Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Tracie Thoms, Sarah Silverman
Written by: Steve Chbosky, based on the play by Jonathan Larson
Directed by: Chris Columbus
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for some strong language
Running Time: 135
Date: 11/23/2005

Rent (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

That Thing You Due

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Certainly the issues surrounding AIDS have not dated, but Rent, which was set in 1989 and 1990, already seems like a show from another era. For the new film version, director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter 1-2) has attempted to solve that dilemma by making it into a period piece. Unfortunately, he also casts six members from the original Broadway cast to play a group of twentysomething artists, lovers and junkies. What may have worked back then seems odd now that they're pushing 40.

Moreover, certain characters are just pathetic, notably the Bon Jovi-like singer/songwriter (Adam Pascal) who moons about writing a great song, while everyone around him is constantly singing perfectly good tunes, and the filmmaker (Anthony Rapp) who moons about making an important film and finally comes up with nothing more than a clip reel showing off his friends at parties. (Not much audience for that.)

Still, Columbus is a passionate fan, and he lets his enthusiasm roam free from time to time. The opening sequence dazzles, with our eight lead characters simply standing on a stage, each in his or her own spotlight. Columbus lets his camera swoop through the second number, capturing the strange, gritty artificiality of his New York sets. Best of all is Rosario Dawson, new to the role of Mimi Marquez, belting out a howling version of "Out Tonight" accompanied by a PG-13 striptease. While the other performers may be tired, Dawson brings new fury to the story.

But besides these soaring, grand slam sequences, the film dips too often into thudding melancholy, lifeless numbers or dangling subplots (such as the trip to Santa Fe). And though Columbus has trimmed the three-hour play to a mere 135 minutes, the film still loses its pace and feels too long.

Rent has its legion of passionate, fiercely devoted fans, especially given the tragic tale of creator Jonathan Larson, who died the night of the final dress rehearsal and never saw his success realized. Those fans may enjoy this film, but ultimately, the new Rent movie is too joyless and too calculated to have much life of its own.

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