The movie-star business continues to be rough on women, as two new straight-to-video releases demonstrate this month.
Both were screened at the Seattle International Film Festival a few months ago. Neither stirred much interest, despite the presence of a couple of marquee names, Harvey Keitel and Sissy Spacek."The Young Americans" is a wide-screen British thriller in which Keitel plays a tough L.A. cop pursuing drug traffickers in London's East End. While its British star, Craig Kelly, makes an impression as a well-motivated young informer, the script is a routine affair with few surprises.
Yet it's the kind of mistake that will bounce right off the busy Keitel, who could probably afford to make a dozen flops at this stage. It arrives in the same year as his attention-getting performances in two Cannes prize winners, "The Piano" and "Pulp Fiction."
Unfortunately, Spacek's movie, "Trading Mom" (due Sept. 28), is the latest in a string of pictures that haven't clicked for the underemployed actress, one of the most respected and popular stars of the 1970s and 1980s. Her last high-profile role was the perfunctory part of Kevin Costner's worried wife in "JFK." This time she plays a single mother whose three children (including the star of the "My Girl" movies, Anna Chlumsky) want to trade her in for another.
The fantasy script, based on a 1966 story, "The Mommy Market," takes off when their neighbor (Maureen Stapleton), introduces the kids to a mall where they can pick the specialty mother of their choice. Spacek plays three of them: a rich Frenchwoman, a Russian circus performer and a relentlessly happy camper who especially likes pitching tents in the rain. Most reviews were tepid, but one critic felt that it's "worth seeing for Chlumsky and Spacek's terrific chemistry."
Keitel is 53. Spacek is only 44. She's won an Oscar (for "Coal Miner's Daughter"); he's been nominated for one (for "Bugsy"). But while middle age agrees with him - the roles keep on coming - it's done nothing for her career. The same could be said of Faye Dunaway, Jill Clayburgh and several other once-prominent actresses who now face the direct-to-video route.
Also headed for video:
- "Sleeping With Strangers." Adrienne Shelly, star of Hal Hartley's "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth," turns up in this R-rated comedy about a drunken rock star and a Hollywood movie goddess who invade a British Columbia village.
- "Fly by Night." Ron Brice, who has a key role in the prize-winning "Fresh," stars in this story of young rappers trying to make it in New York. The script is by Todd Graff, the once-hot screenwriter of "Angie" and "Used People."
- "Beyond the Law." Charlie Sheen stars in this fact-based thriller, which marks the director debut of screenwriter Larry Ferguson ("Beverly Hills Cop II," "The Presidio"). Sheen plays a rebellious policeman who goes undercover as a biker; Michael Madsen is the head of a dangerous bike gang. Linda Fiorentino and Rip Torn are also in the cast.
- "Eyes of the Serpent." Erotic sword-and-sorcery adventure about two sisters who vie for control of a pair of magic swords. Available in R-rated and unrated versions, it stars Diana Frank and Lenore Andriel.
- "Fatal Past." Supernatural thriller about an underworld bodyguard (Costas Mandylor) who is hired to watch over the mistress of a shady entrepreneur and becomes her lover. They discover they've been reliving their fate in a previous life.
- "Backstreet Justice." Detective story starring Linda Kozlowski, John Shea, Paul Sorvino and Hector Elizondo.
- "Final Mission." Corbin Bernsen and Steve Railsback co-star in this R-rated story about a special unit of the Air Force that uses "virtual reality" in their F-16 jet fighters.
- "Silk 'n' Sabotage." Comedy about computer-game theft, starring Playboy magazine models Cherilyn Shea and Stephanie Champlin. Available in an R-rated version and an unrated edition that's three minutes longer.
- "Dancing With Danger." Mystery starring Ed Marinaro as a private eye who has an affair with a dancer (Cheryl Ladd).
- "Past Tense." Crime drama starring Scott Glenn as a mystery writer whose new neighbor (Lara Flynn Boyle) is murdered. Anthony LaPaglia is his partner. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, who made "Platoon" and "The Fugitive."