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Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Mag: Movie Spread

July 12, 2001

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HHH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

The animators at Disney have shaken up their classic formula for this Jules Verne-style adventure, which follows a group of explorers searching for the fabled lost civilization. There are basically two movies here: One is a rousing (PG-rated) action flick, while the other is a mix of creative anthropology and New Age weirdness. The clashing styles don't mesh very well, and there's a notable lack of decent dialogue and memorable characters -- two things Disney movies usually have in abundance. It's nice to see the studio try something different for a change, but they shouldn't forget the things that made them successful in the first place. (PG) -- LL

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Baby Boy

After delivering the powerful debut "Boyz N the Hood" and showing maturity with "Rosewood," it's a shame that writer-director John Singleton's sense of narrative has regressed to infancy in "Baby Boy." Moonlighting singer and model Tyrese Gibson stars as Jody, a 20-something man who takes pride in the fact that he's avoided a life of hard crime. That's all he can say for himself, though. Having no job, he sponges off his mother (A.J. Johnson) and strings along two women who each have a child with him. Waiting for Jody's character to develop seems intolerably long because of Singleton's meandering pacing and monotonously repetitive use of the central metaphor. Ving Rhames and rapper Snoop Dogg have some fine supporting turns, but Gibson offers a curiously uncharismatic lead performance. With "Shaft" and "Baby Boy," Singleton has mysteriously abandoned the believability that made his early movies so grown up. (R) -- DL

H1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Bridget Jones's Diary

British author Helen Fielding's novel "Bridget Jones's Diary" has become such a part of popular culture that even those who have not read the book are likely to be familiar with the central character and her futile but amusingly optimistic quest for self-improvement. For the most part, novice feature director Sharon Maguire, working from a script by Fielding, Andrew Davies (the television adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice") and Richard Curtis ("Notting Hill"), manages to recapture the outrageous situations and the attitudes in the book. Texan Renee Zellweger's agreeable performance of the world's most famous English singleton helps keep the film afloat despite a limp romantic rivalry between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. It's hard not to like a movie that features a funny cameo by persecuted "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie. Bridget Jones's musings may have been funnier in print, but they don't lose their impact on screen. (R) -- DL

HHH Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Cats & Dogs

Like "Babe" and "Stuart Little," "Cats & Dogs" features hordes of talking critters. But when it comes to storytelling, the newer flick falls short of the pig standard. In depicting the battle between canines (who are loyal to humans) and cats (who seek to dominate them), the filmmakers come up with some clever touches, like a Russian cat whose fur balls hide lethal surprises. There also is an amusing world of James Bond-like gadgets that the dogs use and that people just can't see. While the movie has some nifty technical trickery (combining live animals, puppets and digital images), the characters, both four and two-legged, are thin and not terribly imaginative. There are enough delights here and there to keep kids and their parents from getting restless, but a little more human heart might have made a world of difference. (PG) -- DL

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

crazy/beautiful

Those who assume there's nothing new to be extracted from the teen romance genre might give "crazy/beautiful" a look. The movie is able to circumvent its routine storyline of a Latino student (newcomer Jay Hernandez) who falls for a congressman's daughter (Kirsten Dunst) through subtle changes. For once, the rich white girl is portrayed as the screwup, while the poor ethnic boy is the popular, responsible, good student. (When has there been a film where the wealthy girl's parents disapprove of the kids' relationship because they think THEIR daughter isn't worthy?). Former teen actor John Stockwell ("Christine") tries his hand at directing, shooting the film in muted blues and lingering closeups with a minimum amount of camera trickery. The movie mainly relies on its convincing "tone," and the credible dialogue and acting (especially a very impressive Dunst in a tricky role) does much in establishing this. Despite 30-some pop songs crammed onto the film's soundtrack and a frequent lack of momentum, "crazy/beautiful" is an honest/absorbing tale. (PG-13) -- JN

