- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

OPENING
The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) An impressionistic documentary portrait of the famed Russian ballet star and choreographer of the pre-World War I years, compiled by the Australian filmmaker Paul Cox. Passages from the Nijinsky diaries are read by Sir Derek Jacobi. The illustrative material includes re-enactments of some of the ballets that were associated with Nijinsky (1890-1950) and impresario Sergei Diaghilev. One week only, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
Full Frontal (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; a morbid episode involving a suicide) No stars. An amateurish shambles, billed as "a movie about movies," from Steven Soderbergh. It demonstrates the pitfalls of Hollywood success. Julia Roberts plays along in a negligible dual role, cast opposite Blair Underwood as a film actress and a celebrity reporter with a crush on her subject. In a movie within the movie, Catherine Keener and David Hyde-Pierce are an estranged couple: corporate shrew and sadsack magazine writer. Mary McCormack is Miss Keener's sister, a massage therapist propositioned by a producer, David Duchovny, whose birthday party is meant to be a pivotal event. The trifling and/or wretched comings and goings of these and other characters look shabbier because of the director's reliance on an unsightly pictorial format: Mr. Soderbergh shot much of the movie in a bleached-out video format. This mess may have some use as a snare for people who believe they'd do anything to get close to the movie business.
The Master of Disguise (2002) (PG: "Mild language and some crude humor" according to the MPAA) Dana Carvey's first movie comedy in eight years. Mr. Carvey dons several disguises as the unwitting virtuoso Pistachio Disguisey, who waits tables at his family's Italian restaurant and then discovers that he has inherited his family's talent for disguise, encapsulated in a flair called "Energico." He must put it to heroic use in a hurry when his parents (James Brolin and Edie McClurg) are kidnapped by a criminal mastermind (Brent Spiner) who intends to exploit the Disguisey talents for a big robbery.
Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (2002) (R) A comedy concert feature showcasing the popular comedian-actor.
Signs (2002) (PG-13) M. Night Shyamalan moves his spookshow to a farm community in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in order to orchestrate dread around the appearance of mysterious shapes and omens carved into the fields, presumably by extraterrestrial intruders. With Mel Gibson as a puzzled rustic, Joaquin Phoenix as his brother and Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin as his offspring. The cast also includes Broadway luminary Cherry Jones.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002) (PG: "Action sequences and brief rude humor" according to the MPAA) A sequel to Robert Rodriguez' popular caprice about the resourceful offspring of master spies in semi-retirement. The parents, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, are played by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. An obvious sag in glamor and credibility must be overlooked to believe that their children are precocious phenoms. A rival set of youngsters is added to challenge the Cortez siblings. Called Gary and Gerti Giggles, the newcomers belong to Mike Judge as the director of the spy agency called OSS. Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor also come aboard as Cortez grandparents. A new villain is played by Steve Buscemi; he creates genetic mutant creatures of numerous kinds on a secluded island. Opens Wednesday.
Who Is Cletis Tout? (2002) (R: "Language, some violence and sexuality" according to the MPAA) A caper farce about a prison alliance between a forger played by Christian Slater and a jewel thief played by Richard Dreyfuss. They engineer an escape in order to retrieve loot hidden away by the latter. The plot begins with flashback episodes, as Mr. Slater attempts to explain away a case of mistaken identity to a mob hitman played by Tim Allen.


NOW SHOWING
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) (PG-13: Frequent sexual innuendo and coarse slapstick humor, including a number of gags predicated on urination; farcical but sometimes persistent simulations of violence) *1/2. The audience may refuse to tire of Mike Myers' preposterous swinger-spy, but the originator himself seems to be lobbying hard for a getaway in this busy but exceptionally spotty reprise. The new sequel recruits Michael Caine as Austin's dad Nigel, supposedly a master spy in his own right. The senior Powers is kidnapped, and Dr. Evil joins forces with the perpetrator, a vintage counterpart called Goldmember. This redundant and grotesque criminal mastermind becomes the fourth of Mr. Myers' impersonations. It's far from a triumph. The abominable thug introduced in the first sequel, Fat Bastard, is also back for a marginally amusing encore as a sumo wrestler. The leading lady is now pop singer Beyonce Knowles, a sunny presence cast as a blaxsploitation homage, Foxxy Cleopatra.
