Film >18th century fox
The Orlando film market has been host to all manner of weirdness before. Just in the last year, I’m reminded of the epic tales that emerged from a sloshed-college-kids-only preview of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, not to mention several ill-fated test-market runs of Christian parable flicks and a memorable night with a (rumored) drunken and confused Seymour Cassel.
All of which seem like blips on the radar next to the truly absurd story behind this week’s opening of Crazy Like a Fox, a 2004 film that played to a couple of festivals years ago, then dangerously excised the most neutral sentences of its almost completely negative reviews and spun them into blurbs of praise and finally plopped out on DVD a couple years back. Why now?
The answer can be found in the film’s basic setup, a ludicrously pat North vs. South modern warfare premise that positions an old coot (played with desperation by British Shakespearean veteran Roger Rees) whose 700-acre patch of Virginian land is being seized upon by unfeeling big-city Northerners named the Shermans. You read that right: the Shermans. The Shermans are willing to pay millions to raze the farmer’s Revolutionary War-era home in favor of vague-but-evil “development.” The farmer, Nat Banks, goes crazy, dresses up in a Confederate general’s garb and drags his family into a squatting protest. Eventually, the town gets behind wacky Nat and, when the Unioners take him to court, they’re met with resistance by a hilariously unethical judge who’s somehow related to Nat and flaunts his conflict of interest right in those Northerners’ moisturized faces.
Of course there’s a loose parallel here to today’s economic downturn, which has caused thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners to rediscover the joys of squatting just before the police smash in their doors. Fox director Richard Squires has decided to seize upon our moment of national heartache and cynically re-release his pabulum using Orlando as a test market. Lucky us!
Besides the camp factor of the film’s outrageously static cinematography and its contemptuous portrayal of “big-city folk,” Fox is perhaps most notable for its pretensions of nobility that shroud its down-home naivety. “Farming’s not a business,” says Nat, “it’s a way of life.” (Archer! Daniels! Stop rolling around on the floor laughing!)
Here’s another: “I know my rights, goddamn it!” exclaims an exasperated Sherman. “All you bullshit lawyers do!” responds the judge, who must truly hate his job where he’s surrounded by bullshit lawyers and their bullshit law-spouting all day long.
At the risk of Squires taking his rose-colored scissors to this review as well, some semblance of defense of the actors is in order. Rees, though he can’t shake his English accent all the way, is always watchable, even in his worst of times, and two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell (Passion Fish, Dances with Wolves) looks like she knows she’s in a stinker and puts on a brave face anyway. But with its South-baiting, simplistic script and clunky direction, Crazy Like a Fox deserves to be evicted.