- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Les Destinees (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A chronicle of the public and private lives of a prominent family in Limoges, the site of their prosperous ceramics business, between about 1900 to 1929. Charles Berling and Isabelle Huppert co-star as an estranged couple. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
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 faces a situation reminiscent of Gregory Peck in the admirable "Twelve O'Clock High": brought in to browbeat a troubled crew, 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 and became the subject of a National Geographic documentary a decade ago.
Lovely & Amazing (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual candor) *1/2. A slack and minor disappointment from humorist Nicole Holofcener, who made a promising debut six years ago with "Walking and Talking." The movie might have thrived on a wacky misalliance between Emily Mortimer and Dermot Mulroney, who play film actors Elizabeth and Kevin, but the filmmaker places too many bets on Catherine Keener as Michelle, Elizabeth's habitually bellyaching sister, who can't make a living as a sculptor of fragile knickknacks. Their well-to-do mother, played by Brenda Blethyn, goes into surgery for a liposuction operation that takes a turn for the perilous. There's also an adopted much younger sibling, a black girl named Annie (Raven Goodwin), who has to cope with chubbiness, adolescence and racial identity confusions. Although Miss Holofcener is capable of writing funny lines for male characters, the prevailing tone and preoccupations are so show-biz female that the title might as well be "Further Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."
Never Again (2002) (R) An attempt at wistful romantic comedy for the older set, co-starring Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Clayburgh as lovelorn middle-aged characters who hit it off after an inadvertent first encounter at a gay bar. Advice is dispensed to the hero by Bill Duke as a fellow jazz musician and to the heroine by cronies Caroline Aaron and Sandy Duncan.
Stuart Little 2 (2002) (PG: Occasional ominous episodes and fleeing 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 Alfred 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.

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 50 minutes 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 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.
Eight-Legged Freaks (2002) (PG-13) 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."
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. Not reviewed.
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.
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. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
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 announce 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: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) *. John Sayles in a listless state of regional and topical rumination on the eastern shore of Florida. There a community called Plantation Island is being targeted by developers, but Mr. Sayles fails to accumulate enough charm, savvy and humorous pathos to make us care. The only promising relationship matches Edie Falco as a local proprietor who would like to sell the family motel and restaurant but fears her elderly dad, Ralph Waite, would object. For a while Miss Falco and Timothy Hutton, cast as an easygoing landscape architect who works for the developers, seem to be negotiating the start of a decent compromise. The other major plot thread involves Angela Bassett as the prodigal daughter of a black community called Lincoln Beach. A runaway 20 years earlier when she was a pregnant teen, she returns with a very respectable spouse (James McDaniel) but still tends to resent her paragon of a widowed mother, Mary Alice. All the subplots languish sooner or later, mostly sooner, and the stilted material is weakened by a cramped, overexposed look that reflects scant appreciation of scenic and atmospheric potential. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington and Landmark Bethesda Row.

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