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Hotel New Hampshire and Changing Lanes

July 1, 1993

Hotel New Hampshire and Changing Lanes

By By Jim Speilman

By Jim Spelman

Movie critic

Hotel New Hampshire was the only movie I’ve rented lately. It was also recently shown on Bravo. If you missed it, watch for it to be aired again. If you enjoy offbeat comedy, John Irving’s story of an oddball New England family, its peculiar pets and weird friends and their adventures here and abroad, fills the bill.

Though it continually evokes chuckles, chortles and laughter, its unlikely themes are love, hate, sex, discovery, death, success, failure, incest and the rationality of insanity. It’s a wonderfully fanciful novel transferred from paper to film without losing any of Irving’s storytelling sorcery.

Changing Lanes is a different kind of tale. It portrays the relationship between two unacquainted men who, while rushing from different parts of New York City to make appearances in the same court, happen to meet when their cars collide.

Samuel L. Jackson plays a hardworking, but self-centered, insurance telemarketer whose wife has petitioned the court for permission to take their children with her to Portland, Oregon. In a last-ditch attempt to persuade her not to leave, he has arranged to buy a house for her and the children.

On the morning of the hearing on his wife’s petition, he is threading his old Toyota through heavy traffic on the FDR expressway, hoping that the judge will listen to his vow of love and stability and deny his wife permission to move his kids to the other end of the country.

At the same time, Ben Affleck’s character, a young lawyer rapidly ascending the social and economic ladder, is wheeling his late-model Mercedes along the same route. He is armed with evidence he knows will defeat his adversary’s plea to terminate his senior partners’ trusteeship of a multi-million dollar estate.

In their mutual haste, the two collide. Jackson’s car winds up disabled while Affleck’s is merely dented. Affleck, in a hurry to get to court and win his case, offers Jackson a blank check to pay for any damage. For support so he can write, he takes a file out of his briefcase, scribbles off a check and hands it to Jackson.

Meanwhile, Jackson is trying, above the roar of traffic, to tell the arrogant lawyer that he doesn’t want the money but just a ride to the courthouse. “Better luck next time,” says Affleck, as he jumps into his Mercedes and speeds off.

As a result, Jackson is 20 minutes late for the hearing and despite his begging, the busy judge, having already granted the wife permission to move, tells him politely to get lost.

In another courtroom, Affleck, who has also missed the call of his case, confidently tells his judge that he has written proof of his partners’ right to manage the trust. “Show me,” says his honor. When he can’t find the evidence in his briefcase, Affleck remembers handing the file and the check to Jackson. His expectations of instant victory dashed, he realizes that he doesn’t know the name or address of the person who now possesses his evidence.

What ensues is reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King’s wonderful story of bloodless revenge. Each of the men in Changing Lanes blames the other for his predicament. After the lawyer learns the name of Jackson’s character, and the latter realizes he has something the other wants, revenge and its consequences become the central theme of the movie. The story of the men’s attempts and failures to get even give credence to a belief I hold—that vengeance is the eighth deadly sin. The writing, direction, acting and editing of the film make it a gripper that held my attention from beginning to end. It definitely earned the four stars that some reviewers gave it.

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