- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

OPENING

• Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) (PG:13: Sexual innuendo, violent fistfights and car crashes, partial nudity). — **1/2. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore return in the sequel to 2000’s guilty-pleasure spinoff from the TV series. The trio must battle a fallen angel (Demi Moore) bent on selling the identities of everyone on the government’s witness protection program. Miss Moore’s presence alone raises one of many pop culture goosebumps, but the main attractions are the loopy fight scenes and playful spirit shown by the film’s stars. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Hard Word (2003) (R: Frequent profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and vulgarity) — *1/2. The title suggests another movie about a national spelling bee, but the content of this ramshackle Australian crime melodrama isn’t remotely that clever. Guy Pearce, Damien Richardson and Joel Edgerton are cast as brothers behind bars, the Twentymans, whose crooked lawyer Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) arranges deals with crooked officials that allow his unwary clients to be furloughed every so often to commit armed robberies. Treacherous Frank claims to be banking part of the swag for the brothers. For a while it looks as if the film might be ringing chances off the Peter Sellers prison farce “Two-Way Stretch,” but it takes wanton rather than humorous turns. None too bright, the brothers are coerced into one last job before a promised parole, a hold-up during the Melbourne Cup horse race that degenerates into a harebrained bloodbath. Mr. Pearce has an extra incentive for despising fixer Taylor: he suspects that his sultry spouse, Rachel Griffiths, has been consorting with the lawyer. So she has, but this betrayal seems trifling compared to the double crosses and brutalities that the movie is prepared to concoct while justifying its own shabby existence. Written and directed by Scott Roberts, whose methods are impossible to distinguish from Frank Malone’s.

• Jet Lag (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and frequent sexual candor) — ***. This slight but deft and ultimately exhilarating romantic comedy illustrates how star chemistry and sensibility can rescue a dubious pretext. Juliette Binoche, a beautician trying to elude a domineering mother and boyfriend, and Jean Reno, a chef prone to anxiety attacks, meet by chance at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, where flights are delayed indefinitely by strikes. Mr. Reno’s Felix loans Miss Binoche’s Rose a cell phone and the shelter of his hotel room, where they get acquainted but also get on each other’s nerves during a room service meal. Miraculously, director Daniele Thompson seems to salvage an illusion of genuine mutual need and rapport in the aftermath of this rancorous interlude, persuading us that a flurry of separations actually demonstrate how much these middle-aged lonelyhearts belong together. The screenplay is a rare sort of collaboration for the movies: Daniele Thompson and Christopher Thompson are mother and son. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003) (PG-13) — A sequel to the preposterous law school farce that was embraced by the moviegoing public two summers ago. Reese Witherspoon returns in the lucrative role of disarming southern California cutie Elle Woods, who uses her Harvard degree to land a job with a law firm in Washington, where she is mentored by Sally Field and Bob Newhart. Luke Wilson, cast as Drew Barrymore’s boyfriend in the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise, is also Miss Witherspoon’s boyfriend for the “Legally Blonde” franchise. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld of “Kissing Jessica Stein” from a screenplay by Kate Kondell. Not reviewed. Opens Wednesday.

• Respiro (2002) (PG-13) ?—A domestic comedy-drama from Italian writer-director Emanule Crialese, who casts Valeria Golino as a mercurial woman whose behavior troubles her family and young son. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) (PG) — An animated swashbuckler from the DreamWorks animation unit, with Brad Pitt chosen for the voice of Sinbad, compelled to do right by a former comrade who will forfeit his life unless the hero retrieves a precious volume, the so-called Book of Peace, an apocryphal cross between the Ten Commandments and the Lost Ark. The friend’s suspicious fiancee, dubbed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, insists on joining the emergency voyage beyond the Mediterranean to keep Sinbad honest. Eventually, perils confronted and survived make them a love match. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes and Dennis Haysbert in other principal vocal roles. Directed by Patrick Gilmore from a screenplay by John Logan. Opens Wednesday.

