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Being John Malkovich   A-

USA Films

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, John Malkovich.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

To say that Being John Malkovich is one of the most original movies of 1999 would be a drastic understatement. It's one of the most insane, wildly funny, and excitingly creative movies that has popped up in recent years.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a hapless puppeteer who finds a job as a file clerk on the 7 1/2 floor of a Manhattan building. He develops an immediate infatuation with a devilishly sexy coworker named Maxine (Catherine Keener), but she tells Craig, "Even if you did get me, you wouldn't know what to do with me." But Craig keeps on trying, even though he already has a wife named Lotte (played by an almost unrecognizably unattractive Cameron Diaz).

One day at the office, though, Craig discovers a small doorway behind a file cabinet and gets down on his knees and crawls inside. The door slams shut behind him and he's whisked down a dark tunnel into... the mind of John Malkovich. For a span of 15 minutes, Craig sees everything through John Malkovich's eyes (eating breakfast while reading The Wall Street Journal, talking to a cab driver who insists that Malkovich was great as that jewel thief in that one movie, even though Malkovich says he has never played one before). After that, Craig is spit out onto the New Jersey turnpike.

Anyway, Craig and Maxine go into business together and start charging people $200 a pop to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes at a time. Before long, however, John Malkovich himself finds out what's going on and (gasp!) enters his own portal. I won't give away what happens, but I will say that it leads to a scene that is at once laugh-out-loud hilarious and strangely disturbing.

I've only hinted at some of things that happen in this roller-coaster puzzle-box of a movie. There are more surprises in store that I wouldn't dare give away, and right when you think the movie couldn't make any more unexpected twists, it does. From the haunting beauty of Craig's puppet shows to the hilarity of Lotte having sex with Maxine through John Malkovich's body, this movie rips to shreds all the boring conventions of typical Hollywood cinema. I also have to give props to Being John Malkovich for going down in the books as the first movie ever to feature a cathartic flashback from the point of view of a chimp.

Being John Malkovich is directed by veteran music video director Spike Jonze. With this film, working from a truly clever script by Charlie Kaufman, Jonze traps us in a movie reality unlike any we've ever experienced. He has the uncanny ability to make things seem at once unrelentingly funny and kinda creepy. It's not for all tastes, that's for sure. But for those of you who are tired of all the generic formula movies Hollywood usually spits out, Being John Malkovich is a truly refreshing change of pace.

Review published 05.05.2000.

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