Screenplay : Max D. Adams and Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Alicia Silverstone (Emily Hope), Benicio Del Toro (Vincent Roche), Christopher Walken (Raymond Perkins), Jack Thompson (Alexander T. Hope), Harry Connick Jr. (Greg Kistler), Nicholas Turturro (Stick), Michael Bowen (Gus), Robert Wisden (Sims)
It has long been said that kids will do anything to get a little attention, and 18-year-old Emily Hope, the heroine of "Excess Baggage" played by Alicia Silverstone, is a perfect example. Of course, she can't really be blamed. Her filthy rich and icily distance father, Alexander T. Hope (Jack Thompson), pays her far less attention than any of his illegal business dealings. He's the kind of man who doesn't mind when $1 million in cash gets accidentally blown away by a helicopter, and you get the feeling he would mind even less if the same thing happened to Emily.
So what to do? Emily has already burned down half of the boarding school she was sent to, and that didn't seem to get her anywhere. To up the ante, she decides to fake her own kidnapping. Everything goes according to plan -- her father seems to care enough to involve the police and the FBI in her pursuit, and he even puts up the ransom money. But, just when she's about to be "rescued" from the trunk of her own car where she's bound herself with duct tape, a professional car thief named Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) steals the car with her in it.
At this point, "Excess Baggage" seems to have genuine promise as an offbeat teen film. But, unfortunately, that's about as good as it gets. Once Vincent discovers Emily in the trunk, the plot begins to become more and more scatterbrained as it involves more characters and additional plot lines. This isn't particularly surprising, because the film credits three writers (a first-timer and two veterans who did uncredited re-writes on "The Rock"), and there were numerous reports that Silverstone (who also co-produced the film) was rewriting dialogue and scenes during the shoot.
As the film progress, it includes Emily's Uncle Ray (Christopher Walken), who obviously does Alexander's behind-the-scenes dirty work, closely trailing behind her and Vincent. We also have the police and the FBI doing their typically incompetent jobs. It isn't long before Vincent's partner, a BMW salesman named Greg Kistler (Harry Connick, Jr.) becomes involved. And things get really bad when Vincent and Greg's warehouse full of stolen Ferrari's and BMW's burns to the ground, and some dangerous criminal types with whom they were doing business join the chase, looking for $200,000 that has accidentally wound up in Uncle Ray's possession.
What this really amounts to is a whole lot of nothing. The movie is so intent on rambling quickly to its own ends, that it rarely stops to invite or surprise. We know Emily and Vincent will fall for each other. We know there will be some care chases, and maybe even a shoot-out in the end. We can see the thin characterizations -- Emily is tough because she wears black eye-liner and drinks like a man, and sensitive because she doesn't do it for the money. And then there's the film's shaky division between "good" criminals (aka Vincent, who steals cars but doesn't carry a gun) and "bad" criminals (aka his business associates, who buy stolen cars and do carry guns). We know that Alicia Silverstone will do a lot of posturing and not much acting, and that better actors like Benicio Del Toro and Christopher Walken will look mostly silly standing on the sidelines.
"Excess Baggage" was directed by Marco Brambilla, whose previous credits include 1993's "Demolition Man." He was probably the wrong man for the job because "Excess Baggage" requires a delicate touch. While it is a adventurous road movie, at its heart it is dealing with issues of abandonment and lost childhood. With a tighter script and better direction, it could have evoked both excitement and emotion. Instead, it's mostly trite and uninspiring, the kind of movie that is easily forgotten before the final credits have finished rolling.
©1998 James Kendrick