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(1998) (Robin Tunney, Henry Thomas) (R)

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Drama: A wayward shoplifter and a woman suffering from Tourette's syndrome, who've just met each other, set off on a road trip filled with uncertainty regarding their future individually and together.
Marcy (ROBIN TUNNEY) is a young woman suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, a condition that causes uncontrollable tics, violent outbursts, and unintentional profanity. Seth (HENRY THOMAS) is a wayward shoplifter and the two meet in the middle of their latest, discreet heists. Although from different backgrounds -- she from a rich family, and he living with his hermit-like father -- the two immediately bond. They then set off in search of a rare doll for Marcy, a trip that leads them toward Canada. Along the way, however, they make several unsuccessful attempts to attain medication that will help moderate her condition.

While breaking into and robbing a pharmacy at night, an angry pharmacist (STEPHEN LANG) shoots and wounds Seth. Now wanted by the police, Seth and Marcy drink more whiskey, take more pills and are then confronted by Walter (MICHAEL PARKS), a widower who inexplicably takes them in. As Marcy's condition worsens without the proper medication, it's only a matter of time before she causes a violent confrontation that will settle their individual and collective future.

It's not very likely unless they're fans of Thomas (the grown up actor who previously starred in "E.T.") or Tunney ("The Craft").
For violence, sexuality, substance abuse and strong language.
Considering the main character's behavior (shoplifting, drinking, pill popping, etc...), it's doubtful many parents would consider them as good role models.


OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Unlike the waters that flow over the mighty Niagara falls that bookend this feature, "Niagara, Niagara" haphazardly meanders instead of flowing in a logical manner, plods when it should be moving at a steady clip, and is anything but dramatically majestic. While it feels like it wants to be something important, it's a hodgepodge of ideas and its execution is certainly nothing special.

Much of that can be attributed to first-time director Bob Gosse and fellow novice screenwriter Matthew Weiss. While they've got some interesting material -- including a character afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome and two main characters who are disengaged from society -- the film is a maddening, meandering mess. Events come and go without apparent reasons, and character motivations are absent or at best incomprehensible.

While the idea of these "lost souls" is interesting, we know next to nothing about either of the lead characters, or anything about the people they encounter. I assume we're supposed to immediately care for them by default due to their problems, but that compassionate feeling simply never develops. We constantly watch from a distance and never connect with them.

With as much time as this "couple" spends on the run, it would have been easy to interject some scenes to let us into the characters' lives. Instead, all we get are some odd dental references -- her mom is always off going to the dentist, while his dad had some teeth knocked out years ago by a belligerent cop. What we're supposed to make out of that, or other scant bits of information is never known, and consequently the film comes off feeling rather empty.

Nor do we know anything about a pharmacist who figures semi-prominently in the story, or much about Walter, the widowed farmer/junkyard owner. We never learn why he aims his gun at Seth and Marcy when first seeing them on the road, nor why he then suddenly takes them in like two lost puppies who need a home. It's a maddening experience not to have any of these matters answered, and it constantly leaves the viewer in an irritated state.

Fortunately -- or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your view of things -- the performances from the leads are interesting enough to hold your interest despite never really getting to know them. Robin Tunney ("The Craft") delivers a compelling and equally disturbing take on a person afflicted with Tourette's syndrome, but her character becomes quite annoying during the course of the film.

Granted, that's the way she's supposed to play her, and she is afflicted with a socially debilitating condition, but all of that doesn't help. Since we don't know enough about her to really care, she just becomes an irritant. For instance, Marcy is constantly fascinated with guns, and often tries to grab them from other people. Yet we don't know if this is simply an obsessive act (probably) or an unconscious or even conscious death wish -- a desperate way out of her condition (less likely, but more provocative). Even so, it's a powerful performance (that won her a best actress award at last year's Venice Film Festival), but it's just too bad we don't really care that much about her. (In fact, when a certain something happens to her during the film, a fellow critic loudly exclaimed, "Thank God!" He obviously really didn't care about her).

