- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

OPENING

• The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) One and one half stars. The second underwhelming installment in the Project Greenlight endeavor. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon sponsor low-budget first features bankrolled by Miramax and then teased in a behind-the-scenes “reality” series telecast by Home Box Office, which seems to get all the melodrama available on the cheap, leaving the small-scale finished features at an anticlimactic disadvantage. “Stolen Summer,” a sweet-natured memoir of boyhood, began the project a year ago and failed to arouse a murmur of box-office curiosity. An identical fate may await the far more inconsistent “Shaker Heights,” which reverts to coming-of-age cliches despite initially promising signs of talent in the cast and the tyro filmmakers, writer Erica Beeny and co-directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin. The protagonist, Kelly, played by Shia LaBeouf, evidently urged to be the new incarnation of John Cusack, is a teenage smarty-pants from a sad sack hippie family in Cleveland. He is befriended by an easygoing rich scion, Elden Henson as Bart, who shares a colorful hobby: playing soldier in World War II battle re-enactments. Kelly abuses his welcome while nursing a crush on Bart’s older sister (Amy Smart), who is about to be married. Ultimately, Kelly combines the worst derivative traits of Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” and Frankie Adams in “The Member of the Wedding.”

• Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) (R) - Victor Salva, who miscalculated in 1995 by trying to sell audiences on an angelic albino creepy protoganist in “Powder,” seems to have learned his lesson. He had an exploitation hit two years ago with the prototype of this horror thriller by depicting stranded teenagers at the mercy of a cannibalistic backroads fiend, driven to appease grisly hungers every so often. A caravan of high school basketball players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans is victimized in this sequel, written and directed by Mr. Salva. The big name in the cast is “Twin Peaks” alum Ray Wise Not reviewed.

• The Other Side of the Bed (2003) (R) - A Spanish sex farce about a pair of bickering, cheating, swapping young couples, whose amorous outrages are punctuated by musical interludes. The principal cast members are Ernesto Alterio, Paz Vega, Natalia Verbeke and Guillermo Toledo. Directed by Emilio Martinez-Lazaro from a screenplay by David Serrano. In Spanish with English subtitles. Not reviewed

• Thirteen (2003) (R: Sexual situations, drug use, harsh language, violence)Three stars ***. Adolescence never seemed as cruel as in this sobering drama co-written by then 13-year-old co-star Nikki Reed. “Thirteen” follows a former good girl gone bad (Evan Rachel Wood) after she strikes up a dangerous friendship with her school’s most popular girl (Miss Reed). Holly Hunter plays the mom in way over her head. The film is too unflinching at times in its assessment of today’s youth, but its power and poignancy are undeniable. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

NOW SHOWING

• American Wedding (2003) (R: Sexual content, crude humor and strong language) — **. The “American Pie” franchise draws to a traditional close with the wedding of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), his gal pal from band camp. Of course, the ribald series won’t go down without a coarse fight, especially since the unctuous Stifler (Seann William Scott) is in charge of Jim’s bachelor party. The third time is hardly the charm for the “Pie” series, which showcases the usual crude gags but lacks the heart of the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• And Now Ladies and Gentlemen (2003) (PG-13: momentary language) — **1/2 Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas (an internationally renowned French singer in her first movie) play a pair of star-crossed seekers experiencing the same weird case of momentary blackouts: he a grizzled, high-class jewel thief shuttling between London and Paris, she a lovelorn small-time Parisian nightclub chanteuse. “Ladies” flits from Paris to coastal France to exotic Morocco. It is Claude Lelouch at his self-indulgent best. In French with subtitles, playing at Loews Cineplex Dupont 5 and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington 7. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) (R: strong sexuality; brief nudity; profanity) — **. Like MTV’s “The Real World,” the long-running reality series from which French writer-director Cedric Klapisch basically derives his formula, “L’Auberge” intimately peeps into the lives of an emotionally charged bunch of young adults moving in tight quarters in a slovenly group house, located in uber-hip Barcelona. For Mr. Klapisch, it’s like a microcosmic version of greater Europe. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Buffalo Soldiers (2003) (R) — Emerging from the inventory shelf at Miramax, this sardonic crime melodrama is set at an American military base in West Germany in the late 1980s, shortly before the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down. Joaquin Phoenix plays a clerk whose black market activities are threatened by the arrival of a new top kick, Scott Glenn, with an attractive daughter, Anna Paquin. The cast also includes Ed Harris, Dean Stockwell and Elizabeth McGovern.

