Who's in It:
Liu Ye, Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn
The Basics: A brilliant Chinese grad student comes to America, with the promise of academic freedom and an opportunity to make a better life, gets bogged down in university politics, shot down by the foxy coffee-shop waitress, abandoned by his friends and indulged by a rich white lady with a fetish for Asians. Then he snaps and shoots up the place.
What's the Deal? I had the big idea to call it Real Genuis: The Tragedy. But then I decided that that was insulting to the awesome Real Genius. Because while I'm sure the real-life incident this is based on (1991 shootings at the University of Iowa) followed a similar trajectory, that doesn't make this movie interesting or dramatic or insightful at all. Even Streep seems lost and she's barely in it, so don't be tricked into thinking she's a reason to buy a ticket.
Guns Don't Kill People; Cowboys Kill People: You'd think that a movie like this would be a little less out of touch with the issue of gun violence in America. But there are actual fantasy sequences here where the main guy dreams of being an Old West gunslinger, like he's been watching High Noon over and over or something. Because we all know that when the gun debate pops up in the culture, Gary Cooper is the first thing on everyone's minds.
A Moment of Reality, Badly Directed: It makes perfect sense that the last straw for this guy is that the woman he's crushed on rejects him. It's always about sex. Of course, his descent into despair has to be tempered by weird scenes of intentionally funny bad karaoke. But by that point, I'd stopped asking why.
Where You've Seen Liu: If you're the kind of person who goes to Chinese art-house movies, then you've probably seen him in American-released films like Postmen in the Mountains, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Purple Butterfly and Curse of the Golden Flower. Or not. I know it took me until seeing him for a fifth time to think, "I've seen this guy in other stuff. But what?"