- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

OPENING

American Psycho (2000) (R: Ostensibly a portrait of a depraved imagination; frequent profanity, sexual candor and vulgarity; occasional graphic violence with exceptionally gruesome illustrative details) *. A sleekly mercenary film version of the Brett Easton Ellis best seller, which seemed to give modish literary decadence a bad name when it was published a decade ago. Nevertheless, since anything that sells can't be all bad, here's a belated and possibly exploitable movie distillation, contrived to make the graphic brutalities that offended many book reviewers more palatable by abstracting them to a realm of fantasy with obvious stylistic escape hatches. The atrocities are confined within the sick imagination of the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, an attractive but lunatic young investment banker played by Christian Bale. The role requires him to be in optimum physical condition but has nothing to justify psychological interest or the suggestion of affinities with Anthony Perkins and Alfred Hitchcock.

Joe Gould's Secret (2000) (R) A movie version of two famous New Yorker articles by the late Joseph Mitchell. While specializing in city profiles for the magazine in the 1940s, he helped immortalize a Greenwich Village bohemian named Joe Gould, who claimed to be compiling a magnum opus, an "oral history" that recorded countless conversations and impressions drawn from years of bumming around town with pencil and notebook. Many years later, after Gould's death, Mitchell confessed his skepticism about the existence of the oral history, one of those auspicious but unrealizable projects that has a counterpart in the minds of every practicing or aspiring writer. Stanley Tucci directed from a screenplay by Howard A. Rodman and plays Mitchell. Ian Holm draws what would seem a plum role as the disreputable but colorful Gould. With Hope Davis and Susan Sarandon in supporting roles.

Keeping the Faith (2000) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and occasional sexual allusions, revolving around the love life of a rabbi and the infatuation of a priest) *. An agonizing trifle from Edward Norton, making his film directing debut. A romantic comedy triangle ensues when boyhood pals Ben Stiller and Mr. Norton, now an Upper West Side rabbi and priest, respectively, are reunited with Jenna Elfman, erstwhile playmate matured into stylish but conveniently unmarried business genius. She and Mr. Stiller supposedly fall in love, sort of on the sly, while Mr. Norton suffers a crush and must eat his heart out.

28 Days (2000) (PG-13) A comedy-drama starring Sandra Bullock as a journalist with a drinking problem. Sentenced to four weeks in rehab after celebrating her sister's wedding with a playful limo theft and crack-up, the heroine encounters sympathetic company in Viggo Mortensen, Diane Ladd, Elizabeth Perkins and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

Where the Money Is (2000) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual allusions; glorification of criminal impulses) **. A genial setup for a caper movie, ultimately weakened by the caper itself. The first half-hour or so is predicated on a diverting stunt: how long can Paul Newman pretend to be out of it? Cast as a notorious bank robber named Henry Manning, who has succeeded in getting himself transferred from prison to a nursing home by simulating a stroke, the star is fun to watch in poses of foxy immobility. A nurse played by Linda Fiorentino confirms her suspicions that Henry is a faker but volunteers for his next job, which turns out to be an armored car robbery that also implicates her husband, Dermot Mulroney. The vicarious enjoyment deteriorates rapidly once the robbery, an all-nighter, is under way. The crime is mainly intended to get the husband out of the picture, a dodge that could have been finessed by eliminating his character from the start.

NOW SHOWING

All About My Mother (1999) (R: presentation of transsexuals, profanity) ****. Internationally renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodovar celebrates motherhood in a quirky, funny, moving film. A mother, wonderfully performed by Cecilia Roth, loses her son in a car accident on the eve of his 17th birthday and goes off to Barcelona in quest of the boy's father now known as Lola to tell him of the death. Her quest brings her in contact with a wide and strange collection of women, all of whom will be transformed in some degree by the meeting. Despite some of the denizens of Mr. Almodovar's world, "All About My Mother" is a worthy film. Academy Award for best foreign language film. Cynthia Grenier.

American Beauty (1999) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual candor; occasional graphic violence and allusions to drug use; occasional nudity and simulated intercourse; systematic morbid, carnal and misanthropic emphases) * and 1/2. A deluxe serving of hatefulness aimed at suburban sitting ducks. Screenwriter Alan Ball perhaps overcompensating for years of TV sitcom work, notably "Cybill" and the acclaimed British stage director Sam Mendes accentuate the perverse and heartless. Facades of respectability are peeled off neighboring households. Not that the inhabitants need much peeling: They're already primed for downfalls, betrayals and executions. Five Academy Awards: best movie, direction, screenplay, cinematography and actor (Kevin Spacey).