• Swimming Pool (2003) (R) — A reunion project for Charlotte Rampling and the young French writer-director Francois Ozon, memorably associated a few years ago on “Under the Sea.” Mr. Ozon’s first English-language feature, this exploration of one woman’s mind casts Miss Rampling as a popular author of crime fiction, Sarah Morton, who is offered a change of scene by her publisher, Charles Dance: the use of his country home in Provence. Soon after arriving and beginning to work on a new book, she is joined by an unexpected guest: Ludivine Sagnier as Mr. Dance’s footloose daughter Julie, whose hedonism proves an irritating distraction. There’s a murder mystery along the way, but the essential question for moviegoers is whether anything having to do with Julie is real or imagined. Some dialogue in French with English subtitles. Opens Wednesday.

• Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) (R) — A belated sequel to the famous set of apocalyptic science-fiction thrillers that united Arnold Schwarzenegger with writer-director James Cameron in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Jonathan Mostow, the director of “U-571,” inherits the third and perhaps concluding chapter. Nick Stahl portrays marked man John Connor, now in his early 20s and living with no fixed name or address to avert detection. Nevertheless, he is targeted anew by an improved killer cyborg from the future called T-X, disguised in the dishy form of Kristanna Loken. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s outmoded model is resurrected to defend Connor from assassination. Claire Danes co-stars as a veterinarian whose life is also endangered. Opens Wednesday.

• 28 Days Later (2003) (R) — A dire countdown from British director Danny Boyle, collaborating with writer Alex Garland, whose novel “The Beach” proved something less than a triumph for Mr. Boyle. The United Kingdom is threatened by a doomsday virus, released after animal activists raid and vandalize a primate research facility. The infection triggers “a permanent state of murderous rage.” The cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Naomie Harris and Cillian Murphy.

NOW SHOWING

• Alex & Emma (2003) (PG: Occasional sexual innuendo and candor) — *1/2. Rob Reiner’s struggle to regain a confident comic form continues in this clumsily capricious romantic comedy. It matches Kate Hudson as a skeptical stenographer with Luke Wilson as a feckless, desperate novelist. The heroine is hired to transcribe a manuscript the hero needs to compose from scratch in 30 days. He’s in debt to mobsters who threaten to cripple him if he doesn’t cough up his princely advance. Facetiousness is never the movie’s strong point. What becomes the conception is the idea that falling in love with Miss Hudson is the best thing that could happen to Mr. Wilson. They’re quite appealing when the tone grows tender and sincere. Unfortunately, the movie is far more wrongheaded and gauche than beguiling. Mr. Reiner has a bit role as the book’s publisher.

• L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) (R: strong sexuality; brief nudity; profanity) — **. Like MTV’s “The Real World,” the long-running reality series from which French writer-director Cedric Klapisch basically derives his formula, “L’Auberge” intimately peeps into the lives of an emotionally charged bunch of young adults moving in tight quarters in a slovenly group house, located in uber-hip Barcelona. For Mr. Klapisch, it’s like a microcosmic version of greater Europe. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Bend It Like Beckham (2001) (PG-13: Occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting profanity) — *1/2. A gauche blend of ethnic domestic farce and youthful sports melodrama, revolving around Parminder Nagra as the younger daughter in a transplanted Sikh family living in suburban London. The family episodes rival “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for complacent vulgarity. Evenhanded in her buffoonery, filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is also chummy to a fault while lampooning Juliet Stevenson as an anxious English mum of the upper middle class, alarmed at her daughter’s soccer team friendship with Jess. The game footage has scant regard for authenticity.

• Bruce Almighty (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) — **1/2. The idea of Jim Carrey as a loose cannon permitted to play God for a short period of time sounds promising, and “Bruce Almighty” realizes the promise in scattered slapstick gags and whimsies. It won’t survive much seriocomic reflection and gets mawkish to a fault in the last reel. Mr. Carrey as Bruce Nolan, a disgruntled TV personality in Buffalo, N.Y., is the squeaky wheel that God, personified by Morgan Freeman, singles out for humbling attention, perhaps in answer to the prayers of a long-suffering girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston). The best comedy sequences match Mr. Carrey and Mr. Freeman or illustrate the mischievous liberties Bruce takes when trying out his prowess as a godlike apprentice.