Henry Thomas ("E.T.," "The Suicide Kings") also delivers a decent performance, but like Tunney, he inhabits a character about whom we know very little, and thus never care about either, all of which hurts the film. The rest of the limited performances come off the same way -- all of these people are strangers to us and thus we're never able to really get involved in the film.

The other problem is that the plot just meanders about without ever having any real direction, and some of the characters' actions are equally bizarre and never explained. Although that, when coupled with the lack of identification with the characters, serves to constantly keep the audience off balance, it's never certain whether that's intentionally done, or is just a byproduct of freshmen at the helm who had some good ideas, but weren't quite sure how to properly execute them. For instance, after catching a fish for their breakfast, Walter slaps it against Seth's face and says, "I hit you with this fish...now you're a better man." Seth then replies, "Now I feel like a better man." Huh?!?!

Despite all of its problems, the topic that will bring this film to the forefront will be its inclusion of a character afflicted with Tourette's. While that's certainly an interesting subject to explore in a film, this isn't the best one. Used more like a side-condition than a major topic -- much like alcoholism or cancer -- the film fortunately doesn't go for the comic approach to this emotionally and socially debilitating disease.

Yet it also doesn't take the high road either or strongly delve into the subject. We don't learn much about it, other than that drugs will reduce its characteristics, and if that doesn't work, some booze or sex will momentarily do just fine. Unlike a film such as "Rainman" where a character becomes determined to figure out what's "wrong" with another's "problem" (albeit initially for other reasons that eventually switch around for the better), this film uses that syndrome just as a plot complication.

Without any real exploration into its causes, remedies and such, the effect is just some odd, startling behavior that isn't any fun to watch on the screen. While movies don't always have to be "fun," and we're certainly not dismissing those affected by the syndrome or those who live with or are friends of such people, the film could, and probably should, have delved deeper into the subject. As it is, it just becomes an irritant (obviously used solely to generate sympathy votes -- that it doesn't get as earlier explained) and generates the also earlier described reaction from a fellow critic.

While the film is decidedly offbeat and certainly not your typical Hollywood fair, the lack of meaning behind any motivation and the haphazard plot undermine its efforts. Featuring some decent performances -- including a standout one from Tunney that's unfortunately as irritating as it is good -- but no emotional connection to the characters, this is a feature that falls into the "could have been" category. We give "Niagara, Niagara" a 3 out of 10.

This film contains several categories that should be of concern to most parents. The main character has Tourette's syndrome that not only causes facial and body tics, but also outbursts of violence and profanity (more than 70 "f" words and others from her and other characters). When she doesn't have medication to control that, she drinks lots of whiskey or has sex (of which we see two encounters with lots of movement, but no nudity). Both she and Seth are habitual shoplifters, and also take pills that they wash down with booze. There are several violent scenes, including two that involve bloody shootings. Although it's questionable how many kids will really want to see this film, you should take a look through the scene listings in case someone in your home does wish to see it.

