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'Monster' Match

June weather and Italian comedy combine to make a perfect fit at UC Irvine.


It's been a little more than two months since "The Monster" screened here, for one night only. The more often a movie like this returns, however, the happier we are. Besides, June weather and Italian screen comedies go together like popcorn and butter.

In this 1996 comedy--to be shown Friday, by the UC Irvine Film Society at the campus' Student Center--stellar comic actor Roberto Benigni plays Loris, an inconsequential Everyman who has a knack for shoplifting and mooching.

As we've said before, bad luck turns Benigni on his ear, which so often happens in one of his films: Loris is mistaken for a sexual psychopath and murderer and is tracked by the police, who hope to catch him in a crime.

From this gruesome premise comes wild humor. Benigni is an inventive pratfaller with moves that recall Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers. (He played Inspector Clouseau, the fabled Sellers role, in a "Pink Panther" sequel in 1993.)

What made Sellers' performance as Clouseau so rich was the character's obliviousness to his own buffoonery, and Benigni follows the same path in his better comedies.

The Times' film critic Kenneth Turan, in his review of "The Monster," wrote: "Benigni is so gifted he makes every scenario he touches inevitably funny. Whether it's trying to learn Chinese or coping with a lighted cigarette that has dropped down the front of his pants, Benigni creates hysteria whenever he appears."

Benigni is at his most persuasive, Turan added, in his "frenetic, hyperventilating borderline ridiculous Italian farces," of which "The Monster" is a supreme example. The picture became Italy's highest-grossing film.

There will be two UCI screenings of "The Monster" Friday, at 7 and 9 p.m., at the Student Center in the Crystal Cove Auditorium (on Pereira Drive, near West Peltason Road). $2.50-$4.50; (949) 824-5588.

Also light and easy--if not with the quality--"The Great Outdoors" (1988) screens Friday at dusk at the Newport Dunes (1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach) in the resort's Family Flicks series. Parking is $6. (949) 729-3863.

This Dan Aykroyd-John Candy film, written by John Hughes, "is about as much fun for anyone over the age of 10 as ants at a picnic," Times reviewer Kevin Thomas said in his review. "It's a crass, blah comedy about summer vacation perils" that gives the two actors "next to nothing to work with."

The "only genuine fun," Thomas noted, comes during the credit roll at the end. "If you manage to sit through" the picture, you will see Aykroyd dancing with frenetic energy to Wilson Pickett's '60s hit "Land of a Thousand Dances."

Also at Newport Dunes, more summer fare in the Family Flicks series--same time, same place, same price--on Saturday: "Batman & Robin" (1997), the fourth from the Batman franchise, this one starring George Clooney, with Chris O'Donnell as Robin.

Too bad they ran out of ideas (if they ever had any). Arnold Schwarzenegger goes over the top as the demented Freeze, a once-great scientist-cum-athlete; Uma Thurman gets down as the deadly vixen Poison Ivy. But while the picture "preens and blusters . . . there's no knockout punch," Turan said in his review. "Lacking most kinds of inspiration and geared to undemanding minds, this [movie] is so overloaded with hardware and stunts, it's a relief to have it over."

Meanwhile, the usually serious Festival of Mexican Cinema of the 1990s gets with the light and easy summer program this weekend, closing out the series Saturday, 7 p.m., at the UCI Film and Video Center with "Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda" (1994).

This upbeat comedy--the title translates as "Between Villa and a Naked Woman"--is said by series organizers to recount the subtle complications of a relationship of "enlightened machismo" between a woman and a man whose alter ego is Pancho Villa. It screens with a short 1992 film, "Cita en el paraiso" (A Date in Paradise), described as "a tryst with a twist."

The Norwegian psychological thriller "Insomnia" (1998) comes Friday to the Port Theater (2905 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar) for a week. $4.50-$7. (714) 673-6260.

This picture "demands total attention," Thomas wrote in his review, noting that "we glimpse a pretty young woman meeting a grisly fate." Her death brings a pair of veteran police investigators to town, one celebrated for his work.

His plan to capture the woman's killer backfires, however, and "Insomnia" becomes, Thomas said, "a harrowing portrait of a man struggling against disintegration as he strives to conduct his investigation with his customary authority."

Stellan Skarsgard--who played the oil rigger in "Breaking the Waves" and the MIT math professor jealous of Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting"--portrays the cop who's losing it while ruthlessly trying to protect himself.

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