- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

OPENING
Austin Powers in Goldmember(2002) (PG-13: "Sexual innuendo, crude humor and language" according to the MPAA) Mike Myers' preposterous swinger-spy returns in another time-traveling espionage farce that recruits Michael Caine as Austin's dad Nigel, a master spy in his own right. The senior Powers is kidnapped when the elusive Dr. Evil joins forces with a vintage counterpart called Goldmember. This redundant criminal mastermind becomes the fourth of Mr. Myers' impersonations. The abominable thug introduced in the first sequel, Fat Bastard, is also back for an encore. The leading lady is now pop singer Beyonce Knowles, cast as a blaxsploitation homage, Foxxy Cleopatra. With Michael York, Robert Wagner, Mindy Sterling, Verne J. Troyer and Seth Green in their familiar and presumably indispensable roles. Directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Mr. Myers and Michael McCullers.
The Country Bears (2002) (G) A Disney musical farce about a domesticated young bear named Beary Barrington, raised by doting human parents and a sarcastic younger brother. Naive Beary rediscovers his roots as part of a disbanded country music group. His enthusiasm prompts a reunion concert to save a legendary auditorium called Country Bear Hall. Bear costumes will abound. The voice and visible acting ensemble includes Haley Joel Osment, Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowsky, Alex Rocco, Candy Ford, James Gammon and Stephen Root. The concert attracts Don Henley, Elton John, Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and others.
Les Destinees (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) *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 slap-happy. 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.
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 time frame. 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) 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.
Sex and Lucia (2001) (No MPAA Rating the distributor urges no admission to anyone under 18 and emphasizes "strong sexual content and language") A fable of romantic grief and renewal from the Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem, director of the delirious "Lovers of the Arctic Circle." He casts Paz Vega as a bereaved waitress named Lucia, who abandons Madrid after the sudden death of her boyfriend. Before long she finds impassioned consolation on a remote island. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row and Loews Cineplex Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
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: "Sexual content, mature thematic elements and language" according to the MPAA) Evidently the distraction of the season for "lifestyle" journalists who remain ever susceptible to prurient salesmanship. This erotic comedy revives the cliches of adolescent sexual initiation with the complicity of "older women." Aaron Stanford is cast as a 15-year-old boarding school brat named Oscar Grubman who returns to Manhattan for the Thanksgiving break and seduces both his stepmother, played by Sigourney Weaver, and a mischievous family friend, played Bebe Neuwirth.


NOW SHOWING
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 teen-age 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 (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 sad sack 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 child 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."
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.
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. Not reviewed.
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 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.
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 protege 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.
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.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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