- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

The Believer (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and racial and ethnic epithets; content concerns a character who has rejected his religious upbringing and embraced fanaticism) *1/2. A ramshackle polemic from an overmatched writer-director, Henry Bean, who might have been well advised to recruit a more adept director. Even then, the material might remain better suited to the stage, because it appears to need extended oratory and argumentation to be effectively realized. Ryan Gosling is cast as a surly youth named Danny Balint, so contemptuous of his Jewish origins that he has become a neo-Nazi. Regarding the Hebrew God as a "conceited bully," Danny swaggers in self-defeating defiance. For a time he is courted by a pair of fascist sophisticates, Billy Zane and Theresa Russell, who seek a charismatic personality for their movement. This fleeting association also includes a sicko romance with Miss Russell's daughter (Summer Phoenix), who likes to be roughed up, in moderation. Mr. Bean invents a stunning kiss-off for his embittered protagonist. It's a pity the preliminary steps are so creaky. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) (PG) The first theatrical feature spun off from the popular wildlife series with Australian zookeeper Steve Irwin and his wife Terri, whose usual exploits are now entangled with the mission of a pair of farcical American spies, played by Lachy Hulme and Kenneth Ransom, seeking a lost beacon swallowed by one of the crocodiles in the Irwin domain. With Magda Szubanski, Mrs. Hoggett of the "Babe" movies, as an irascible rancher.
Eight-Legged Freaks (2002) (PG-13) Opens Wednesday. An updated homage to horror thrillers in the tradition of "Them" and "Tarantula," expanded by the young New Zealand director Ellory Elkayem from a short titled "Larger Than Life," which wowed the 1998 Telluride Film Festival. A toxic waste spill near a mining town in Arizona causes spiders to mutate into predators "as large as SUVs." Opens Wednesday.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002) (R) The eighth installment in the venerable horror series spawned almost 25 years ago. Jamie Lee Curtis is back in harness as the aggrieved sister of the persistent homicidal maniac Michael Myers, reactivated when a live Webcast is staged near the scene of his original crimes. The cast also includes Busta Ryhmes and Tyra Banks.
Reign of Fire (2002) (PG-13) Fire-breathing dragons have been accidentally unearthed in this monster spectacle directed by Rob Bowman of "The X-Files." Twenty years after the initial onslaughts only a tenacious remnant of the population of London remains. They include a haunted fireman named Quinn, played by Christian Bale. He is joined by a wild-eyed American mercenary, Van Zan, played by Matthew McConaughey, who claims to have a plan to exterminate the dread species.
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 anticipate 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.
Sunshine State (2002) (PG-13) The latest John Sayles feature, which appears to borrow certain aspects of Bill Forsyth's endearing "Local Hero" and transpose them to a contemporary setting in Florida. Several residents of a community called Plantation Island are either offended or attracted by the arrival of developers, who may intend to make offers that can't be refused in order to transform the sleepy locale into a lavish resort. The principal plot threads emphasize Edie Falco as the downcast daughter of motel owners Jane Alexander and Ralph Waite and Angela Bassett as a prodigal daughter who returns with a prestige spouse (a doctor played by James McDaniel) but still can't avoid wrangles with a domineering mother, Mary Alice. The cast also includes Mary Steenburgen, Timothy Hutton, Bill Cobbs, Tom Wright, Miguel Ferrer, Perry Lang, Charlayne Woodard, Clifton James, Eliot Asinof, Richard Edson and Alan King. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington and Landmark Bethesda Row.

The Bourne Identity (2002) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional profanity and graphic violence) *1/2. A low-risk theatrical remake of the Robert Ludlum spy thriller. Published in 1980, it became a plodding TV movie with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith in 1988. The mind-set of the material belongs to the period in which thinking the worst of American espionage agents or even American self-interest was considered knowing and virtuous. Matt Damon is cast as the amnesiac floater whose identity remains a mystery for about half the story. Discovered in the Mediterranean and lucky to be alive, he possesses language skills, martial arts skills and a Swiss bank account that discloses a safe deposit box full of goodies, including lots of passports and currency. The name Jason Bourne enters at that point, but it doesn't ring a bell with the hero. The German actress Franka Potente is the movie's only human interest asset, cast as a footloose girl who becomes Mr. Damon's getaway driver and then girlfriend. Her combination of opportunism and tenderness is very fetching. Chris Cooper has a terrible role as a seething CIA bureaucrat. A seamless blend of the watchable and negligible.
