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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack
Screenplay by John Lee Hancock
Based on the novel by John Berendt
Directed by Clint Eastwood

IN SHORT: Slow. Solid, but slow.

Yep, it is indeed a Yankee writing this heah review of Clint Eastwood's fine screen adaptation of John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and we all know that Yankees in particular don't like wading through the extra long films that come your way as the days grow shorter.

If there is something about the South that makes people more, um, relaxed, fine. If, indeed, the town of Savannah, Georgia managed to avoid being torched by General Sherman back in the Civil War because it knew how to throw a terrific party, thanks for the detail. Indeed, this film is so filled with details of all the colorful characters living in the town, and the pedigree of some of its mansions, that the adaptation fails to just get on with the story.

That story, in brief, is of the visit by Northern writer John Kelso (John Cusack) to Savannah to write a 500 word article for the hoi-polloi Town and Country magazine on the legendary Christmas party thrown by Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a nouveau- riche restorer of the great homes of the town. The party ends in the murder of Williams' lover, Billy Hanson (Jude Law). Kelso finds himself penning a book about the subsequent trial, aiding the defense as he digs up background material. He also falls for one of the local Southern Belles, the very lovely Mandy Nichols (Alison Eastwood).

No question that what he finds is colorful. There's a local gent who walks a dead dog. Williams employs Minerva Buzzard, a voodoo priestess (Irma P. Hall) from whose practice comes the title of the film, to aid his defense. It's a good thing. His lawyer Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson) seems more interested in local college football. Even the inmates in the local jail are unique.

Which brings us to The Lady Chablis, a right firecracker of a Southern Lady, who steals every scene he's in. The Lady knows all the secrets of both Williams and Hanson but doesn't particularly care to get involved, until the attentions of Kelso get him to change her mind.

Not that the local transvestite entertainer is what the writer has in mind as a life mate, but TLC does grab everyone's attention wherever he may go. And that's the problem. If you take The Lady out of the mix, the murder mystery goes down with a complete thud.

It can't be much fun being a writer if virtually no one will talk to you. It must be tremendous fun having a love affair develop from very little on-screen time. Kevin Spacey portrays the perfect Southern Gentleman. John Cusack reacts with raised eyebrow to every colorful event and person. The real-life Lady Chablis (all the characters save Kelso are based on real people. TLC is the only real person to play herself) is something to be seen, but Cranky would have preferred to swap at least one scene's emphasis from TLC to Mandy. Alison Eastwood's performance shows that she is both more than a pretty face and that her relation to the director had nothing to do with her casting. It would have been nice to have seen more of her. Cranky always did prefer story development over color.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is far more interesting than director Clint Eastwood's last adaptation, of The Bridges of Madison County, which served as passable date fodder. There's enough color the characters to hold your attention, but at two and a half hours, slow is dull.

Which explains the continual reappearance of The Lady.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Midnight in The Garden of Good And Evil, he would have paid...


You won't miss much if you suck down a giant Coke and bail out to clear the pipes most anytime in the first two hours. Cranky would prefer to hit the "pause" button on the remote.

The pedigreed mansion referred to above was the home of songwriter Johnny Mercer, whose songs bookend the film. Dr. DeLouis Buzzard, Minerva's husband, was also the inspiration for the more raucous "Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Good-Time Orchestra," which released its own records back in the 1970s, but is absent from the film's soundtrack. Cranky thought you'd like to know.

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