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meet joe black
click here for full sized poster

Meet Joe Black

Starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani
Screenplay by Ron Osborne & Jeff Reno and Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman
Based on the play/film Death Takes A Holiday
Directed by Martin Brest
Website: www.meetjoeblack.com

IN SHORT: Chick Flick Royale.

How many times have I written of how much I hate the end of the year Oscar®-wannabe time? Of dreading the plethora of major star flicks that unspool, all of 'em meeting or beating the three hour. Well, I've done so again. When Cranky worked in the radio biz, we had a device in the studio nicknamed the "Donald Duck machine" because it allowed us to play a tape at double speed and shift the playback frequency down so that we could intelligently monitor the tape. A sixty minute show could be listened to in thirty minutes and so on. Would that there were such a device for the movies.

As his 65th birthday approaches, billionaire Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) is hearing voices in his head. Is he going crazy? Does he confide his concerns in his doctor daughter Susan (Claire Forlani)? No, he's more concerned with her passionless romance with his Number One, a corporate scum named Drew (Jake Weber). Bill wishes his daughter could reach out and grab Life -- "If you haven't tried, you haven't lived," he says. (Coming soon to a T-shirt near you). Bill heads off to the corporate stratosphere and a heart attack. As he doubles over in pain, does he call for help? Nope. Does he tell his doctor? Nope. Bill holds a most interesting conversation with the voices inside his head and heads off to a board meeting.

Susan, meanwhile, goes for breakfast, where lightning strikes in the form of a new in town lawyer, played by Brad Pitt. Despite the instant attraction, the pair never exchange names or numbers. Pitt's character is killed in a traffic accident, graphic and brutally shown full blast on screen. The audience Cranky sat with tittered nervously as the screen faded to black.

Thus begins Meet Joe Black, a project that producer/director Martin Brest says he's been working at for almost 20 years. Boy, does it feel like it. Would that we all could have died 10 minutes or so into this marathon of a flick, which moves with the speed of a glacier. Cranky's ex would have been more than happy to watch Brad Pitt for three hours. I, on the other hand, could've gone out for extra popcorn or a bathroom break and not have missed a thing.

Death, you see, has decided to experience Life. He grants a stay of execution to Parrish, choosing Bill to be his guide to all things interesting in the living world. Watching Pitt's performance as the Spirit that has never experienced any of the five senses, in human flesh, Cranky was reminded of an exercise from Acting 101: "Everything you encounter is new to you. Go!" It's the kind of exercise that is given to beginning students to teach them the meaning of overacting. In the hands of a good actor, like Pitt, it is a most interesting thing to watch. It is funny. It is enchanting. For the first hour or so.

Death has promised not to involve Bill's family in this exercise, but falls for Susan anyhow. That he is completely unschooled in the ways of love or seduction drives Susan absolutely bananas. Slowly, and I do mean slowly, they do the dance leading to the ultimate. Pitt's lip quivers during the love-making. Claire's eyes, Brad's too for that matter, get all moist and teary and kind of glazed over and the violins swell. And dontcha just know that she's going to say "It was like making love for the first time."


It's the director's job to maintain a good pace to a story, which Brest has not done. It's the writer's job to pen dialog that doesn't end with trailing ellipses, such as...

    "You're... Joe Black."

That Osborne & Reno churned out hundreds of dialog words per minute when they wrote television's Moonlighting doesn't factor into this script. The best actors in the world can't save it. The pauses and the slow pacing are deadly. At 1 hour 45 minutes in the guy sitting behind me turned and whispered to his date "I've seen Wagner operas that moved faster." At two hours in, when even Hopkins' character says "I'm ready to go," there's still an hour to go. By the time the sniffles started and the rustle of Kleenex was heard (above the swelling strings and high octave piano notes) there was barely a light at the end of the tunnel.

All the while in the background, elder daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) is planning Bill's most elaborate 65th birthday party. If you buy into the flick, the climax of the story is a final confrontation between Bill and Drew that is a corker. As an anti-climax, Bill's knowledge of his impending doom, and his farewells to his family, will have you burbling and sniffing. For Cranky, it was way too little, way too late.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Meet Joe Black, he would have paid . . .


In the three hours and one minutes it takes to get through Meet Joe Black start to finish, you could watch Death Takes A Holiday, the source material, twice.
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