- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

OPENING
American Outlaws (2001) (PG-13) The James and Younger gangs ride again, now impersonated by a new generation of Hollywood aspirants. Colin Farrell and Gabriel Macht draw the roles of Jesse and Frank James, respectively, while Cole and Bob Younger are impersonated by Scott Caan and Will McCormack, respectively. Returning to Liberty, Mo., after fighting for the Confederacy, the battle-hardened farm boys quickly run afoul of occupying Union troops, the Rock Island Railroad (bossed by Harris Yulin) and detective Allan Pinkerton, portrayed by Timothy Dalton.
An American Rhapsody (2001) (PG-13: "Some violent content and thematic material" according to the MPAA; ominous episodes, including scenes of intense family conflict) ****. The year's best dramatic movie to date, a stirring rediscovery of the theme of immigrant assimilation in contemporary America, fictionalized from the admirably specific and exceptionally poignant experience of writer-director Eva Gardos, a Hungarian American. This rather belated but exalted first feature, which deserves to place Miss Gardos at the front of the line for Academy Award consideration this year, is a confidently distilled semi-autobiographical chronicle, recalling the estrangement that plagued her own family after her parents escaped communist Hungary in 1950. The fictionalized parents, Peter and Margit (Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski), take one escape route with their elder daughter, Maria, and trust that their baby daughter Suzanne will be spirited away separately. She is not. The escapees reach America and settle in the Southern California suburbs. They send money to support the care of their youngest child by an affectionate and reliable foster couple, Jeno and Teri (Balazs Galko and Zsuzsa Czinkoczi). Suzanne is finally united with her parents five years later. Eventually, that wistful little girl (Kelly Endresz Banlaki) grows into the teen-age Suzanne portrayed vividly by Scarlett Johansson. Thoroughly assimilated in some respects, she nevertheless suffers from divided loyalties and a sense of loss that can only be appeased, following a potentially catastrophic quarrel with her mother, by a trip to Hungary, circa 1966. Every aspect of the story proves so straightforward, persuasive and revealing that you feel profoundly gratified for the movie itself and freshly contemptuous of the prevailing weaknesses of Hollywood filmmaking. "An American Rhapsody" exemplifies the sort of heartfelt and illuminating dramatization that is always needed to save the business from triflers and opportunists. Considerable dialogue in Hungarian with English subtitles.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) (R: "Some violence, sensuality and language" according to the MPAA; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, including depictions of wartime massacres) * 1/2. This doting movie version of the Louis de Bernieres novel, a cult best-seller in England since its publication in 1994, becomes a lovelorn fiasco in the "Ryan's Daughter" vein. The human side of the make-believe is persistently stilted and cringeworthy, starting with John Hurt's fatuous all-purpose narration as the village doctor, Iannis, on the Ionian Island of Cephallonia. The heroine is his beautiful daughter Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), who must forsake her simple but virile childhood sweetheart Mandras (Christian Bale) when an endearing Italian artillery officer, Nicolas Cage as Antonio Corelli, arrives as part of an easygoing occupation army in 1940. Initially, Mandras is away fighting the Axis in Albania and Greece. This leaves ample room for Corelli to begin ingratiating himself during three years of low-risk fraternization. The situation becomes grave for everyone, of course, after the fall of Mussolini in 1943 results in German domination and reprisals. Mr. Hurt's and Mr. Cage's accents inspire giggles. Miss Cruz remains a bad luck charm when movies pin excessive hopes on her allure. Director John Madden can't prevent the original romantic triangle from seeming a vintage hoot; when the war intervenes in appalling ways, it's rather too late to dignify the characters and contrive a miraculously tidy fadeout. With Irene Papas as Mr. Bale's imposing mama. The highlight sequence is the mandolin composition Corelli dedicates to Pelagia.
