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Monday, March 12, 2002

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

Panic Room

"The first rule of Panic Room is don't talk about Panic Room. The second rule of Panic Room is don't talk about Panic Room." In two lines, which differ only subtly from one another, Forest Whitaker sets a tone of casual menace that makes David Fincher's extraordinary new film Panic Room the best movie since Fincher's own Fightin' Club. I would like to point out that I won't be talking about Panic Room. I'll be writing about it :-).

I should start with something we writers call full exposure, which we do whenever we have a kind of conflict of interests that the readers should know about, and especially if we are naked at the time. There can be a variety of reasons. I actually went to see Panic Room because in the previews, I saw big buttery heaps of Ian Buchanan, the brilliant and handsome actor who played Duke on General Hospital, probably my favorite show, even after Luke murdered Laura with a sling blade. But it turns out, he's only in the movie for like five minutes, and he is not a very nice person. So I have kind of a grudge against the movie.

Still, Panic Room is a marvelous new thriller. It's about a young woman and her daughter who move into an expensive house in New York and, as is customary, are visited by murderous thieves on their first night there. It marks Fincher's return to the genre of edgy urban thriller, which he has returned to several other times, like in The Game and Seven Sins for Seven Brothers, his edgy urban thriller/musical, sort of like Cop Rock, except with more beheadings. The new film works for many reasons, which I will come to in a minute.

But first, Panic Room is one of those movies that is as famous for what went on behind the scenes as for what is on the screen. As many know, Fincher had wanted to have the part of Foster's daughter played by someone who looked a lot like her, so he had initially relied on computer special effects, using a digitized version of Foster herself, in the role that initially charmed America. That was when she played a young prostitute who convinced Robert DeNiro to grow a mohawk and to kill a pimp (Peter Boyle) in Martin Shortsese's movie Taxi Driver. The Jodie-Foster-then-and-now version of Panic Room might ultimately be available on DVD; it's hard to know. But what we do know is that shortly after seeing the Hollywood premiere, a crazed Robert DeNiro strolled onto the set of Everybody Loves Raymond and shot Peter Boyle four times, seriously wounding him. Fincher immediately went back to the drawing board and reshot scenes of Panic Room with America's favorite young actor, who he convinced to get a sex change operation. As a result, Haley Mills Osment gives the best performance of his/her life.

And he does this in the service of a great cause. Panic Room has a fiendishly complex plot. Foster and Osment have just moved into the house, and have to lock themselves into the "Panic Room" because thieves break in, though in a really crazy plot twist the thieves actually don't want Foster's unpacked boxes, but rather something in the Panic Room!!! This is the sort of thing that used to happen in O. Henry stories, like, what I really wanted for Christmas was a Panic Room, but what she (my imaginary girlfriend) really wants is something inside the Panic Room, so we're both s*** out of luck! Merry Christmas, anyway. Really, Christmas isn't about who gets the Panic Room, but actually about if we love each other. Some people tell me that my problem is that I love just a little too much. And too often!

There are lots of plot details that kind of flesh things out, though. For one, we don't really know what the thieves are looking for unless we were in the theater for the first ten minutes, when the realtors explained why it might not be such a hot idea to move into the house. Also, the thieves aren't what you would call a tight-knit bunch. One of them is black (Forest Whitaker), and the other two are white (Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam). And Yoakam's name is Raoul, which makes us wonder if he really is white after all. Does Raoul have something to hide? If not, why wear the mask?

Also, the Panic Room isn't as much fun to hang around in as you might think. The thieves try to figure out ways to get Foster and Osment out of the Panic Room, like sending them email messages that say "Get out of the Panic Room or we will kill you, and add 2 inches to your penis, guaranteed!" Foster is about to go to Columbia as a graduate student, and is too smart to fall for that!!! Oh, and there is a termite problem.

But what makes the movie isn't just the plot. The acting is great. Two-time Oscar winner (for Hannibal and Maverick) Jodie Foster is mesmerizing as the frightened mom. Forest Whitaker gives his best performance since he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Species, as famous jazzman Charlie "Species" Parker, who saved the world and changed music forever by beating to death an alien with an alto saxophone.

Most important, this is a great film about family values. As I have long argued, Jesus doesn't want single-parent families, which are an abomination. This movie is a perfect example. If there were a man like me with a shotgun or an AK-47 at the door, do you think robbers would try any funny business? Your husband break up with you to have sex with a younger woman? Well, lose some weight, make yourself presentable, and find a man to take care of you! Don't just rent an apartment or buy a house like, no problem, I can live my own life. What about the kids? They need a father figure!!!

In fact, my only other complaint about Panic Room is that Jodie Foster isn't as strict on family values in real life as she is in the movie. I heard she just got pregnant again -- and she's not even married!!! She can have any man she wants! Why doesn't she just settle down with one who can take care of her? Like Tom Cruise! I heard he's single, and he's also a two-time Oscar winner! Imagine the kind of kids they'd have!!!

Anyway, in spite of these problems, Panic Room is still the most exciting thriller in decades. I predict that next March, all the security in the world won't keep Fincher, Foster, and Whitaker away from their well-deserved Oscars, and Osment from becoming the first transsexual child star to win both Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress!!!!

On a scale of four or five stars, I give Panic Room four stars.


Earlier positive movie reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny