- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

OPENING

Croupier (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, nudity and graphic violence) *** and 1/2. This cleverly abstracted and misleading crime fable blends hard-boiled and literary pretensions with exceptional wit. The plot springs conspicuous leaks, but enough novelty and entertainment value accumulate to make a persuasive case for indulgence. Clive Owen, who resembles the young Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance, could be a genuine discovery in the lead. He takes us into the stylized confidence of a protagonist and narrator called Jack, introduced as a struggling novelist but soon employed as a croupier at a London casino. He demonstrates impressive skills of eye, hand and numeracy. Domiciled with a clingy store detective who finds his new job sinister, Jack becomes entangled with a fellow employee and a far too friendly customer, played by Alex Kingston of the "E.R." series. Her nude scenes may give "Croupier" an added "cult" allure. At a certain point we become aware that Jack the writer has created a fictional counterpart named Jake. Separating the "real" and "fictional" becomes next to impossible. Fortunately, this confusion remains more intriguing than exasperating. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

East is East (1999) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, comic vulgarity and interludes of graphic domestic violence) **. A lively but also crass and vulgar domestic comedy-drama about the turmoil aroused in an English-Pakistani family when the patriarch, Om Puri as George Khan, proprietor of a fish-and-chips shop in Manchester, circa 1971, presumes to play matchmaker for the eldest of six sons. His boys have no intention of consenting to arranged marriages within the Muslim community. The conflict drives George to extremes that culminate in abuse of his loyal, English-born spouse Ella, played by Linda Bassett. Writer Ayub Khan-Din seems to lack the time or resources to invent an adequate reconciliation. It's as if everyone suspected that the plot had derailed but feels helpless to remedy the calamity. Director Damien O'Donnell doesn't seem to regard comic nuance as a useful instrument in this debut feature, but he shouldn't lack for offers to supervise knockabout farce.

Genghis Blues (1999) (No MPAA Rating: Occasional profanity) *** and 1/2. A disarming treasure that may prove one of the most cherished of "feel-good" documentaries. Stirring shadows of mortality already hover over two subjects, the blind blues musician Paul Pena, now seriously ill with pancreatic cancer, and the late KPFK disc jockey Mario Casetta, who has died since joining the wonderfully quixotic expedition memorialized by this film: a 1995 pilgrimage to distant Tuva in Central Asia. Mr. Pena had been invited to participate in the first national festival of throat-singing. He was the guest of the country's pre-eminent stylist in that form of folk music, Kongar-Ol Ondar, who also becomes a fond and effusive tour guide for the American visitors. The young fraternal team of Roko & Adrian Belic recorded the Pena odyssey, which tends to confirm a common wish: that musical performance and appreciation can bridge vast geographical and cultural distances. Occasional dialogue in Tuvan or Russian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

Gossip (2000) (R) The first dramatic feature directed by Davis Guggenheim, the son of the esteemed documentary producer Charles Guggenheim. James Marsden, Lena Headey and Norman Reedus play college journalism majors who let an assignment about the nature of gossip backfire and injure the reputations of fellow students Kate Hudson and Joshua Jackson, prompting the latter's arrest on a bogus charge of date rape. Love and Basketball (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; interludes of marital discord) * and 1/2. A savory pretext spoiled by imprudent elaboration and fanatic romanticism on the part of writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood. She proves her own worst enemy while stringing out this love story about basketball jocks, Omar Epps as Quincy McCall and Sanaa Lathan as Monica Wright. Next-door neighbors in the Baldwin Hills suburb of Los Angeles, they star simultaneously for Crenshaw High, then go to the University of Southern California as sweethearts. Quincy gets off to a fast start as a Trojan while Monica struggles. Eventually, their athletic fortunes flip-flop, and this development appears to dampen Quincy's ardor decisively. Miss Prince-Bythewood can't seem to stand the idea that these two might not be eternally meant for each other, so she manipulates the last act to defy all the probabilities. She insists on a preposterous "happy ending."

Me, Myself, I (2000) (R) The latest variation on the "Sliding Doors" pretext, manipulated by writer-director Philippa Karmel, who earned this debut opportunity by editing "Shine." Rachel Griffiths stars in the mirror-image role of a successful journalist who encounters her own double, who seems to have married the guy reluctantly rejected by the protagonist. David Roberts plays the love object.

U-571 (2000) (Pg-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, in a setting of World War II naval combat) **. A diverting and sometimes explosively effective submarine thriller especially when depth charges are going off on the soundtrack. The underwater setup suggests an amalgam of "Das Boot" and "The Hunt for Red October," although director and co-writer Jonathan Mostow doesn't have quite as much luck or staying power with his system of make-believe. Assigned a mission that would have been monopolized by the Royal Navy during the ostensible time frame, the spring of 1942, an American sub under the command of Bill Paxton sails to the North Atlantic disguised as a German counterpart, U-571, which carries the prototype of a new coding machine. The Americans are supposed to rendezvous with the target while disguised as another U-Boat, then seize crew and precious cargo. The exchange goes awry, obliging the surviving Americans to make their escape in the captured but crippled U-571, a target for both German and Allied warships. Claustrophobic and submerged perils predominate over patriotic posturing, but the characters fall short of heroic variety and distinction. With Matthew McConaughey as a valiant young executive officer, Harvey Keitel as a crusty chief, Jake Weber and David Keith as Naval Intelligence spooks and Jack Noseworthy, Thomas Guiry, Will Estes and T.C. Carson as tenacious crewmen.

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).

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. 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.

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. In Tibetan and Indian dialects with English subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and the Cinema Arts (Fairfax).

Erin Brockovich (2000) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; allusions to terminal illness) * and 1/2. Julia Roberts 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.

Joe Gould's Secret (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and fleeting sexual candor, including one interlude that involves a lewdly graphic painting) * and 1/2. A sincere but dogged and mostly disenchanting 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 an "oral history" that recorded impressions drawn from years of bumming around town with pencil and notebook. Stanley Tucci directs morosely, from a screenplay by Howard A. Rodman, while impersonating Mitchell without redeeming sharpness.

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.

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. In Danish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

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. 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 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.

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. 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 from the judge advocate general's office for an active and impassioned defense during a climactic court-martial hearing. Howlers hit the fan with alarming consistency. 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. 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.

28 Days (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and mildly graphic violence; thematic emphasis on recovering alcoholics and addicts) * and 1/2. A feckless comedy-drama starring Sandra Bullock as an alleged journalist with an alleged drinking problem. Sentenced to four weeks in rehab after a playful limo theft and crack-up, the heroine meets would-be "Cuckoo's Nest" patients in Viggo Mortensen, Azura Skye, Michael O'Malley, Alan Tudyk, Diane Ladd and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. As the sober elder sister, Elizabeth Perkins outclasses the heroine as a potential source of human interest.

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? 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 knows 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.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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