Who thinks Martin Lawrence is a comic genius (besides Martin Lawrence, that is)? There must be somebody out there who sees brilliance in his loud, bug-eyed shtick, because he keeps getting starring roles. This time, he's a modern-day amusement park employee who ends up in Medieval England, where he somehow convinces everyone that he is both a messenger from France and a court jester. With the exception of an amusing scene where he teaches the king's musicians to get funky, Lawrence just goes through the boring old motions, playing racially stereotyped humiliation for laughs. He's aided and abetted by director Gil Junger and screenwriters Darryl J. Quarles, Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow, all of whom seem content to let Lawrence make a fool of himself while the bland supporting cast just stands around and watches. The only actor of note in the film, Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty"), brings a level of dignity to his role that it doesn't begin to deserve. If only he'd given lessons to the star. (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.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Arguably the most anticipated movie of the year, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is that rare effort that successfully breathes cinematic life into a children's classic. Even at a rump-numbing 152 minutes, director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone") manages to conjure enough visual flair and compelling performances to disguise the exposition-heavy nature of the source material. The deliberate pacing allows one to savor the mounting details of author J.K. Rowling's world. On the flip side, Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves ("Wonder Boys") opt to retain the novel's clunky prologue, while including certain fringe characters (such as the Bloody Baron and centaur Firenze) that don't add anything to the forward momentum of the plot. Surprisingly, the film is even less of a "kids story" than the print edition. Usually when Hollywood gets hold of this type of property, the result is a more sanitized account. But the movie, which follows the initial experiences of 11-year-old Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) as he comes to grips with the fact that he is a wizard by birth, is much darker, perhaps already establishing a tone more comparable to the latter books -- and inevitable sequels. There are moments of real fear in this PG-gauged endeavor, from a creepy forbidden forest to a menacing game featuring life-sized chess pieces (a scene more thrilling than the vaunted "Quidditch" match). Yet the most important thing that can be said for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is that it keeps the vision of the author intact, while crafting a picture that even those who are unfamiliar with the series can easily be sucked into. Given Hollywood's past track record, that's a fine trick indeed. (PG) -- JN
*** 1/2 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.
The Man Who Wasn't There
The latest offering from "O Brother Where Art Thou?" duo Joel and Ethan Coen is intriguing even though little seems to happen. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Ed Crane, a quiet, often ignored barber who uses an affair his wife (Frances McDormand) is having with her boss (recent Emmy winner James Gandolfini) to finance his dream of starting a dry cleaning franchise. "The Man Who Wasn't There" imitates the look of '40s thrillers but lacks the tension associated with such flicks. Fortunately, Thornton's distinctive features and voice make him an oddly appropriate choice for the lead. He can mesmerize a viewer with the way he is overlooked by the other characters. The Coen brothers' usual quirkiness is well in force (they combine the dynamics of criminal law with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). The Coen brothers may not achieve the alchemy of their previous efforts, but they thankfully never make flicks that fail to register an impression. (R) -- DL
*** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.
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.
Snowboarding is certainly an exciting sport to watch, with its gravity-defying leaps and smooth glides (not to mention the occasional wipe-out). When it's the backdrop for a movie as painfully stupid as "Out Cold," however, it loses some of its appeal simply by association. Set in a slacker paradise called Bull Mountain, Alaska, the story follows the predictable adventures of a group of locals (led by Jason London) trying to keep their home from being taken over by a big resort owner (Lee Majors, playing someone named John Majors -- how original). Directed by rock-video vets Brendan and Emmett Malloy, this is the kind of film that finds hilarity in things like a guy getting himself stuck in a hot tub drain, not long after he's been rudely awakened by a polar bear (and yes, this all involves injury to a particularly sensitive part of the male anatomy). Despite the wild snowboarding stunts and a funny gag reel at the end, "Out Cold" operates on the level of movies like "Porky's" (or maybe "Porky's II"), but without quite as much nudity. Which pretty much takes away its reason for existing in the first place. (PG-13) -- LL
* Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
The Farrelly brothers go sensitive with this surprisingly sweet love story, about a shallow jerk (Jack Black) who is hypnotized to notice only the inner beauty of those around him. When he falls in love with Rosemary, he pictures Gwyneth Paltrow, while the rest of the world sees an extremely overweight young woman who also happens to be a great person. Black ("High Fidelity") is perfect as Hal, who is as delusional about himself as he eventually is about Rosemary -- this is a guy who thinks gorgeous women should fall at his feet, despite his total lack of redeeming qualities. Paltrow, who thankfully doesn't wear the phony-looking fat suit for very long, actually convinces the audience that she doesn't think she's beautiful, and makes it easy to understand what Hal really sees in Rosemary. The Farrellys (who directed) and their co-screenwriter, Sean Moynihan, still can't resist cheap gags, including some fat jokes that almost undermine the film's message about seeing past the surface. They still show remarkable sensitivity, however, especially considering the kind of gross-out, over-the-line humor they usually spring on audiences. (PG-13) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.
Although director Tony Scott is best known for saber-rattling films like "Top Gun," he's also helmed the gripping, character-driven "Crimson Tide" which advocated restraint over firepower. "Spy Game" has a little bit of each Scott, and occasionally they cancel out the other. Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a retiring CIA agent who is trying to rescue his former protege (Brad Pitt). The younger "spook" has been captured by the Chinese government, and the agency bureaucrats have chosen to neglect the captive spy, which means certain death. Unlike "Top Gun," which portrayed warfare as an exhilarating adventure, "Spy Game" presents covert ops as necessary evils. Scott shows the gruesome cost of bombings and betrayal, but "Spy Game" is so weighed down with flashbacks that we never get close enough to the characters to care. There's some crisp dialogue and Scott's eye for action is typically sharp, but it's a bit tough to invest much emotion in a flick about folks who only have an opportunistic loyalty to each other. (R) -- DL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.