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Review: 'Excess Baggage' is 'Clueless' with a bad attitude

filmstrip August 31, 1997
Web posted at: 9:16 p.m. EDT (0116 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Two years ago, Alicia Silverstone surprised a lot of people by advancing beyond her status as a blip on the pop cultural radar screen (courtesy of her over-sexed appearances in a couple of Aerosmith videos) to become what can only be called a larger blip, courtesy of her appearance in the hit movie "Clueless."

"Clueless" was fine, I guess, as far as it goes. I, like everyone else, thought Silverstone was just adorable running around a Beverly Hills high school in designer dresses, making doe eyes at the boys, and pouting like a spit-shined Lolita, but that was about it. It certainly didn't occur to me that this tantalizing teeny-bopper was a hot new talent whose visionary grasp of the vagaries of adolescent angst called for a production deal and creative control over her future projects.

That, and the fact that I couldn't stand to live on a different coast than my mother, is the reason I don't run a movie studio. Silverstone got her production deal all right, which means that she gets to choose a script, cast the movie, pick a director, and generally develop the project as it lurches Frankenstein-like toward the screen.

Drum roll, please: The barely anticipated opening salvo of this Hollywood-style anointment is "Excess Baggage," a movie that, pound-for-pound, is (surprise!) about as unwatchable as this kind of thing can get. And that's pretty unwatchable. This is one pointless, poorly paced little movie, more a reason to gawk at Silverstone as she throws hissy fits in a skin-tight camouflage shirt than anything else.

The story, such as it is, concerns a spoiled rich girl (that's our Alicia, only this time around she's smoking like a fiend and wearing twice as much eyeliner), who fakes her own kidnapping in order to get some attention from her crooked, business-obsessed father, played by Jack Thompson (whose Australian accent is several million miles removed from Silverstone's Encino Mall-based cadence).

Make no mistake about it, this kid knows how to stage a kidnapping. As the film opens, she calls in a ransom demand (using a device to, like, disguise her, you know, voice), tapes her own mouth up, tapes her legs together (which wouldn't have been a bad idea for the character Silverstone played in those Aerosmith videos), puts on handcuffs, and climbs into the trunk of her car as she awaits her father and the police.

What she doesn't count on is that the car will be stolen before anyone gets there, by a "cute" professional car thief played by Benicio Del Toro. Imagine that! What I didn't count on, however, was that Del Toro would manage to give the lousiest, most ludicrously over-mannered performance so far this year.

vxtreme Excess Baggage movie trailer

From what I can figure, Del Toro is channeling James Dean while trying to shake off a massive overdose of Unisom. He's got the whole inwardly directed Dean trip going -- slump-shouldered, mush-mouthed, and more or less erratically cognizant. His scenes with Silverstone, which are supposed to slowly build up steam until that golden moment when they just can't stand it anymore and get all kissy, are staged as an ongoing argument between the cutest girl in class and the would-be jock who's sniffed too much glue to make the team.

To top it all off, Silverstone seems inexplicably intent on dispensing with any of the charm that made her so appealing in "Clueless." Instead, she punches and scratches Del Toro endlessly ... that is, when she isn't shooting off her adorable little mouth. "Nobody loves me" verbal tirades are the norm, mixed with the occasional nod toward Del Toro's existence. (Del Toro just occasionally nods. Or chews on his cuticles.)

Clip from the movie "Excess Baggage"
video icon 1.4 MB/36 sec. QuickTime movie

Oddly enough, Silverstone and Del Toro reminded me of these two soulless dancers I used to laugh at when my grandmother watched "The Lawrence Welk Show" (I think they were called Bobby and Sissy. They had to be called Bobby and Sissy.) Like those dancers, Silverstone and Del Toro are supposedly working in tandem with each other, but neither of them ever seems to register that the other one is actually walking the earth. I wish I could sugar-coat it somehow, but Silverstone and Del Toro plain old stink.

Christopher Walken is also on hand as Silverstone's loving, but bizarrely intimidating uncle. By now, Walken should just go ahead and have "bizarrely intimidating" stamped on his forehead. He's a great actor given the proper role, but his intense, bug-eyed gaze makes him look like he's got surgical clamps perpetually holding his facial skin back, as if a drill sergeant is about to bounce a quarter off his kisser and check for proper hospital corners. To top it all off, he hisses his dialogue as if everything he says is the secret password to the mummy's tomb. I don't know what movie he thought he was in, but it sure wasn't the one I was watching.

Next.

"Excess Baggage" is a real drag. No one is very nice, and Silverstone smokes and drinks like Jackie Gleason throughout. Teen-age boys will love it, for all the wrong reasons. PG-13. 101 minutes.

 
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