The Country Bears (2002) (G) **1/2. Disney brings its popular theme park attraction, The Country Bear Jamboree, to the big screen with enough humor and slapstick to please the undemanding younger set. This ramshackle road picture gets by on its gentle charms. The live-action feature's saving grace is a tight musical soundtrack supplied by the likes of John Hiatt, Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt. Beary Barrington, given voice by Haley Joel Osment, feels like an outcast in his human family and runs off to reunite his favorite band, The Country Bears. The film's many cameos include glimpses of Elton John, Queen Latifah and Willie Nelson. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) (PG: Ominous interludes in the context of a wildlife documentary; fleeting comic vulgarity) **. An entertaining but absurdly schizoid attempt to transpose the merits of Steve and Terri Irwin's Animal Planet television series to the movie screen. The footage is reliably enjoyable when the inimitable Tarzan of Queensland and his estimable mate more or less duplicate the content of their TV shows, with the burly, colloquial, hyperbolic Mr. Irwin sharing a boundless enthusiasm for handling and describing the fauna of Australia. Unfortunately, director John Stainton is not confident or proficient enough to exploit the Irwins as a full-time attraction. He injects a couple of dreary subplots that have little to do with the Irwins. It's as if they were being given breathers in order to reach the next locales. Their act remains a strenuous conjugal kick on the big screen, but the ragged B-movie attributes cry out for classier management.
Les Destinees (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence and sexual candor) *1/2. An initially evocative and promising domestic chronicle, derived from a French novel titled "Les destinees sentimentales." By the time it expires three hours later, you're likely to feel slaphappy. Director Olivier Assayas begins with appealing intimations of period atmosphere (circa 1900-1929) and romantic storytelling; they seem to belong to another lifetime by the fadeout. The poorly sustained dynastic plot revolves around the marital and professional struggles of Jean Barnery (Charles Berling), reluctant heir to a prestigious family porcelain business in Limoges. A Protestant minister, Barnery divorces a wife he believes to be unfaithful (Isabelle Huppert as the inexplicable, masochistic Nathalie) and finds consolation with Emmanuelle Beart as a heartthrob named Pauline, the niece of a local vintner. Ultimately, Jean weakens to family appeals that only he can operate the porcelain factory profitably. The tedious undertow spoils generous footage of Miss Beart, the most beautiful film actress in captivity. In this context even gazing at her begins to pall. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
Eight-Legged Freaks (PG-13: Frequently gruesome, albeit facetious, horror images, predicated on monster spiders terrorizing humans and pets; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) 1/2*. A wanton, inept monster thriller that will test the tolerance of summer moviegoers for scare gimmicks that may look diverting but turn out to be merely stupid. Magnification and jumpiness make the title critters of "Freaks" look ridiculous rather than menacing. The computer program that allows some to hop like Mark Twain's jumping frogs earn a special place in the bonehead hall of fame. A movie with David Arquette as the leading man is probably in trouble to begin with, but his weak chops are a minor defect as the movie flounders, while pretending that a sadsack mining town called Prosperity, Ariz., is under siege by mutant arachnids. Most of the valiant resistance belongs to Kari Wuhrer as a sheriff and Rick Overton as her lumpy but capable deputy.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity; episodes illustrating severe danger and physical injury in a nuclear submarine) ***. An inauspicious start that echoes the introductory fakeout of "The Sum of All Fears" is one of several shakedown obstacles that need to be endured and forgiven to reach the good parts of this submarine thriller. The movie becomes exceptionally compelling once it concentrates on the material that matters, an account of sacrifice and tenacity in uniquely desperate circumstances. Director Kathryn Bigelow and her cast begin to hit their stride in mid-passage, after a Soviet nuclear submarine of 41 years ago, hurried into service in order to complete a test firing mission in the Arctic, is imperiled by malfunctions in the reactor room. As the commander, Harrison Ford gets to re-enact the situation faced by Gregory Peck in the admirable "Twelve O'Clock High": brought in to browbeat troubled crewmen who are still attached to a kindhearted captain played by Liam Neeson, the strict disciplinarian finds himself overwhelmed by the heroism of sailors prepared to sacrifice themselves to avert a meltdown. The film was inspired by an authentic voyage that the Soviets obscured for decades.
