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by Willie Waffle

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Crazy Like A Fox

If you live anywhere near a major city, you are quite familiar with the growing tensions as cities expand outwards via the suburbs into historic farmlands, and older neighborhoods within the cities experience gentrification. It was a subject even touched on by The Sopranos! (By the way, I am from Binghamton, NY, and I can testify that no one as hot as Juliana Margulies, the female real estate agent who got Tony all hot and bothered and claimed she was from Binghamton, EVER came from Binghamton. Believe me, if babes like her were walking the streets, I would have stayed). Crazy Like A Fox tries to examine it, too, but the story gets too wrapped up in trying to impose some wacky humor where heart and soul are needed.

Roger Rees stars as Nat Banks - a Virginia farmer as proud of his family's heritage as he is of his huge farm in rural Virginia. He has fallen on hard times, and the farm either must be sold or auctioned off in order to pay the three mortgages and back taxes. Of course, this breaks Nat's heart as he stands to be the Banks who loses the property and house that has been in his family for generations. The home practically is a landmark with ties to some of the most historic moments in American history (which is true of the house used in the movie, which happens to be owned by the writer/director, and many of the stories you hear in the movie actually happened), but Nat is forced to sell to Will (Paul Fitzgerald) and Ellie Sherman (Christina Rouner) - a Washington, DC yuppie couple with lots of money and no appreciation for the land's natural beauty and the home's history. Begrudgingly, Nat agrees to sell the home and land after Will and Ellie make some important promises to preserve it and allow our hero to stay on as farm manager, but they quickly break those promises.

When Nat decides to stay on the property by living in a cave down by the creek, can he come up with a plan to save his family's heritage and home? Will anyone care?

Writer/director Richard Squires has an interesting story that confronts the growing tensions between old Virginia and the creeping DC suburbs that threaten to extinguish the area's rich culture and history, but he waters that story down with attempts to make Crazy Like A Fox into a slapstick, wacky comedy, which marginalizes his characters. Too quickly, Squires gets away from the more compelling justification for Nat's anger (the swindle), and dives into a cultural battle between those evil city folk who have the law on their side, and the southerners who claim a moral high ground.

Squires forces the performances to slip into caricature, especially Rees who seems to be getting pushed to portray Nat as a lunatic, when he needs to make him into more of a southern gentleman with the gravitas to argue his case and win over the audience. Instead of ranting and raving like a certifiably insane person, Rees needs to tone it down a bit, and Squires needs to remove silly scenes of Nat riding through the farm in an old Confederate uniform, or slipping and sliding around to fall on his rear end for some pitiful attempt at humor. Also, Will and Ellie are taken too far to the extreme since even the most money-grubbing evil rich people in DC would have some appreciation for the amazing history involved in the house, or at least feign concern for it and the locals so they appear to be good hearted liberals.

Squires has a moving and tragic story, when he lets that shine through. Too often, he is making a movie that isn't crazy and wacky enough to be madcap, and not moving and sad enough to be tragic. Crazy Like A Fox is a good movie when Squires focuses on the area's heritage and people's desire to save their history and way of life. These scenes capture the audience's heart and make us wish our hero was more likable, so we could fight along side him.

Those who live in the DC area should also look for Mark Joy as real estate agent John Randolph. Best known to DC TV viewers as Mark Down from the Sheehy Ford commercials, he is an accomplished actor with many roles in television and movies such as Dawson's Creek, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Homicide, The Wire, Law and Order and Walker: Texas Ranger. He puts in a solid, all-too-brief performance that brings forth all of the genteelness and steadiness that Rees needed. Plus, he must be the toughest man in Washington if he made an appearance on Chuck Norris' television program and lived to tell about it. I believe you have to survive a week in the jungle, then wrestle Chuck Norris in a swamp full of alligators before you are allowed on the set.

2 Waffles (Out Of 4)

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