You can get away with a lot if you have good characters and a cast to match, as Barry Levinson proves with this otherwise formulaic crime comedy. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play a pair of bank robbers who both fall in love with the bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) they take as an all-too-willing hostage. Levinson and screenwriter Harley Peyton pile on the personality quirks, which become absolutely hilarious in the hands of their leads. Willis' Joe is smooth-talking and impulsive, the kind of guy who never thinks anything through because he really doesn't need to. Thornton, on the other hand, plays an obsessive, rambling hypochondriac who can literally imagine himself into a serious illness, while Blanchett holds her own as the duo's defiantly neurotic captive. Even the supporting characters, including Troy Garity as a getaway driver/would-be stuntman, are nutty without being annoying. "Bandits" is about half an hour too long, but even the repetitive scenes take on some new twists in the hands of these actors, who manage to wring every possible laugh out of what they've been given. (PG-13) -- LL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
John Travolta's comeback continues to go down in flames with this idiotic thriller, about a divorced dad trying to protect his son (Matt O'Leary) from a murderous stepfather (Vince Vaughn). Virtually every bad-movie element is present here, including inept cops, brainless victims and a villain with apparent superpowers. Vaughn, O'Leary and Steve Buscemi (as Vaughn's victim) find ways to elevate Lewis Colick's useless script, giving it their all despite the dearth of material. Director Harold Becker at least has a sense of how to pace a story like this, although building suspense is hopeless, given the story's predictability. As for Travolta, he's as likable as ever, but he needs to stop coasting on that and start acting again. Watching him throw away the opportunity that movies like "Pulp Fiction" and "Get Shorty" gave him is becoming painful. "Domestic Disturbance" certainly isn't as bad as some of his recent films, but when the best thing you can say about an actor's career choices is, "At least it's not 'Battlefield Earth,'" you know things are getting bleak. (PG-13) -- LL
* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Over a century after he murdered five London prostitutes, Jack the Ripper remains the serial killer by which all others are measured. The mystery surrounding his identity was great fodder for the tabloids of the time, and continues to fascinate everyone from historians to filmmakers. Twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes are the latest to tackle the story, directing this graphic, stylish tale of a police inspector (Johnny Depp) whose opium-induced visions give him clues about the Ripper's activities. His investigations lead straight up the ladder of the Victorian social hierarchy, to a conspiracy involving Freemasons and the royal family. While it's a fairly outrageous (though not necessarily new) premise, it makes for exciting drama, and the Hughes Brothers, along with screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, deftly combine elements of horror and whodunit. They fumble badly with the insertion of a love story between Depp and Heather Graham, who plays one of Jack's intended victims -- it's a completely unnecessary addition, made even less appealing by the relative flatness of the characters (the supporting cast fares much better). At its best, though, "From Hell" is smart and appropriately lurid, guaranteed to keep the legend alive well into the next 100 years. (R) -- LL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Any movie that consists mostly of two guys talking needs both great actors and a great script. "K-PAX" has great actors and a good script. Based on Gene Brewer's 1995 novel, this is a drama with mild sci-fi leanings about a mental patient (Kevin Spacey) who claims to be from outer space, and the doctor (Jeff Bridges) who tries to understand him. Charles Leavitt's screenplay leaves just a hint of ambiguity about who the man really is, while taking plenty of time for lengthy discourses on family, human nature and other Big Issues. At times, "K-PAX" feels like "Forrest Gump" crossed with "Starman," offering pop-Zen platitudes that sound great until you really think about them. That's assuming you can remember them in the first place, since there isn't much in the way of snappy dialogue here. The film rests almost entirely on the shoulders of Spacey and Bridges, who act up a storm, especially when they're exploring the mystery surrounding Spacey's identity, which is easily the most interesting part of the script. Director Iain Softley may as well have been helming a play instead of a movie -- most of "K-PAX" is static and set-bound, leaving the two stars alone to keep the audience's attention. The fact that they do so says more about them than it does about their material. (PG-13) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Back in 1995, Pixar Studios raised the bar for animated films with the release of "Toy Story," which combined groundbreaking animation with an incredibly clever script. The folks at Pixar could be forgiven for resting on their laurels after that success (and a couple of short film Oscars), but they've continued to amaze audiences with the sheer inventive wonder of their movies. "Monsters, Inc." isn't going to slow them down a bit. The story is set in Monstropolis, where the creatures hiding in the closet live and work, collecting the screams of frightened children to power their city. When an adorable toddler gets loose in the monsters' world, she (literally) latches on to gentle giant Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) and his best friend, an egg-shaped motor-mouth named Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). Trouble is, the monsters are more afraid of the kid than she is of them, and they have to overcome their fear of the little "killing machine" before they can help her get back home. With lots of grown-up humor to go with the funny visuals, "Monsters, Inc." has the kind of wide-ranging appeal that made its predecessors so enjoyable. The inclusion of a new short film, "For the Birds," only adds to the fun -- it's like having a cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the icing on the cake. (G) -- LL
*** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
"Where'd you get the coconuts?" "Bring out your dead!" "It's only a model." If those lines prompt a five-minute recitation of dialogue among you and your friends, then it's time to join the other Monty Python fanatics to celebrate the re-release of this 1975 classic, complete with a new digital stereo soundtrack and 24 seconds of additional footage (that's right, 24 whole seconds). This isn't just a movie for Python cultists, though -- it's also a brilliant parody of musicals, epic adventure films, romantic dramas and just about everything else under the sun, all in the guise of the King Arthur story. Graham Chapman is a gloriously pompous Arthur, trying desperately to retain his royal dignity in the face of killer bunny rabbits and knights who say "Ni!" Of course, he and the other Pythons (John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones) take on multiple roles throughout the film, proving to anyone who doesn't know already that they were some of the most versatile comic actors ever to grace the screen. With the exception of Chapman, they're all still around, but none of them have ever quite reached the heights they attained with "Holy Grail." Considering some of the work they've done since (like "Brazil" and "A Fish Called Wanda"), that says something about just how good this one really is. (PG) -- LL
**** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.
After his foray into linear filmmaking with "The Straight Story," some people wondered if David Lynch had mellowed in middle age. Was he going to stop making the freaky, surreal movies that had been his trademark for so many years? Well, Lynch's fans can breathe easy with the release of "Mulholland Drive," which is as bizarre and disturbing as anything he's done. Ostensibly an L.A. noir about an amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) and the aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) who helps her find an identity, this is really a waking dream about corrupted innocence, shifting realities and the garish, decaying beauty that is the seedier side of Hollywood. Harring and, especially, Watts are downright chameleonic as they tackle their characters' multiple identities, which reach an insane level by the end of the story. And they are surrounded by the usual array of oddball cameos by the likes of Ann Miller and Robert Forster. Anyone hoping for a conventional narrative will be disappointed (and probably shouldn't be watching the film in the first place), but those who appreciate Lynch's twisted vision will be glad to go along for the nightmare. (R) -- LL
*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.
Hong Kong action star Jet Li is not only willing to play a bad guy, but he's also able to do it with some flair. It's a shame that "The One" doesn't capitalize on that with the same skill. There are some possibilities in the story about a murderer (Li) who travels from universe to universe killing his parallel selves. Fortunately, the last of these men (also played by Li) is getting some help from a pair of inter-dimensional cops (Jason Statham and Delroy Lindo). The cornball script by producer Glen Morgan and director James Wong (the team behind "Final Destination") borrows liberally from "Highlander," "The Terminator" and "The Matrix" without offering anything interesting in return. The digital effects are also a liability because they remove the wonder of watching Li's grace and agility. One never gets the sense that he is more than a computer-generated face. There is a thrill to seeing Li act against type and to do it with some flair. It's a shame that little else in "The One" reflects his singular talents. (PG-13) -- DL
* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Riding in Cars With Boys
If you're going to ask an audience to follow a character for more than two hours, it helps if that character has a few likable qualities. Beverly Donofrio, the protagonist of this overlong drama, might have one or two if you look really hard. Mostly, though, she is simply shallow, thickheaded and stunningly self-absorbed, which isn't going to endear her to too many viewers. The real-life Donofrio, on whose 1990 memoir the movie is based, helped picked Drew Barrymore for the lead, in what looks like an attempt to make herself seem more sympathetic. It doesn't work. Barrymore gives a fine performance in a very difficult role, going from a pregnant teen-ager to a tired, divorced thirtysomething, but even her charming screen presence can't make Beverly any less irritating. The supporting characters deserve the real pity, given her treatment of them, but they are poorly defined, drifting in and out of the story at key moments. Director Penny Marshall and screenwriter Morgan Upton Ward never focus the narrative, a common problem with biopics which try to condense an entire life into a single feature, especially a life as generally unremarkable as this one. The end result is a slow, rambling exercise in frustration, as the urge to fast-forward the film competes with the urge to strangle its heroine. (PG-13) -- LL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
"Serendipity" is a romantic comedy with meager thematic ambition and no trace of originality. Fortunately, director Peter Chelsom ("Town and Country") and writer Marc Klein come up with enough engaging characters and situations to more than compensate for a routine story. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale star as a young couple who meet while shopping for a pair of gloves and then decide to test destiny to see if they were really intended to be an item. The story is thin, and the conclusion is foregone. Nonetheless, Cusack and Beckinsale both manage to shine. They also have to take some serious effort to keep from being upstaged by Molly Shannon as a New Age shopkeeper who doubts the value of her own wares and regular Cusack foil Jeremy Piven as an obit writer whose job has left him a tad too sardonic. Eugene Levy from "American Pie" dominates the film in a brief role as an anal-retentive store clerk. "Serendipity" may be faulted for its small goals, but fate looks kindly on a film that consistently meets them. (PG-13) -- DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
If the folks behind this remake of the 1960 William Castle horror flick really cared about his work, they'd come up with cool gimmicks like he did. The producer/director was known for showing up at screenings emerging from a coffin or electroshocking the audience at key points in the film. The new "Thirteen Ghosts" has none of this gaudy showmanship, and none of the fun. Tony Shalhoub ("Spy Kids") stars as a penniless math teacher who inherits an expensively weird house from his uncle (F. Murray Abraham) only to discover that the dwelling is actually a prison for 12 homicidal spooks. By the time the filmmakers get around to the 13th ghost, indifference and confusion reign because none of the characters are thought out well enough to elicit concern, and the dialogue has less wit than graffiti on bathroom walls. Perhaps the best gimmick these filmmakers could offer viewers is a ticket to the much scarier "The Others." (R) -- DL
* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.