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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2001

THE MAG: Movie Listings

October 18, 2001

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Bandits

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.

Bruce Willis, left, and Billy Bob Thornton play a pair of criminals
known as the "Sleepover Bandits" who become smitten with their
latest victim in the quirky comedy "Bandits."

Bruce Willis, left, and Billy Bob Thornton play a pair of criminals known as the "Sleepover Bandits" who become smitten with their latest victim in the quirky comedy "Bandits."

Corky Romano

Some movies are so empty that they barely seem to exist. "Corky Romano," starring the ever-hyper "Saturday Night Live" member Chris Kattan, is a case in point. As a sweet-natured veterinary assistant whose mob family puts him undercover at the FBI, Kattan can't even manage to be annoying he's just vaguely irritating, kind of like a gnat. There are a few laughs to be had watching the actor bounce around, but director Rob Pritts and writers David Garrett and Jason Ward can't seem to figure out what to do with their star or his bored-looking supporting cast. Everyone is reduced to just standing there while Kattan does his schtick, which is only funny for about 10 minutes, anyway. The result is a film whose very blandness is its greatest asset, since it's too dull and unmemorable to upset anyone. (PG-13) LL
* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Don't Say a Word

"Don't Say a Word" pleads on bended knee for its audience to abandon common sense in the name of lukewarm thrills. Michael Douglas ("Traffic") stars as an upscale shrink who has been forced to "cure" a young mental patient so that she will reveal a mysterious code. If he doesn't deliver, an English thug (Sean Bean from "Goldeneye") will kill his young daughter. Director Gary Fleder ("Kiss the Girls") has some visual flair (the hospital looks like something out of Poe), but the material consistently falls on the side of the familiar and the outlandish. For example, as Douglas' wife (Famke Janssen) manages to subdue one of the perps despite the fact that she has an enormous cast on one leg. As a rule of thumb, be wary of movies where Douglas plays opposite a leading lady more than half his age. The kind of effort it takes to create convincing female characters past the age of 40 is absent from this script. (R) DL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Ghost World

In his brief 80-page comic series "Ghost World," cartoonist Daniel Clowes manages to make the ennui of two sarcastic teenage girls scathingly funny and often oddly moving. Director Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb") reaches the same emotions and adds some new characters and situations that are entertaining in their own right. Thora Birch ("American Beauty") and Scarlett Johannson ("The Horse Whisperer") play Enid and Rebecca, two recent graduates of high school (or in Enid's case, a near graduate) who find their new environment phony and rather disturbing. Rebecca adapts, but Enid always seems out of place. Zigoff and Clowes teamed up on the script and, like Enid, view the world with a unique blend of sarcasm and compassion. It's also refreshing to see eternal oddball Steve Buscemi playing something other than a criminal. By exaggerating the foibles of modern life only slightly, Zwigoff and Clowes have made a satire that has more than ridicule on its mind. In some ways it seems fitting that a comic book adaptation offers a more realistic and entertaining film than most reworkings of novels. (R) DL
*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Hearts in Atlantis

Anthony Hopkins is the kind of actor who can make almost any film interesting simply by being on screen, and "Hearts in Atlantis" is no exception. As Ted Brautigan, a mysterious psychic who moves into the home of a single mother (Hope Davis) and her young son (Anton Yelchin), Hopkins brings his trademark melancholy thoughtfulness to the role, and he provides an anchor for this otherwise scattershot film. Director Scott Hicks ("Shine") and screenwriter William Goldman have adapted two of the five connected stories from Stephen King's 1999 book, and the narrative gaps between them make the movie nearly incoherent. Most of the relationships, including that between Yelchin and Hopkins, are not drawn clearly enough to be affecting, and a subplot about a group of shadowy men harassing Hopkins just seems silly. With the exception of Davis, who has little to work with, the actors fare reasonably well, especially Yelchin, who holds his own with his formidable co-star. For the most part, however, this is just a conventional coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist, and one that never quite holds together, despite the best efforts of its cast. (PG-13) LL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Vinessa Shaw, left, plays an FBI agent who helps instruct a faux
French officer (Chris Kattan) who is actually infiltrating the
bureau in the light comedy "Corky Romano."

Vinessa Shaw, left, plays an FBI agent who helps instruct a faux French officer (Chris Kattan) who is actually infiltrating the bureau in the light comedy "Corky Romano."

