- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2004

OPENING

• Bon Voyage (2003) (PG-13). A brink-of-disaster social comedy from the French director Jean-Paul Rappeneau, best known for “Horseman on the Roof” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.” His Cyrano, Gerard Depardieu, is also a principal cast member of this film, which recalls the flight of the French government from Paris to Bordeaux after the German invasion in 1940. The young protagonist, a writer played by Gregori Derangere, becomes involved with fugitives and intriguers played by Isabelle Adjani, Virginie Ledoyen, Peter Coyote, Yvan Attal and Mr. Depardieu. In French with English subtitles.

• Clifford’s Really Big Movie (2004) (G: Mild violence. Some carnival stunts could be scary to toddlers) — **1/2. The late John Ritter gives voice to Clifford, the gargantuan canine enjoying his first big-screen romp. The star of the beloved children’s books by Norman Bridwell runs away from home to compete in a talent contest run by a shady dog-food tycoon (John Goodman). The film’s gentle storytelling and lack of irony is a treat these days, but the film’s anemic animation makes it feel like a direct-to-video effort. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Close Your Eyes (2004) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid emphasis, with occasional graphic violence and profanity; threats concentrated on a juvenile character) — *1/2. An unsavory occult thriller that begs to be nipped in the bud, lest it spawn a series about another demon child. Goran Visnjic plays a hypnotherapist who has migrated with his pregnant wife (Miranda Otto) and their young daughter from Seattle to London in order to escape a scandalous case. He becomes vulnerable to a cult of ritual killers when pressured by a police officer (Shirley Henderson) to probe for hidden clues in the subconscious of a girl who remains traumatized after escaping an abduction. The longer it lasts, the uglier it gets. Directed by Nick Willing, who doesn’t excel at the willing suspension of disbelief.

• Eat This New York (2004) (No MPAA Rating). A documentary feature about the restaurant business in New York, revolving around a pair of aspiring owners who spend 13 months getting their cafe up and serving. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.



• I’m Not Scared (2003) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid emphasis, with occasional graphic violence and profanity; plot revolves around a kidnapped child) — *1/2. A sun-drenched summer landscape in southern Italy is a disarming facade for menace in this repellent Italian import, derived from an acclaimed suspense novel. A 10-year-old boy named Michele, who lives in a small rural community, discovers a concealed bunker near an abandoned villa. It turns out to be the makeshift prison of a kidnapped boy, whom Michele attempts to rescue, unaware that people close to him are implicated in the crime. Director Gabriele Salvatores’ scenic flair is undermined by exceptionally sadistic and hateful material. In Italian with English subtitles.

• Man on Fire (2004) (R) — Child abduction redeems Denzel Washington in this Hollywood suspense thriller, which casts him as a former Marine and disillusioned government agent living in Mexico City. Reluctantly, he consents to protect the daughter, Dakota Fanning, of an American family repeatedly threatened by kidnappers. When the girl vanishes, the bodyguard feels a profound obligation to rescue her.

• Shaolin Soccer (2002) (PG-13). The belated release of a Hong Kong hit that has been in the Miramax inventory for more than a year. A starring vehicle for Stephen Chow, who also directed, the movie is a fusion of sports farce and martial arts stuntwork, with Mr. Chow as an eccentric follower of an ancient school of physical training that transforms a lackluster soccer team when he joins the squad.

• 13 Going on 30 (2004) (PG-13). The pretext of “Big” revamped for actress Jennifer Garner, cast as a schoolgirl named Jenna, miraculously transformed into a glamorous 30-year-old after making a wish on her 13th birthday. The catch is that the inner Jenna remains an adolescent.

NOW SHOWING

• The Alamo (2004) (PG-13: intense battle sequences) — **1/2. With screaming cannon fire and a hail of musket balls, this is a war buff’s movie. Even more, it is a movie for Texans, if they can stand the fashionable historical fine-tuning from writer-director John Lee Hancock. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid and Jason Patric. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Broken Wings (2003) (R) — **1/2. An Israeli feature about a family struggling with financial and emotional difficulties in the aftermath of a grave loss. With Orli Zilberschatz-Banai as a widowed mother and Maya Maron as the eldest of her four children. Directed by Nir Bergman.

• Connie and Carla (2004) (PG-13: Frequent sexual innuendo and vulgarity; systematic allusions to homosexuality; fleeting violence and drug allusions) — *1/2. A motley revamp of “Some Like It Hot,” with Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette as an always dubious and frequently grotesque masquerade act. Lounge singers from contemporary Chicago, they witness a gangland execution and flee to Southern California, catching on instantly as female impersonators at a gay bar in West Hollywood. Shoddy in conception and execution and pitched almost exclusively at a homosexual audience whose credulity would need to be infinite and pathetic.

