- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

OPENING

• The Bourne Identity (2002) (PG-13) A theatrical remake of the Robert Ludlum spy thriller, done as a plodding TV movie with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith in 1988. The book dates from 1980. The equivalent roles are entrusted to Matt Damon and the German actress Franka Potente, the "Run, Lola, Run" babe. Mr. Damon enters in a water-logged state of amnesia, having barely eluded death. A Swiss bank account number is imprinted on his hip. While struggling to reclaim his memory, Mr. Damon discovers that he possesses numerous self-defense and linguistic skills, pointing toward something in the realm of espionage. He hitches a ride to Paris with the leading lady and fends off several assassins before clearing up the I.D. mystery.

Cherish (2002) (R) A screwball romantic comedy about a felonious young woman, played by Robin Tunney, who violates a house-arrest sentence and then attempts to seduce her straight-arrow jailer, played by Tim Blake Nelson. With Jason Priestley, Liz Phair and a soundtrack allegedly teeming with pop hits, including the title song.

• Rain (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A New Zealand import about the erotic turmoil encountered in a family vacationing at a summer beach house, circa 1972. The plot revolves around an adolescent girl with hard-drinking and estranged parents. While mom seeks consolation with a drifter, the girl is left pretty much to her own immature devices. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

• 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.

• Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2002) (R) A vignette character study designed to disclose affinities between five people who don't know each other but face turning points in their lives. The cast includes Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Amy Irving and Clea Du Vall.

Windtalkers (2002) (R: Frequent depictions of graphic violence in a setting of World War II combat; occasional profanity and interludes about racial bigotry) *1/2. A beautiful title, alluding to the Navajo codetalkers recruited by the Marine Corps to protect strategic battlefield communications throughout World War II. By the time of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, there were upwards of 400 codetalkers attached to Marine divisions. The ostensible battlefield in this movie is Saipan, none of whose fascinating elements filter through the stupefying fictional tendencies of this misbegotten combat spectacle, directed on Oahu locations by John Woo. You wouldn't want to let him near a historical subject again: "Windtalkers" may trump the absurdities of "Pearl Harbor."


NOW SHOWING

About a Boy (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; episodes about the attempted suicide of a single mother) ***1/2. The source material, a novel by the English humorist Nick Hornby, offered a near-perfect role for Hugh Grant, and the realization itself pretty much defies improvement. Mr. Grant plays a well-to-do wastrel named Will. Nearing 40 and unattached, he has pretended to be a single dad in order to date single moms, on the assumption that they'll be easier to brush off in the long run than unmarried women unencumbered by children. The caddish scheme brings a needy but endearing youngster into Will's life: Nicholas Hoult as 12-year-old Marcus, desperate for advice and guidance in the wake of his mother's attempted suicide. The movie unfolds with admirable wit and fluidity until the denouement, which overcompensates while diverting from the book's plot. With a wonderful performance by Toni Collette as Marcus' sorrowful but affectionate mom.

Bad Company (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions; a very lenient rating) *1/2. Hollywood continues to trifle with the theme of doomsday apprehension in this scatterbrained espionage thriller. It centers on the odd-couple partnership of Anthony Hopkins, a veteran CIA agent, and Chris Rock, a chess hustler and ticket scalper persuaded to pose as his late, long-lost identical twin, an agent indispensable to an unfinished mission, the purchase of a laptop nuclear device. The pretext would appear to give Mr. Rock a dual-role challenge. In practice it merely requires him to greet every situation with a sarcastic quip. The pretense that something serious is at stake is always bogus at best. Mr. Hopkins ends up chewing a lot of gum and dangling a lot of toothpicks on his lower lip to contradict the cultivated impression created by his accent, not to mention a sublimely posh name, Gaylord Oakes.

• CQ (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, observed in scenes from a movie in production; fleeting nudity and sexual candor) *1/2. A potentially chipper premise sabotaged by wrongheaded casting. Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, makes a feature directing debut by harking back to Paris in the late 1960s. An aspiring young filmmaker, Paul, played by the deadbeat Jeremy Davies, is editing a science-fiction adventure thriller titled "Dragonfly," which evokes the style of such period pieces as "Barbarella" and "Modesty Blaise." He gets a chance to finish the picture when producer Giancarlo Giannini fires director Gerard Depardieu. If the movie were about a young man having the time of his life, the picture might have emerged as a delight. Mr. Davies is such a droop that you wish it could be rewritten on the spot.