Lilo & Stitch (2002) (PG: Some ominous episodes; fleeting comic vulgarity) ****. A superlative Disney fable about the friendship formed between an orphaned Hawaiian moppet called Lilo and an exiled extraterrestrial she nicknames Stitch, while mistaking it for an abandoned pooch. The invention of a mad scientist who got carried away while engineering a genetic ultimate weapon, Stitch is an aggressive and potentially calamitous handful. He's also the wittiest variation on E.T. in 20 years. His pudgy, four-eyed maker, Jumba, is ordered to hurry to Earth on a retrieval mission, accompanied by a one-eyed egghead called Pleakley, who regards the planet as a wildlife preserve for a beloved species, the mosquito. Lilo has a struggling older sister named Nani, voiced by Tia Carrere. Their difficulties have attracted the attention of a hulking but not unsympathetic social worker called Cobra Bubbles, voiced by Ving Rhames. The mixture of Polynesian and science-fiction motifs gives the movie a distinctive and beguiling look. The musical score is an invigorating, unexpectedly wacky blend of vintage Elvis Presley with Hawaiian chants and lullabies. The writing-directing team proves exceptionally deft with farcical plotting and throwaway humor. "Lilo" is the season's happiest and smartest entertainment.
Men in Black II (2002) (PG-13: Systematic depictions of extraterrestrial monsters; occasional comic vulgarity and graphic violence in a facetious, science-fiction context) *1/2. A keenly disappointing sequel to the exuberant 1997 adventure farce about the exploits of a secret government agency charged with the control of aliens in our midst. Will Smith returns as Agent Jay, who is obliged to supervise the unretirement of Tommy Lee Jones as Agent Kay, suddenly needed to help prevent apocalypse at the whim of a hydra-headed despot played by Lara Flynn Boyle. The crisis is complicated in a humorously promising way by the fact that Kay's memory, erased when he left the service, needs to be restored within a matter of hours. Pretending to be out of it gives Mr. Jones a big advantage over his colleagues, who just look as if they're going through the motions and haven't been able to think of any way to conceal that Stale Feeling. Tim Blaney supplies the voice of MIB's wiseguy canine, Frank the Pug, who seems to be the only cast member with confident material.
Metropolis (1927) (No MPAA Rating made years before the advent of the rating system; sustained ominous elements and occasional violent episodes) ***. A recently restored, two-hour version of the late silent classic directed by Fritz Lang. A landmark in science-fiction stylization and visionary production design, the movie anticipates class envy and conflict a century into the future. The ruling class of the towering city of Metropolis, circa 2026, dwells in luxurious skyscrapers far removed from the brute class employed to man boilers and generators in a cavernous underground region and any efforts to bridge the class gulf are doomed to fail. Despite several stunning sequences and an abiding influence over futuristic spectacle, the movie was a costly flop when first released and remains a loony polemic in any timeframe. Severe cuts were made within a few weeks of the original German release. A number of European archives have collaborated on this reconstruction, which includes the original orchestral score composed by Gottfried Huppertz. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater through Aug. 8 only.
Read My Lips (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) **1/2 A French crime thriller contrived to highlight the disaffected character traits that create a larcenous bond between a partially deaf secretary played by Emmanuelle Devos and an ex-con played by Vincent Cassel. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Reign of Fire (2002) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere; graphic violence and terrror revolving around attacks by fire-breathing dragons; episodes in which young children are endangered by the beasts; fleeting profanity) ***. An incisive, rousing and inventive monster spectacle. It asks us to share the plight of a valiant group of survivors, exiled to a castle in Northumberland after a generation of destruction from a resurrected species of flying, incendiary dragon. Allegedly, the beasts have laid waste to major cities around the globe. Christian Bale, brave and tenacious but less than fearsome and commanding, leads the Northumbland remnant. The arrival of an unexpected American "task force" changes the outlook from hunkering down to all-or-nothing counterattack. The newcomers are led by an ostentatious and scary commander, Matthew McConaughey in a wonderfully swaggering portrayal. He engineers one spectacular kill of a dragon during an ill-advised march on London, nesting place of a gigantic bull dragon who evidently calls the shots. The finale evokes "Jaws" with a flying beastie as the prey; Mr. Bale, Mr. McConaughey and chopper pilot Izabella Scorupco are isolated in the ruins of London as they stalk the Big Daddy. The obvious shortcomings will be easy to tease in retrospect, but director Rob Bowman and his collaborators generate considerable suspense and excitement.
