- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

OPENING

Joy Ride
(2001) (R: Frequent profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity) *1/2. An ironic title, since accelerating terror is the aim of this chase thriller directed with sometimes misleading skill and sarcasm by John Dahl. The general mercenary idea is to borrow the pretext of Steven Spielberg's vintage TV thriller "Duel" and turn it into a horror franchise. Driving cross-country from the West Coast to New Jersey, a nice college boy (Paul Walker), his former high school sweetheart (Leelee Sobieski) and his jailbird older brother (Steve Zahn) become next-door earwitnesses to murder in a motel, then find themselves stalked by an unseen but menacing trucker, the homicidal and elusive Rusty Nail, who also abducts Miss Sobieski and a classmate, introducing unwelcome prospects of sex crimes. The movie is wantonly calculated to maximize the creeps without ever quite permitting fatalities to eliminate any principal characters, including the unseen fiend.
Liam (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; systematic ridicule of Irish Catholicism, circa the late 1930s) *. Another miserable Irish family chronicle, conspicuously short of the nuance and pathos that distinguished Alan Parker's movie version of "Angela's Ashes." The title alludes to the youngest son of a working class family in Liverpool. Sweetly embodied by Andrew Borrows, he suffers from a stammer and a hellfire Catholic education while approaching a First Communion. The father of the family, Ian Hart, becomes a ranting and incendiary fascist after losing his job at a shipyard. The most sadistic irony: his own daughter is victimized when he conspires to firebomb a Jewish home. The movie degenerates swiftly into a prejudicial rant, and the hysterics prove a formidable stumbling block to coherence and human interest. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
L.I.E. (2001) (NC-17: explicit sexual depiction) An independent feature, directed by Michael Cuesta, about the plight of a 15-year-old delinquent called Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), who drifts into petty crime on Long Island after the accidental death of his mother. The British actor Brian Cox plays an ominous mentor to Howie and his pals. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Max Keeble's Big Move (2001) (PG: "Some bullying and crude humor" according to the MPAA; systematic slapstick vulgarity; fleeting sexual allusions) 1/2*. Another conspicuous example of a complacent Hollywood genre that merits disgrace and abandonment: the juvenile farce with anarchic and lewd overtones. A coarse attempt to revamp the premise of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for a younger age group, the movie glorifies the reprisals taken on various absurd tormentors by a new middle school kid named Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz), who believes that he won't suffer counter-reprisals, since his parents plan to up and move after the first week of school. A strained notion at best, and only functional when characters are being bullied or insulted or when elaborate messes are being celebrated. The entire conception is tantamount to an endless food fight and depends on a public that refuses to gag on gross-out humor.
Serendipity (2001) (PG-13: "A scene of sexuality and some language" according to the MPAA; fleeting profanity and sexual candor) *1/2. Another feckless romantic comedy about would-be enchanting characters who trash their engagements on the eve of wedding dates. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are the disgraceful triflers in this premature Christmas confection. Seven years after they first met and lost contact, they meet again in Central Park but they're about to marry other consorts, Mr. Cusack in New York and Miss Beckinsale in San Francisco. Meanwhile, a fiancee played by Bridget Moynahan and a fiance played by John Corbett are ditched ignobly somewhere off-screen. The lovelorn central characters aren't remotely swell enough to compensate for their heartless stupidities.
Training Day (2001) (R: "Strong brutal content, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity" according to the MPAA; systematic unsavory depiction, with frequent profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity) **. An overblown, show-off crime melodrama in which Denzel Washington embraces the most reprehensible role of his career: a flamboyantly corrupt Los Angeles police detective named Alonzo Harris, encountered on the day when he plans a big killing to protect his corrupt fiefdom. It's never quite plausible that Harris needs to implicate a new partner, Ethan Hawke as straight-arrow Jake Hoyt, in his manipulations. Mr. Washington hams it up as a terminal combination of Faustian and Mephistophelian vanities. Mr. Hawke is more or less at the monster's mercy and endures a lot of abuse in the name of tenacious honesty. The introductory scenes are arguably intriguing and compelling, but a pivotal blunder when Alonzo precipitates a gunfight in a black neighborhood for no discernible reason exposes the plot's lunatic tendencies a little prematurely. Of course, a comeuppance awaits Alonzo, but the trek begins to feel interminable and brutally ridiculous by the time he roars his final note of pitiful despotism.

