blue (Jon Seda) is delivered with a rare tumor one day to the Los Angeles medical center at which Reynolds (Woody Harrelson) works.

Blue is subsequently depicted sweating in his cell, vomiting blood, gazing past a window grate at a full moon and reciting: "May beauty be before me, may beauty be behind me, may beauty be above me, may beauty be below me, may beauty be all around me.''

The passage is apparently from a pocket book, of which he is always in possession, and portends the curative powers of a mythical mountain lake in a parable related to him once by a Navajo medicine man.

When Blue learns he has only one month to live, he resolves to search for this lake -- and kidnaps Reynolds toward that end.

Cimino seems to intend for the viewer to accompany both males on their ensuing journey, and to come to realize the presence of a common thread in spite of their disparate personalities.

Yet the script fails to yield such depth through the litany of thefts, high-speed car chases, shallow dialogue ("A lot of weird [stuff] happens in life," imparts Blue) and extraneous expletives.

There is also a clash with armed bikers, a rattlesnake attack (in response to which physician Reynolds displays errant training) plus a distracting encounter with a New Age drifter played by Anne Bancroft.

At one point Reynolds says of a Los Angeles neighborhood, "Jesus, this looks like the six o'clock news.'' One cannot help but wonder whether the remark also applies to the film's pervasive surface stereotypes.

The pity is that the story unfolds against a backdrop of some of the most stunning scenery in the American Southwest, including the Grand Canyon.

Moreover, some scenes refer to information that was not previously advanced in the film -- but likely lost on the cutting room floor.

The relationship between Reynolds (the transformation of whom is unconvincingly portrayed by Harrelson) and Blue (whose extreme rage and vulnerability are displayed effectively by Seda) exists on three levels. First, there is the mercurial relationship between the captor and his captive, which is juxtaposed against the unresolved emotions pertaining to the death of Reynold's fatally-ill older brother -- the lasting influence of whom is shown via black-and-white flashbacks. All of this is held up against the medicine man's parable, in which a younger brother carries his ailing older brother up a mountain where he is cured while soaking in the lake's healing waters.

If these overlapping themes are not clear at first, don't worry.

Cimino foists metaphor upon metaphor into the face of the viewer as if to say, in an almost patronizing tone, "Look, this is big stuff!''

Yet, instead of building upon a sincere and believable foundation, it's as if he merely expects the viewer to take his word for it. And, in the end, that's just not enough.

"Sunchaser" premieres Friday in the Dome Theater.


"Kansas City," a Robert Altman film depicting the Depression-era life in this midwestern U.S. city, is scheduled to debut in English on Friday night at the Americom House of Cinema.

The movie features Jennifer Jason Leigh as Blondie O'Hara, the wife of a petty thief who is ensnared by the local black gambling boss, Seldom Seen, played by Harry Belafonte. In a desperate bid to save her man, Blondie kidnaps the wife of a powerful local politician -- whose influence she enlists in exchange for his wife's safe return.

Complementing and even, perhaps, overshadowing the story at times are the jazz musicians whose "cutting contests" at the Hey Hey Club -- in which the solosits duel on stage -- recreate the sound made famous by greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster.

The musicians are actually portrayed by some of the most capable jazzmen today, including saxophonists James Carter and Joshua Redman.