• Camp (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including allusions to homosexuality and promiscuity among a set of teenage characters) — **. A mixed assortment of musical comedy novelty and ineptitude from Todd Graff, a former actor making his directing debut with an homage to an alma mater, Stagemanor, a summer camp for aspiring juvenile actors, singers and dancers located in upstate New York.

• The Cuckoo (2002) (PG-13) — A serio-comic fable of fraternization from the Russian writer- director Alexander Rogozhkin. Set in the fall of 1944, the plot suggests affinities with Stanley Kramer’s “The Defiant Ones.” A Finnish soldier named Veiko (Ville Haapasalo) is left in the lurch by his comrades. Simultaneously, so is a Russian officer named Ivan (Viktor Bychkov). Both men find shelter with a widowed Lapp peasant named Anni (Anni-Kristina Juuso). There’s a communication snag: the characters don’t comprehend each other’s language. In Russian with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• Dirty Pretty Things (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; morbid plot elements involving a black market in organ transplants) — ***. Stephen Frears rediscovers the promise and pathos of ethnic London. This romantic suspense melodrama concerns illegal aliens trying to make a living and normalize their status while eluding immigration agents. The young Nigerian-English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the story a solid emotional foundation as a refugee doctor, Okwe, who works two jobs while trying to remain in the shadows: cabbie and hotel night clerk. He has made arrangements with Senay, a Turkish hotel maid (Audrey Tatou of “Amelie”), to use her flat as sleeping quarters while she works a morning shift. The attachment intensifies when they are threatened with exposure and intimidation, some of it engineered by Sneaky (Sergi Lopez in excellent loathsome form), their boss at the hotel, whose rackets include a gruesome traffic in hot kidneys for the transplant black market. Steven Knight’s screenplay falters in the closing episodes, but the movie gives us a tangible stake in the struggles of Okwe and Senay.

• Le Divorce (2003) (PG-13) — **. James Ivory’s unenhanced movie version of the Diane Johnson best-seller is a culturally knowing but dramatically evasive comedy-drama. It deals with the crises that confront two California sisters when the elder, Roxeanne (Naomi Watts), is abandoned by her adulterous French husband while pregnant with their second child. Younger sister Isabel (Kate Hudson) is on hand to help but finds herself susceptible to an older man, a married diplomat who happens to be the uncle of her philandering brother-in-law. He seems nondescript as impersonated by Thierry Lhermitte.

• Finding Nemo (2003) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ****. The estimable Pixar animators continue to blend illustrative sophistication and humorous invention with sound story construction. A widowed, overprotective clownfish called Marlin (Albert Brooks seems his perfect vocal embodiment) embarks on a desperate quest across the Great Barrier Reef to retrieve his kid Nemo, who has ended up in the aquarium of a dentist in Sydney, Australia. Marlin acquires a memory-challenged traveling companion in Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.

• Freaky Friday (2003) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — **. A haphazard update of the Mary Rodgers comic novel about a turnabout situation: Mother and teenage daughter exchange bodies for a hectic but enlightening day. Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, the delightful discovery of the 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” are the new switchers. The younger actresses get to act mature for their ages, but acting immature does nothing for Miss Curtis in this revamp. Miss Lohan is the reassuring element.

• Freddy vs. Jason (2003) (R: Slasher-film violence and gore, nudity, sexuality, drug use and strong language).** Two of Hollywood’s most resilient monsters face off in a film seeking to reinvent two dying franchises. “Freddy vs. Jason” finds the “Nightmare on Elm Street” villain (Robert Englund) invading the dreams of Jason of “Friday the 13th” infamy. The youthful cast (John Ritter’s son, Jason and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child) are overshadowed by the WWE-like grudge match between the monsters. The rest of the film is an unimaginative rehash of slasher film conventions. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Grind (2003) (PG-13: Crude humor; some sexuality; language) — no stars. Part surfer-flick-style documentary, replete with slo-mo shots of skateboarding heroics, part on-the-road caper and part rap-metal music video. Eric (Mike Vogel), Matt (Vince Vieluf), Dustin (Adam Brody) and “Sweet” Lou (Joey Kern) are four pals from a nowhere suburb of Chicago who light out West, trying in vain to insinuate themselves into the entourage of ‘boarding god Jimmy Wilson (Jason London). It gives off a faint whiff of wanderlust and small-town dreaming, which is quickly overcome by the much stronger odor of flatulence, soiled underpants and portable potty humor. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Housekeeper (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — **1/2.A melancholy return to romantic comedy from Claude Berri, whose new alter-ego is Jean Pierre Bacri as a dejected married man, immobilized when his wife walks out. A young woman he hires as a housekeeper, Emilie Dequenne, has limited domestic skills but does possess an affectionate and alluring personality. She also becomes her boss’ lover. The affair lasts until a vacation in Brittany places excess temptation in her way and confirms the senior partner’s fears that solitude may outlast all future romantic attachments. The movie is impeccably made, but the protagonist is probably too morose for bittersweet poignance to sink in. In French with English subtitles. A limited engagement, exclusively at Visions Cinema, Lounge & Bistro.

