- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

The Believer (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and racial and ethnic epithets; content concerns a character embittered about religion who embraces fanaticism) * 1/2. Writer-director Henry Bean should have recruited a more adept director to help realize his script. Even then, the material might have remained better suited to the stage. Ryan Gosling is cast as a surly youth who has rebelled against a Jewish upbringing by embracing neo-Nazism. Regarding the Hebrew God as a "conceited bully," he becomes a small-scale conceited bully himself. He is courted for a time by a pair of sophisticated fascists, played by Billy Zane and Theresa Russell, who are seeking a charismatic personality for their movement. This association includes a sicko romance with the daughter of Miss Russell's character. Mr. Bean does invent a stunning fade-out for his embittered protagonist. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
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 third of the movie. They emphasize scenes with Brigitte Fossey as the adult incarnation of Elena, the elusive teen-age sweetheart of the 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 inner circle on St. Helena 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.
Hey Arnold! the Movie (2002) (PG: Some material may not be suitable for children, according to the MPAA) A debut feature for the Nickelodeon cartoon franchise, which began in 1996 and revolves around a resourceful youngster with a head shaped like a football. Despite this deformity, the plot focuses not on sports, but on Arnold's efforts to foil a developer who aspires to build a "mall-plex" in his urban neighborhood.
Late Marriage (2001) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter) An Israeli domestic comedy about a family that frets about the eligibility of a learned but unmarried son of 30 who has been effectively concealing his devotion to an attractive divorcee. In Georgian and Hebrew with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Like Mike (2002) (PG) A trick-shot sports farce about an orphaned teen runt who acquires NBA skills when he dons a pair of magical sneakers with the initials MJ. Hip-hopper Bow Wow (formerly Lil Bow Wow) plays the miracle kid. The NBA bit players include Chris Webber, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter. Opens Wednesday.
Men in Black II (2002) (PG-13: Systematic depictions of extraterrestrial monsters; occasional comic vulgarity and graphic violence in a facetious science-fiction context) A 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 by the fact that Kay's memory was erased when he left the service; it must be restored in a hurry. Opens Wednesday.
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 starts to collapse the system of illusion, and Winona Ryder as his love interest never develops into a compatible romantic sidekick. 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.
Powerpuff Girls (2002) (PG) Yet another cartoon series gets a feature-length showcase. A trio of superpowered kindergartners were cooked up serendipitously in a lab by a daffy chemist, Professor Utonium. The tots have become the protectors of Townsville but feel estranged from regular folks in this yarn. Their uncertainties are aggravated by the professor's pet monkey, JoJo, who has mutated into a wicked troublemaker. Opens Wednesday.


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 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.
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 abilities 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.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002) (R: Systematic concentration on depraved behavior by parochial school students; occasional profanity, sexual vulgarity and graphic violence) No stars. This low-budget pestilence has nothing to do with the current scandals confronting the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. However, it does seem a scandal in other respects because it dotes on the pranks and outrages of a set of parochial school boys in North Carolina during the 1970s. Ultimately, the most harebrained caper, stealing a cougar from a municipal zoo, leads to calamity for one unwary youth. It's difficult not to root for the cougar under the circumstances. The "American Pie" farces qualify as wholesome by comparison. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington, Landmark's Bethesda Row.
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's since their youth. James Garner appears as the heroine's father. Reviewed by Susan Beving.
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 past was 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 named 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.
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 a Los Angeles Police Department legend named 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 they are attempting to entrap the Nightmute killer, an accidental death costs the pursuing police team. Dormer subsequently 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.
Juwanna Mann (2002) (PG-13: Occasional comic vulgarity in the context of a farce about a sexual masquerade) * 1/2. The first of two summer farces set against a backdrop of professional basketball. Miguel A. Nunez Jr. plays a hot dog named Jamal Jeffries who makes himself persona non grata with a franchise in Charlotte, N.C., then gets the bright idea of masquerading as a backwoods ringer, called Juwanna Mann, to catch on with the city's other team, a member of the women's league.
Lilo & Stitch (2002) (PG: Some ominous episodes; fleeting comic vulgarity) ****. A superlative Disney fable about the friendship formed between an orphaned Hawaiian moppet named 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.
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, outmaneuvering 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.
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, add to 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 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 hard-core pornographic films) ***. A talented and, up to a point, morbidly absorbing erotic shocker from the German filmmaker Michael Haneke. 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 in private is an 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. The teacher is susceptible, but what she fancies in a sex partner eventually discourages even this brashly virile suitor, too healthy for Erika's terminal games. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.
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 onboard, fitfully, as the designated sneak, the proprietor of an island amusement park.
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. Judging from the record-breaking first weekend, salesmanship has trumped all the shortcomings.
Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002) (PG: Ominous episodes, including occasional depictions 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 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 flunky, Mr. Feather, whose split personality is always erupting.
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 code talkers recruited by the Marine Corps to protect strategic battlefield communications throughout World War II. By the time of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, upward of 400 code talkers were 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."


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