By Jeffrey M. Anderson
If I were to rank all of today's comedians-turned-actors -- never mind who would be at the bottom -- I would put Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Murphy near the top. But occupying the very top spot would have to be Bill Murray. In the last ten years, he has given us spectacular turns in "Quick Change" (1990), which he also co-directed, "Groundhog Day" (1993), "Mad Dog and Glory" (1993), "Ed Wood" (1994), "Kingpin" (1996), and "Wild Things" (1998). Before that, he popped up in potent bit parts in "Caddyshack" (1980), "Tootsie" (1982), and "Little Shop of Horrors" (1986), and laid it all on the line for his own pet project, "The Razor's Edge" (1984), which was unsuccessful, but interesting.
Now, thanks to great timing, and writer/director Wes Anderson ("Bottle Rocket"), it looks like Murray may finally be up for a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. This is not because Rushmore contains Murray's greatest performance -- it doesn't quite reach the heights he achieved in "Groundhog Day." It's because Murray has been long overdue for recognition, and this movie is as good as any, and better than most. It will be the equivalent of a "lifetime achievement" award for him. (The Academy is famous for delaying its praise, which is why people like Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant won only lifetime achievement awards late in their career.)
The main character in Rushmore is Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, the talented son of Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, and cousin of Nicolas Cage), who is president or founder of nearly every kind of extra-curricular activity imaginable in his prestigious school, Rushmore Academy. Unfortunately, his grades are failing and he is on the verge of being kicked out. Max wants nothing more than to stay in Rushmore. Looking for help, he befriends a tycoon, Mr. Blume (Murray), and develops a crush on a British 2nd Grade teacher at the academy, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). When Mr. Blume and Miss Cross fall in love, Max goes on the warpath to revenge.
That's about all the plot there is. We see Max playing at many of his pastimes; flying motorized planes, wrestling, putting on bizarre plays (he stages Serpico and a Vietnam war story), and more. We see his wild attempts at wooing the much older teacher, and his wicked revenge on his friend Blume. Every scene is set in a different location, with some kind of new activity going on. The effect is that the story becomes an unreality, like a weird cartoon.
It's all a bit overwhelming, and the obsessed Max is sometimes hard to connect with until you embrace his eccentricity. Murray, on the other hand, delivers a strong sad-sack performance, and his long face tells volumes. He shines in every scene he's in -- locked out of his own car by his dimwit wrestling-team sons, hopelessly jumping in the pool during a big party at his house, coolly but hopefully accepting a carrot from Miss Cross, and at the end of his rope while getting a haircut from Max's dad (Seymour Cassell).
Whatever its minor shortcomings, Murray is a shining star, and you should see the movie just for him. However, Rushmore is no ordinary movie, and I think it will develop a strong cult following with the folks that catch on to its funky vibe.
***1/2 out of ****
(93m | R)