HHH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Dish

Because the footage of Neil Armstrong taking the first human steps on the moon has been repeated so many times, it's easy to take the image itself for granted. Thanks to the crew of scientists (played by Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton) operating the radio telescope at Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, those pictures made it back to earth. Their story makes for a fresh and beguiling comedy loaded with dozens of amusing characters and situations -- for example, the telescope or "dish" is located in the middle of a sheep ranch. The story's a tad episodic and there's no suspense to speak of, but the Working Dog production team (who's also responsible for the hilarious Aussie film "The Castle") brilliantly pokes fun at the foibles of 1969 living (check out the amusingly accurate recreations of period news casts) without ever slipping into derision. Because of this attitude, viewers are treated to an enjoyably human story from what appears to be a cold, scientific instrument. (PG-13) -- DL

HHH Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Dr. Dolittle 2

Eddie Murphy seems to be systematically remaking Rex Harrison's filmography. Not only has he done two "Dr. Dolittle" films, he spends most of this movie playing Henry Higgins, too. Now famous for his ability to communicate with animals, Dr. Dolittle is tapped to save a forest from a logging company by teaching an endangered performing bear (voiced by Steve Zahn) to survive in the wild so he can mate with another bear (voiced by Lisa Kudrow) and turn the place into a protected refuge. "Dr. Dolittle 2" has pretty much the same dumb jokes as its predecessor, with the animals garnering a few laughs and Murphy looking like he just dropped by to pick up his paycheck. Next time, maybe he should remake "Blithe Spirit" -- at least it doesn't have belching monkeys. (PG) -- LL

H1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Evolution

This is the type of film that looks like it was more fun for the cast and crew to make than for the audience to watch. David Duchovny and Orlando Jones portray two community college scientists who are among the first to discover an unusual meteor. Examining this "rock that bleeds" reveals it to be a powderkeg of alien DNA that begins to evolve from amoebas to primates in a matter of weeks. Despite the big-name cast (which also includes Julianne Moore, Seann William Scott and Dan Aykroyd) and slick CGI effects, "Evolution" feels cheap and derivative. This is especially apparent whenever the focus shifts away from the leads, who are the only ones to treat their roles as a lark (Duchovny takes a few shots at his "X-Files" legacy.) The sci-fi plot is actually interesting enough that it might have been better suited as a serious thriller -- the effects are certainly convincing -- but director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters") plays the material strictly for dopey laughs. Thus, there is never a sense of danger stemming from the potentially catastrophic menace -- just a sense that another anal probe joke is mere minutes away. (PG-13) -- JN

HH Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

The Fast and the Furious

This crowd pleaser delves into the world of illegal street racing, where L.A. club kids seek out isolated city blocks to stage races instead of raves. Paul Walker ("Varsity Blues") stars as a wannabe contender who buddies up to one of the premier drivers on the scene (Vin Diesel, "Pitch Black"). The relationship leads to run-ins with gangs, the police, the feds and a clandestine band of masked hijackers. Director Rob Cohen recovers nicely from last year's abysmal thriller "The Skulls." He knows how to manipulate the medium by creating engrossing, vivid action sequences that seem to have a rhythm all their own. Intensified by a pulsating techno-metal soundtrack, Cohen uses speed the way most filmmakers employ lighting or color. Things rarely slow down long enough for the viewer to notice that the plot of "The Fast and Furious" is so illogical that the movie seems to exist in a Bizarro comic-book world. (Could there be a less efficient, more precarious way to hijack a truck than what these daredevils come up with?) When extraneous items like conversation or romance do threaten to halt the action, it just feeds coins into the guilty-pleasure meter. (PG-13) -- JN

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Kiss of the Dragon

Contemporary martial artists who use the word "dragon" in a film title will inevitably be compared to the genre's greatest icon, Bruce Lee. But there are some tangible similarities between Jet Li and the late Bruce Lee, beyond just the pronunciation of their names. In "Kiss of the Dragon" (based on a story by Li), the actor plays a Chinese government agent who arrives in Paris to help police nab an Asian drug cartel. When set up by a corrupt official (Tcheky Karyo) to take the fall for a murder, Li becomes a fugitive whose only support comes from an American hooker (Bridget Fonda). It's the action that justifies the film's routine plot, and the filmmakers consistently stage vivid, creative battles -- especially in a riveting hotel sequence that slowly builds before a single punch is thrown, and then the violence graduates to grenades and automatic weapons. (Interestingly, Li never once uses a gun.). The film often gets sidetracked when focusing on Li's relationship with the quirky Fonda, and the reluctant couple's stabs at humor come across as forced and extraneous. Li may have the acrobatic skills and smoldering intensity of Lee, but he has little of Jackie Chan's comic timing. (R) -- JN