Rat Race (2001) (PG-13: "Sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity and language" according to the MPAA) **. Jerry Zucker returns to farcical direction after nearly a decade on the wagon and scores some bull's-eyes with far-fetched and cross-country sight gags. While returning to the comedy fold he also demonstrates the obvious: that the pretext of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" can be improved by streamlining. The starting point for this all-star chase farce is the Venetian Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, where a sneaky manager played by John Cleese is entertaining selected high rollers by recruiting various susceptible guests for a treasure hunt. The destination: an apocryphal Silver City, N.M., doubled by Ely, Nev., where an allegedly fabulous treasure awaits the speediest contestant. Seth Green and Vince Vieluf end up with the best sets of gags as a dopey brother act, Duane and Blaine Cody. Their mishaps begin when they try to wreck a radar tower at McCarran Airport in Vegas. The only weak aspect of this classic sequence is that it's a premature topper, setting a more or less out-of-reach standard for the remaining gags. Whoopi Goldberg and Lanai Chapman are a mother-daughter team, Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy a husband-wife team and Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart a potential romantic team. The solitary Cuba Gooding Jr. ends up chauffering a bus full of Lucy Ricardo imitators, a unique variation on the mob scene. Rowan Atkinson plays an elfin, cataleptic Italian who acquires an undesirable sidekick in organ-donor delivery man Wayne Knight. Dave Thomas plays Mr. Cleese's Man Friday. It's a diverting group at worst, and the highlights provide enough ballast to keep the show aloft, although some teams get shortchanged and the whole idea grows wearisome whenever a sequence misfires. Andy Breckman supplied the screenplay.
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000) (PG-13) In Vietnamese with English subtitles. A new feature from the Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung, who emerged during the last decade with "The Scent of Green Papaya" and "Cyclo." He attempts to interweave the situations of three sisters in contemporary Hanoi. The youngest, Lien (Tran Nu Yen Khe) works as a waitress in a cafe owned by her oldest sister, Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh), and shares quarters with an older brother, Hai (Ngo Quang Hai), who has acting aspirations. The middle sister, Khanh (Le Khanh) is the wife of a novelist struggling with his first book. The sisters are reunited on the occasion of a memorial banquet for their late mother. One of the characters provides the justification for an excursion to Saigon. In Vietnamese with English subtitles.

NOW SHOWING
American Pie 2 (2001) (R: "Strong sexual content, crude humor, language and drinking" according to the MPAA; persistent comic vulgarity, with the emphasis on lechery and promiscuous sex; a prolonged sight gag about urination; frequent profanity and occasional nudity) 1/2 *. This sequel to the hit summer farce of 1999 proves so stale and droopy that even enthusiasts may find it a chore to chortle up a storm of approbation. The formula is identical: Alternate lewd sight gags with tenderhearted camaraderie and romantic yearning. Introduced on the occasion of a senior prom, somewhere in the suburbs of Michigan, the youthful cast members reunite following the summer of freshman years in college and share a beach house. Some indefinable zest or confidence is missing, perhaps traceable to a change of directors. J.B. Rogers has been entrusted with "Pie 2," and judging from the evidence, he may not be a comic natural.
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence in a setting of wartime combat and depravity; fleeting profanity and allusions to drug use) * 1/2. A revival of Francis Ford Coppola's notoriously troubled and unwieldy allegorical epic about the war in Vietnam, augmented by about 50 minutes of restored footage. The return of two extended sequences account for most of augmentation; they also inflate the running time to a freshly punitive but presumably definitive 197 minutes. One interlude dallies with a group of Playboy playmates stranded at a desolate, rain-drenched outpost following a short appearance at a raucous USO concert. The second is a stopover at a French plantation still maintained and guarded by a diehard planter family. Martin Sheen has the principal role, as an Army secret agent named Willard, assigned to find and execute a once esteemed officer called Kurtz, who materializes during the finale as a shadowy and obese Marlon Brando. An adviser to Montagnard tribesmen, Kurtz has gone despotic and barbaric in remote hill country. Now as well as then, the movie remains a hostage to solemnity and incoherence. With Robert Duvall, Albert Hall and Dennis Hopper in memorable supporting roles, plus Frederick Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Harrison Ford and a very young Laurence Fishburne.
