- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Bandits (2001) (PG-13: “Some sexual content, language and violence” according to the MPAA) ?.. The epitome of worthless Hollywood escapism at the moment. The romantic triangle plot resembles Ron Shelton’s dud about pugs with a girlfriend in common, “Play It to the Bone.” Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton are cast as cons with opposite personalities (smirky extrovert and fussbudget introvert, respectively) who pull an impulsive escape from an Oregon prison and then engineer a whimsical set of bank robberies while heading for a serene retirement in Mexico. Along the way they acquire Cate Blanchett, a restless and kooky housewife, as a mutual consort. The movie celebrates a would-be adorable and essentially harmless fantasy of the criminal good life, indistinguishable from career aspirations that never rise above making complacent movies and getting away with it. Director Barry Levinson seems to take a holiday from self-respect while humoring this valentine to losers. Mr. Willis is adorned with his most ridiculous hairpiece to date, and it seems to have a sluggish effect on his reaction time. Mr. Thornton and Miss Blanchett are more diligent and sincere about impersonating precious eccentrics. Ultimately, their friskiness is no more ingratiating than Mr. Willis’ laziness.
Corky Romano (2001) (PG-13) A Mafia family farce starring Chris Kattan as the white sheep kid brother of a mobster family. Happily employed as a veterinarian in Florida, he is summoned to infiltrate the FBI as patriach Peter Falk confronts a federal prosecution for racketeering. With Peter Berg and Chris Penn as Corky’s brothers, plus Fred Ward, Richard Roundtree and Vinessa Shaw.
Innocence (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject movie, with occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) 1/2*. A genteel, absurdly titillating meditation on late-onset passion from the Dutch-born Australian filmmaker Paul Cox. A widower with a name that evokes Ingmar Bergman scenarios Andreas Borg succumbs to an irresistible impulse to renew the acquaintance of his college sweetheart, Claire, some 50 years after they drifted apart. Incredibly, she’s still receptive, although married to a perfectly harmless bloke. Uh-oh. Could that be part of the problem? Charles Tingwell plays the aging seducer, Julia Blake his long-lost heartthrob and Terry Norris the unlucky spouse. (Inside joke: Miss Blake and Mr. Norris are a real-life married couple.) Recurrent flashbacks to the first sexual encounter between young Andreas and Claire allow Mr. Cox to inject some graphic prurience into what is mostly a kind of tea-time interplay of agonized emotions. It’s almost as if someone had decided to parody the great David Lean-Noel Coward tearjeker “Brief Encounter” by imagining the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard characters in a carnal reunion 50 years later. The silliness is at its most exquisite when Miss Blake is rationalizing her farewells to fidelity. Someone needs to kiss her quick to silence the poor-me sappiness.
Iron Monkey (2001) (PG-13) A revised and subtitled version of a Hong Kong martial arts adventure directed in the early 1990s by Yuen Wo-Ping, now renowed as the “action choreographer”for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Matrix.” Mr. Yuen, who began his movie career as a stuntman in the 1960s, had been directing features for some time in addition to supervising action sequences for other directors. Originally imported in a dubbed version aimed strictly at kung fu devotees, the movie celebrates a couple of stalwart folk heroes from the late 19th century whose exploits have been repeatedly embroidered by Chinese filmmakers. Yu Rong Guang is cast as the masked marvel known as the Iron Monkey, who defends the populace against a corrupt imperial governor, somewhat in the tradition of Robin Hood and Zorro. Donnie Yen plays a celebrated fighter called Wong Kei-Ying, blackmailed into pursuing the Iron Monkey when his son is held hostage by the governor. Naturally, the two heroes eventually cooperate in an effort to overthrow their mutual enemy. With James Wong as the villain and Jean Wang as Miss Orchid, the title character’s lovely and intrepid sidekick.
