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by: James Berardinelli

I don't know what it says about a movie when the best sequence features Steven Seagal. That's right -- the same Seagal whose harsh monotone, unchanging expression, and wooden performances have earned him a worldwide following. And, while Seagal doesn't have a major role in My Giant, his five minutes represent the film's undisputed highlight, because the humorless actor permits himself to be the object a particularly biting satire. In fact, not only does Seagal allow his dubious thespian talents to be skewered, but he actively participates in the process. After seeing My Giant, I'm willing to admit a certain degree of respect for the man. (I will ignore the possibility that Seagal didn't realize this to be a parody -- nobody could possibly be that obtuse, could they?)

Billy Crystal is a naturally funny performer. Put him in front the Oscar crowd of 1 billion people, and he shines, with his ad-libs generating more laughs than the material flashing up on the TelePrompTer. In fact, it's only because of Crystal's innate ability to make people smile that My Giant is remotely watchable. The comic's self-deprecating humor, highlighted in a number of stinging one-liners, provides a partial antidote to the mawkish sentimentality that floods the film's second half. Director Michael Lehmann appears to have been going for Rain Man meets Jerry Maguire, but falls considerably short of the mark. My Giant will give The Odd Couple 2 (another major April 10 release) a run for its money in the "pointless mediocrity" category.

Speaking of Lehmann, few directors in Hollywood have had such an uneven career. (Bruce Beresford is the only other one who immediately comes to mind.) On the positive side, he has helmed such top-notch comedies as Heathers and The Truth about Cats and Dogs. But he has also been responsible for duds like Meet the Applegates, Hudson Hawk, and now My Giant. About the only noteworthy thing Lehmann can claim for this film is that he had an opportunity to work with one of the tallest actors ever to grace the big screen.

That actor is Gheorghe Muresan, a 7'7" man with an Eastern European accent so thick that he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger sound American-born. Muresan is described as "fluent" in English, but, while he may understand the words, he isn't always intelligible. Half the time, I wasn't sure whether he was speaking in Romanian or English, and, when he delivers a speech from Shakespeare's "Henry V," it took me a moment to realize who he was quoting. Muresan, who is plagued by limited range, isn't a great performer, but he's at least competent enough to develop a sympathetic character. Then again, when it comes to casting giants, Lehmann probably didn't have much of a group to pick from.

My Giant opens with mild-mannered Sam (Crystal) driving around Romania, looking for a town whose name he can't pronounce. Sam is an agent (or, in his words, "a leech, a vulture, ...a scum-sucking pig"), and his lone client is on-location doing a Braveheart-like epic. When an unexpected flock of sheep forces Sam to drive his car off the road and into a water-filled ditch, he is saved from drowning by Max (Muresan), the biggest man he has ever seen ("Please don't say 'fe fi fo fum'"). Max, who lives at a local monastery doing odd-jobs for the monks, is actually a gentle soul whose time is spent pining after his lost love, a girl he once knew who moved to America. Sam, sensing a chance to make Max into a big star, uses the lure of seeing her again as a carrot to persuade the giant to travel to the United States, where he can audition for a role in the new Steven Seagal action film, Double or Nothing. However, as Sam spends more time with Max, he develops a genuine affection for his new client, and comes to re-discover the importance of family - - namely, his son,


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