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Memento

"John G raped and murdered my wife." Normally, it's not a piece of information one would need to tattoo on his chest to remember -- unless, of course, if during the murder/robbery attempt he was injured and lost all short-term memory. Such is the fate of Leonard Shelby (Australian actor Guy Pearce), a former insurance claims investigator now "living only for revenge." Already the hero of writer-director Christopher Nolan's haunting "Memento" is operating under a set of rules unique to detective cinema. Yet Nolan also throws an additional twist to the proceedings: He films the movie in reverse chronological order. This tactic suits the material because it puts the audience in the same predicament as the hero, in that past information is a total mystery. While this also means the movie has the potential to be anti-climactic (it starts with a murder and spells out to the audience who committed it and why), the story is relentlessly compelling thanks to Nolan's tricky script. Despite a downbeat ending that also makes one question what has previously transpired, "Memento" definitely earns the distinction of being termed unforgettable. (R) -- JN

HHH1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Moulin Rouge

If Fellini orchestrated a rave party, it would look something like writer/director Baz Luhrman's "Moulin Rouge." The film's reservoir-tip approach to pop culture combines the songs of Madonna and Nirvana during the musical numbers while breakneck edits, freakish costumes and eccentric sets stir up an optical whirlwind -- kind of kooky for a tale set in 1900 Paris. Ewan McGregor stars as an idealistic writer who is introduced to the Rouge's most famous courtesan (Nicole Kidman). Things get ugly when they attempt to hide their love from a jealous Duke (Richard Roxburgh) who is bankrolling the night club's new production. McGregor comes off best in this chaotic spectacle (both acting and singing), while Kidman offers a confident though somewhat detached performance. For such a visually groundbreaking film, the plot of "Moulin Rouge" is surprisingly prosaic. It ranges from predictable (anybody seen coughing at the start of a film will inevitably die by the end) to embarrassing (the climactic backstage struggle for a handgun is almost identical to the finale of "Miss Congeniality"). The result is a barrage on the eyes and ears that is a monumental exercise in style, yet doesn't quite add up to an entertaining experience. (PG-13) -- JN

HH1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Pearl Harbor

Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer go for the "Titanic"/"Saving Private Ryan" audience with this historical epic, which sets a love triangle against the infamous Pacific attack. "Pearl Harbor" takes a couple of hours to set up its dramatic backdrop, with Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as pilots who both fall in love with a nurse (Kate Beckinsale). Once the battle scene begins, the movie finally wakes up, but only for about 45 minutes. Everything about this film is shallow and programmed; even the horrific event of the title is more a thrill ride than a portrayal of human tragedy. Bay and Bruckheimer try to inject some emotion, but their specialty is blowing stuff up, and they can't seem to manage anything else. (PG-13) -- LL

H1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Pootie Tang

What do clipping toenails, ironing and sleeping have in common? They all require more wit and imagination than are on display in "Pootie Tang." By adapting his sketch from the "The Chris Rock Show," writer-director Louis C.K. manages to create the first flick lamer than the movies made from "Saturday Night Live" skits. The title character (Lance Crouther) has many talents (crime fighting and wearing outfits that would make Dolemite blush), but speaking in coherent utterances isn't one of them. While the movie is supposedly about his attempts to stop a corporate shark (a sadly wasted Robert Vaughn), it instead demonstrates why Chris Rock is a better standup comic than an actor. In addition to yelling his way through three different roles, Rock produced this attempt at satire that winds up being less amusing than the stuff (corporate greed, spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation cliches) it parodies. (PG-13) -- DL

H Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Scary Movie 2

The hilarious "Scary Movie" proved to be one of the few surprises of last summer and became the highest-grossing film ever made by a black director (Keenan Ivory Wayans). So it's no great shock that a sequel was rushed into production. Predictably, the stitching on this lifeless corpse is always evident. While the first movie followed the general outline of the "Scream" series, "Scary Movie 2" combines the plot of "The Haunting" with a completely unrelated prologue parody of "The Exorcist." Padding the proceedings are uneven gags from more topical flicks, including "The Hollow Man," "What Lies Beneath" and "Charlie's Angels." Though the original managed to be amusingly offensive in unpredictable ways, "Scary Movie 2" resorts to recycling previous bits (like Shawn Wayans' same-sex obsession) and striving for high grosses of another kind (there's as much projectile vomiting as in Monty Python's Mr. Creosote sketch). When the Wayans brothers do happen upon something funny, such as Chris Elliott's riotous entrance as a "handyman," they run the idea into the ground. A choice cast that partners congenial star Anna Faris with such newcomers as David Cross, Tim Curry and (gulp) Tori Spelling is merely shuttled from one disjointed scene to another in this shabby undertaking. (R) -- JN

H1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Shrek

Imagine a "Fractured Fairy Tales" with computer animation and lots of bathroom humor, with several digs at the Disney empire thrown in. That's "Shrek" in a nutshell -- a movie that makes a hero out of an ogre, a villain out of a dashing prince and a butt-kicking dynamo out of a cursed princess. "Shrek" is always just this side of brilliant, with its smart satire frequently undercut by easy, often outdated jokes ("Babe" and the Macarena are hardly ripe targets these days). What's good about this movie is very good, however: off-the-wall humor, memorable characters and an irreverent attitude that Walt and Co. would never dream of. (PG) -- LL

HHH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Swordfish

In "Swordfish," John Travolta, sporting a soul patch and slimmer frame, gives a performance with more skill and menace than he's demonstrated in years. After he delivers a great opening monologue, the movie, from "Lethal Weapon" producer Joel Silver and "Gone in Sixty Seconds" director Dominic Sena, nearly sinks under the weight of overkill (snicker as novices take to firing rocket launchers like ducks to water). Admittedly, the setup has a lot of potential. Expert hacker Hugh Jackman ("X-Men") is recruited by Travolta to help swipe billions from a dormant government fund. Figuring, probably correctly, that audiences would rather watch explosions, car chases, gunplay and cleavage than people typing on computer screens, the filmmakers deliver. Nonetheless, there's an air of audience condescension that makes "Swordfish" feel wanting in the end. (R) -- DL

HH Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Tomb Raider

It's a shame that a film inspired by a video game is such a lose-lose situation. As the voluptuous and lethal heroine Lara Croft, Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie fights a brave but futile battle against a tepid, derivative script (written by no less than 11 scribes) and shoddy, workmanlike direction from Simon West ("The General's Daughter" and "Con-Air"). The game has characters with roughly three dimensions, while inhabitants of the movie have fewer. In telling how Lady Croft has to battle against a secret organization for control of an ancient artifact that makes time travel possible, West commits the cardinal sin of an action movie: He makes the audience wait too long for thrills. When they half-heartedly arrive, most come in the form of unimaginative computer-generated images that are less convincing than the ones in the game. (PG-13) -- DL

H1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

With a Friend Like Harry

This intriguing French import proves that it's actually wise to look a gift horse in the mouth. Laurent Lucas ("Pola X") stars as Michel, a cash-strapped sad sack with a jalopy and an unfinished house. When he encounters his old high school chum Harry (Spanish actor Sergi Lopez), Michel finds that his acquaintance has inherited a fortune and is happy to use it to help. With his baby face and cheery can-do attitude, Harry seems benign until one discovers how twisted his generosity really is. The script by German director Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand ("Human Resources") succeeds not necessarily by surprising the audience but by making worst-case scenarios become gradually real. Lopez, who won the Cesar (French Oscar), is a worthy successor to such Hitchcockian villains as Anthony Perkins and Robert Walker. From the opening credits (which cast shadows on the action) to its fascinatingly unsettling ending, Moll creates an eerie atmosphere that never lets up. (N/R) -- DL

HHH Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

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