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On the Tube: Director Arau weighs down the wit of 'Magnificent Ambersons'

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

To paraphrase former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, "I admire Orson Welles' movies. Orson Welles is a favorite of mine and Alfonso Arau is no Orson Welles."

(But, then again, who is?)

The Welles connection is the apparent reason why A&E paid for this humorless, yet handsomely staged reworking of the Booth Tarkington novel "The Magnificent Ambersons" (8 p.m. Sunday), which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1918 and soon vanished from sight.

Welles' follow-up to "Citizen Kane" was his take on Tarkington, the 1942 project that sealed his fate as Hollywood poison. (It's a long story, but the studio cut and reworked Welles' film and fired him in the process.)

Director Arau ("Like Water For Chocolate") filmed this new version supposedly from Welles' screenplay, thus providing the rationale for this remake.

If that's true, then why is the modern "Ambersons" so leaden and dull where the original movie sparkled with fun and satire? Perhaps it's because Arau felt that "Ambersons" was really about incest rather than the death of small-town America.

For Tarkington, it was the automobile that destroyed the genteel society of his native Indiana as portrayed in the downfall of the Amberson clan, once the wealthiest family in a town much like Indianapolis.

Scion of the clan is Georgie Minafer, son of Wilbur and Isabel Amberson Minafer. As a young woman, Isabel decided to shun her true love, the frivolous Eugene Morgan, for the more respectable Wilbur.

Georgie gets his "comeuppance" as his family goes bankrupt while Morgan's automaking company prospers.

But, Arau suggests that Georgie's real problem is his unhealthy attachment to Mom. She reciprocates by spurning Morgan again on Georgie's insistence after her husband dies.

Morgan, also conveniently sans spouse, has a gorgeous daughter Georgie's age and that romance is ruined as well by those unhealthy passions.

As Georgie, Jonathan Rhys Meyers could not be more unattractive and one-dimensional. Even when he's run over by a car, it's impossible to care one whit.

In fact, his performance is largely why "Ambersons" is lifeless. His co-conspirator in dullness is Jennifer Tilly as his Aunt Fanny. She's fine as a pathetic whining gossip, but there's no other side to her character.

While indulging his fascination with Georgie and his mother, Arau lets the main theme of "Ambersons" slip away. In what remains of Welles' version, that theme is poignantly and sympathetically explored.

In this 21st-century take, it takes a back seat to Arau's Oedipal fantasies.

Rounding out the cast are Madeline Stowe as Isabel, Bruce Greenwood as Morgan, Gretchen Mol as his daughter, Lucy, and James Cromwell as Major Amberson.

"JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment"
(8 p.m. Sunday)

Not all experiments work. Everyone knows that. And soon everyone will know "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" is a failure.

A combination hidden camera and sketch comedy show, The WB's "JKX" tries hard, and Sunday night's first sketch is decent, but the rest crash and burn.

Kennedy, who had roles in the films "Scream" and "Three Kings," dons wigs and costumes to little comedic effect.

In a tape provided for review, one sketch features an unwitting studio audience that thinks it's watching the taping of an infomercial. The "Insta-Cooker" being sold goes on the fritz, injuring a "volunteer" from the audience, much to the dismay of the crowd. The bit goes on far too long and it's more pathetic than funny.

The first sketch on the tape is the best, but one funny scene does not make a show worth watching. In that segment, Kennedy dresses in a white tank top as a white rapper who is introduced by his "girlfriend" to her proper mother and sister, who are rightfully appalled.

The boyfriend declares he's representin' his hood, Malibu. He says his day's been dope.

"JKX" is just dopey.
(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

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