NOW SHOWING
The Deep End
(2001) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; fleeting nudity in excerpts of an incriminating private tape recording of a homosexual rendezvous) ***1/2. An exemplary new movie version of the Elisabeth Sanxay Holding suspense thriller "The Blank Wall," originally published in 1947 and filmed two years later by Max Ophuls as "The Reckless Moment," co-starring Joan Bennett and James Mason. The dilemma is effectively updated and impeccably stylized by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who collaborate as both screenwriters and co-directors. A military wife named Margaret Hall, splendidly embodied by the once oddball Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, tries to cover up the accidental death of a Reno, Nev., club owner who was consorting with her eldest son. The cover-up is anything but foolproof. The club owner was in hock to criminal creditors, and a collection agent named Alex Spera (Goran Visnjic of the "ER" series, re-creating the Mason role) turns up with a demand for $50,000 in a matter of days. Deliverance takes an intriguing form: the blackmailer begins to admire Mrs. Hall's tenacity so much that he becomes a gallant protector, placing his own life in jeopardy.
Diamond Men (2001) (No MPAA Rating; Occasional profanity, sexual situations, partial nudity, scenes set in massage parlor) **1/2. A pair of mismatched "diamond men," traveling salesmen who lug a precious line of jewels across Pennsylvania, find love and fate on the barren highways. Eddie, played by Robert Forster, is the sleepy-eyed veteran looking to resuscitate his career by training young Bobby, given life by Donnie Wahlberg. The duo click like more buddy movie pairings should, but when they encounter some kindhearted women who toil in a remote massage parlor, the film devolves into a pastiche of movie cliches even this adroit cast cannot overcome. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Don't Say a Word (2001) (R: Systematic apprehension and menace, revolving around the kidnapping of a child; frequent profanity and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual allusions) 1/2*. The kind of ultra-violent, ultra-grotesque suspense thriller that may be finished indefinitely in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Let's hope so, anyway. Not that the plot alludes specifically to terrorist atrocities, but the setting is New York City, and the villains, a gang of thieving ex-cons who intimidate psychiatrist Michael Douglas into doing their bidding by abducting his little girl, might as well be terrorists. Terminally vicious and ruthless, they enjoy carte blanche during much of the film. Director Gary Fleder tries to pump up almost every sequence with gratuitous menace and sensationalism. With Famke Janssen as the hero's wife, laid up with a broken leg but far more ferocious and effectual when challenging the bad guys. Mr. Fleder gives her two interludes in which to bash the same assailant. Sean Bean is the smug, scurvy ringleader, who will stop at nothing to retrieve a misplaced $10 million gem. You may wonder who's bankrolling the caper, since the crooks have spent the last decade behind bars. With off-putting Brittany Murphy as the mental patient who supposedly knows the whereabouts of the bauble and Oliver Platt as her disgraceful shrink.
[P] Ghost World (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) ***1/2. A little patience will be amply rewarded by this inspired adaptation of a comic book series by Daniel Clowes, an offbeat but endearing fictional comedy that lyricizes the struggles of misfit personalities, young and middle-aged, to remedy their loneliness. A freshly graduated pair of high school friends, Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Becky, have typed themselves as disdainful loners. They play a personals column joke on an apparent bachelor sadsack named Seymour, a definitive lovable role for Steve Buscemi. Enid begins to admire his harmless, erudite style of solitude and alienation, and the two become an odd couple to cherish. The movie threatens to stagnate during the first reel but pulls out of an early monotonous stall once the principal misfit relationship begins cooking.