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) (PG-13) ***. A domestic comedy straddling two generations, derived from a pair of novels by Rebecca Wells., including the title work. Adapted and directed by Callie Khouri of "Thelma & Louise" fame, the movie deals with the prolonged misunderstanding between a young playwright, played by Sandra Bullock, and her egotistic mother, played in the present by Ellen Burstyn. In flashbacks the mother's role is assumed by Ashley Judd. The estrangement prompts a reconciliation attempt by Maggie Smith and Fionnula Flanagan, cronies of Miss Burstyn since their youth. James Garner appears as the heroine's father. Reviewed by Susan Beving.

• Enough (2002) (PG-13: An arguably lenient rating, given the prevalence of episodes depicting domestic violence, sometimes with a small child in the line of fire; systematic ominous and vengeful elements; occasional profanity and sexual candor) *1/2. A ridiculous thriller with Jennifer Lopez, this is a ruthless dud about a waitress who discovers that her rich hubby, Billy Campbell, is a sadistic psycho, intent on abusing her bad judgment. She hides out, with her little girl, subsidized by a previously indifferent long-lost dad, tycoon Fred Ward. Loath to deny themselves a spouse-thrashing scene in which the leading lady can dish out the punishment, the filmmakers celebrate Miss Lopez as she prepares for a final martial arts showdown with Mr. Campbell. Laughs galore for most segments of the audience.

The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) (PG: Fleeting allusions to Victorian vice and corruption within a mostly farcical context) **. A wrongheaded remake of the greatest Oscar Wilde theatrical farce from director Oliver Parker, who guided the delightful movie version of Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" a few years ago. Rupert Everett, a diffident tower of strength in "Husband," also returns, in disappointing form, as playboy Algernon Moncrieff, matched with Reese Witherspoon as the ingenuous Cecily. Perhaps overcompensating in order to avoid comparisons with the expert movie version of 1952, Mr. Parker "opens up" the peerlessly witty text in unfortunate ways. For example, we observe Algernon constantly on the run from London creditors; we accompany both Algy and Colin Firth as Jack Worthing to music halls and posh brothels. The effect is to force a Wildean "subtext" to the surface; the play fails to profit from such explicit hindsight. All the exquisite artifices and hypocrisies of the original courtships are undermined when the dialogue shifts from drawing room or patio. Even Judi Dench looks uncertain about how to project Lady Bracknell.

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.

• The Lady and the Duke (2001) (PG-13: Fleeting depictions of graphic violence in the setting of the French Revolution; occasional candid descriptions of atrocities) *1/2 . The venerable French filmmaker Eric Rohmer takes a break from his customary, conversational studies of contemporary romance to stage selected vignettes from the memoirs of Grace Elliot, an Englishwoman residing in France during the most dangerous years of the French Revolution. Once a temptation to the Prince of Wales, she had become the mistress of Philippe, the duke of Orleans, first cousin to the ill-fated Louis XVI. The movie's chronicle of encounters between Miss Elliot, played by Lucy Russell, and the Duke, played by Jean-Claude Dreyfus, update various points of alarm between 1789 and 1793. It's unlikely that a stuffier costume movie will soon appear. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• Monsoon Wedding (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; occasional episodes about family conflict and disillusion, including a case of child molestation) ***1/2. Director Mira Nair and another Indian-born transplant to the United States, screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan, join the ongoing parade of romantic comedies about weddings with this infectiously entertaining and ultimately jubilant impression of a large Punjabi family in New Delhi as it assembles and reunites to celebrate an arranged union between a bride who resides in Delhi and a groom from Houston. Some dialogue in Punjabi and Hindi with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.

• The Mystic Masseur (2002) (PG: Fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) ***. The most appealing movie yet directed by the prestige producer Ismail Merchant, who finds entertaining embodiments of many characters in V.S. Naipaul's first novel. Published in 1954, "Masseur" is a fond and savory rags-to-riches fable about an ambitious young teacher, Ganesh, who promotes simultaneous careers as an author and healer. In the process he becomes the pride of well-wishers in a rural community of his native Trinidad. Emboldened, Ganesh eventually discovers his limits as a big fish in a small pond. Aasif Mandvi, currently in the cast of the Broadway revival of "Oklahoma!," makes a happily charismatic impression as the foxy and energetic Ganesh. The scenario goes flat on Mr. Merchant in the final reel, but there are abundant human interest and atmospheric rewards while the movie is bouncing merrily along.

