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Brother, What a Mess

If Cameron Diaz knows what's good for her, she'll settle down with a nice, stable insurance salesman in rural South Dakota, have five kids and vote Republican forevermore. Hey, it could happen.

For now, though, the spectacular blonde who helped transform Jim Carrey from geeky bank clerk to strutting superstud in The Mask seems to have a little problem with her love life--at least on the screen. In a pair of new movies by independent directors on the make, Diaz installs her steamy self in the middle of two separate sibling rivalries and torments a grand total of four feuding brothers with her considerable allure. Talk about typecasting. The next time some budding auteur decides to take a crack at Dostoevsky, he'll likely recruit Diaz to stir up trouble among the Karamazov boys.

She's the One is the second film by New York's Edward Burns, who picked up a raft of awards and a ton of critical praise last year for The Brothers McMullen. The prototypical "nice little movie" (it was made for $25,000) and another inspiration for struggling indies everywhere, McMullen deftly explored brotherly love and brotherly antagonism, romantic confusion and career ambition in a working-class Irish-American family bewildered by life in the Nineties. The rough charms and unpretentious wit of the picture captivated audiences, and Burns (who also starred as the hippest of the three McMullens) was hailed as a major new talent.

Unfortunately, he doesn't advance very far in his new effort.
Give the man credit for sticking to a world he knows, but charge him with a venial sin for repeating himself without shame. Like the McMullens, She's the One's Fitzpatrick family features a self-absorbed yuppie achiever (Mike McGlone's Francis) who's cheating on his wife, and a wisecracking yet oft-maligned slacker brother who's still "finding himself." The tentacles of the Catholic church still have some hold on the boys (reduced from three to two in the new movie), their traditionalist parents are still handing out bad advice with good intentions, and now and then they still can be found down at the corner bar, drinking Guinness Stout.

Most prominently, though "the Fighting Fitzpatricks"--an all-too-accurate moniker that has been ritualized as the name of the family fishing boat--are, like the McMullens, baffled by the women in their lives. This time around, even the boys' loving but misguided father, a stubborn Brooklynite played by grizzled John Mahoney, fails to understand his own wife of 35 years.

Otherwise, the vain, preening Francis is ignoring his own long-suffering spouse, Rene (Jennifer Aniston), while carrying on a secret affair with an ambitious stockbroker named Heather (the aforementioned Diaz). She also happens to be his own brother's ex-fiancee, as well as a young woman who put herself through college working as a call girl.

The wiseass brother, Mickey (Burns himself), as impetuous and "romantic" as Francis is plodding, is marking time driving a New York cab. Two days after he gets talking in the car with Hope (Maxine Bahns), a lovely young graduate student on her way to Kennedy Airport, he marries her. They are strangers in the night, grappling toward a relationship.

If all of this sounds awfully familiar, you probably saw The Brothers McMullen. But even for those who didn't, the seriocomic saga of the "fighting Fitzpatricks"--with its internecine betrayals, dinner-table wisecracks, runaway testosterone and agonies of finally growing up--gives off a certain weariness. Edward Burns has already visited the kitchen, and the inability to add any new ingredients to his kind of Irish stew seems to have taken a toll on him. Let's hope that this talented moviemaker, who has the stuff to become the most interesting "New York director" since Woody Allen--moves onward and outward with his next project. This one feels like a sophomore slump.

As for the pouty, cunning Diaz, our unexpected dramatic glue this week, she all but steals the show as slick Heather, a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Even if that means driving a wedge between Fitzpatricks through the ancient device of a gift proffered, withdrawn and given to someone else. This is as far as irony gets in Edward Burns's world, but in its way, that's far enough. This time, anyway.

On the other hand, Steven Baigelman's Feeling Minnesota signals another outbreak of Tarantino's Syndrome. By now, most Americans who go to the movies regularly are familiar with the symptoms: an obsession with blunt violence sheathed in hip disregard for the consequences; dialogue so obliquely "postmodern" that an exchange between hitmen about how Europeans refer to a Big Mac becomes a minor cult in itself; sneering nihilism elevated to high art.

Quentin T. can usually pull these ploys off: The perpetrators of bad imitations like Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead and the present Mr. Baigelman have a much harder time.

To cases. Up in cold, gray, dirty St. Paul (a general milieu better used by the Coen brothers in Fargo), a glowering slattern named Freddie (who else but the ubiquitous Ms. Diaz?) has been stuffed by thugs into a smudged white wedding dress in advance of her gloomy nuptials to a minor, none-too-bright crook named Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio). This is something less than an arranged marriage: A larger crook named Red (Delroy Lindo) thinks he's caught the well-worn Freddie with her hand in the till, and her punishment is life ever after with Sam, the lunky company "accountant."

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