Mulholland Drive (2001) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid elements; occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor, including a subplot about a lesbian infatuation; fleeting nudity) **. Far from satisfying, not to mention coherent, but undeniably inimitable, this overextended mystery fable about amnesia in Hollywood was intended as the pilot for a new television series by writer-director David Lynch. One of the cast members, Washington-born Justin Theroux, cast as a movie director who probably shouldn’t be mistaken for the filmmaker’s alter-ego, has suggested a plausible key to unlocking the enigmas: the first two hours or so, which portray the meeting and evolving intimacy of an accident survivor played by Laura Harring and a wide-eyed, aspiring, adventure-prone actress played by Naomi Watts, represent Hollywood romantic fantasy. The last half-hour, in which the actresses suddenly assume diffferent roles, exposes the disillusioning, sinister underside of movie romance and glamor. While no explanation could be airtight, this one will suffice. The problem from the entertainment angle is that the movie grows more diverting as you grow fonder of the ingenuous Miss Watts; when she and Miss Harring, playing lost-in-Hollywood Nancy Drews, get impulsively amorous, many moviegoers might prefer to see David Lynch go right ahead and explore his lesbian side as generously as possible. The consummation also permits him to spring a fabulous bedroom punch line, predicated on Miss Harring’s loss of memory. Few sexual teases in movie history have boasted a funnier one-line payoff. The last-reel self-sabotage robs us of Miss Watts’ breathless spunkiness and lovability. Going morbid with his fairy tale may satisfy a perverse streak in Mr. Lynch, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for members of the audience to resent it as a nasty trick with scant justification. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
My First Mister (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity) 1/2*. The poor man’s variation on “Ghost World.” A Southern California teenager played by Leelee Sobieski cultivates a vampirish look and snarls at her twittery mom, Carol Kane. A men’s store owner played by Albert Brooks takes pity on the misguided kid when she turns up as a job seeker. Supposedly, his weary patience cures her malcontented outlook, although not before screenwriter Jill Franklyn resorts to shameless and mawkish manipulation, requiring an untimely death and some expedient matchmaking. Miss Franklyn claims the material is semi-autobiographical, scarcely a flattering admission under the circumstances. Directed by Christine Lahti, in the stupefying spirit of the “Chicago Hope” series. With John Goodman, Mary Kay Place, Michael McKean, Lisa Jane Persky and Desmond Harrington. Miss Sobieski is becoming a disconcerting ringer, vocally as well as facially, for Helen Hunt. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
Under the Sun (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter with elements of sexual candor) A nominee as best foreign language film when “Crouching Tiger” won the category, this Swedish import, directed by a transplanted Englishman, Colin Nutley, derives from H.E. Bates’ bucolic tale of the 1930s, transposed to the Swedish countryside in the 1950s. A seriocomic account of an oddball menage a trois, it features Rolf Lassgard as a lonely and simpleminded farmer named Olof who advertises for a housekeeper and seems to luck out when an attractive woman from the city, Helena Bergstrom as Helena, answers the add and settles in. However, her arrival also arouses the suspicion and jealousy of Olof’s young friend Erik (Johan Widerberg), a former sailor who works as a hired hand for the suddenly lucky Olof. Miss Bergstrom is married to the director; Mr. Widerberg is the son of director Bo Widerberg. In Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

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.
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.
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.
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 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: frequent profanity and sexual candor, concentrated on an older man’s appetite for teenage boys; fragmentary views of reputed porn films; a fleeting interlude of simulated heterosexual intercourse; fleeting nudity and graphic violence) 1/2*. An independent, semi-professional feature directed on Long Island locations by Michael Cuesta. The title alludes to the Long Island Expressway. Mr. Cuesta attempts to juggle sinister, salacious and mawkish episodes while observing the plight of a delinquent 15-year-old called Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), who drifts into petty crime and attracts a Fagin figure called Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox) who also craves boys as consorts. The guiding suspense element is prurient rather than dramatic. You’re not too sure how far Mr. Cuesta plans to go with Big John’s bent. It’s a relief to see that he backs off; indeed, he favors a platonic switch, urging us to credit the pederast with a genuinely paternal and generous side where lost boys are concerned. Since the narrative stalls after an hour or so and never gets recharged, the movie’s tendencies prove a would-be provocative exercise in futility. The execution is so haphazard and inconclusive that Howie’s dilemma simply deflates. 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 youngster 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.
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.
Our Lady of the Assassins (2001) (R: Systematic mood of resignation to vice and despair; occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor, with fleeting nudity and simulations of homosexual intercourse) No stars. A monotonous and futile meditation on civilization under siege from director Barbet Schroeder, who uses the cocaine cartel metropolis of Medellin, Colombia, as a simultaneously scenic and ominous backdrop for fatalistic dread. The context is so narrow that it’s impossible to feel that a revealing portrait of a lawless city is being unveiled. Shot in a digital video format and transferred to film, “Assassins” observes the perverse homecoming of an exiled writer, Fernando (German Jaramillo), a homosexual who claims to be a dying man and consoles himself by sleeping with a teenage gunslinger, Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros). Embraces, strolls, shopping excursions and cynical reflections by Fernando are punctuated by street violence: Alexis shoots several people while the older man witnesses his prowess. Ultimately, the young gun dies by the gun, prompting a scurvy plot twist that finds the protagonist starting the identical cycle with an interchangeable thug. It’s difficult to suppress the suspicion that numerous passersby might have more promising and edifying stories to tell. The liaisons of doom-laden Fernando are insufferable. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
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.
Serendipity (2001) (PG-13: “A scene of sexuality and some language” according to the MPAA; fleeting profanity and sexual candor) .?. 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.
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.

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