Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Absolute Entertainment, Absolute Dreck on Video

Although it was another shaggy-haired, swashbuckling Scottish historical epic that reaped a kiltful of Oscar nominations, the video renter can still have a most entertaining evening with the overlooked but enjoyable "Rob Roy," now available in Moscow.

Unlike Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," which opted for the mouth-clogging grit and sinew-hacking grime of realistic battle scenes (while ripping off whole sequences of Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" in the process), "Rob Roy," based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, revels in its essential nature as a "movie movie": big, bold, energetic, and not very serious about much at all except its cinematic craft.

Liam Neeson stars as the hero, an 18th-century Scottish chieftain content to watch his herds, guard his good folk and tumble with his robust and randy wife (Jessica Lange) -- until perfidy strikes in the form of a stolen loan repayment. Then he finds himself hunted by the usual effete and cold-hearted English nobleman and his perfect rotter of a henchman (John Hurt and Tim Roth, respectively).

With such a good cast in play, the action is never less than interesting and at times approaches the compelling. Roth is especially good as the over-the-top evil henchman, in a turn highly reminiscent of Alan Richman in "Robin Hood," a film to which "Rob Roy" bears several resemblances -- all of them to the latter's favor. For one thing, the accents all seem more or less on target here, even from the Irishman Neeson and the American Lange. And unlike the murky "Hood," you can actually tell what's happening in "Roy's" action scenes.

To be sure, the filmmakers do apply a touch of modern grit (viewers will learn a couple of slang terms for female genitalia with which they may have been unfamiliar), and there is a rape scene which in its intensity and wrenching emotion seems jarring and out of place here. But for the most part, the film offers up daring escapes, well-turned plot twists, exciting swordplay, a dash of humor, and a surprisingly lively and affirmative depiction of married love. And if all else fails, there is always the beautiful Highland scenery.

"Braveheart" has received the praise, but "Rob Roy" delivers the goods: big-time movie entertainment, done right.


The attainment of the absolute has been the quest of philosophers, mystics, idealists, seekers of every kind down through the ages. They were all were disappointed in the end, of course; some say there can be nothing pure and absolute in our fractured earthly life. But despite this, we must now report that here, in Moscow, we have been vouchsafed a manifestation of the absolute. What's more, you can have it too, for a nominal rental fee.

It's the video version of the 1993 film "Romeo Is Bleeding." To see this movie is to come face to face with the absolute -- absolute nullity, absolute dreck, the total inversion of all values normally associated with entertainment and creative endeavor. Truly, a wonder to behold.

The perfection of its badness admits no impediments; it is seamless, complete. The viewer is battered by the implausible plot, the ludicrous casting, and the numbing direction (the director, Peter Medak, must have been suffering from chronic migraine; the entire film looks as though it had been seen through throbbing, half-closed eyelids).

Then there is the bad acting, which, in keeping with the movie's otherworldly character, has almost no connection to any recognizable behavior or motivation found in human nature. Finally, we reach the film's molten (or, rather, moldy) core, the screenplay: yet another compendium of film noir clich?s and adolescent nihilism unleavened by a single grain of wit, awareness, purpose, or even fun, for God's sake.

The English actor Gary Oldman plays a corrupt New York cop who talks -- or tries to talk -- like Archie Bunker. (Wudda yous gonna do wid dese guys? Send dem to Meryl Streep for accent lessons, or what?) Lena Olin plays a Russian-born hitwoman who takes a maniacal, sexual glee in her work (an obvious forerunner of the newest Bond villain, Xenia Onatopp). Oldman, who had been fingering turncoat gangsters for the mob, blows an assignment and runs afoul of an urbane, poetry-spouting godfather (Roy Scheider, a fine actor continuing a long, painful cinematic penance for who knows what crimes). Violence and betrayal ensue, in a series of set-pieces that are meant to be striking, shocking and raw but amount to little more than unconnected outbursts of tensionless noise.

This is not a movie to be taken home and savored; it is a movie to be stuffed in the trunk of a stolen car and taken to the swamps of Jersey to be buried. Dat's what you should do wid junk like dis. Unless, of course, you crave a shot of negative transcendence.

"Rob Roy" is available at Video Force, Tel. 238-3136; "Romeo Is Bleeding" can be rented at Video Express, Tel. 200-3373.