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Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

The Mag: Movie Spread

June 28, 2001

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HH Plaza Six, 2339 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 a 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.

The Center of the World

The Web site for "The Center of the World" is elaborate and surprising, even if it is a bit kinky. It's too bad the movie itself can't follow suit. Director Wayne Wang ("Smoke") tells a meandering tale about an Internet tycoon (Peter Sarsgaard) who hires a stripper (Molly Parker) to spend a weekend with him. Predictably, real love doesn't ensue. The point is driven home in an obvious and rather tepid manner. For a movie that's aimed at trying to explore sex and technology in new ways, "The Center of the World" often comes across as backward. In the current business environment, people like the Sarsgaard character sink more businesses than sustain them. Fortunately, Parker's terrific performance keeps the film from feeling like a waste of the audience's venture capital. (R) -- DL

H1/2 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.

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.

The Mummy Returns

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz return in this sequel to the 1999 hit, proving Hollywood's contention once again that script and characters are irrelevant when you've got really cool special effects. This time, the desecration of an ancient tomb not only brings back the first film's mummy (Arnold Vosloo), but also sets in motion the raising of a fearsome general (wrestler The Rock) and his supernatural army. Writer-director Stephen Sommers keeps the action going non-stop, and outdoes himself at every turn. Sure, the dialogue is lame and the characters are all stereotypes, but who cares? It's got thousands of computer-generated anthropomorphic jackals rampaging across the Egyptian desert, and that's all anyone should really need. (PG-13) -- LL

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 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 Southwind Twelve, 3433 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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