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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Adaptation

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep
Director: Spike Jonze
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

The creative team that brought us the wild and wonderful BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, are back again to mess with our minds and tickle our funny bones in ADAPTATION. This time Charlie shares writing credits with his twin brother Donald, who makes what might be called ethereal contributions to the script. The Kaufmans write themselves into their movie with a terrific Nicolas Cage playing both characters.

In ADAPTATION, Charlie is a painfully shy guy with a huge writing block. He sweats bricks, as he tries to adapt the unadaptable, the non-fiction book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) about an orchid hunter named John Laroche (Chris Cooper). It's all poetic images with no creative tension and few character changes -- not the type of material that screenwriters like to work with.

ADAPTATION is a deft and hilarious blend of fiction, reality -- there really is a book by Susan Orlean titled "The Orchid Thief" -- and movies -- we go on the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. The labyrinth of a plot has a lyrical gem at its center as we go into the world that Susan captures in her book. This part in turn spills over into Charlie and Donald's lives. Like an Escher print, these two storylines twist into and out of each other in such a fascinating way that we're never sorry where the plot has taken us at the moment.

Charlie, whose dreams are passionate and erotic, has trouble when it comes to real life dating and writing. In contrast, his goofball brother Donald is the king of the sleazy scripts, full of serial killers and multiple personalities. He even incorporates the trashy suggestions that Charlie feeds him as a joke. Money, women and words are naturally attracted to Donald.

Meanwhile, Susan and John are forming a strange bond. They couldn't be more different. She's a well-off and sophisticated writer at the New Yorker, and he's a poor, good ol' boy whose signature feature is his three missing front teeth. Although Susan is interviewing him about his time as a orchid hunter, he is actually a serial passionist. Before orchids his passion was fish, and now he's trying to make a killing selling Internet porn.

When the two stories finally collide full force in the cataclysmic conclusion, the result isn't pretty. The over-the-top ending that the Kaufmans come up with is the story's only dud. But as you leave the theater, it's hard to resist the thought that the awful ending was intentional. It was a wacky bit of self-deprecating humor, poking fun at their own screenwriting abilities.

ADAPTATION runs 1:54. It is rated R for "language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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