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RUSHMORE ROCKS

THEATER

By Bill Gienapp, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

RUSHMORE

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Bill Murray, Jason

Schwartzmann, Olivia Williams

Rushmore, the idiosyncratic new comedy from Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket), is a film of wonderfully conceived characters. Reflecting their smart dedication to originally, Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson have devised a colorful, eccentric cast in which two figures stand out as inspired creation. That first is Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman), a gangly combination of braces, horn-rimmed glasses, greasy black hair and loads of smug self-assurance. A pupil at the posh, upper-crust Rushmore Academy, Max is a bright kid but a lousy student, mainly because he serves as the head of nearly two dozen extracurricular activities, ranging from the fencing team to the beekeepers club to the Model Russian UN. Bouncing from project to project with an air of confidence and disarming maturity, Max truly defies description--he's the epitome of the teenager who stands out from the crowd and is darn proud to do so. The other great character is Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a burnt-out, self-loathing steel tycoon, who has both succeeded tremendously and failed miserably at life. Hiding behind his fancy suits and well-trimmed mustache, Blume also defies easy categorization, acting like an incorrigible child as often as he acts like a respectable businessman.

Rushmore is not a film with a clear, distinct plot. Rather, it works with a story that is continually shifting gears. What begins as Max's struggle to maintain his self-identity while facing "sudden death academic probation" quickly changes into his dogged pursuit of a charming first grade teacher, Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams, free from the purgatory known as The Postman). Hoping to build an aquarium to impress her, Max enlists the help of Blume, a Rushmore benefactor whose vindictive speech against rich kids wins Max's friendship early on. Unfortunately, in a rather predictable twist, Blume also falls for Ms. Cross, which sparks a petty rivalry with Max and leads to the their inflicting immature pranks on one another. However, the conflict seems to end as quickly as it begins, and Rushmore spends its final 35 minutes or so dabbling with the idea of Max and Blume's embarking on a quest for redemption after they are both rejected.

Rushmore is quirky and clever enough to work, but its meandering style prevents it from becoming a truly great comedy. The laughs are there, but they are also isolated, and the film fails to build any comic momentum. It is an example of a movie that boasts fantastic scenes but which on the whole is not the most polished or cohesive product. The scene in which Max puts on his play--an adaptation of the gritty Al Pacino cop drama Serpico and a hard-boiled Vietnam epic--are comically brilliant, as is the montage that reveals all of Max's activities and the clever sequence in which Max and Blume play tricks on one another. But there is too much down time between these bits of inspired comedy, and the story suffers from its overall lack of purpose. However, one can never fault originality, and in that sense Rushmore hits its mark.

As can be expected in a movie such as this, the acting is first--rate. Bill Murray, a truly gifted comedic actor, gets one of his best roles in years, one that it perfectly tailored to his abilities. Murray has always excelled at playing the man-child--an accomplished individual who nonetheless has rampant immaturity in his genes (think Ghostbusters)--and he plays Blume with a smart mix of wisdom and adolescence. Over the last several years, Murray has carved a nice niche for himself with meaty supporting roles (Kingpin, Wild Things), and he continues the tradition with Rushmore. Whether stuffing a little kid on a playground basketball court or running over Max's bike and carrying it nonchalantly back to the bike rack, Murray is perfectly tuned into the essence of Herman Blume. Schwartzman, on the other hand, succeeds not because he easily slips into Max's air of self-confidence, but because he is willing to give the viewer glimpses of what the character really is--an inexperienced 15-year-old putting on a front of institutional disdain. Whether Schwartzman is really a gifted actor or just a sharp kid playing shades of himself will be determined in future films. For now, it is safe to say that he is a shining screen presence in Rushmore.

What Rushmore ultimately amounts to is one exuberantly off-center film. Wes Anderson is supporting men like Max and Blume, big dreamer who thumb their nose at conformity, but he is a disciplined enough filmmaker to not glorify their behavior unlike, say, Patch Adams). The two character have their notable flaws, and Max's big schemes have a tendency to blow up in his face. In fact, by the middle of the film, it appears as if lack of discipline has cost him dearly. However , what Rushmore really needed was a good tightening of the story in order to make the comedy more fluid.

Someday, Wes Anderson will make a truly wonderful comedy. Rushmore is a film that comes close but ultimately falls short of the summit.

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