• Lucia, Lucia (2003) (R: Sexuality; nudity; violence; language) — **1/2 The latest Mexican smash to have warranted the trip across the Rio Grande, is about two guys and a middle-aged woman, a la “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Ceclia Roth’s Lucia is a children’s book hack who loses her husband, Ramon, at the Mexico City airport and then goes on to lose much more: her sense of identity, her middle-class stability, her very notion of happiness. All this becomes much more important than actually finding the adulterous or kidnapped or murdered Ramon, as “Lucia” lurches from one set piece to the next, and Lucia, with helpmates Felix (Carlos Alvarez Novoa) and Adrian (Kuno Becker), stumbles after a renewed bourgeois contentment. Written for the screen and directed by Antonio Serrano. In Spanish with subtitles, playing exclusively at the Avalon Theatre. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Magdalene Sisters — (2003) (R: Nudity, harsh language and violent sequences) — ***. The titular “sisters” are a group of young women in the mid-1960s sentenced to hard labor in Catholic laundries in Ireland for the sins of professing randy thoughts or being sexually assaulted. Based on the real-life Magdalene asylums, the women’s stories prove harrowing under the stern hand of director Peter Mullan. The film stacks the deck against the nuns — surely a few possessed a flicker of kindness — but otherwise it realistically recounts the actual horrors thousands of women faced. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Mondays in the Sun (2002) (R: Frequent profanity; occasional graphic violence and sexual candor) — **1/2. Javier Bardem, bulking up for an entire characterization, gives a commanding performance as a growling, bearish former welder who has become the unrepentant cynic and bellyacher in a group of six comrades once employed at an abandoned shipyard in Galicia. These middle-aged men continue to haunt the site of their old workplace, hanging out in the bar now owned by a member of the fraternity. Since much of the argumentation takes place within the tavern, the movie often suggests a theater piece. It’s a bit like “The Iceman Cometh” with an updated Spanish context and Mr. Bardem as the resident, permanently disillusioned Hickey. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• Open Range (2003) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a frontier Western setting) — **** One of the most distinctive and satisfying Westerns of the past generation, “Open Range” is intelligently contrived by screenwriter Craig Storper and vigorously realized by Kevin Costner. The setting is Montana in 1882, about a decade before the frontier was officially closed as a haven for homesteaders and free-grazers, small-scale cattlemen who drive their herds across open rangeland. Robert Duvall is such a free-grazer, Boss Spearman, and Mr. Costner is his wary but dependable right hand, Charley Waite. They run afoul of a tyrannical rancher played by Michael Gambon and refuse to be intimidated. The conflict sets up a sensational finale of gunfights along the main street of a town called Harmonville. Boss and Charley find allies in the town, notably the late Michael Jeter as the proprietor of the livery stable and Annette Bening as a nurse named Sue Barlow.

• Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence and gruesome illustrative details in an adventure spectacle format; elements of supernatural horror) — **1/2. Despite the interminable fourth act, “Pirates” is an astute blend of comic characterization and rejuvenated adventure cliches at its most diverting. Johnny Depp does an extroverted masquerade as a roguish pirate captain called Jack Sparrow, intent on retrieving his ship, the Black Pearl, from a mutinous mate, Barbossa, an imposing corrupt presence as played by Geoffrey Rush. Keira Knightley of “Bend It Like Beckham” looks very attractive in period costume, and she gets two valiant suitors in Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport.

