- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

The Glass House (2001) (PG-13: profanity, drug content and violence). This psychological thriller, starring Leelee Sobieski and Diane Lane, finds an orphaned brother and sister living in luxury in the home of their late parents' friends. But their new guardians may not be as kindly as they appear. "Glass" marks the big screen directorial debut of television veteran Daniel Sackheim ("X Files," "Harsh Realm").
Happy Accidents (2001) (R: profanity) **. Brad Anderson, who directed the indie charmer "Next Stop Wonderland," returns with a sour puree of science fiction and modern romance. Marisa Tomei stars as Ruby, a woman addicted to abusive relationships, who finally finds a would-be suitor in Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio). Too bad he isn't what he appears to be, or, more precisely, may not be from the time period from which he appears. Their romance will cause viewers with the slightest notion of psychotherapy to wince repeatedly while the sci-fi elements play out in sluggish fashion. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Hardball (2001) (PG-13: profanity, some violence) Keanu Reeves stars as a down on his luck gambler who pays off his debts by helping coach an inner-city baseball team. The bad news squad gives Mr. Reeves' selfish character a dollop of humanity while the kids learn they have more control of their lives than they ever thought.
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 co., 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.

All Over the Guy (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; episodes of simulated intercourse between homosexual partners; allusions to alcoholism and promiscuous sexual behavior) *. A redundant new bulletin from Southern California about the vicissitudes of homosexual courtship, revamped by Dan Bucatinsky from his own play. Mr. Bucatinsky also plays one of the principals: timid Eli, who is the son of fussbudget shrinks (Andrea Martin looms large in a small role as his mother). A double flashback structure introduces him confiding date woes to a receptionist (Doris Roberts) at a health clinic while his estranged consort, Richard Ruccolo as Tom, confides in peers at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. The backtracking accounts for how they were set up by best friends, who also serve as the heterosexual match and subplot: Adam Baldwin as Brett and Sasha Alexander as Jackie. Unfortunately, glibness and triteness fail to sustain this movie.
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 experience of writer-director Eva Gardos, a Hungarian-American. This first feature recalls the estrangement that plagued her 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 the Southern California suburbs, subsidizing the care of their missing 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, after a potentially catastrophic quarrel with her mother, by a trip to Hungary, circa 1965. Considerable dialogue in Hungarian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.
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. John Madden, the estimable director of "Mrs. Brown" and "Shakespeare in Love," maneuvers himself into a lovelorn fiasco in the "Ryan's Daughter" vein with this doting movie version of the Louis de Bernieres novel, a cult best-seller in England since its publication in 1994. Admirers should be grateful for Mr. Madden's scenic fidelity, since he transported the company to the authentic location, the Ionian island of Cephalonia. The human side of the make-believe is persistently stilted and cringe-worthy, starting with John Hurt's fatuous narration as the village doctor, Iannis. 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. Mr. Madden can't prevent the romantic triangle from seeming a vintage hoot. With Irene Papas as Mr. Bale's imposing mama. The highlight sequence is the mandolin composition Corelli dedicates to Pelagia.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) (PG-13: For some sexual content, according to the MPAA; occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) *-1/2. Woody Allen squanders a promising title and a vintage 1940s setting while belaboring a professional rivalry between himself as the established insurance fraud sleuth, C.W. Briggs, and Helen Hunt as the sarcastic new supervisor, Betty Ann Fitzgerald, at a New York underwriting firm. Both are revealed to be pushovers for hypnotism in an early episode. This susceptibility leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by the character played by David Ogden Stiers, a nightclub swami with theft on his mind. Briggs and Betty Ann are meant to discover a mutual romantic interest as a result of their embarrassing ordeal. The real ordeal is waiting for Mr. Allen to catch up with the fact that the audience is hours, days, or even weeks ahead of his poky plot manipulations.
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.
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.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) (R: Incessant profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual vulgarity; occasional graphic violence in a farcical context; fleeting nudity and facetiously simulated sex acts) .. Kevin Smith seems to have promoted himself to the awesomely pointless role of court jester at Miramax. He even imagines the company has a studio in Hollywood, the destination of two characters from Red Bank New Jersey morons called Jay and Silent Bob upon learning that they have been ripped off for a new science-fiction adventure based on a comic strip that is partially based on the boys from Red Bank. An overnight mythology is tied up in the ensuing slapstick jaunt, presuming fond familiarity with the initial Smith movie, "Clerks," and the subsequent "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Mr. Smith, respectively, were stoogey comic fixtures in all those films before earning their very own Hollywood picaresque. "Strike Back" is so smug that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon turn up to share quips about all their other movies.