• Dawn of the Dead (2004) (R: Horror style violence, extreme gore and harsh language) — **1/2. The dead rise again as George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie-fest gets a 21st-century upgrade. Indie film darling Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames fight off an army of flesh-eating zombies while hunkered down in an abandoned shopping mall. The remake renews the original’s social commentary but ultimately stumbles over genre cliches. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) (PG-13: Coarse language and sexually suggestive material) — **. The producers of this steamy dance drama want to re-create the pop cultural magic of the 1987 source material. “Havana Nights” follows an American teenager (Romola Garai) in pre-revolutionary Cuba falling for, and dancing with, a local boy (Diego Luna). This “Dancing” hardly seems salacious, and it’s friction-free plotting will leave fans of the original waiting only for Patrick Swayze’s fun cameo. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dogville (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity, including allusions to rape and prostitution) — 1/2*. The dogmatic, alienating Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier promotes himself as a barometer of anti-American sentiment in this punitive example of polemical theater. An elevated platform on a soundstage encloses Dogville, an ominous hamlet somewhere in the Rockies during the Depression. A fugitive (Nicole Kidman) is sheltered and then cruelly exploited by the handful of residents, who include Paul Bettany, Stellan Skargaard, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara and Lauren Bacall. They pay dearly for their sins, in a mock massacre that serves as the filmmaker’s scornful, loathsome judgment on America. Sitting still for three hours of his scorn requires maddening patience.

• Ella Enchanted (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity and sexual innuendo) — **. Another facetious, anachronistic romp with fairytale characters and settings. It is far from faithful to the source material, a popular juvenile novel by Gail Carson Levine. The lovely discovery of “The Princess Diaries,” Anne Hathaway, plays the title character, Ella of Frell, a high-minded maiden cursed with a sense of obedience that makes her potential putty in the hands of domineering types. Her romance with a prince (Hugh Dancy) is threatened by this lingering defect, and the movie teems with gauche and chintzy defects of its own. Nevertheless, the young leads generate an appealing sincerity when the director, Tommy O’Haver, can resist being a barrel of yucks. With Cary Elwes as the prince’s villainous uncle and Minnie Driver as the heroine’s bland-voiced aunt, an ineffectual fairy.

• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, estranged lovers, have had their memories effaced by a dubious Long Island company, where overnight erasure is inexpertly monitored by a staff that includes Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst, all more amusing than the principals. The second collaboration of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, this trickily muddled heartbreaker proves a solemn letdown compared to their nutty, unjustly neglected “Human Nature” of 2002.

• Good Bye, Lenin! (2004) (R: Brief full frontal nudity, coarse language) — ***. This delightful German import describes the ultimate love between mother and child. It’s East Berlin, circa 1989, and Alex watches in horror as his mother collapses and falls into a coma during a government protest. Alex’s pro-socialism mother sleeps through the Berlin Wall’s collapse, and when she wakes her doctor warns Alex not to expose her to anything that could shock or upset her. So he takes her home and creates a world within their apartment that recreates the government she once held close to her heart. The film’s frothy mix of humor, drama and political commentary almost always hits the mark. In German with English subtitles. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Hellboy (2004) (PG-13: “Sci-fi action violence and frightening images,” according to the MPAA) — ***. A fun monster film with heart derived from Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics series. Ron Perlman, in red makeup and tail, plays Hellboy, the malign creation of a mad despot who was salvaged in his youth by a virtuous mentor (John Hurt), who operates a clandestine bureau for paranormal research. Hellboy and colleagues lend their super powers to the protection of mere mortals. With its colossal battles fought against the backdrops of forbidding sewer systems, subways and a mechanized castle, the two-hour-plus opus beautifully displays the dark, gritty world of Mr. Mignola. Mr. Perlman delivers an empathic and humorous performance as the demon who never looks ridiculous as he sands his horns and rescues a pair of kittens. Directed by Guillermo del Toro from his own screenplay. Reviewed by Joseph Szadkowski.

• Home on the Range (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **. Disney animators attempt to rediscover the West as a backdrop for tall-tale facetiousness. Three heifers, spoken by Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly, vow to save their dairy farm from foreclosure by capturing a rustler, Alameda Slim, who uses yodeling as a form of mesmerism. The pretext sounds funny enough, and songwriters Alan Menken and Glenn Slater pitch in with some amusing songs. The prevailing illustrative style errs on the schematic, underbudgeted side, and the farcical set pieces accentuate uproar at the expense of cleverness.

• Johnson Family Vacation (2004) (PG-13) — At long last, the premise of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” revamped for a “typical” black family, with Cedric the Entertainer as the dad and Vanessa Williams as the mom, motoring across country to a family reunion in Missouri. Their children are played by Bow Wow, Solange Knowles and Gabby Soleil. Not reviewed.

• Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) (R: Bloody violence, sexual content and harsh language) — ***. Quentin Tarantino’s violence-packed ode to his genre influences concludes on a high note as Uma Thurman’s Bride finishes her vengeful journey. This time, the Bride is after her former partners in mayhem, played by Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and, of course, David Carradine as Bill. “Vol. 2” slows down the pace with occasionally brilliant results, letting the geeky auteur showcase his love of storytelling, not just stylized violence. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Ladykillers (2004) (R: Frequent profanity and comic vulgarity; fleeting sexual allusions and racial epithets) — *1/2. A Coen brothers fiasco, derived from Alec Guinness’ great English caper comedy of 1955. The brothers shift the locale to small-town Mississippi, where Tom Hanks as a Southern-fried scoundrel tries to con devout widow Irma P. Hall while hiring a gang to tunnel from the cellar of her home into a neighboring casino. The eccentric battle of wits that elevated the prototype is jawed and bludgeoned out of pleasing proportions; the filmmakers gross out on obscene banter and slapstick while yoking Mr. Hanks to a grandiloquent idiom that deadens the soundtrack. The other felons are played by Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst.

• Monsieur Ibrahim (2003) (R: sexuality) — ***. French director Francois Dupeyron’s coming-of-age tale about an abandoned Jewish boy in Paris taken under the wing of a Muslim shopkeeper (Omar Sharif). As a fable of spiritual convergence, the movie is a stretch, but its humor and sensitivity work on a basic human level. In French with subtitles. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Passion of the Christ (2004) (R: Prolonged and graphic violence in a Biblical setting) — **. Mel Gibson places more stock in mortifying the flesh than many of us. Evident as far back as “Mad Max,” this propensity blossomed into a last-act ordeal in his Oscar-winning “Braveheart” in 1995. Now it’s the overwhelming preoccupation and prevailing source of brutal spectacle in “Passion,” Mr. Gibson’s reenactment of the arrest, abuse and crucifixion of Jesus. There’s not a great deal of Gospel authority for dwelling on depictions of physical torture and suffering on the road to Calvary, but the Gibson emphasis may strike a responsive chord in some believers. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography and the use of ancient languages give the movie its most haunting evocative aspects. In Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

• The Prince & Me (2004) (PG: “Sex-related material and language,” according to the MPAA) — * 1/2.An updated romantic comedy about a commoner enamored of a prince, with Julia Stiles as a pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin who falls for a charming exchange student, Luke Mably, before realizing that he’s the crown prince of Denmark. Eventually, she meets his folks, played by James Fox and Miranda Richardson. The cast also includes Ben Miller and Alberta Watson.

• The Punisher (2004) (R: Brutal violence, brief nudity and strong language) — *1/2. Marvel Comics’ antihero comes to the big screen with Thomas Jane (“Dreamcatcher”) fleshing out the title role. FBI agent Frank Castle (Mr. Jane) takes the legal system into his own hands when a wealthy Tampa businessman (John Travolta) blames Frank for the death of his son. The Punisher may lack super powers, but “The Punisher” the movie is never at a loss for unintentional guffaws or brutal, numbing violence. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) (PG: Slapstick violence, mild scatalogical humor) — **. The computer-animated Scooby and the gang are back, this time fighting a bevy of monsters they first battled during their cartoon series. Mystery, Inc., must solve the riddle behind the monsters’ rebirth. Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy is still the best reason for adults to stay awake through any “Doo” film, and to be fair, “Doo 2” isn’t as insulting as the 2002 original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Starsky & Hutch (2004) (PG-13: Mild profanity, drug humor, sexuality, action violence) — … Director Todd Phillips, a bepermed Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson have their way with the characters of David Starsky and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson, the Bay City, Calif., blue boys who fought crime in America’s living rooms for a few years in the late ‘70s. As schlocky as the TV series, but funnier. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Walking Tall (2004) (PG-13: Action film violence, sexual situations and alcohol use) — **. The 1973 vigilante hit is recast with a very modern hero (wrestling great Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock). The erstwhile grappler stars as Chris Vaughn, a former soldier who returns to a home town suddenly rife with corruption. He changes all that with the help of an old pal (Johnny Knoxville) and a trusty hunk of lumber. The film’s populist themes still resonate, but The Rock can’t overcome the film’s aching predictability. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Whole Ten Yards (2004) (PG-13: profanity; sexuality, partial nudity; action violence) — *1/2. Gratuitous sequel to 2000’s “The Whole Nine Yards.” Reunites hitman Jimmy “The Tulip” Tudeski (Bruce Willis) and dentist Nicholas “Oz” Oseransky (Matthew Perry) for another round of double-dealing and double-crossing. Also starring Amanda Peet and Kevin Pollak. Reviewed by Scott Galupo. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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