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Jerry Welbach (Brad Pitt) is in some hot water, both with his girlfriend and with the mob. The mob boss (Gene Hackman) wants him to head to Mexico and brings back a very expensive pistol called “The Mexican” or else some very bad things will happen. Samantha (Roberts), his longtime girlfriend, wants him to get out of the racket, but with no real choice, he goes after the gun. Not long after, Samantha leaves him, saying she never wants to see him again, and is kidnapped by Leroy (James Gandolfini) for reasons that seem simple but are entirely not. While Jerry deals with an increasingly hectic string of mishaps and misfortunes that keep him one step away from possessing the pistol, Samantha learns a lot about Leroy and his motivations. Directed by Gore Verbinski, The Mexican is a comedy/road movie that didn’t quite win over audiences as the two charming stars spend nearly all of the movie apart, with Roberts and Gandolfini the focus of much of the plot. This is not a weakness however and is made up for by a savagely funny script by J. H. Wyman and two fantastic performances. Roberts is out of her wheelhouse but absolutely shines because of it. While the movie itself misses a few good opportunities and loses some steam, it is still great fun.
When corporate downsizing sees Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) lose his job, one he excelled at for years, he needs to pick up the pieces and find a new direction. He heads back to the local community college and in his public-speaking class, meets a collection of misfits and no-directioners as well. Their professor is also a bit of an oddball. Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) seems to have lost her passion for teaching and is half-hearted in her instruction, but that doesn’t stop eternally positive Larry from developing a big crush. It’s not long after when the students have turned Larry into a class mentor and friend, winning over the teacher as well. Roberts plays against type here, a worn-down professor with little appeal at first, swept up in the radiating charm of Larry. Directed by Hanks, Larry Crowne also didn’t win over critics or audiences with its somewhat tepid approach and predictable plot. That’s unfortunate as the story, while not full of major conflicts or drama, is purposefully breezy, giving us a little insight into two adult characters on very different paths. Roberts is very good as the love interest and holds her own in what could have been a very trope-ish role. Her transformation feels earned and is fun to watch. A light, highly satisfying film.
Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) is a man on the edge. Hyper-obsessive about many conspiracy theories, he prattles on and on about them, especially to his friend Alice (Roberts), whom he also secretly loves from afar. One day though, he is kidnapped by the CIA, led by a man named Doctor Jonas (Patrick Stewart), who uses LSD and torture to interrogate Fletcher about what he knows. Jerry manages to escape but ends up in a psych ward where he escapes again, pursued by Jonas and others. This cat and mouse continues and Alice, who is also searching for her father’s killer, becomes suspicious of what’s happening to her friend. Directed by Richard Donner, this quirky action/thriller is centered rightfully on Gibson, who is manically good as a man convinced the world is not what it seems, portraying the effects of a life soaked in mostly unprovable theories. As a result, Roberts gets a little lost in the proceedings, but her performance deserves a second look and perhaps if the script hadn’t tried so hard to make it a romance as well, she might have more to work with. As is, she is handles the supporting role very well, holding her own with Gibson. Check it out.
Roberts plays Sabrina Peterson, a new reporter at a Chicago newspaper assigned the same story as veteran journalist Peter Brackett (Nicke Nolte) from a competitor paper. They follow the story of a terrible train wreck that leads to a massive cover-up of a new growth hormone for cows that can produce more milk but also causes cancer to those who drink it. They are constantly at each other’s throat, scooping leads from one another as the story brings them further into trouble. Naturally, they begin to develop strong feelings, even though they continually try to out smart and stay ahead of the other. It’s all foreplay though. Directed by Charles Shyer, the plot is inconsequential, created only for the two leads to find their way to a predictable end, but there is a lot of fun in watching them argue their way to it. That fun is doubled by the ongoing and persistent rumors (real or otherwise) of the on-set dislike between the stars, which claim they did not get along. True or not, Roberts and Nolte are actually both very good and while there is some obvious tension between them on screen, as part of the story, it works. Maybe not for everyone, this one is still worth a look.
Four medical students begin experimenting with near-death experiences, stopping their hearts for a short time to try and gain insight into the phenomenon. What they learn is much more frightening as each begin to have terrifying waking nightmares of their past, reliving all the wrongs they have committed. As the flashbacks intensify, they go deeper, pushing themselves to find a way free of the hauntings. Directed by Joel Schumacher, this heavily stylized psychological drama is a product of its age, but works as a time capsule of the era. The young cast is a lot of fun with Roberts, in her first role after the enormously successful Pretty Woman, the only female lead. She easily steals the show and is gripping in the often thrilling moments of the ‘afterlife’, with Schumacher handling the tense action very well. While it gets repetitive as we see the same die-and-bring-them-back scenario escalate, the sets and production are appropriately gothic and dreary. A great slice of time gone by, this is a fun look back at Julia Roberts in a role you might have forgotten.