Good grief. What's wrong with me? I know what you're thinking. You glanced over to the right and saw some of the ratings I've given New York Minute and you're thinking I've lost my mind. I'm not ruling that out as a possibility. But I'd be shirking my duties as a purveyor of honest opinion if I didn't tell you that for much of the running time of this Mary-Kate and Ashley tween adventure I was laughing out loud. Sure, it's silly, immature fluff, but there I was, guffawing like an idiot.
I think it has to do with the loose, decidedly un-PC style that director Dennie Gordon (the genius behind such masterpieces as Joe Dirt) and her cadre of screenwriters bring to what is otherwise a typically formulaic story. While the basic plot is rote (two twins - one serious, one "punk" - spend a day getting into heaps of trouble and hijinks on their ways, respectively, to deliver a speech and attend a music video shoot) there are tons of flourishes and gags that deliver unexpected punch.
One major contributor to the off-kilter quality of the film is the great Andy Richter, formerly Conan O'Brien's sidekick and star of his own now-cancelled show, who really toes the line between what's acceptable and what's flat-out offensive. He plays the bumbling Number One Adopted Son of a stereotypical Chinatown dragon lady (Alannah Ong), but he speaks with an extremely exaggerated Chinese accent, which is revealed at one point to be a put-on even within the context of the movie. This Chinese version of pidgin English, possibly modeled on classic character actor James Hong, skips right past safe chopsocky clichés, sounding more like pre-PC Charlie Chan. It's almost unbelievable that a mainstream movie would be so blatant, but Richter sells the character and the stupid voice. Mind you, I'm putting his performance at the top of the plus column here. It's insane and insanely different from what you'd expect.
Other supporting cast members aren't as well served by their less bold characters: Eugene Levy's obsessed truancy officer is given little to do and is responsible for relatively few belly-laughs. He's left spinning his (admittedly very effective) wheels. Dr. Drew (of Loveline) plays the twins' dad but delivers a completely charisma-free performance. Andrea Martin has a few scenes as a senator and is good, but leaves little impact. Darrel Hammond, Saturday Night Live's excellent impressionist, gives a bland, joke-free performance as a guy who crosses paths with the girls throughout the day. And Jack Osbourne is just terrible (as could be expected) as the manager of the punk twin's band. It's hard to imagine that his dim stardom is enough to offset his zombie-like acting chops.
But the movie itself has its heart more in the Andy Richter vein anyway. From the giddy opening title shot (a really kinetic skyline zoom around and over much of Manhattan that actually feels very exciting) to the early scenes back at the girls' Long Island home, the movie has pep. Gordon infuses simple scenes with surprisingly deep in-jokes: She directs the set-up scenes with symmetric compositions and rhythmic editing to almost make it look like this is a typical 70's twin movie with one girl playing both roles, even though we all know that the Olsens are actual identical twins. Intended or not, that was already a detail that cracked me up. She also mocks the raincoat-wearing contingent in the Olsen's audience by having a giant snake slither into the shower while Mary-Kate or Ashley (I never figured out which is which) soaps herself up. A pretty surprisingly sexual image in a movie for little girls. Also, later on Ashley or Mary-Kate does end up completely naked (not shown, of course) but in a trash dumpster. Getting your mind out of the gutter never seemed so appropriate.
The film also takes some overly obvious set-ups and makes them work. Later in the film the girls visit Big Shirl's House of Bling up in Harlem, a scene that could have come from any Legally Blonde-type movie of late. But still there's something amusing about the film's need to break into a musical sequence - complete with costume changes and rump-shaking - when the girls are supposed to be in a huge hurry. Plus Mary Bond Davis has fun with the Big Shirl role.
Another obvious scene that plays out surprisingly sweet is the requisite moment when the girls start to realize they really care about each other. Following a maudlin scene where they argue about some boring family issues, the twins separate and wander through Times Square. Everything they see reminds them of why they should be as close as they were when they were young. It's manipulative schmaltz but the way the dialog-free shots and music combine actually makes it work. And it doesn't hurt that this sentimental moment is interrupted by Richter in all his mad glory.
I don't want to give the impression that the movie is perfect. It contains a long, unexciting car chase and a self-serving (if half-hearted) anti-piracy message. (Remember kids, Mary-Kate and Ashley say buying bootlegs is wrong!) Plus with virtually any modern kids movie like this, no matter how good it turns out you know the ending is going to suck. And this is no exception. All loose ends are tied up in implausible and completely boring ways, with everyone getting to date cute boys and go to London or whatever.
Usually a weak ending turns me off to a movie, even if I was enjoying it up until that point. But here that's not really the issue (although a smart, bold ending would have absolutely made the movie stand out) since the goal is to get Olsen-oholics to spend their parents' money. Rather, this battle was won once the filmmaker was able to inject her sassy sense of humor into the standard kiddie fare. The Olsens, to their credit, are game accomplices in the subverting of their own movie.
I have to say, the anamorphic transfer is one of the best I've seen in a while. The print is flawless, the image is crystal clear, and the colors are vibrant and bold. The transfer is razor sharp without giving the impression that any extra sharpness was added. In fact, I didn't really notice any flaws at all. Skin tones seem dead-on and the colorful costumes and production design really pop. Some locations - like Chinatown or Times Square - are so dense and crawling with detail that they can offer too much information sometimes. Not here. The picture is sharp enough to handle them with ease. Really an outstanding transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is nearly as good as the picture. Voices are clear, music is dynamic, and surrounds contain all sorts of street noise and other ambient effects. A fine effort, considering the nearly wall-to-wall pop music soundtrack that blends seamlessly with the dialog, never drowning it out. There is also a French DD 5.1 track as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The extras are actually surprisingly lame considering the care that went into the other technicals. There are two alternate endings (that are actually basically just the same ending, but taking place in different locations), a PR-minded behind the scenes short, some boring bloopers (line flubs, laughing etc...), a slideshow of set photos, and a trailer. There are also skippable trailers at the start of the disc.
Look, if you think you're going to hate this movie, there's still a good chance that you will. But fans of Andy Richter absolutely must give it a rent. Other than that, I can only suggest that if you're going to have to see it anyway (if your kids want to see it, for instance) then you might be in for a surprise. Usually I'm disappointed by movies that I had high hopes for, so it's nice to actually like something more than I expected. Granted, my expectations were in the toilet originally, but New York Minute won over this hardened, jaded critic.