Saturday, March 19, 2016
Director Report Card: Ivan Reitman (1998)
Six Days Seven Nights
According to Wikipedia, “Six Days Seven Nights” was only a minor hit, making back a little more than its budget. I, however, remember the movie being a much bigger deal. I recall the poster being prominently displayed at our local rental place for quite some time. My mother rented it, bought the VHS, and re-watched the film a number of times. Like seemingly every thing Ivan Reitman has made, the film is very indicative of its time. “Six Days Seven Nights” was made back when Harrison Ford was still a viable sex symbol, when most women probably would’ve been happy to spend a week with him on a desert island. The film was also released before Anne Heche’s very public mental breakdown made her a punchline. Though the film has faded from memory, re-watching it takes me right back to 1998.
Robin Monrue is a successful editor of a fashion magazine. She works too hard but has a devoted boyfriend, Frank. The two fly to a French Polynesian island for a week long vacation, where Frank proposes. Immediately afterwards, Robin receives a phone call, work interrupting her scenic vacation. She must fly away from the island for an important meeting. Quinn, a crude and tough pilot, agrees to take her. In route, a thunderstorm blows in. Lightning strikes the plane, forcing a drastic crash landing. The two are stranded on an empty island, forced to work together to survive. It’s not too long before a romance forms between Robin and Quinn.
I imagine “Six Day Seven Nights” was an easy sell for screenwriter Michael Browning, his first of only three credits. The film mashes up two ever-green genres: The shipwreck survival story and the romantic-comedy. The film cribs generously from “Robinson Crusoe,” the most famous of island survival stories. The female protagonist’s name is a likely reference and pirates randomly appear in the middle of the run time. As for the rom-com elements, “Six Days Seven Nights” follows the standard outline for the genre. A man and a woman meted unexpectedly. At first, they dislike each other. The universe tosses them together and romance quickly blooms between the two. It’s not rocket science.
languishing in obscurity for years now, it’s hard to believe Anne Heche was ever a bankable movie star. In “Six Days Seven Nights,” Heche sports an unconvincing New York accent. Once you get pass that, Heche gives a reasonably likable performance. She has a winning smile, displaying a decent dose of attitude when trading barbs with Ford or her other co-stars. Once on the island, Heche also shows a willingness to wade through rivers, roll down hills, and sleep on the ground. The only time her performance becomes embarrassing is when the character downs some sleeping pills and begins to act very broad and silly. Still, considering her light presence and girl-next-door beauty, it’s not surprisingly that Heche was once primed to become a major movie star.
If Heche was an up-and-comer at the time, Harrison Ford was a proven superstar. In 1998, he was coming off the success of “Air Force One” and the enormous box office of “The Fugitive” was only a few years back. In “Six Days Seven Nights,” Ford isn’t playing the president or a wrongfully accused man. Instead, he’s a scoundrel, introduced tinkering with an old plane in his underwear or getting a massage from his scantily clad girlfriend. Or drunkenly hitting on Heche at the bar. In other words, the film tries to make Ford as unappealing as possible, despite his obvious charm and rugged handsomeness. Harrison doesn’t stretch his acting abilities much. Mostly, he grins, gripes, struggles in the dirt, and plays hero. It’s fun to watch Harrison Ford do these things, so I’m not complaining. However, this is not the deepest material and does not provide Ford with much more to do.
Even when the story goes to more serious places, “Six Days Seven Nights” is a light-hearted comedy. The film is filled with slapstick comedy, deployed broadly. After crash-landing on the island, Robin accidentally inflates a raft inside the plane wreckage, pushing her face against the window. Later, Heche is frightened by a pig while next to a lake. This leads to a sequence where Ford has to fish a snake out of her shorts. The jokes are hardly cutting edge but, occasionally, “Six Days Seven Nights” got a laugh out of me. After the raft incident, Heche gives a blunt response to Ford’s question. After making a navigational mistake, Ford retreats to a bush, cursing in frustration. Too often though, the film is a little too goofy for its own good. This is best exemplified when Robin’s attempt to signal an airplane has her rolling to the ground, setting a tree on fire.
belligerent sexual tension. Before the plane crashes, they have a conversation laced with innuendo about how men and women's different approach to romance. In the second of the six days, Quinn is commenting on how Robin isn’t his type. All of this is obviously setting up the two falling into each other arms. Before leaping off a cliff, to avoid the pirates, Ford plants a kiss on Heche. After washing up in the surf, the two are rolling around in the sand, making out. The two performers share decent enough chemistry but it’s not quite enough to overcome the routine script. At the end, I was mostly thinking about how doomed this relationship is, as the two characters truly don’t have anything in common.
I’ve criticized the tonal changes in Reitman’s previous films, mostly the shift from madcap comedy to maudlin sentimentality in “Kindergarten Cop” and “Junior.” “Six Days Seven Nights” has some tonal shifts of its own. While rowing off the island, Robin and Quinn spot two boats. Just in time, they realize the boat has been captured by pirates. In some ways, the sudden incorporation of action/adventure elements stick out. The pirates shooting a hostage and tossing him overboard definitely seems out of place. However, the movie still manages to keep things light. A tussle between the heroes and the pirates is fairly farcical, with machine guns tossed into the air and people throw into the sand. There’s an element of adventure inherent to the “stranded on an island” concept, so pirates suddenly appearing isn’t too out of the blue. Even if the movie could’ve handled it better.
While Heche and Ford are falling in love on the island, “Six Days Seven Nights” has a routine subplot involving their other mates. From the moment David Schwimmer’s Frank begins ogling Jacqueline Obradors’ Angelina, you know they’ll end up together. The dramatic irony of the two couples swapping partners is too great to pass up. Schwimmer brings an expected level of anxious energy to Frank. (You do wonder how a sweetheart like Heche could end up with a nervous mess like Schwimmer.) Odradors, who spends the whole movie in not-very-much clothing, gives a Charo-worthy performance. The scene where those two wind up in bed is relatively funny, if extraneous. Among the supporting cast is Alison Janney in a routine part as Robin’s boss, bringing some funny energy to a nothing role. Also watch out for Amy Sadaris and Danny Trejo in tiny roles, back before either became much bigger stars.
he does his own flying. “Six Days Seven Nights” has a totally superfluous last act. After escaping the island, Robin attempts to return to her life with Frank. Naturally, this is entirely unnecessary. We knew who she was going to end up with before the movie started. Mostly, this is an unneeded resolution of subplot nobody much cared about.
Ivan Reitman’s movies are usually unremarkable to look at. His strengths as a filmmaker rarely includes note-worthy cinematography. “Six Days Seven Nights” is not shot in an exciting fashion. However, the film does take place in some awfully pretty locations. The movie was shot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, a place of great natural beauty. The scenic rolling beaches are shown off. A notable sequence takes place among the island’s great green mountains, a gorgeous location. Reitman and his team seemed to understand that the exotic, picturesque location is as much a part of the film’s attraction as its two stars.
With the island setting, “Six Days Seven Nights” has a typically tropical flavored soundtrack. Randy Edelman – trading places with Reitman’s other regular composer, James Newton Howard – makes sure the score has lots of steel drums in the mix. It’s a decent bit of music, if not especially memorable. Also befitting the setting, several reggae songs appear on the soundtrack. The band, Taj Mahal, put in an appearance at a party. I’m not really a fan of the genre but it definitely adds an interesting flavor to the movie.