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Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2000

Movies

September 28, 2000

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The Art of War

Wesley Snipes is a great action movie hero. With his cool, quick wit and stunning athleticism, he is nearly always more interesting than hulking mush-mouths like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Too bad he couldn't pick a better showcase than this dull "thriller," which pits his secret agent against a cabal of bad guys trying to stop a trade summit with China. When director Christian Duguay ("Screamers") isn't inserting annoying flashbacks and finding excuses to show naked Asian women, he's shamelessly ripping off "The Matrix." This means a handful of decent fight scenes, with lots of wasted celluloid in between. (R) -- LL

* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Bait

Some stars carry their movies, so it's a wonder Jamie Foxx ("Any Given Sunday") didn't get back strain from the burden of "Bait." Foxx plays Alvin Sanders, a small-time con whom the Feds use to lure a homicidal gold thief (Doug Huchison). Foxx takes what could have been a stereotypical role and imbues the bumbling con with charm and dignity. When he and the chief federal agent (played to cold-blooded perfection by David Morse) leave the screen, what remains is a slick, badly edited cliche. (R) -- DL

  • * Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Bring It On

The world of cheerleading competitions is the setting for this teen comedy, which stars Kirsten Dunst as the head of a suburban squad who learns that her predecessor stole the group's routines from an inner-city school. "Bring It On" bypasses the opportunity to deal with the class and race issues involved in such a story, preferring instead to address weightier topics like dating and cheer choreography. That said, though, "Bring It On" is a likable movie with a pleasant cast (including scene-stealers Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union) and just enough attitude to make it genuinely fun to watch. (PG-13) -- LL

  • * 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

But I'm a Cheerleader

An undeniably funny if utterly obvious premise is squandered in the first feature film of Jamie Babbit, who sends wholesome teen-ager Natasha Lyonne to a rehab camp on the suspicion she's a lesbian; after all, she likes tofu and isn't turned on by her jock boyfriend's tongue-ramming make-out style. For a film seeking to satirize the stereotyping of gays, "But I'm a Cheerleader" is as shamelessly hypocritical as it is hopelessly unfunny; it's rah-rah-sis-boom-bah bad. (R) -- LL

  • Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Butterfly

Don't let the fact that the main character (Manuel Lozano) is a small boy or the gorgeous photography fool you. Director Jose Luis Cuerda's "Butterfly," the story of the lad and his relationship with his wizened, outspoken teacher (Fernando Fernan Gomez from "The Grandfather"), chillingly describes the rise of the fascists in 1930s Spain. Thanks to some terrific performances (particularly from the regal Gomez) and a genuine sense of wonder, the human cost of the Spanish Civil War becomes horrifying real. (R) -- DL

*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Cecil B. Demented

The latest entry from director John Waters ("Pink Flamingos") is typically uneven. "Cecil B. Demented" still deserves recognition because it mercilessly skewers all of the agonies of recent filmgoing, from needless remakes to overpriced concessions. The story itself, about a spoiled starlet (a delightfully typecast Melanie Griffith) kidnapped by and later inducted into a group of cinema terrorists led by the titular character (Stephen Dorff), allows Waters to indulge in his usual vulgarity (a sequence in a porno theater is a guilty treat). Nonetheless, Waters' affection for his eccentric characters makes him stand head and organs above the current generation of gross-out artists. (R) -- DL

  • ** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

The Cell

Audiences are beginning to learn that the phrase "music video director-turned feature filmmaker" isn't exactly something to holler about. Director Tarsem Singh (best known for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" video) crafts a mindbender that straddles the fence between Orwell, Dante and a Lexus commercial -- when it isn't busy retreading on routine serial killer ground. Jennifer Lopez plays a psychologist involved with a high-tech research project who is recruited to enter the mind of a comatose murderer (Vincent D'Onofrio) in order to extract where the sadist has hidden his latest soon-to-be-dead victim. Vince Vaughn joins the melee as a loopy FBI agent with some issues of his own. Singh's disturbing visuals are impressively over-the-top, but the story wastes an intriguing setup by delivering a linear, predictable potboiler. (R)

-- JN

** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Duets

Who knew karaoke was such a life-changer? In this ensemble drama, three odd couples make their way to a national championship in Omaha, Neb. Paul Giamatti is a burned-out salesman who befriends a paroled convict (Andre Braugher); Scott Speedman plays a cab driver chauffeuring a troubled competitive singer (Maria Bello); and Huey Lewis plays a karaoke hustler who meets his long-lost daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth's dad) is a veteran TV producer, and he hasn't quite got the hang of fitting multiple storylines into a two-hour feature. There are interesting characters here, but just as the audience gets to know them, the movie is over. (R) -- LL

  • * 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Highlander: Endgame

Unless the prospect of ogling Adrian Paul's physique gives you heart palpitations, there's nothing to recommend the fourth entry in the "Highlander" series. While no one watches these flicks to hear Nobel-worthy prose from the actors' mouths or authentic historical detail, this installment features lame swordplay (the only real slicing is in the editing room), laughable romance, underwhelming special effects and confusing flashbacks. This time Conor Macleod (Christopher Lambert) and Duncan Macleod (Paul) share the screen. It's likely to appease the faithful, but "Endgame" won't win any converts to the "Highlander" cult. (R) -- DL

