Rated R - Running Time: 1:52 - Released 10/29/99

I love movies that try something new. Once in a while one comes along that is so different, so off the wall, that the viewer is just blown away; such is the case with Being John Malkovich. This is the first feature film project of Spike Jonze, who is best known for directing Beastie Boys videos, and also had a part in this summer's Three Kings. It was written by Charlie Kaufman, also on his first foray into film production. His script is so out there, such an acid-trip of a story, it holds our attention from the standpoint of mere incredulity, if nothing else.

Even with a great script and insightful direction, though, a film must have actors that can handle the content. John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and, of course, Malkovich, are all absolutely excellent, following Jonze's clever angle of giving incredible realism to a surreal story. The result is a film like Terry Gilliam's Brazil or David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. Incomprehensible, and therefore riveting.

Although the plot almost defies intelligent explanation, it involves an out-of-work puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (Cusack) who discovers a tiny door at his workplace. When he crawls into the tunnel leading from the door, he soon discovers that he is looking at the world from inside the head of — you guessed it — actor John Malkovich. When he lets his wife Lotte (Diaz) try it, she feels so at one with Malkovich that she thinks she was meant to be a man. Craig's co-worker, Maxine (Keener) is not interested in trying it, but she takes out an ad, selling 15 minutes of Malkovich to anyone interested in "being someone else," for a tidy sum of $200 each. She also calls Malkovich and, with Lotte and/or Craig inside his brain, seduces him. Soon they have an eerily sexy love triangle with the confused actor in the middle.

Just when you think this movie can't get any stranger, it does. And then it does again. In a bizarre twist, the title actor puts forth a performance as himself, with other characters inside him. It is a testament to his confidence (or maybe it's just weird) that Malkovich allows himself to be portrayed in this way, being puppeteered by others, as if he lacks the control of his own destiny. It's not exactly a flattering part; I can just imagine his reaction when Jonze called him about the role. "You want me to do what, now?"

Cameron Diaz is incredible in this movie; you won't recognize her (in part because her trademark blonde hair is replaced by a shaggy brown wig). Cusack's part is unlike any other I've seen him in, and he too is superb. His pathetic portrayal of Craig is at once longing and loving and bursting with frustration. Keener is so sexy, and yet so full of hostility and biting cynicism. She represents everything about women that is painfully desirable and yet inaccessible to men. And Malkovich, well — his part is so surreal, and he plays it with such honesty, it makes us uncomfortable to watch. And yet we are compelled. The cast is rounded out by Orson Bean and Mary Kay Place, and others, also excellent in some really strange supporting roles.

I highly recommend being John Malkovich. And if you can't do it, at least see the film. *****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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