Black and White (2000) (R: Considerable sexual candor and vulgarity; occasional profanity and racial epithets; fleeting simulations of intercourse and drug use) * and 1/2. A polemical hodgepodge from writer-director James Toback, whose ostensible subject is interracial infatuation and misapprehension.

The Cup (1999) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) ***. A beguiling import about the uproar created within a Buddhist religious community by World Cup soccer fever in 1998. It comes from a remote outpost of civilization: a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. The episodes that culminate in a successful TV and satellite installation on the monastery grounds are humorously irresistible. If you guard against inflated expectations, the movie can be charming. In Tibetan and Indian dialects with English subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and the Cinema Arts (Fairfax).

Deterrence (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence) ***. A resourceful and provocative "What If?" doomsday thriller from the former movie critic (and West Point alum) Rod Lurie. He imagines an incumbent president of the United States, Walter Emerson (played with engaging feisty authority by Kevin Pollak) stranded in a snowbound Colorado diner during a primary season two national elections into the future. A military crisis suddenly looms: a freshly belligerent Iraq, commanded by a son of the late Saddam Hussein, threatens another massive invasion of Kuwait and rattles nuclear sabers at Western capitals to enhance the threat. "Deterrence" sustains a remarkably crisp and fluid sense of camera presence. With Timothy Hutton, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Sean Astin. Erin Brockovich (2000) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; allusions to terminal illness) * and 1/2. Julia Roberts bids to be crowned queen of the rabble-rousers. She plays a supposedly real-life crusader, a Southern California paralegal who was instrumental in formulating a damages case against the public utility Pacific Gas & Electric on behalf of small-town residents who suffered from contaminated water supplies. The presentation here is shamelessly crass and self-righteous. Deserted by a consort and obliged to support three kids, the heroine gets work with a law firm run by Albert Finney, who must ultimately admit that his troublesome newcomer deserves as much glory and success as she covets.

High Fidelity (2000) (R: Frequent profanity; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity; fleeting graphic violence in fantasy interludes) * and 1/2. A promising getaway fails to protect this romantic comedy from making a redundant affliction of itself. There's way too much of John Cusack (also a co-producer and co-writer) confiding directly to the camera as a case of arrested development who finally resolves to get out of a demoralizing rut. The proprietor of a shabbily hip record store that specializes in selling vintage vinyl recordings, he recounts a woeful history of romantic failure after a long-suffering girlfriend (Iben Hjejle) walks out. Joan Cusack plays her maddening brother's sympathetic sister.

Mifune (1999) (R: Occasional profanity, comic and sexual vulgarity and graphic violence) * and 1/2. A Danish variation on the "Rain Man" pretext. Newlywed bridegroom Kersten (Anders W. Berthelesen) must interrupt his honeymoon in Copenhagen to take charge of a mentally retarded brother, Rud (Jesper Asholot), left without a guardian on the family farm when their father dies. The plot is contrived to renew his fondness for harmless and lovable Rud while replacing an expendable upper-class spouse with a more suitable mate: a warmhearted hooker called Liva, played by Iben Hjejle. In Danish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

My Dog Skip (2000) (PG: Fleeting profanity and violence) **. An often trite but somewhat endearing movie version of Willie Morris' memoir of an idyllic boyhood in Yazoo City, Miss., during World War II. The loneliness of shy and bookish Willie, 9, is remedied by the birthday gift of a terrier pup, Skip. The finale, which quotes liberally from the book while paying a final tribute to Skip, is a misty-eyed wipeout. With Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane as Willie's parents.

Price of Glory (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, mostly during simulations of prizefights; interludes of domestic conflict) * and 1/2. A family boxing saga so replete with cliches and hokum that it may induce an entertaining, nostalgic sort of incredulity if you're in a tolerant mood. Waxing ultra-ethnic, Jimmy Smits portrays a once-prominent boxer named Arturo Ortega who aspires to groom three sons to the ring in his hometown of Mariposa, Ariz., which straddles the Mexican border. A paternal taskmaster, he leans too hard on elder sons Jon Seda and Clifton Collins Jr. while retaining a ferocious ace in the hole in their kid brother, Ernesto Hernandez, precocious and indomitable in the ring. Maria Del Mar registers some fretful but futile warnings as warmhearted but utterly submissive Mrs. Ortega.

Ready to Rumble (2000) (PG-13: Systematic comic vulgarity, with an emphasis on gags about portable toilets and septic services; largely facetious graphic violence in simulations of professional wrestling matches) * and 1/2. A sports farce that celebrates dopey but loyal wrestling fans (David Arquette and Scott Caan) who take it upon themselves to restore the morale of a defeated favorite: Oliver Platt as dethroned champion Jimmy King, who goes into hiding after being targeted for a downfall by promoter Joe Pantoliano.