• Capturing the Friedmans (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with frequent profanity and sexual candor; fleeting glimpses of pornographic illustrations; recollections of a criminal case involving charges of sexual molestation) — ***1/2. An extraordinarily, painfully revealing documentary feature about the ordeal of a family in Great Neck, N.Y., that suffered public disgrace in the late 1980s. A postal sting aimed at the distribution of child pornography led to the arrest of a science teacher named Arnold Friedman, now deceased. The original search for pornographic literature led to graver accusations of child molestation, predicated on the fact that Mr. Friedman taught piano and computer lessons at home. Eventually, his teenage son Jesse was accused of being an accomplice in sexual abuse. Both pleaded guilty and were sent to prison. Director Andrew Jarecki drew on the home movies and video recordings kept by the eldest son, David Friedman. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

* Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003) (PG-13) — A teenage footnote to the 1994 farce “Dumb and Dumber,” which co-starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels and launched the Farrelly Brothers as major movie humorists. Two young actors, Eric Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson, embody the same characters as moronic high school students, approximately 15 years before the misadventures depicted in the original film.

• Finding Nemo (2003) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ****. In this first family attraction of the summer season, the estimable Pixar animators continue to blend illustrative sophistication and humorous invention with sound story construction. A widowed, overprotective clownfish called Marlin (Albert Brooks seems his perfect vocal embodiment) embarks on a desperate quest across the Great Barrier Reef to retrieve his kid Nemo, who has ended up in the aquarium of a dentist in Sydney, Australia. Marlin acquires a memory-challenged traveling companion in Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. An abundance of marine life alternately aids and obstructs their rescue mission. The voice cast also includes Geoffrey Rush, Willem Dafoe, Barry Humphries, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, John Ratzenberger (as a precision “school” of fish) and Elizabeth Perkins.

• From Justin to Kelly: The Tale of Two American Idols (2003) (PG) — A self-explanatory show biz chronicle about the first set of finalists in the “American Idol” television series, Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson. Directed by Robert Iscove. Not reviewed.

• Hollywood Homicide (2003) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence; fleeting profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. The return of facetious cop-buddy escapades. Harrison Ford plays the senior maverick in a robbery-homicide team while Josh Hartnett plays the junior partner. Their ostensibly urgent case involves mass murder at a hip-hop club, but the grim elements are always overshadowed by intramural squabbles and the pressures of moonlighting jobs. The movie’s fundamental worthlessness is difficult to overlook, especially when chase sequences become interminable and the only character with a somewhat interesting profile, Isaiah Washington as a recording executive, ends up as a token villain. With Dwight Yoakam, Lena Olin, Bruce Greenwood, Lolita Davidovich, Keith David and Lou Diamond Phillips, doing a single scene as a vice cop in drag.

• Hulk (2003) (PG-13: sci-fi action violence; disturbing images; brief partial nudity —** It’s too long. It’s convoluted. The acting is spotty. And, worst of all, the computer-generated Hulk isn’t believable for a second. When an Oscar-winning director like Ang Lee plunks down a reported $150 million, one expects better than this. While “Hulk” has its moments, an over-the-top performance by Nick Nolte and an under-the-top performance by Eric Bana, as well as a thready patchwork of crisscrossing plots, make this one an expensive, overhyped dud. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Italian Job (2003) (PG:13: Strong language, vehicular mayhem, occasional gunplay). — .*1/2. Mark Wahlberg heads an eclectic cast in this stylish but forgettable remake of the 1969 original starring Michael Caine. Mr. Wahlberg’s gang of thieves swipes $35 million in gold from a Venice home, then get held up by a traitorous member of their own gang (Edward Norton). What results is a slick tale of manipulation and revenge elevated by its strong cast (Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron and Seth Green among them) and international settings. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Man on a Train (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting graphic violence) — **1/2. “Man on a Train” matches a pair of guys who may not have much to live for: the venerable pop star Johnny Hallyday as a craggy-faced, tight-lipped man of mystery who arrives by train in a provincial town and finds shelter with Jean Rochefort, a retired and chatty schoolteacher who welcomes companionship. The actors generate an odd couple chemistry that seems unique and appealing. While recognizing the humor in this freakish friendship, French filmmaker Patrice Leconte neglects to give it a satisfying comic framework. The payoffs are a keen letdown. In French with English subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Shirlington.