Glitter (2001) (PG-13: "Some sexuality, language and brief violence" according to the MPAA; also fleeting allusions to drug use) *. A lackluster show business saga about the rise and woes of a pop singer played by Mariah Carey, not exactly a super-charged instrument of glamorous pathos. The movie is preoccupied with show business trivia to an extent that is bound to make it look even more trifling in the wake of authentic and large-scale suffering. Called Billie Frank, the heroine is the offspring of an alcoholic jazz singer (Valerie Pettiford, who vanishes after the prologue but is kept in reserve for a feebly upbeat conclusion). Mama must surrender custody of her precocious little songbird after nearly incincerating herself and Billie. Upon reaching the age of consent in the early 1980s Billie glides to stardom, after gyrating at disco clubs and backing up weak-voiced lookers. Unfortunately, Miss Carey's lack of acting prowess is a great source of disillusion. The cast includes Max Beesley as Billie's beau, and Da Brat and pepperpot Tia Texada as her best pals. Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall from a woefully inadequate screenplay by Kate Lanier.
Haiku Tunnel (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including brief interludes of simulated intercourse) No stars. A farcical dud from the fraternal team of Josh and Jacob Kornbluth, who share writing and directing credits. They would have been wiser to entrust the potentially amusing premise to more experienced and judicious hands. Cast as his own alter ego, Josh Kornbluth gets the show off to a premature stop by addressing the camera directly. A phenomenally unappealing image of the portly middle-aged slacker, he insists on narrating an account of his mishaps as a temp at a San Francisco legal firm, where a prompt offer to go permanent brings out all his self-destructive tendencies. The would-be merciful irony: co-workers and management conspire to save him from calamity. A genuinely deft and winning performer might have established enough rapport to put this notion across. Mr. Kornbluth never comes close. When he aggravates the situation by acting exceptionally crazed or clownish, the embarrassment is profound; one contemplates unmitigated ineptitude and failure.
Happy Accidents (2001) (R: profanity) **. Brad Anderson, who directed the indie charmer "Next Stop Wonderland," returns with a sour puree of science fiction and modern romance. Marisa Tomei stars as Ruby, a woman addicted to abusive relationships, who finally finds a would-be suitor in Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio). Too bad he isn't what he appears to be, or, more precisely, may not be from the time period from which he appears. Their romance will cause viewers with the slightest notion of psychotherapy to wince repeatedly while the sci-fi elements play out in sluggish fashion. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Hardball (2001) (PG-13: profanity, some violence) Keanu Reeves stars as a down on his luck gambler who pays off his debts by helping coach an inner-city baseball team. The bad news squad gives Mr. Reeves' selfish character a dollop of humanity while the youngsters learn they have more control of their lives than they ever thought. Not reviewed.
Hearts in Atlantis ( PG-13: "Violence and thematic elements," according to the MPAA; menacing, sordid and brutal episodes predominate in the final hour; occasional graphic violence with children as conspicuous victims; intimations of sexual assault in one sequence) *1/2. A Jekyll-and-Hyde proposition, derived from stories by Stephen King. Largely evocative and attractive in the early stages when it seems to be encouraging nostalgic sentiment, the movie surrenders to nightmarish tendencies in the climactic and concluding stages, leaving you with the sensation of having been sucker-punched on insufficient dramatic notice and justification. Photographer and family man David Morse goes back to his home town in Connecticut for the funeral of a childhood friend. The ensuing flashbacks recall the friend as Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), a fatherless lad of 11, circa 1960, estranged from a widowed and selfish mother (Hope Davis), who pleads poverty so bizarrely that she regards a library card as an adequate birthday present. A boarder in the same rented house arrives and becomes a surrogate father, or grandfather, figure: Anthony Hopkins as mystery man Ted Brautigan, a near-blind seer who befriends Bobby and puts him on the alert for shadowy figures, ultimately alleged to be government agents who want to exploit Ted's psychic powers for evil purposes. As the sinister vibes increase, the movie unravels.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) (R: Incessant profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual vulgarity; occasional graphic violence in a farcical context; fleeting nudity and facetiously simulated sex acts) *. Kevin Smith seems to have promoted himself to the awesomely pointless role of court jester at Miramax. He even imagines the company has a studio in Hollywood, the destination of two characters from Red Bank New Jersey morons called Jay and Silent Bob upon learning that they have been ripped off for a new science-fiction adventure based on a comic strip that is partially based on the boys from Red Bank. An overnight mythology is tied up in the ensuing slapstick jaunt, presuming fond familiarity with the initial Smith movie, "Clerks," and the subsequent "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Mr. Smith, respectively, were stoogey comic fixtures in all those films before earning their very own Hollywood picaresque. "Strike Back" is so smug that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon turn up to share quips about all their other movies.