Rear Window (1954) (PG rated when reissued about 30 years after its initial release; interludes of suspense and allusions to macabre murder details) ****. Always a sight for sore eyes, Alfred Hitchcock's expert suspense thriller returns in a restored print. One of the director's most popular and accomplished films, it stars James Stewart as a restless photojournalist who suspects foul play in an apartment across the way from his Greenwich Village apartment. A dazzling fiancee, Grace Kelly, and an admirable nurse, Thelma Ritter, are drawn into his suspicions, which eventually bring a killer, Raymond Burr, to the door. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Shirlington. Return to Me (2000) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) *. The worst pretext for snaring a widower since "Sleepless in Seattle." David Duchovny, an architect and builder, loses spouse Joely Richardson to a fatal car crash. A year later he is attracted to Minnie Driver, a waitress in an Italian restaurant, cutely named O'Reilly's and operated by her Irish grandpa, Carroll O'Connor, and Italian uncle, Robert Loggia. The heroine is recuperating from heart transplant surgery when she falls for the hero, at first a casual customer. While writer-director Bonnie Hunt and co-writer Don Lake neglect to fabricate an adequate love affair, the co-stars play second fiddle to mother-hen supporting players, killing time until the heroine deduces the source of her replacement heart.

The Road to El Dorado (2000) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity and sexual innuendo; allusions to barbarism and human sacrifice) * and 1/2. A lackluster new animated feature from the DreamWorks studio, which struggles to rationalize the misadventures of two Spanish rascals, Tulio and Miguel, who end up as stowaways as Cortez ominously sails across the Atlantic. A treasure map supposedly leads them to an authentic city of gold, where a despotic high priest must be outwitted and an easygoing chief befriended. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh do the voices of the interlopers. Armand Assante dubs the priest, Edward James Olmos the chief and Rosie Perez a foxy number in a funny sarong. With an indifferent, short-winded song score from Elton John and Tim Rice.

Romeo Must Die (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity and allusions to drug use) 1/2 star. A misnomer, since the Shakespearean influences are nil. Hong Kong action star Jet Li, as the hero, called Han, seems very much a third-rate Bruce Lee in this martial arts crime thriller.

Rules of Engagement (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, usually in simulations of wartime combat or rioting; recurrent pictorial emphasis on gushing blood and open wounds) *. A lumbering shambles of a military courtroom melodrama, bulldozed onto the screen by director William Friedkin with scant regard for coherence or plausibility. The principal characters are career Marines played by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. The material originated with novelist James Webb, a Marine infantry officer in Vietnam before turning to popular fiction. While commanding the Marine guard detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, Mr. Jackson confronts a violent demonstration that leaves three of his men and about 80 civilians very expediently dead. He turns to Mr. Jones, on the verge of retirement from the judge advocate general's office and doubtful of his own forensic skills, for an active and impassioned defense during a climactic court-martial hearing. Howlers hit the fan with alarming consistency.

The Skulls (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions, including an episode that parades Ivy League hookers) 1/2 star. A strenuously inept suspense thriller about the menace of a college secret society. Poor but diligent Joshua Jackson, a townie from New Haven, Conn., is completing his senior year at a prestige university known as Y. Offered membership in an exclusive society, the Skulls, he soon regrets its siren promise of unlimited privilege. Why? A jealous roomie, Will Beckford, ends up a suspicious suicide after nosing into Skull catacombs and archives.

Southpaw (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with fleeting profanity and allusions to poverty and social prejudice in an Irish context; documentary excerpts from amateur boxing matches) **. A sketchy but engaging documentary feature about Olympic boxer Francis Barrett, who emerged from an unlikely background the Irish nomadic group known as the Travellers to qualify for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where he won his first match decisively but faltered in his second. The movie concentrates on his subsequent training and competition, which climaxed with back-to-back bids for welterweight amateur championships in the British Isles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

Such a Long Journey (1999) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) ****. Without warning, a great new movie appears. Set in 1971, on the eve of the India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh, the movie observes a lower-middle-class Parsi family weather several domestic crises, intrigues and losses against the backdrop of larger, ominous political events. Director Sturla Gunnarsson, working from a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala, achieves qualities of immediacy, intimacy and insight that are remarkable and profoundly stirring. It's as if the noblest attributes of Vittorio De Sica and Satyajit Ray had been rediscovered. An exceptional heartbreaker, the movie captures the extraordinary potential in ordinary life with a candor and tenderness that keep knocking you flat. Fleeting dialogue in Hindi and Gujarati with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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