• Seabiscuit (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting graphic violence and profanity; one episode set in a Tijuana brothel) — **. Almost a textbook example of the well-meaning letdown. While admirably sincere, this nostalgic sports saga remains a plodding, uninspired movie distillation of Laura Hillenbrand’s stirring, richly informative best-seller about the great race horse. A late bloomer of the 1930s, Seabiscuit became a charismatic winner as a 4-year-old. His surge led to a famous match race at Pimlico with Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The principal cast members are Jeff Bridges as owner Charles Howard, Chris Cooper as trainer Tom Smith and Tobey Maguire as jockey Red Pollard. Writer-director Gary Ross fails to approximate the source material’s impact as intimate drama, sports chronicle or social history. Attractive in a conventional and picturesque way, the movie never rises to the potential heights of its subject matter — or the kinetic excitement of the racetrack.

• The Secret Lives of Dentists (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor, including brief depictions of intercourse; episodes of marital and family conflict) — ****. This seriocomic gem may have the best claim on art-house prestige. Derived from the Jane Smiley novella “The Age of Grief,” which relied on interior monologue, the movie establishes a compelling domestic and emotional intimacy with Campbell Scott as dentist David Hurst, who shares a conjugal practice in Westchester, County, New York with his wife Dana, played by Hope Davis. A community opera production of Verdi’s “Nabucco,” in which Dana is an ecstatic member of the chorus, seems to have created a threat to the Hursts 10-year marriage. While taking the oldest of his three daughters to the production, David briefly ventures backstage and sees his wife in some kind of romantic trance with another man, whose identity remains obscure for the duration. However, infidelity proves more than a suspicion, and the story concentrates on David’s method of responding. A saracastic alter-ego, prompted by a surly patient named Slater (Dennis Leary), is inserted to taunt David in argumentative dialogues. Exceptionally introspective and affecting.

• Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) (PG: Action violence and peril) — *1/2. In this third and final installment of director Robert Rodriguez’s popular children’s franchise, our intrepid underage sibling spies, Juni and Carmen Cortez (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) are trapped in a video game called “Game Over,” a virtual reality run by an egotistical villain called the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Mr. Rodriguez corralled all his buddies for “SK3D,” including Salma Hayek, his Austin-based pal Mike Judge, Elijah Wood, Antonio Banderas and others. But even their collective star power can’t rescue what, at bottom, is an undeveloped story told through the relentlessly gimmicky medium of 3-D. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• S.W.A.T. (2003) (PG:13: Violent sequences, strong language and sexual references) — *1/2. Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell star in this limp update of the ‘70s television series. Mr. Farrell is an LAPD cop who rejoins the elite cop force (Special Weapons and Tactics unit) after disobeying orders. The group’s new assignment involves a captured drug lord offering $100 million to anyone who can free him from police custody. Stale cop cliches and logic-free action sequences handcuff a good cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines(2003) (R: Frequent graphic violence in a science-fiction format; fleeting profanity and nudity) — *1/2. Having done the ruthless Terminator and then the redemptive Terminator, there’s not much star Arnold Schwarzenegger can do with the overmatched Terminator, an obsolete cyborg hulk who must struggle to protect marked youth John Connor (Nick Stahl) and a companion played by Claire Danes from a souped-up Terminator model called the T-X, disguised as dishy Kristanna Loken. The thrill episodes prove a succession of rambling wrecks; they commence with a stupefying vehicular chase through Los Angeles and culminate in Armageddon, which looks rather merciful at this stage of franchise exhaustion.

• 28 Days Later (2003) (R: Frontal nudity, gratuitous violence and blood shed, sexual situations and harsh language) — ***. “Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle brings style and intelligence to what essentially is a B-movie zombie yarn. The awkwardly titled film follows Jim (Cillian Murphy), a young bicycle courier who is one of the few survivors of a virus that kills nearly everyone living in London and beyond. Jim and a scattered group of healthy humans must do battle with the bloodthirsty “infected” who rule the nights and crave human flesh. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Uptown Girls (2003) (PG-13: Mild sexual content and language) — *1/2. Little more than throwaway entertainment for beating the August heat. It’s fuzzy, touchy-feely and so gaseous it could float away before your eyes. Princess of pout Brittany Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the undermotivated daughter of a rock star who died, along with Molly’s mother, in a plane crash. After an accountant steals her trust-fund booty, Molly ends up as an au pair for Ray, (Dakota Fanning), the neurotic woman-child daughter of an icy, inattentive record company exec (Heather Locklear). Directed by Boaz Yakin. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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