  • Marcy heavily drinks throughout the movie (bourbon straight from the bottle or a flask).
  • Seth also drinks a few times as does Walter and another minor character.
  • Marcy also takes prescription drugs for her condition, but after robbing a pharmacy, she and Seth take other prescription drugs as well.
  • Marcy and Seth drink in a bar (although they're underage) and also buy two bottles of whiskey from the bartender.
  • Marcy accidentally hits Seth in the face, causing a slight nose bleed.
  • We briefly see Seth throwing up in a toilet (from drinking too much).
  • Seth's leg is quite bloody after he's been shot. We also see blood on his shirt and see several glimpses of his bloody pants leg.
  • We see Walter "operating" on Seth's leg and it's very bloody and meaty looking.
  • Blood runs down Walter's head after Marcy hits him with a bottle.
  • After being shot in the head, a person has a small bloody bullet hole there and a large pool of blood then spreads across the floor.
  • Some may see Marcy's behavior as having both, but much of what she does and says is attributable to her Tourette's syndrome.
  • Both Marcy and Seth are chronic shoplifters.
  • Some local teens make fun of Seth's coat.
  • A female bartender serves Marcy and Seth (both underage) and sells them two bottles of bourbon.
  • Marcy and Seth break into a pharmacy (after trying to pass off an altered prescription) and steal drugs.
  • Marcy and Seth steal a truck, and later they rob a gas station attendant and tie her up (but are relatively nice while doing so).
  • Some may view some of the scenes listed under "Violence" as tense, but most are brief.
  • Handgun: Displayed by a pharmacist and then taken from him by Marcy, but nothing else happens.
  • Shotgun: Fired by a pharmacist at Seth (whom he hits) and then repeatedly at him and Marcy (hitting a car).
  • Shotgun: Aimed by Walter at Seth and Marcy upon first meeting them.
  • Handguns/Shotgun: Used by Walter, Seth, Marcy, and later a cop, during some target practice.
  • Handgun: Marcy repeatedly plays with one while riding with Seth.
  • Handgun: Used by a cop to shoot a person in the head.
  • Phrases: "Punk," "Sucks ass," "Pisses me off," "Sh*thead," "Bitch" (toward different women several times), "Bastard," "Sucker," "Kiss my ass" and "Idiot."
  • Some kids may imitate Marcy's tics and spontaneous profanity (but her behavior is attributable to Tourette's syndrome).
  • Both Marcy and Seth take illegally obtained prescription pills and down them with bourbon.
  • Both Marcy and Seth are chronic shoplifters.
  • Marcy throws a bottle of bourbon out the window of their car (littering).
  • Marcy alters a prescription from one drug to another and tries to pass it off in several pharmacies.
  • Marcy spits on a store security guard.
  • Seth precariously walks along a railing above Niagara Falls.
  • None.
  • There's just a minor bit of tense music in the movie.
  • None.
  • At least 71 "f" words (2 used with "mother"), 21 "s" words, 3 slang terms for female genitals (the "p" and "c" words), 1 slang term for male genitals (the "d" word), 6 S.O.B.'s, 5 hells, 4 asses (1 using "hole"), 1 damn, and 28 uses of "G-damn," 5 of "Jesus Christ," and 1 use each of "Jesus" and "For Christ's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Seth asks Marcy if anything helps her Tourette's syndrome and she replies that sex does.
  • Seth and Marcy have sex under the covers (probably less than a minute), and while we see her on top with lots of movement, we don't see any nudity nor do we hear any sounds.
  • Seth and Marcy have sex again (around a minute) and we see more movement and hear sounds, but again don't see any nudity.
  • Walter smokes several times, while we see Seth and Marcy also smoke, but just during a montage scene.
  • A gas station worker smokes.
  • Seth's father smacks and berates him in one scene.
  • Although we don't see anything happen, one gets the impression that Marcy doesn't get along with -- or at least is indifferent to -- her parents.
  • Tourette's syndrome.
  • Shoplifting.
  • Taking medication (or any kind of pills) with alcohol.
  • In a sudden violent outburst, Marcy repeatedly hits a local teen who was taunting Seth.
  • Marcy accidentally hits Seth in the face, causing a slight nose bleed.
  • A pharmacist pulls out a gun that Marcy grabs from him, but it's not used.
  • A pharmacist sneaks up on Marcy and Seth who've broken into his pharmacy. He shoots Seth in the leg and then repeatedly shoots at both of them as they flee and crash their car into another car.
  • Upon first "meeting" Seth and Marcy, Walter aims his shotgun at them.
  • Walter gently hits Seth on the face with a dead fish.
  • Marcy suddenly grabs Walter's gun that goes off and blows apart a golf ball.
  • Marcy hits Walter with a bottle (causing bleeding) and then beats him with a rifle/shotgun.
  • Marcy and Seth send a stolen truck into what looks like a quarry where it careens down the cliff and explodes at the bottom.
  • Marcy goes crazy in a store and throws toys at Seth and then kicks him a few times.
  • A person grabs a cop's gun. Another cop tells that person to drop the gun and when they don't, the cop then shoots that person in the head, instantly killing them.

  • Reviewed March 27, 1998

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