Jeepers Creepers (2001) (R) An ominously gruesome chase thriller with Gina Philips and Justin Long as siblings who encounter a mass murderer while driving home from college and investigating creepy circumstances at an old dark house. Bad decision: It turns out to be a depository for tortured victims. Jonathan Beck plays the menace, nicknamed Creeper, who chases the young people in his van. Written and directed by Victor Salva, who was responsible for the inspirational groaner "Powder." Not reviewed.
The Musketeer (2001) (PG-13 (some sexual material and intense action sequences) **. Alexandre Dumas's classic yarn gets a Chinese martial arts spin courtesy of stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong, a Hong Kong action coordinator making his Hollywood debut. The action scenes are fun, frequent and ridiculous; the acting is only ridiculous. Calvin Klein model Justin Chambers plays the wannabe musketeer D'Artagnan; Tim Roth is the villainous Febre. The film, directed by Peter Hyams (1999's "End of Days"), also stars Catherine Deneuve and Stephen Rea. The silly action flick probably will please fans of Mr. Hyam's earlier movies but disappoint those who crave Dumas' philosophical meanderings into such matters as the constant conflict between good and evil. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
O (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, graphic violence and depictions of drug use, involving teenage characters; occasional racial epithets; fleeting nudity and interludes of intercourse) *-1/2. A miscalculated update of "Othello," finally released after two years on the Miramax shelf. The Columbine High School killings supposedly prompted the first postponement, and there are random similarities that argue for discretion. Palmetto Grove, an exclusive prep school in Charleston, S.C., has recruited basketball star Odin James (Mekhi Phifer, looking seriously undersized and overaged), its first black student. His success and popularity arouse the malice of Josh Hartnett's Hugo Goulding, a varsity starter and the taken-for-granted son of hoops coach Duke Goulding, a ranting basket case as embodied by a hammy Martin Sheen. Julia Stiles, our busiest young Shakespearean, draws the Desdemona role: Desi Brable, daughter of the dean, a thankless role for John Heard. The idiomatic, racially self-conscious and sexually explicit nature of the updating fails to preserve or enhance the Shakespearean strong points. If anything, giving Hugo so many "issues" with his dad diminishes Iago by turning him into a crazy mixed-up teen wretch at the mercy of modern cliches.
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.
Our Song (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A comedy-drama about the friendship of three teen-age girls written and directed by Jim McKay. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. Not reviewed.
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. The movie's 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.
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. 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.
Rock Star (2001) (R: Sexual content, profanity and drug use) **1/2. Erstwhile rapper Mark Wahlberg dons the heavy metal hair of a garage band dreamer who gets the chance to replace his idol in the metal band Steel Dragon. Inspired by the true story behind Judas Priest's new singer, Ripper Owens, who toiled in a Priest cover band before being discovered. Mr. Wahlberg gives soul to his character's slight dreams, and co-star Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" provides able support under an unflattering '80s 'do. Real rockers Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and Brian Vander Ark (Verve Pipe) lend to the authentic feel generated by director Stephen Herek. Too bad the director loses faith in his material two-thirds into the film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Soul Survivors (2001) (R) A psychological horror thriller about the aftermath to a fatal auto accident that costs the life of her boyfriend and leaves heroine Melissa Sagemiller, a college coed, in a guilt-ridden and vulnerable condition. With Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Eliza Dushku and Luke Wilson. Written and directed by Steve Carpenter and produced by the same team that launched the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" franchise. Not reviewed.
Summer Catch (2001) (PG-13: "Sexual content, language and some drinking" according to the MPAA; fleeting profanity and frequent sexual vulgarity, with episodes that revel in promiscuity and inebriation) *. Definitely one to throw back. This blithely lewd and worthless trifle is set against the backdrop of an amateur baseball league on Cape Cod that serves as a showcase for promising college-age players. Freddie Prinze, Jr. is cast as the hometown prospect, a leftie hurler from Chatham, Mass., who must overcome various self-defeating traits. An orgy the night before reporting to practice is the sort of thing that isn't held against him. Lusting upward, he falls for rich girl Jessica Biel, ceding carefree townie slut Brittany Murphy to the zany team catcher, Matthew Lillard. Brian Dennehy has a consistently laughable role as the coach and Beverly D'Angelo gets an insulting cameo as a middleaged nympho, kept teasingly out of camera range during most of the picture while she supposedly seduces the players who room with her over the summer.
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. Mr. Brown previously wrote 1997's "How to Be a Player" with Bill Bellamy, and he appears to be slowly evolving as a teller of romantic truths. His script shows enough promise to make his follow-up work noteworthy, provided he continues to refine his budding voice. "Two" also stars Gabrielle Union and Tamala Jones. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001) (R) **. Allegedly a spoof of "Meatballs" and its imitators, the movie is set in 1981 and features the appropriate long hair heros and hard rock soundtrack. It was cooked up by collaborators in the MTV sketch-comedy group the State, but its spotty satire proves more vulgar than gut-bustingly funny. The threadbare plot revolves around camp counselors played by Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde-Pierce, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Marguerite Moreau, Christopher Meloni, Ken Marino, Marisa Ryan and Amy Poehler.

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