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Directed by Spike Jonze (1999, United Pictures)
Starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich

A man fulfills his fantasies with a woman after discovering a portal into the head of actor John Malkovich.



2+ stars+

January 26th, 2002 on DVD  

Funny in its own way, quirky in others, but I think a very specific mood is required to really enjoy this movie.

Every person in this movie is really weird.  Craig is obsessed with everything.  He is one of those people who see "what they want and go after it", as one character says.  Lotte seems content with helping her animals, a real menagerie from the (?) pet shop she works at, but then she gets obsessed, too.  Maxine seems to have a fantasy about being watched by more than one person through one set of eyes.  Malkovich himself seems like a recluse, and by the time he realizes that he's made a mistake, it is too late.  

Craig is a puppeteer.  He cannot find work, though, and gets pennies in his box at the side of the road -until some people see what perverted acts his puppets are performing, and he is knocked out.  He finds work at a filing company on the 7 1/2 floor of some New York building, and there discovers a portal into the mind of John Malkovich.  He takes great delight in watching whatever Malkovich is doing, and tells the two women in his life, Lotte, his wife, and Maxine, the woman he wants to have an affair with, from work.  

Lotte goes into Malkovich, while Maxine beguiles her way into Malkovich's life.  There is a little hint as to what is going to happen later when Lotte uses her passion for this newfound voyeurism to convince Malkovich to agree to dinner with this stranger.  Maxine loves seeing the spark of Lotte in Malkovich's eyes, especially when the three of them (in a way) have sex.  

Craig is so jealous that he ties Lotte up and puts her in a cage with her chimp, and he experiences his fantasies with Maxine, while she still thinks it is Lotte.  But she takes to it very quickly once she finds out, and Craig figures out how to take control of Malkovich, pretty much permanently.  This is good, because the actor found out that these two were running a business letting people peer out through his eyes.  They were making a lot of money, and for obvious reasons, Malkovich was probably going to put them in jail.  

It turns out that Craig's employer, Lester, discovered this portal over a hundred years ago, and has been transferring bodies since then.  When a new one ripens, he and some close friends enter the host body and take it over.  Lotte is so distraught after losing the love of her life (Maxine, not Craig!) that she goes to Lester with their secret, and he reveals his. I wonder how crowded it gets if he brings so many friends along every time he enters a ripened body...  

Maxine and Malkovich get married and we skip eight months into the future, when he has become a master puppeteer (in a ridiculously short time), and she is pregnant -but the baby is not Craig's, it belongs to the time when Lotte was in Malkovich's body!  She she grows to feel guilty, but by that time, Malkovich's body has ripened, and is ready for transfer to Lester.  

To get Craig out of Malkovich's head, Lester and his friends kidnap Maxine and threaten to kill her.  He finally relents after trying to soak up his devastation in alcohol, but just as he gets free, Lester enters and takes control, and Maxine and Lotte find love in each other.  Craig is left alone!  He reenters the portal, but is soaked up into the next body -that of Malkovich's daughter, with no way of controlling the body, and no way out, trapped for her life living behind the scenes, watching Maxine and Lotte raise her.

I liked the movie more in the first half hour than for the rest of it.  Before Craig finds the portal, the movie was really funny!  From the madhouse he and Lotte live in, to the puppet shows and the introduction to the 7 1/2 floor, to the juice bar and his psycho boss (carrot juice!), and his secretary with the speech impediment (who thinks everybody else has one, but not her), it was genuinely funny, although skewed.  

After he finds the portal, it was just a matter of wondering what they would make Malkovich do, and when they would get caught.  I enjoyed the camera work when looking through his eyes.  It almost felt like it was real.

Several things don't add up in the movie, but I think it's not meant to.  This is a comedy -a strange one, but it was meant to be strange and funny.  How did they manage to operate a business from midnight to 4am, while working all day during the day for the filing company?  Why did the portal go next to Malkovich's daughter?  Lester wasn't a Malkovich.  He was pretty certainly not Malkovich's father.  It doesn't seem, therefore, to be a genetic thing.  

The puppets were interesting, and a good metaphor for what they were going through.  I rather enjoyed the movie, despite myself.  It is not worth seeing on DVD specifically.  The widescreen does not enhance the movie, and all the bonus features except the Art of Puppeteering were boring or stupid.  The director's interview was really bad; a car ride answering two questions before he gags and throws up.  Horrid.  And I didn't even finish the "background driving" feature.  The commercials and trailer were pretty bad, too.

This is a movie to see when a peculiar mood hits.  It's really strange, but can be enjoyed, too.  But the right frame of mind is imperative!


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