• Marooned in Iraq (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with allusions to mass murder and the plight of refugees; fleeting graphic violence and sexual candor) — **. An exotic odyssey from a Kurdish Iranian filmmaker named Bahman Ghobadi, who travels in regions rarely seen on the screen while depicting the efforts of an elderly father and his two middle-aged sons to locate a former spouse rumored to be alive and in dire straits in refugee camps. In Farsi with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• The Matrix Reloaded (2003) (R: Extreme violence, a brief sexual situation, strong language) — ***. “The Matrix” revolutionized the modern action sequence, and its eagerly awaited sequel (the second sequel comes at year’s end) raises that bar several notches higher. The film, starring Keanu Reeves as the one chosen to free humans from enslavement by a machine program dubbed the Matrix, mixes even more philosophy between fisticuffs. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• A Mighty Wind (2003) (PG-13: Occasional comic candor and vulgarity) — ****. A classic new comedy from Christopher Guest, who reunites almost everyone from “Best of Show” and adds a few more virtuosi, while demonstrating that his mock-documentary technique is as clever and satisfying as ever. On the death of a venerable show business figure who managed several folk rock acts during the 1960s, a memorial concert is planned for Town Hall in New York. With Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Mr. Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Ed Begley Jr. is wonderful as an ethnically confused broadcasting executive for public television.

• Owning Mahowny (2003) (R: Coarse language, a scene involving a prostitute) — ***. Philip Seymour Hoffman shines in the true-life tale of a bank executive who steals clients’ money to fuel his gambling habit. The versatile actor captures the sweaty delirium of a man spinning out of control as his debts mount. Standing by his side, inexplicably, is his girlfriend (Minnie Driver, hidden under an awful blond wig). The film’s portrait of addiction is nearly pitch perfect, save for the unscrupulous casino owner, whom John Hurt plays like a moustache-twisting caricature. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Rugrats Go Wild (2003) (PG: Frequent slapstick vulgarity) — *1/2. The Nickelodeon animators seem intent on exhausting both the audience and their two cartoon franchises in one fell swoop with this castaway farce. The exploring clan known as The Wild Thornberrys is investigating the fauna on a tropical island. The shipwrecked Rugrats families roll in with the tide, surviving a storm at sea meant to parody “The Perfect Storm.” Since the principal source of dry-land humor is dirty diapers, spectators are trapped in a monotonously sodden system of humor.

• Spellbound (2003) (G) — ***. This top-flight documentary turns a spelling contest into a white-knuckle viewing experience. It tracks eight children from across the country as they converge on Washington for the National Spelling Bee. The film captures the American dream in all its abstract glory. The bright, engaging children are cast in almost uniformly appealing tones, but their dogged efforts render them all too human. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Together (2002) (PG: Episodes of family conflict and bitterness) — *1/2. A tearjerking disappointment from Chinese director Chen Kaige, who also plays a central role as a Beijing teacher of elite classical music students. The milieu promises to be interesting until the movie backslides into a sappy update on the theme of poor boys who promise to be brilliant concert musicians. In Chinese with English subtitles. Landmark Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

• Wattstax: The Special Edition (2003) (R: profanity) — ***. Digitally restored edition of Mel Stuart’s documentary of the Watts Summer Festival, a seven-hour concert at the L.A. Coliseum featuring some of the best black musicians of the day. Interspersed among the concert footage — featuring great performers like Isaac Hayes and Albert King — are revealing man-on-the-street interviews with all manner of black Angelenos, including a young comic named Richard Pryor. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Whale Rider (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting episodes of intense family conflict; sustained ominous elements that place a child in jeopardy; fleeting graphic violence) *1/2. A New Zealand import contrived to glorify Maori renewal through girl power for members of a seacoast tribe. The mulish elderly patriarch, Rawiri Paratene, refuses to recognize his granddaughter, Keisha Castle-Hughes, as a legitimate heir and suitable candidate for warrior training and mythology. Director Niki Caro is not a Maori herself. Subject to repeated lapses of attention and continuity, she thinks it’s fine to reawaken cultural superstition and mysticism as long as there’s a good chance that a little princess will be worshipped. The title alludes to a legend that tribal salvation will come when a new chief rides the back of a whale, a miracle that never looks persuasive as cinematic spectacle.

• Winged Migration (2002) (PG: Occasional graphic violence in documentary depictions of wildlife) — ***. An impressive, French-made documentary feature about migratory bird travels around the globe, assembled from hundreds of cameramen and embellished by computer graphics, which seem to account for the sequences that resemble beautifully animated paintings of wildlife more than photorealistic observation and celebration. One of the finalists as best documentary feature during the last Academy Awards.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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