Iron Monkey

Thanks to the success of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," other terrific martial arts films are finding an American audience like this energetically diverting little gem from 1993, which is being released in subtitled form rather than with an annoyingly cheesy dub. Produced and co-written by Hong Kong master Tsui Hark ("Peking Opera Blues"), "Iron Monkey" follows the exploits of a mysteriously gifted kung fu bandit (Yu Rong Guang) who pilfers from a corrupt regional governor (James Wong) so that starving refugees can have a decent meal. The bureaucrat gets understandably peeved and forces a poor country doctor with crack fighting skills named Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) to capture the outlaw. The ensuing pursuit results in an abundance of gravity defying wonder. Director Yuen Woo-Ping later coordinated the action scenes in "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and stages dozens of eye-popping sequences including a finale involving our heroes dodging punches as they scale flaming wooden poles. Whereas "Tiger" was slow, subtle and elegiac in tone, "Iron Monkey" is fast, broad and often humorous in a slapstick sort of way. Much of the fun comes from watching a 10-year-old lad beating up thugs with only an umbrella. It's interesting to note that this kid (Tsang Sze-Man) grows up to become the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hong, whom both Jackie Chan and Jet Li have played several times. (PG-13) DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Joy Ride

In this cautionary tale about the dangers of playing a practical joke on a stranger, Paul Walker and Steve Zahn star as brothers making a cross-country drive home. To stave off boredom, the boys begin fiddling with the "prehistoric Internet" that the car is equipped with a CB radio targeting a lonely trucker who goes by the handle of Rusty Nail. When a harmless prank on the man turns grisly, the unseen enemy begins a torturous game of pursuit with the travelers. Director John Dahl ("Rounders") cobbles together effective bits from the paranoid highway classic "Duel" and the roadside kidnap flick "Breakdown" to craft a gripping but fairly routine nail-biter. Dahl resists the urge to overdo the violence which is all the more effective because the audience is never certain how hostile the villain is willing to get. Walker, who may be the closest thing there is to a generic leading man, is content to let his co-star have all the "good scenes." The reliable Zahn is certainly up to the task, providing an off-center magnetism that animates the proceedings. From its "Seven"-style title sequence through its "Body Heat" corpse-switching ending, "Joy Ride" exploits its source material unabashedly. And like those other films, the popcorn thriller manages to keep the viewer's disbelief at bay, while offering a deceptively smooth ride through some frequently bumpy territory. (R) JN
*** 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.

Riding in Cars With Boys

Thora Birch stars as a disaffected teen who has trouble conforming
to her surroundings in the comic book adaptation "Ghost World."

Thora Birch stars as a disaffected teen who has trouble conforming to her surroundings in the comic book adaptation "Ghost World."

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

"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.

Training Day

The moral dilemmas faced by inner-city cops are great fodder for serious drama, if the people creating the drama don't go for the easy way out. Writer David Ayer and director Antoine Fuqua make a valiant effort with "Training Day," but they're not quite up to the task. Denzel Washington plays a supremely corrupt L.A. narcotics officer who takes an idealistic rookie (Ethan Hawke) under his wing for one day, offering him the chance to join an elite unit if he can prove himself. As Hawke's character gets pulled deeper into his new boss' shadowy world, he faces the choice of sticking to his principles or joining the above-the-law team. Washington is as charismatic as always, but he's playing such a psycho, it's hard to believe this guy was ever anything but a menace to society. Hawke actually gets to show more subtlety, but his final confrontation with Washington turns into an action-movie clichThat lack of depth undermines the story's potential for greatness, and viewers are left simply wondering how much better this movie could have been. (R) LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Zoolander

If it's funny in a 5-minute sketch, chances are it won't be funny for an hour and a half. That's a rule countless "Saturday Night Live" alums have had to learn the hard way, but Ben Stiller and writing partner Drake Sather apparently thought they were immune. They weren't. "Zoolander," based on a character the duo created for a skit at the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards, is a perfect example of a joke that goes on 85 minutes too long. Stiller takes the lead as the sweet but idiotic Derek Zoolander, whose main worry in life is competing with rival Hansel (Owen Wilson) for the coveted Male Model of the Year statuette. There are bigger things going on, however, as he learns when pretty magazine reporter Matilda (Stiller's wife, Christine Taylor) discovers a plot to brainwash Derek and train him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Stiller and Wilson head up a great comedic cast, which includes Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller (nearly stealing his son's movie) and a self-parodying David Duchovny, and there are some gags that are enjoyable (the "walk-off" rumble has to be seen to be believed). There simply isn't enough material here to last an entire movie, though. Watching Stiller suck in his cheeks and pose is only amusing the first 20 times. Then, like the rest of the movie, it just becomes annoying. (PG-13) LL
* 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

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