Olsen Twins Rush to Grow Up In Skimpy 'New York Minute'
Friday, May 7, 2004
"New York Minute," the hectic, headache-inducing theatrical feature debut of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, features America's favorite sisters as good and evil twins. (Okay, it's the Olsens: Maybe not evil, just less good.) Jane, played by Ashley, is an aspiring College Republican who resembles a young, blond, overachieving version of Mary Matalin with a bigger makeup allowance. Roxy (Mary-Kate), her hair dyed a more authority-questioning darker shade, dresses in Metallica T-shirts and idolizes Avril Lavigne. The only gene she seems to share with her sister is the one for cosmetic dependence.
The movie is supposed to be a family action comedy about the high jinks of two spirited high schoolers run amok in Manhattan. At the end of the day -- actually one very, very long day -- "New York Minute" is a portrait of two performers navigating the difficult journey from child stars to 'tween cult figures to adult actresses. The spectacle is a strained one, as the 17-year-old Olsen twins -- who are reportedly gazillionaires several times over thanks to past TV series, merchandising and a string of straight-to-video hits -- demand to be accepted as both wholesome girls next door and Lolita-like objects worthy of a thousand Maxim covers. The effect isn't just frenetic, unfunny and dull. It's kind of creepy.
Jane and Roxy, it's established early in the film, have lost their mother in the past few years and live with their dad somewhere in the Long Island suburbs. On the day in question, Jane is due to deliver a big speech at Columbia University, where she will apply for a fellowship to Oxford. Roxy, on the other hand, skips school to go to a music video shoot for the band Simple Plan. The two wind up sharing a ride into Manhattan and, through plot devices that can stand about as much close scrutiny as the average popcorn carb count, they become embroiled in a series of madcap escapades. (Or at least the director, Dennie Gordon, wants you to think they're madcap; hence her overuse of frantic cross-cutting, split screens and other distractions from what's not going on up on the screen.) Through it all, they are being pursued by an obsessed truant officer (Eugene Levy), a Javert to the nose-thumbing Roxy's Jean Valjean.
As Jane and Roxy chase through the mismatched patchwork of New York landmarks (is that the Plaza cater-cornered from the Flatiron Building?), usually in five-inch heels, they cross paths with any number of comedic actors who, like them, are most familiar from their work on television. Andy Richter plays the adopted son of a Chinese gang leader whose microchip of pirated music finds its way into Roxy's bag; Andrea Martin plays a U.S. senator whose ugly little dog comes to play a crucial role in getting the chip back; Darrell Hammond plays a businessman who coincidentally keeps meeting the girls, often with disastrous results. Even Bob Saget, who played the Olsen twins' father in their first show, "Full House," has a cameo as a pedestrian who ogles the two as they teeter, barely clad, across Times Square.
That's just one of several teasing moments in "New York Minute" in which the Olsens -- whose fan base, like that of Britney Spears, consists of pre-pubescent girls and very post-pubescent boys -- address their contradictory personas. The film opens with a sequence in which Jane dreams she's delivering her speech nude; throughout the rest of the movie, no opportunity is missed to put one or both of the girls in situations where clothes are doffed or at least reduced in their coverage. (Okay, it's the Olsens: The frontal nudity is always kept coyly off camera.) At one point, Jane is lolling sensually on a hotel bed in a terry cloth robe while Roxy walks into the room with a towel wrapped around her, shaking her just-washed hair in slow motion; when the room's rightful owner walks in, he blurts out, "Is it my birthday?"
What ensues is a nearly naked chase through New York, one that, after yet another costume change, winds up in Harlem, where Jane and Roxy receive a ghetto-fabulous makeover (thigh-high boots and stilettos, anyone?). It will surprise no one that "New York Minute" ends happily, with Jane winning the day at Columbia and Roxy making her rock-and-roll dreams come true -- all the time looking like pint-size versions of Lady Marmalade. "New York Minute" won't do much to damage the Olsen twins' vast cultural empire; it's far too late for that. But it's still kind of creepy.