The Crimson Rivers (2000) (R: "Violence, grisly images and language" according to the MPAA; frequent profanity and graphic violence, with a lingering emphasis on gruesome illustrative details and evidence of torture and mutilation; allusions to cemetery desecrations and an anti-Semitic conspiracy) *. A brazenly gruesome and then preposterous police thriller starring Jean Reno as a Parisian detective who arrives in the French Alps to investigate the vicious slaying of a university librarian. Eventually, a suspect played by Nadia Fares lures the hapless heroes to the top of a mountain for a showdown and an avalanche. In French with English subtitles.
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 Elizabeth 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 coverup is anything but foolproof. The club owner was in hock to criminal creditors, and a collection agent named Alex Spera (Goran Visnjic of the "E.R" 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. Opens Wednesday.
Down From the Mountain (2001) (No MPAA Rating a documentary feature about a music concert; no objectionable material) ***. The production of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" prompted an auspicious benefit concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium on May 24, 2000. This documentary feature, shot on digital video, preserves many highlights and makes you wonder if a complete performance is available. The participants are several of the musicians and singers who had contributed to the film's soundtrack, ultimately its best reason for existing. About 30 songs of folk, country, bluegrass, gospel and otherwise traditional origin are heard in whole or part, interpreted by a raft of performers from Ralph Stanley to Alison Krauss and Union Station. Newcomers who have yet to discover the voices of Miss Krauss or Suzanne Cox may feel especially grateful for this wake-up call. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax.
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.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and graphic violence; systematic sexual candor, with perverse sexuality and sexual masquerades as thematic preoccupations) * 1/2. A presumably faithful and fitfully diverting movie version of the off-Broadway rock musical, transposed by the original playwright, John Cameron Mitchell, directing himself in the title role. A one-man show a good deal of the time, "Hedwig" originated in a Manhattan drag club and caters most conspicuously to spectators who want to agonize or chortle over sexual identity. An embittered transsexual from Germany, Hedwig was once a lad named Hansel, in thrall to American pop music during the Cold War and eventually seduced by a black topkick. Hedwig migrates to the U.S. as his consort, following a botched sex-change operation that leaves the former Hansel with a fragmentary reminder of his biological sex. This "Angry Inch" is adopted as the name of Hedwig's back-up group. The finale strips Mr. Mitchell of all clothing and makeup, providing a total-reversal contrast with Hedwig's curtain-raiser. Accentuating the sexual masquerades, a major cast member, Miriam Shor, is concealed as a male band member until the finale. For this who crave a movie "Hedwig," this one should be definitive. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Original Sin (2000) (R: "Strong sexual content and some violence" according to the MPAA; occasional graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual candor, with an emphasis on betrayal and interludes of simulated intercourse; occasional nudity, emphasizing overhead perspectives of Angelina Jolie's torso) *. A futile late summer parole for one of the "name" features that have been gathering dust in Hollywood's inventory. It may or may not enhance Angelina Jolie's status as a seasonal franchise and cinematic Jezebel. Poor Antonio Banderas is left a total chump as the leading man, a Cuban plantation owner of late 19th century vintage who gets a one-way ticket to utter depravity after mistaking Miss Jolie, an impostor, for his mail-order bride from faraway Delaware. With Thomas Jane in a hilariously provocative role as Miss Jolie's confederate.
Osmosis Jones (2001) (PG: Occasional slapstick vulgarity, typically involving cartoon depictions of repulsive bodily processes) *. A crackpot cartoon feature, which slips into premature tedium while flogging a brainstorm that would be much more suitable for a cartoon short designed to encourage proper nutrition and health. The farcical Farrelly Brothers front as co-directors and presumably shot the live-action sequences, which probably account for about 15 or 20 minutes of the complete film. They brandish Bill Murray as a slobby, widowed zookeeper named Frank, whose filthy habits almost lead to viral disaster, while alarming an affectionate, health-conscious daughter named Shane, played by Elena Franklin. The animators, supervised by Piet Kroon and Tom Sito, take over to illustrate the alternately farcical and gruesome activities inside inside Frank's abused body. The title character, Oz for short, is a vigilant, ethnic immune cell voiced by Chris Rock. He teams up with a temperamental opposite, David Hyde-Pierce as a cold pill called Drix, in order to foil a ruthless, rampaging virus, dubbed by Laurence Fishburne. With Molly Shannon as Shane's teacher, repeatedly in the line of fire when Frank expels noxious stuff.