Cinema Paradiso (1989) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, fleeting nudity, domestic conflict, a terrifying episode about a theater fire) ***. An expanded version of the endearing Italian import of 1989, which helped revive the art-house market. A box-office failure in Italy, the movie was trimmed by about a half-hour when writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore revamped it for the Cannes Film Festival and export markets. That two-hour version won an Academy Award as best foreign language film. This "director's cut" lasts almost three hours and seems a foolhardy director's vanity. Most of the restorations pad the final one-third of the movie. They emphasize scenes with Brigitte Fossey as the adult incarnation of Elena, the elusive teenage sweetheart of protagonist Toto, played as a grown man by Jacques Perrin, a very lackluster presence. The movie thrives on two other love stories and nostalgic evocations of small-town moviegoing in the 1940s and 1950s. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
The Emperor's New Clothes (2002) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity in a historical setting). **. A would-be droll historical fantasy, based on a novel by Simon Leys. The premise reverses the "If I Were King" approach to wish-fulfillment by imagining the exiled Napoleon returning to France and becoming a commoner. This whimsical turn of events depends on fabricating a second escape from exile, now from St. Helena, where the historical Napoleon died in 1821. Ian Holm is cast as both the exiled emperor and the double, Eugene, who infuriates the St. Helena inner circle by persisting in an imposture meant to be temporary. His obstinacy ruins plans to announce that Napoleon is once again at large and will soon rally Frenchmen to his leadership. The film remains harmlessly but also complacently waggish. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
The Fast Runner (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with interludes of graphic violence, sexual candor and vulgarity; fleeting nudity) *1/2. This Canadian mock-primitive, ethnographic fable about the enmities within a small band of Inuit hunters perhaps a century or two in the pastwas shot with digital cameras by an Inuit collective in the Baffin Island region. It dominated the annual Genie Awards, the Oscars of the Canadian movie industry, a year ago. Things sprawl both scenically and dramatically while director Zacharias Kunuk follows the misfortunes of Atanarjuat, who must escape the homicidal wrath of a rival called Oki, enraged when the bride he craves is allowed to wed the hero. In Inuit with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Shirlington, Landmark Bethesda Row and Visions Cinema.
Hey Arnold! The Movie (2002) (PG: Occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) *. Nothing to shout about. The latest cartoon feature spun off from a series on the Nickelodeon cable network, this lackluster effort never approaches the slapstick zest of "The Rugrats Movie" or "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius." Arnold, a resourceful orphan of the slums, is distinguished by a head shaped like a flattened football. He resides with loony grandparents who run a boarding house. He must foil a greedy developer called Scheck, drawn to resemble Ronald Reagan and dubbed by Paul Sorvino. The greedy Scheck covets Arnold's neighborhood for a shopping mall. He must plan to bus in shoppers from the far-flung suburbs. Nobody profits much from being a stylized illustration, adult or juvenile.
Insomnia (2002) (R: Systematic ominous atmosphere and morbid preoccupations; occasional profanity and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details involving a homicide investigation; fleeting nudity and allusions to sex crimes) ****. Demonstrating that "Memento" was no fluke, the young director Christopher Nolan confirms his flair for thrillers that get under your skin. Al Pacino, who makes this a valedictory classic among his portrayals of haunted and obsessive cops, plays an LAPD legend called Will Dormer. He arrives in Alaska under a cloud, dispatched to assist a former colleague (Paul Dooley) who has a grisly murder on his hands as police chief in a little fishing and logging community called Nightmute. Dormer is accompanied by sidekick Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), who admits to feeling the heat from an Internal Affairs probe back home that has targeted both of them. While attempting to entrap the Nightmute killer, an accidental death costs the pursuing police team. Subsequently, Dormer is exposed to blackmail threats from the killer he's out to capture. Mr. Nolan and screenwriter Hilary Seitz revamp the intriguing source material in ways that permit a more satisfying and redemptive outcome for the compromised protagonist. Confirmed movie freaks are likely to recall "Insomnia" as the picture that haunted the summer season of 2002.
Late Marriage (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter and treatment; occasional profanity, sexual candor, nudity and domestic conflict; a sustained sequence of sexual intimacy, including simulated intercourse) **1/2. A possible revelation for art-house audiences, but not necessarily a welcome one. This Israeli import, written and directed by Dover Kosashvili, a cold-eyed observer of domestic intimacy and clannishness, proves a uniquely sinister variation on family and matchmaking comedy. The milieu is novel: Georgian emigrants in Tel Aviv who seem to have prospered in their adopted country but remain determined to preserve absolute parental authority, especially when it comes to courtship and marriage. A middle-aged couple, Yasha and Lili (Moni Moshinov and Lili Kosashvili, the filmmaker's own mother), are impatient to seal a match for evasive bachelor son Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi), leisurely pursuing a doctorate in philosophy. He is also indulging a clandestine love affair with a divorcee named Judith (Ronit Elkabetz). Before his resentful parents arrive to torpedo this alliance, the filmmaker sustains a remarkable half-hour or so of sex play between the lovers, demonstrating an aptitude for erotic candor that surpasses anything in recent memory. The conciliatory conventions of American matchmaking comedy don't apply here. Expect a happy ending and you'll depart with several rude slaps in the face. In Georgian and Hebrew with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Like Mike (2002) (PG: Fleeting ominous episodes and comic vulgarity) *1/2. Already a period piece, since the juvenile lead credited as Lil Bow Wow on the screen has shortened his handle to a simple, unaffected Bow Wow. This cheerfully mediocre, preposterous sports fantasy-tearjerker casts Young Master Wow, a rap sensation, as a 13-year-old Los Angeles orphan who acquires phenomenal court skills after lacing on a pair of sneakers that may have been discarded by Michael Jordan. Several NBA stars, though not Mr. Jordan himself, pretend to be outplayed by the runt while he leads the apocryphal Los Angeles Knights to respectability. With Jonathan Lipnicki as Bow's best pal and Jesse Plemons as the most interesting orphan, a bully with redeeming attributes. Morris Chestnut plays the Knight obliged to babysit the boy phenom.
