Saving Summer: Bad Studio Movies Are Raining like 'Cats & Dogs.' Now It's Little Movies to the Rescue

Article excerpt

There's a real disadvantage in not being a teenager in the summertime. If you don't happen to be preoccupied with tomb raiding, street racing, mummification or talking animals, Hollywood doesn't want to know you. As far as it's concerned, you cease to exist about a dozen years after you hit puberty.

If "Scary Movie 2" and the cluttered, charmless "Cats & Dogs" are the best the studios can come up with for the Fourth of July, we're in big trouble. (You were hoping for another "Babe"? Think "Howard the Duck.") So what's a grown-up to do? Just say no. Hollywood isn't the only game in town--that is, if you happen to live in a big town. There are, it turns out, movie-producing countries across the sea where actual grown-ups appear in movies that are about something more than special effects. And even here in America there are still a few cranky independents who believe it's possible to make movies that bear more than a casual relationship with the real world.

One of the best of them, ironically, is about teenagers. Larry Clark's dark, disturbing "Bully" is inspired by a murder that took place in 1993 in Broward County, Fla. A group of white, middle-class kids killed one of their own, Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl), a teenage sadist who had been abusing his best friend, Marty (Brad Renfro), since they were children. Prodded on by his girlfriend (Rachel Miner) and joined by five other conspirators, the troubled Marty and his addled cohorts peer-pressure each other into an insane and grisly homicide. Only afterward does the reality of their act come crashing in on them.

Photographer turned director Clark became notorious with the sensationalistic "Kids." This movie is equally explicit and unsparing--it pulls no punches in its depiction of teen sexuality, drug use and a boredom so toxic it slides easily into evil. But it's a much better movie than "Kids." The young cast, which includes Bijou Phillips, Michael Pitt and Kelli Garner, is fearless in its honesty. The screenwriters, Zachary Long and Roger Pullis, have sharp ears for the way kids really talk. Clark has no interest in coddling the audience with Hollywood bromides; his movie reveals just how soft and formulaic the supposedly "real" "crazy/beautiful" is. Still, Clark is after more than voyeuristic shock. His superb eye gets the surface right, and before "Bully" is over he's gotten deep under the skin of these lost 16-year-old souls. They may be scary, but their warped humanity arouses our pity as well. Ferocious and sometimes creepily funny, "Bully" is a raunchy suburban "Crime and Punishment."

After such a fierce dose of reality, you'll be in need of a good laugh (if not a strong shot of vodka). Look no further than "The Closet," a clever social satire made by comic veteran Francis Veber ("The Toy," "The Dinner Game"). Daniel Auteuil stars as Francois Pignon, a drab accountant in a condom factory whose dullness has cost him his wife, his son and, any moment now, his job. On the verge of suicide, he is rescued by his neighbor (Michel Aumont), a former corporate psychologist who proposes a radical solution to Pignon's imminent firing. To save his job, the straight accountant must "out" himself as a homosexual. In the P.C. corporate climate of the condom factory, his gayness will guarantee job security.

It's a premise booby-trapped with un-P.C. dangers, almost all of which Veber merrily and astutely skirts. Though Auteuil is the same ordinary man, suddenly everyone is looking at him with new eyes. Funniest of all is Gerard Depardieu as the macho homophobe Felix, tricked by his enemies into courting Pignon with flowers and intimate dinners for fear of losing his job. …