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 small family, which once included a father who disappeared in the war, is approached by a trio of servants (Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes of "Goon Show" renown and Elaine Cassidy) to replace some recently departed domestics. The temperamental and class contrasts between Miss Kidman and Miss Flanagan as the housekeeper provide ample room for misapprehension. Essentially, we're invited to guess about where the line of demarcation between lands of the living and the dead might be located. The film keeps this revelation artfully out of reach until a stunning denouement, which recalls a famous scene from "The Changeling" and provides a brief role as a medium for Renee Asherson, who was Laurence Olivier's leading lady in "Henry V" 56 years ago.
Planet of the Apes (2001) (PG-13: "Some sequences of action/violence" according to the MPAA; systematic ominous stylization and occasional graphic violence, with more than enough emphasis on brutality and slaughter to make the rating appear lenient) *. Tim Burton makes a fitfully whimsical and frequently incoherent botch of remaking the estimable science-fiction allegory of 1968. As the ostensible hero, a chimp-loving astronaut circa 2029, Mark Wahlberg looks as juvenile as a Mouseketeer and encounters nothing but diminished intrigue and peril while marooned on a swamp planet of the apes. An unbilled Charlton Heston, who starred in the original, dominates the best interlude in the new movie: cast as a dying old chimp, he pronounces curses on the human race, cribbing lines from his original human character. Wedded to cramped and dreary settings or throwaway spectacle, the movie is a persistent eyesore, as ready for the junkheap as "Battlefield Earth." The fadeout kicker is a cloddish disgrace and requires the defacing of a Washington landmark.
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.
Rush Hour 2 (2001) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional sexual allusions; graphic violence in a slapstick martial arts context) *. A rattletrap sequel to the rousing slapstick hit of 1998. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker are reunited as a would-be dynamic duo. The plot begins in Hong Kong, where Mr. Tucker is a loudmouth tourist, resenting Mr. Chan's attempts to juggle hospitality and duty. A triad seems to be planting bombs in American diplomatic offices, and these explosive capers are ultimately contrived to leapfrog to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where the heroes pursue triad assassins, notably Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Road Home." The tackiness of the presentation doesn't flatter her either. Everything looks cheap and rushed, from Mr. Chan's stunt sequences to the color stock, which lingers in a grungy white-and-blue spectrum that seems to diminish every performer, location and setting.
The Score (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence; episodes involving the impersonation of a mentally retarded character) ***. The first cerebral crime melodrama of the summer season, predicated on a cat-and-mouse rivalry between a veteran safecracker played by Robert DeNiro and a brash, devious interloper played by Edward Norton. The principal setting is Montreal, where Mr. DeNiro's Nick Wells runs a jazz club and has promised to settle down with consort Angela Bassett, avoiding future criminal capers. Mr. Norton's Jackie Teller believes he has an irresistible inside deal that could lead to the theft of a rare treasure from the Montreal Customs House. Director Frank Oz gives the production a very attractive pictorial finish while encouraging us to root for the wily old campaigner and distrust the overconfident punk. Marlon Brando, looking as big as a customs house, proves a richly entertaining kibitzer as Nick's friend and fence. Now that so many summer thrillers have reminded us that more can be less, "The Score" cleverly demonstrates how less can be more.
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." Charlotte Rampling isn't the awesome expressive instrument that Juliette Binoche was in the earlier movie, but she's never had a more substantial and sympathetic role. An account of profound personal loss and its aftermath, the movie is directed with exceptional transparency and assurance by Francois Ozon, 34. He begins with a seaside excursion, introducing Miss 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. The remainder of the movie observes the emotional repercussions of this loss, which remains unexplained for quite a while. Marie's sorrow is worked out in rational and realistic terms, although the atmosphere is eerie and expectant in ways that could evoke a psychological horror thriller. In French with English subtitles. Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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