The Piano Teacher (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, emphasizing extreme sexual candor and abnormality while depicting a sadosmasochistic character; occasional graphic violence in tandem with the candor; frequent profanity; occasional nudity; inserts of scenes from hardcore pornographic films) ***. A talented and, up to a point, morbidly absorbing erotic shocker from the German filmmaker Michael Haneke. There's a minor disorientation you'll need to finesse: The principal setting is Vienna but the cast is French-speaking. The scenario exposes the grisly, sadomasochistic kinks in a reclusive classical piano teacher, Erika Kohut, fearlessly embodied by Isabelle Huppert. Despite her exquisite taste and demanding standards, Erika is a private emotional calamity, living with a possessive and foul-tempered mother (Annie Girardot), who begins to give the movie strange undercurrents from "Psycho." Erika is given to sexually creepy, self-abusive pastimes that appear to be drawing her closer to public scandal and disgrace. An amusing young virtuoso (Benoit Magimel) takes a romantic interest in this seething Older Woman while insinuating himself as an advanced student. Teacher is susceptible, but what she fancies as a sex partner eventually discourages even this brashly virile suitor, too healthy for Erika's terminal games. Mr. Haneke cheats on his own disreputable game plan, which is clearly pointing Erika in the direction of something irrevocable. Nevertheless, this art-house sensation-seeker does command attention. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.

Sade (2002) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A biographical melodrama about the notorious Marquis de Sade, portrayed during the period of his imprisonment by Daniel Auteuil. Directed by Benoit Jacquot. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

Spider-Man (2002) (PG-13: Ominous episodes and occasional graphic violence in a comic-book adventure context; fleeting sexual allusions) *1/2. The first major spectacle of the summer movie season, Sam Raimi's homage to the Marvel Comics hero, portrayed by Tobey Maguire. Created 40 years ago, Spider-Man was an update of Superman. A mild-mannered college student named Peter Parker acquires miraculous spidery attributes after being bitten by an arachnid. Ultimately, he must use his powers to foil a despotic nemesis, the Green Goblin. The opening credit sequence is a dazzler, thanks in great measure to a surging Danny Elfman theme. The first half-hour is promising, as Mr. Maguire ingratiates himself while struggling to master his new identity. Then the continuity becomes progressively slack and stagnant.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) (G: Fleeting depictions of violent and catastrophic situations, including a train wreck and forest fire caused by the equine hero) *1/2. A pictorially handsome but allegorically crackpot fable about a wild stallion in a geographically compressed and absurdly ahistoric American West. The exploits of Spirit, a palomino, are so politically correct that he emerges as the ideal poster horse for an aging and unrepentant counterculture. The filmmakers seem to have no idea how horse populations proliferated in North America. Spaniards? What Spaniards? They leave the impression that the U.S. Cavalry was enslaving noble horse flesh long before Indians arrived to let the critters run wild and free. There's even a working railroad in the Southwest that seems to have gotten the jump on that transcontinental project farther north an industrial evil that the captive Spirit sabotages. This destructive feat makes makes him something of an ideological embarrassment to Hollywood at the moment a Taliban poster horse.

Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002) (PG: Ominous episodes, including occasional depiction of monstrous, menacing creatures and pitched battles in a science-fiction context) **. George Lucas spins his wheels while slogging away at the series' would-be dynastic plot, updated to the point where young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), apprentice Jedi with pouty and perhaps bossy tendencies, becomes a budding sweetheart to aristocratic Amadala (Natalie Portman), girl queen turned galactic legislator. The richly illustrated backgrounds teem with settings and props that suggest a bustling, technologically gleaming vision of the future, with stories perhaps more interesting than the fatalistic love match Mr. Lucas keeps belaboring. Christopher Lee as a principal villain twirls a light saber with admirable panache and gets to fight a concluding duel with a suddenly aggressive Yoda. Mr. Lucas almost gets some ominous momentum in gear during a middle section that intercuts scenes of potential romantic intimacy between the juvenile leads with Ewan McGregor's discovery of a mystery planet where cloned warriors are being mass-produced.

The Sum of All Fears (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual interludes and graphic violence, including simulations of the devastation caused by a nuclear device that explodes in Baltimore) **. Hollywood plays belated, bumbling catch-up with a Tom Clancy apocalyptic thriller of 1991. The character of Jack Ryan, previously embodied by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, is given a Fountain of Youth revamp in order to justify Ben Affleck as Ryan, now reintroduced as a young CIA analyst who attracts the encouragement of director Morgan Freeman. The updating remains woefully obsolete in the wake of September 11.

Undercover Brother (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; occasional graphic violence in a farcical context; allusions to drug use) **. A cheerfully crass and irrepressibly playful farce about a black superhero who borrows stylistic features from vintage espionage and action movies. Portrayed by Eddie Griffin, sporting a massive Afro and driving a Cadillac convertible, Brother is a lone wolf recruited to assist an organization called B.R.O.T.H.E.R. H.O.O.D, entrusted with the protection of black social gains. The group has reason to suspect the agenda of a nefarious multinational corporation run by a shadowy Mr. Big called The Man. Chris Kattan is the villain's chief flunkey, Mr. Feather, whose split personality is always erupting.


MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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