1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Nurse Betty

Kansas University grad Neil Labute ("In the Company of Men") provides a gentler, though no less memorable, offering than his previously abrasive directorial efforts. Renee Zellweger stars as Betty Sizemore, a pure-hearted waitress from Fair Oaks, Kan., whose brush with two hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) jars her out of reality, sending her on a cross-country trek to find the man of her dreams. Regrettably, that man is Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear), a character on Betty's favorite soap opera. "Nurse Betty" functions best when paralleling the looking-for-perfection stories of the elder killer (played with cagey charm by Freeman) and the spunky Betty. It's not always believable, and its finale succumbs to sitcom conventions, but the film's eccentric appeal grows stronger with hindsight. (R) -- JN

  • ** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Original Kings of Comedy

This concert film has a grainy look (it was shot on video), muddy sound and contagious laughter. The quartet of standup artists (Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac) outgrossed boy band The Backstreet Boys on its last tour. It's easy to see why. Even though they play a large area, the show is remarkably interactive (Hughley has a field day teasing the crowd). Director Spike Lee doesn't do anything terribly innovative here, but he does capture the energy of being in the court of these monarchs. (R) -- DL

  • ** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

The Replacements

The same formula that powered the "Major League" baseball flicks is applied to the gridiron, only with less success. Quarterback Keanu Reeves leads a team of scab football players when the greedy union football pros strike. There are some nice touches. The "scab" cheerleaders, who are moonlighting strippers, are a hoot, and Rhys Ifans ("Notting Hill") is great as a randy Welsh place-kicker. Sadly, the premise gets old quickly, making one wonder if a few replacement filmmakers might have come up with something funnier and more creative. (PG-13) -- DL

*** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Space Cowboys

Replaced by chimps during the Eisenhower-era space program, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner play retired Air Force personnel called back to duty to repair an antiquated Russian satellite. Director Eastwood and cast are most enjoyable when poking fun at their aging tough guy/womanizing personas, but the movie's shopworn plot is as weathered as the lines on Eastwood's face. It's apparent the director spent more time watching John Glenn footage than attending any recent movies, because the film unabashedly pilfers entire scenes from "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." The charisma of its four principles is the lone element that makes this space hokum tolerable, especially during the film's confusing climax, which is rife with scientific implausibilities. (PG-13) -- JN

** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Urban Legends: Final Cut

The first "Urban Legends" was hardly a masterpiece, but it looks like a Hitchcock classic compared to this mess. A student film crew is stalked by a masked maniac, whose ineptitude is matched only by the stupidity of his victims. Worse yet, John Ottman's direction is so utterly lacking in style or suspense, it isn't even any fun to guess who the killer is or how gruesome the next murder will be. Slasher movies can be many things -- exciting, funny, disgusting -- but they should NEVER be boring. (R). -- LL

  • Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Watcher

Hey, another serial killer movie. There just aren't enough of those, are there? This one casts Keanu Reeves as the psycho in question, as he taunts a haggard ex-FBI agent (James Spader). Marisa Tomei plays Spader's therapist, who ends up with her mouth taped shut, which is lucky for her because then she no longer has to recite this film's dreadful dialogue. The dialogue isn't the worst thing about "The Watcher," either. That would be the third-rate rock video directing, or possibly the wooden acting, or even the laughably idiotic plot twists. Movies like this are why film critics get paid. (R) -- LL

No stars. Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Way of the Gun

Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for writing "The Usual Suspects," so it would be logical to think that he could make another sharp, twisting crime thriller. It would also be wrong. "The Way of the Gun" feels half-hearted, as if McQuarrie wanted to be doing ANYTHING but following the exploits of two lunkheaded kidnappers (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro) as they hold a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) for ransom. Slow, pointless and needlessly sadistic, this film barely shows a glimmer of what McQuarrie has already proved himself capable. Maybe it's time to find a new genre. (R) -- LL

  • 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

What Lies Beneath

Alfred Hitchcock said he could play an audience like an organ. In "What Lies Beneath," director Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") plays them like a broken kazoo. The movie incorporates a lot of the master's favorite devices (skewed camera angles and dissonant music). Still, the story of housewife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her professor husband (a badly miscast Harrison Ford) being disturbed by their neighbors and his own indiscretions is funnier than Zemeckis' "Death Becomes Her." Thanks to the director's affinity for needless special effects, this attempt at reaching adult audiences feels more strained than supernatural. (PG-13) -- DL

* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Woman On Top

This slight comedy is suffocated by its own cutesiness, and what little humor it does generate evaporates as quickly as the film's frothy samba soundtrack. Penelope Cruz plays Isabella, a Brazilian chef whose magical gift for cooking is counterbalanced by her acute case of motion sickness. Venezuelan director Fina Torres ("Celestial Clockwork") attempts a blend of food, sex and the supernatural in a way that echoes the Mexican import "Like Water for Chocolate." But the plantain-thin plot of "Woman On Top" is utterly charmless and inspires a queasiness among viewers that Isabella could sympathize with. At least Cruz is beguiling, even when the plot does little to capitalize on her runaway chef's peculiarities. Unfortunately, the supporting cast (including Mark Feuerstein as the TV producer neighbor who offers Isabella her own cooking show) can't dignify the wispy material as deftly. Cruz may be the woman on top, but there's little underneath to support her weight. (R) -- JN

  • 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

-- reviews by Loey Lockerby, Dan Lybarger and Jon Niccum

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