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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Mary Kay Place,
Orson Bean, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich is one of the most bizarre films that Hollywood released in 1999. I'm not talking David Lynch bizarre, or something like the recent misfire Breakfast of Champions (the Bruce Willis/Nick Nolte interpretation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel), which was so out there in left field that you needed a decoder, translator and a scorecard to try to make sense of what was going on. No, I'm talking about the fascinating kind of bizarre where you sit in awe and think "wow" instead of shaking your head in frustration. Since I've already used up all my rights to this word in such a short time span, I will tell you what else this film is: highly original, inventive, daring, entertaining and exhausting. You're left wanting more, and, more importantly, you want to know which new direction the film will be taking you in.

The biggest travesty here is that no one went to see this ingenious Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman collaboration when it first was released in theaters (just in time for Oscar consideration). Moviegoers are always complaining about the same old kind of movie that the Tinseltown suits are churning out (or, better yet, rehashing) month after month.Malkovich is everything that the critics went on and on about and more. It's a refreshing eye opener to the crudeness that we hate to see and love to complain about. Since it's now out on home video, this is your chance to redeem yourself and pick up the exception to the all-too-usual moviegoing experience.

Kaufman's delicious screenplay (which picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination) revolves around poor Craig Schwartz (another seemingly effortless piece of terrific acting from versatile veteran John Cusack), a puppeteer, who not only is in desperate need of a good paying job, but an energy boost as well. This introverted guy is as glum as one can get. Nobody appreciates his artistry. His wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who works in a pet store (their home conveniently resembles Noah's Ark), has had it with Craig's down-in-the-dumps attitude and demands that her partner find some serious work.

Wouldn't you know it, but Craig (thanks to his nimble, little fingers) gets a job as a speed-filing clerk (I'm not kidding folks). His job is on the 7 1/2 floor of a huge office building where everyone has to carefully crouch down to do anything because there's only a few feet from the floor to the ceiling. Craig also has to put up with his horny, 100-year-old boss (a priceless Orson Bean) and his hard of hearing assistant (an equally effective Mary Kay Place). In addition, our hero wastes no time in falling for his sexy, vamp-of-a-coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener, in a well-deserved Oscar nominated turn), who is completely uninterested. Craig soon discovers, however, the one thing that might possibly catch Maxine's attention: Behind an immense cabinet in one of the offices, he finds a hidden door which leads one into the brain of accomplished actor John Malkovich, who should be awarded a special Oscar for taking this role and putting so much bite into it.

Maxine soon convinces Craig that he should actually charge people admission for this - about a cool $200 for a measly 15-minute visit into the existence of the Mice and Men star. She makes him realize that people would gladly give away stacks of their dead presidents in order to get a chance to be someone else (anyone else) even for a short time. Why not a famous actor in this case?

It doesn't take long for everyone to get in on the act, resulting in one of the most bizarre love triangles in the history of film. Craig immediately falls for the extremely confident, and extroverted Maxine. Lotte, who is experiencing a sexual identity crisis, also falls for her husband's sexually tempting coworker, who, in turn, actually likes and appreciates Lotte's advances. I better stop here before I start to spoil it for everyone.

Spike Jonze (who was best known before this gem simply as a director of music videos) offers up a film that is not only hilarious but also actually deep in meaning. Issues of self worth, self-identity and the price some are willing to pay to achieve fame and happiness at all costs are explored among others. Not everything here works, mostly because there are just so many things going on at once (some rather disturbing), but a good deal of kudos must go to the director and screenwriter for their relentless pursuit of keeping moviegoers on their toes, and to all the actors involved for making this insanity look fairly sane.

What other film can honestly boast about getting into the head of one of Hollywood's most gifted (and reclusive) actors? To see what he sees and feel what he feels for fifteen golden minutes at a time before being conveniently, and appropriately spit out on the New Jersey turnpike? Complex but brilliant stuff going on here. A movie that deals with the positives and negatives of trying to be someone else.

Being John Malkovich is the kind of film that purposely strays far, far away from the usual celluloid byproduct. This is exactly the reason it deserves a viewing and some redemption on home video.

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