- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Morgan Freeman expertly reprises his Detective Alex Cross role from 1997's "Kiss the Girls" in the latest James Patterson novel to hit the screen, Along Came a Spider. And, as in the first film, his commanding presence emerges as one of the movie's major strengths. "Spider" is our …

Video pick of the week

Abandoning overworked serial-killer concerns of "Kiss the Girls" in favor of an elaborate kidnap plot, "Spider" new from Paramount Home Video (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) pits the methodical Cross against the extremely wily, supremely patient villain Soneji (interpreted by Michael Wincott with appropriate menace), who's snatched the young daughter (a convincing Mika Boorem) of a U.S. senator (an uncharacteristically subdued Michael Moriarty).

But that's only the beginning of a larger evil scheme. In addition to playing dangerous mind games with the cunning criminal, Cross lends emotional support to foxy Secret Servicewoman Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who's haunted by her failure to prevent the kidnapping.

Mr. Freeman elevates director Lee Tamahori's smoothly effective, lavishly produced B movie with his trademark grace, intelligence and gravity, keeping the viewer involved even when the plot dips into predictability. A radical twist recharges the film for its final reels, while Mr. Tamahori yields maximum visual flavor from his authentic D.C. area locations.

Though not quite top-tier thriller material, "Along Came a Spider" certainly offers more than its overnight rental's worth for those in the mood for 104 minutes of slick suspense.

Comedies on cassette (and DVD)

In a lighter vein, November looms as a boom month for comedies. MGM leads the way with the recent theatrical release Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon as a val gal determined to wow' em at Harvard Law School. Columbia/ TriStar contributes the high-profile inside-Hollywood farce America's Sweethearts, starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal and John Cusack.

Buena Vista debuts a duo of foreign mirthfests: The Closet, about an office worker who pretends to be gay in order to save his job, featuring old pros Gerard Depardieu and Daniel ("Girl on the Bridge") Auteil; and the Dutch import Everybody's Famous, dealing with the trials of a would-be stage dad trying to coax his daughter into a singing career.

Elsewhere, Artisan ushers in a pair of homegrown comedies, the road trip misadventure Along for the Ride, toplining Melanie Griffith, Patrick Swayze and Penelope Ann Miller; plus actor/auteur Jon ("Swingers") Favreau's Made, with Mr. Favreau and Vince Vaughn as two chronic losers who get mixed up with the mob.

Trimark, meanwhile, introduces the Minnie Driver showcase Uncorked, co-starring Nigel Hawthorne. All of the above will be priced for rental and also available on DVD.

Golden silents

Kino Video (800/562-3330) continues to retool some of its top catalogue titles in extras-laden new DVD editions. Just out is the label's "Strong, Silent Type" line, offering a quartet of classics showcasing four silent-screen icons. The color-tinted 1922 Rudolph Valentino bullfight drama Blood and Sand includes a filmed introduction by Orson Welles, a Will Rogers parody of the film and more, while the 1928 Douglas Fairbanks adventure The Gaucho also contains Fairbanks' hilarious 1916 cult comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish.

For the Halloween season, Kino presents the 1920 John Barrymore version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, along with the 1925 Stan Laurel spoof Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride and more bonus material, plus 1920's The Penalty, starring Lon Chaney as a vengeful amputee, complete with many Lon-related extras. The DVDs are available now and tagged at $29.95 each.

Halloween horrorscope

And speaking of Halloween, for Dario Argento fans, Anchor Bay Entertainment issues a lavish 3-disc Limited Edition DVD of that popular Italo fright maestro's 1977 masterpiece Suspiria ($44.98), a witchcraft shocker starring Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett and Alida Valli, also available in single disc ($24.98) and VHS ($14.98) versions. VCI Home Video (800/331-4077) chimes in with Mr. Argento's 1969 mystery The Bird With the Crystal Plumage ($24.99 DVD, $14.99 VHS).

In other Halloween developments, Image Entertainment goes the gala DVD route with Benjamin Christiansen's haunting 1922 Swedish chiller Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages and George Sluizer's supremely disturbing 1988 thriller The Vanishing ($39.95 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I'm looking for the Christopher Lee witchcraft movie Horror Hotel on DVD.

Art Byrnes, via e-mail

VCI (see phone number above) recently issued a pristine, uncut DVD of that cult 1960 genre gem under its original British title, "City of the Dead" ($24.99).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at [email protected] And check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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