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) (PG: violence) **1/2. The British comic troupe's class spin on medieval lore gets a much-needed technical facelift. The comedy, which boasts Python regulars John Cleese, Michael Palin and company, remains unchanged. It's a goofy hodgepodge of tasteless jokes and immensely silly routines. Killer rabbit, indeed. Some bits, like the traveling band of corpse collectors, still resonant with oft-putting humor. Others, like the knights who say "Nee!" haven't aged as well. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Musketeer (2001) (PG-13 (some sexual material and intense action sequences) **. Alexandre Dumas's classic yarn gets a Chinese martial arts spin courtesy of stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong, a Hong Kong action coordinator making his Hollywood debut. The action scenes are fun, frequent and ridiculous; the acting is only ridiculous. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
The Others (2001) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a haunted house setting; fleeting profanity and graphic violence; threats often concentrated on two juvenile characters) ***1/2. An absorbing, sinister and ultimately haunting haunted house thriller from the talented young Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar. Originally written as a Spanish-language project by Mr. Amenabar, 29, it became his first English-language feature. Set just after World War II on a lonely, fog-shrouded estate on the isle of Jersey, the movie isolates Nicole Kidman as an apprehensive mother named Grace, who keeps precocious children, Alakina Mann as Anne and James Bentley as Nicholas, almost literally sheltered in the dark, fearing a rare skin condition that makes them painfully sensitive to light. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe is admirably adept at modulating lighting schemes while documenting the suspicious eeriness of Grace's environment.
The Princess Diaries (2001) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) ***1/2. Garry Marshall demonstrates multiple savvy while orchestrating this clever update on "Roman Holiday." He showcases a lovely and promising newcomer in Anne Hathaway, cast as a San Francisco prep school girl who discovers that she's the sole legitimate heir to a tiny European kingdom; recruits Julie Andrews for an attractive elder stateman role as the heroine's regal but affectionate grandmother; and sustains a sassy, wide-awake comedy without violating the guidelines of the G rating.
Rock Star (2001) (R: Sexual content, profanity and drug use) **1/2. Erstwhile rapper Mark Wahlberg dons the heavy metal hair of a garage band dreamer who gets the chance to replace his idol in the metal band Steel Dragon. Inspired by the true story behind Judas Priest's new singer, Ripper Owens, who toiled in a Priest cover band before being discovered. Mr. Wahlberg gives soul to his character's slight dreams, and co-star Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" provides able support under an unflattering '80s 'do. Real rockers Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and Brian Vander Ark (Verve Pipe) contribute to the authentic feel generated by director Stephen Herek. Too bad the director loses faith in his material two-thirds into the film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Two Can Play That Game (2001) (R: sexual situations, profanity) **1/2. Vivica A. Fox stars as a determined young woman who discovers her boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) cheating and decides to tame him through a 10-day romantic battle plan. Written and directed by D.C. native Mark Brown, the film leans heavily on Miss Fox's charismatic beauty and a buoyant energy generated by the cast and a juicy soundtrack. It's romantic heart, alas, beats a bit more slowly than many would like. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Under the Sand (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and interludes of exceptional sexual candor, including simulations of intercourse; an episode with strong morbid overtones, set in a morgue) ***1/2. The best thing of its gravely stirring and intimate kind since Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue." The moviee begins with a seaside excursion, introducing Charlotte Rampling as Marie Drillon, a transplanted Englishwoman who teaches literature at a Paris university, and Bruno Cremer as her husband, Jean, who is ponderous and weary in a way that suggests a lurking coronary. After an afternoon on a nearly deserted beach, Marie awakes from a nap to find that Jean has disappeared without a trace. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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