September 26, 2023

Reiner’s ‘Story of Us’ trite> Relationship analysis, stereotypes kill film

“The Story of Us” Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Jessie Nelson and Alan Zweibel. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated R.

Rob Reiner’s “The Story of Us” is so removed from reality, so undermined by Hollywood’s idea of what marriage needs to be in order to score a hit at the box office, and so misguided on so many levels, it feels more like “The Story of Two Aliens.”

It features two bitter, bickering stereotypes who are meant to represent a realistic married couple, but they don’t. Not once. And that’s because Reiner can’t let go of the past or his commercial leanings to tell the truth about marriage. Instead, he’d rather make a buck off marriage by giving audiences exactly what they already know — yes, marriage can be difficult — while hauling in comedic elements that blatantly recall his film, “When Harry Met Sally.”

In a nutshell, the plot: Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer are Ben and Katie Jordan, a couple whose 15-year marriage isn’t exactly what it used to be. How did it use to be? Reiner answers with a neverending barrage of flashbacks that clog the already trite script with moments so falsely warm and fuzzy, they’re almost as embarrassing as Willis’ ridiculous wig. Almost.

But even worse than that wig are the pseudophilosophical thoughts and ideas about marriage that Reiner and his screenwriters toss in like miniature bits of Dr. Ruth. Does anyone really want to hear Reiner, who also appears in the film, compare relationships to a person’s rear end? Perhaps. But the metaphor doesn’t work — and neither does this movie.

Grade: D

On Video “eXistenZ” Written and directed by David Cronenberg. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R.

Think of David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” as “The Matrix” crossed with Cronenberg’s third film, “The Brood” (1979). It follows a group of people who leave reality through their bioports, which are connected directly to their nervous system through an UmbyCord, a twisty, curly bit of twisty-curly that is very much like an umbilical cord, only not quite.

The cord, you see, isn’t connected to one’s mother, but to a kind of virtual-reality video game that sends this avant-garde group straight to the hypnotic edges of unconsciousness — and beyond.

Cronenberg, who directed “The Fly,” “Dead Ringers” and “Crash,” hasn’t lost his flair for the bizarre; if anything, the director seems to be courting it with his decision to cast the always bizarre Jennifer Jason Leigh as Allegra, a video game “demoness” who has created a game that’s so dangerous, it might cost her her life.

Richly atmospheric and at times truly hallucinatory, “eXistenZ” has Dickensian undertones and gore to spare, but Cronenberg’s pretentious dialogue is too arch and silly to be taken seriously; indeed, it works against a film whose emotional plane is already too lofty to chill.

Grade: B-

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear each Monday and Thursday in the NEWS, each Tuesday and Thursday on WLBZ’s “News Center 5:30 Today” and “News Center Tonight,” and each Saturday and Sunday on WCSH-TV’s statewide “Morning Report.”

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