The New York Times (US), September 13, 1996

Here Comes the Bride, Fleeing Thugs

by Janet Maslin

1. A Quentin Tarantino cameo.

2. A heroine whose idea of a better life is a job dancing in Las Vegas.

3. A scene at a motel with an empty pool. Broken pastel furniture, please. Bonus points for each fake flamingo.

4. One actor dressed in a powder-blue tuxedo with ruffled shirt. One actress in a waitress's uniform.

5. Occasional armed robbery, accompanied by loud rock music and staged as comic relief. Fun violence, like biting off part of someone's ear.

6. A hero who bathes at the bus station.

7. Empty philosophy. (''Time is like an orange.'')

8. Specious kinks. (''I've got 50 bucks I keep stuffed in my underwear.'')

9. A scene at a pinball parlor. If none is available, a truck stop or gas station will do.

10. A neglected pet. Hero and heroine should adopt something adorable while they're on the lam. This shows they're human, but they can forget to feed it during the rest of the story.

This is what it takes to earn the A for attitude to which Steven Baigelman's ''Feeling Minnesota'' eagerly aspires. Having assembled everything on this list except the actual Mr. Tarantino (who is present in spirit), this debut feature devotes itself entirely to attention-getting poses. No film winds up with a name like ''Feeling Minnesota'' if it has anyhing definite in mind.

A brief prologue about quarrelsome young brothers and their neglectful mother suggests that Mr. Baigelman has a wistful family story in mind. But then he jumps forward 20 years to show a bride (Cameron Diaz) running down railroad tracks with several thugs in hot pursuit. ''I'd hit you in the face, but it's your wedding day,'' says the ringleader (Delroy Lindo) when he catches her.

The bride looks gorgeously sullen and starts cursing. Who is she? Why is she running? Why does she eat wedding cake with her hands? It's better not to know. Mr. Baigelman specializes in hooking his viewers with abrupt setups that prove much less dramatic or interesting than they initially seem. He does this with enough flair to suggest ''Feeling Minnesota'' looked grittier on paper than it does on screen.

It develops that the bride is named Freddie, and that she is being forced to marry Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio), the bumbling brother of a good-looking loner named Jjaks (Keanu Reeves). The name comes from a typo on Jjaks's birth certificate, not to mention a screenwriting affectation of Mr. Baigelman's. Anyway, when Jjaks shows up at the wedding, Freddie takes one look and realizes she's marrying the wrong guy.

Where do we go from here? It's a question that seems not to have been asked much during the making of ''Feeling Minnesota,'' which shambles along halfheartedly until it runs out of gas. Though the story has the makings of film noir in a quirky, forlorn setting, it plays itself out with surprisingly little passion. When Freddie lures Jjaks into a bathroom tryst during the wedding itself, Mr. Reeves looks as stunned and submissive as Mr. Praying Mantis, and the scene is played for more humor than heat. Rivalry between the brothers is also staged with a buffoonish levity that destroys any real tension.

Mr. Baigelman directs with more professional polish than might have been expected, and his screenplay shows real promise. But he lets the film veer rudderlessly between flippant eccentricity and murky violence, and he allows a colorfully diverse cast to indulge every imaginable tic. Mr. Reeves remains a distant, intriguing actor far too passive and malleable for loose-knit roles like this. Ms. Diaz vamps energetically, but she's not the vixen this story needs. Today's breed of femme fatale (like Lara Flynn Boyle in last week's ''Big Squeeze'') isn't apt to be truly dangerous, though there's some risk she might model herself to death.

The boys' mother is played by Tuesday Weld, looking like a blowsier Gabor sister and showing scant trace of her own teasing allure. (She might well have starred in this story a generation ago.) Mr. Lindo gives the film's most vibrant performance, though he appears briefly and is mired in standard tough-guy mannerisms. Mr. D'Onofrio makes Sam a more appealing sap than the character deserves to be and shows a nice comic rapport with Mr. Reeves. Ringers in the cast include Dan Aykroyd as a broadly caricatured detective, Levon Helm as a refreshingly plain Bible salesman, and Courtney Love playing the obligatory waitress. Ms. Love is surprisingly solid in a tiny but welcome role.

Beyond casting that is stellar and offbeat enough to attract attention, ''Feeling Minnesota'' takes out a further insurance policy in the form of a lively soundtrack featuring, among others, Los Lobos and Bob Dylan. The film's music coordinator, Karyn Rachtman (''Pulp Fiction,'' ''Reality Bites''), has done conspicuously good work on both this film and ''Grace of My Heart.'' Incidentally, ''Feeling Minnesota'' takes its title from a song by Soundgarden not heard here. The absence of the song is one more thing wrong with this picture.

''Feeling Minnesota'' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes considerable profanity, sexual situations, brief nudity, violence and items 2 to 10 on the above list.

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Feeling Minnesota


Feeling Minnesota

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