Road to Perdition (2002) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional graphic violence and profanity) *1/2. Family solidarity takes another drubbing from Sam Mendes, who won an Academy Award three years ago for directing the stylishly hateful suburban satire "American Beauty." Confirming his bent toward exquisite depravity, Mr. Mendes belabors the fate of a mob enforcer during the Depression. Tom Hanks is cast as this doomed gunman, Michael Sullivan, whose loyal service to Irish-American mobster Paul Newman is undermined by the boss' bloodthirsty son Connor (Daniel Craig). Sullivan's wife and youngest son become murder victims, compelling the father to flee with a surviving boy, Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). Sullivan engineers a string of bank robberies that signal his revenge and exhaust his credit with rival mob czars, notably Stanley Tucci as Chicago eminence Frank Nitti. Jude Law has an intermittent, flashy role as an assassin who doubles as a morbid photographer, specializing in Speed Graphic death portraits. The movie couldn't look more accomplished, but even its pictorial sophistication begins to backfire. Seven or eight set piece killings advertise their affectations, and the staleness of the vengeance theme seeps into your eye sockets.
Sex and Lucia (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter and presentation, consistent with the R category; frequent nudity and simulated interludes of dalliance or intercourse; fleeting inserts of images from hard-core porn films; the distributor urges no admission to anyone under 18) *1/2. An inimitable return engagement for the flamboyant Spanish stupefier Julio Medem, my favorite exhibitionist of the European persuasion. He casts a variable heat wave named Paz Vega as a bereaved or perhaps merely headstrong waitress who abandons Madrid after the apparent death of her boyfriend (Tristan Ulloa as a writer named Lorenzo). In retreat on a desert island, Lucia gets naked a lot while the director pretends to account for her affair with Lorenzo in flashbacks. But Lorenzo seems to have been involved with at least two other women, Elena Anaya as a sultry lunatic and Najwa Nimri as a kind of housemother to castaway swingers. But whoa. They may be characters in a Lorenzo book in progress rather than flesh-and-blood rivals. Should Lucia feel genuine jealousy? Is Lorenzo still among the living? How could anybody seem credible in a Julio Medem sex fantasy? In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row and Loews Cineplex Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
Stuart Little 2 (2002) (PG: Occasional ominous episodes and fleeting comic vulgarity) ***. A cheerful and sometimes pictorially sumptuous encore for the E.B. White mouse adopted by a Fifth Avenue family named Little. The system of computer graphic animation that makes Stuart's miniaturized world feasible on the screen is getting better and better, although an improved program still awaits the canary Margolo, who becomes a principal character in this installment but looks too ceramic. Mouse and bird have numerous scenes together, including a somewhat delirious "drive-in date" when they watch Hitchcock's "Vertigo" on TV while sitting in Stuart's little red convertible. Margolo (voiced by Melanie Griffith) must make amends for being the larcenous protegee of a predatory falcon, spoken by James Woods. Nathan Lane remains in good form as the voice of the sarcastic housecat Snowbell. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie enhance the absurdly doting aspects of Mr. and Mrs. Little. In the most elaborate stunt Stuart flies a toy World War I plane to Margolo's rescue after being stranded on a garbage barge headed toward the Verrazano Bridge. The movie's pictorial infatuation with New York City may also have a magnified charm in the wake of September 11.
Swimming (2002) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter and treatment, with occasional profanity and sexual candor) 1/2*. A listless independent feature, this coming-of-age trifle is unlikely to inundate director Robert J. Siegel with new directing offers. The teenage heroine is played by Lauren Ambrose, now prominent as a member of the "Six Feet Under" cast. She plays a nominal ugly duckling named Frankie Wheeler, who works at a family-owned diner on the boardwalk and feels decidedly inferior to a brash, sexually experienced crony named Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe) and a shameless newcomer named Josee (Joelle Carter), who flirts with the heroine and seduces her married older brother. A goofy vendor named Heath (Jamie Harrold) seems to provide Frankie with adequate pretext for discarding her virginity. The triteness of it all is exceptionally underwhelming.
Tadpole (2002) (PG-13: Prurient pretext and emphasis; episodes involving teenage drinking and seuxal dalliance; fleeting profanity) 1/2*. This pathetic sex comedy revives the cliches of adolescent seduction by "older women." Aaron Stanford fails to redeem the pretext as a 15-year-old boarding school brat named Oscar Grubman, who returns to Manhattan for the Thanksgiving break. Nursing a crush on his stepmother, played by Sigourney Weaver, he succumbs to drunken seduction by her shameless pal, a chiropractor played Bebe Neuwirth. Miss Weaver looks lovely and gets one respectable scene, while describing the wonders of the heart organ to the lovesick lad. Otherwise the movie gropes for amoral sophistication. With John Ritter as the hero's oblivious dad. Directed in a grubby video format by Gary Winick.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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