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.
Minority Report (2002) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a science-fiction context; occasional profanity, sexual allusions and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details) **. Steven Spielberg remains in the grip of solemn and unsatisfying science-fiction preoccupations in this belated movie version of a Philip Dick story that dates back almost 50 years. The fictional place is Washington, the time frame is 50 years in the future, with a streamlined transit system that is subordinated eventually to an implausible chase sequence. Tom Cruise is cast as the chief detective for a division entrusted with preventing future murders. Supposedly, they can be foreseen by a trio of psychic young people, "Pre-Cogs." The system never looks foolproof for a second, and it promptly backfires on Mr. Cruise, who is fingered as a potential killer and obliged to run, outmanuevering surveillance methods that allegedly make escape a practical impossibility. The title alludes to a suppressed study that questioned the reliability of the entire system. It would appear well-founded.
Mr. Deeds (2002) (PG-13: Occasional slapstick violence and comic vulgarity) **. Derived from Frank Capra's overwhelming mid-1930s hit "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," this Adam Sandler remake gets off to an amusing start. His easygoing Mr. Deeds operates a pizzeria in the idyllic small town of Mandrake Falls, N.H., inherits $40 billion and arrives in New York City with a flair for disarming all potential opportunists and predators. Mr. Sandler's need for facetious violent outbursts start to collapse the system of illusion, and he never finds a compatible romantic sidekick in Miss Ryder. Always hit-and-miss, the movie begins to deflate terminally after a screwball sequence in which Mr. Sandler saves kitties from an apartment fire. John Turturro gets a clever role as an astute valet and Peter Gallagher a thankless one as a corporate sneak.
The Powerpuff Girls (2002) (PG: Systematic depiction of mass destruction in a cartoon and science-fiction format; fleeting comic vulgarity) *1/2. An energetic and imaginative but curiously wanton feature debut for moppets who have become a fixture on the Cartoon Network cable channel: a trio of super-powered kindergarteners cooked up in a lab by a kindly but overwhelmed scientist named Dr. Utonium. The heroines, called Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, playfully rip up the metropolis of Townville. They get to make amends during the finale by thwarting a maniacal ape, JoJo, who proves even more destructive. But the city has taken a prodigious beating by then; what prevents the girls from demonstrating an aptitude for repair and construction that equals their ability to wreck things? The filmmakers remain oblivious to a fault.
Pumpkin (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including a facetious interlude of simulated intercourse; elements of morbid and tasteless humor; fleeting nudity) **. A parodistic fiasco with extentuating comic highlights, "Pumpkin" is meant to be a deadpan caprice, a burlesque of tearjerkers about forbidden young love, set on the time-warped campus of apocryphal Southern California State University. Christina Ricci plays the heroine, a coed named Carolyn who encounters loads of grief during her senior year as a leader of the Alpha Omega Pi sorority. To enhance the prospects of being chosen Sorority of the Year, the house mentors a group of handicapped teens in preparation for a Challenged Games. Carolyn's project, Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris), becomes infatuated and she returns the tender sentiments. This causes upheavals with her boyfriend (Sam Ball in a terrific comic performance), her sorority sisters (dominated by Marisa Coughlan) and Pumpkin's widowed mom (Brenda Blethyn). The filmmakers allow their joke to stretch to an absurd running time, while also causing some confusion about mocking and sincere tendencies. Unfortunately, whenever they feign sincerity, the movie looks moronic and insufferable.
Scooby-Doo (2002) (PG: Occasional comic vulgarity and episodes predicated on a ghostly hoax) *1/2. A lavishly knockabout big-screen incarnation for the 34-year-old cartoon pooch, a Great Dane who is easily spooked while investigating mysteries as the pet of a quartet of young sleuths, now played by Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini, who makes the most agreeable impression as brainiac Velma. Rowan Atkinson is also on board, fitfully, as the designated sneak, the proprietor of an island amusement park.


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