THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH (G) A family-friendly period drama set in 1898, focusing on a 9-year-old tomboy sent to live with her refined relatives in North Carolina. Stars Skyler Day, Keith Carradine and Mare Winningham. (Not Reviewed)
ANCHORMAN (PG-13) While it's not as smoothly, consistently entertaining as Elf, Will Ferrell's breakout movie, Anchorman specializes in an aggressively odd brand of humor that showcases the edgier side of Ferrell's comedic talents and takes more risks. The results are mixed: there's a noticeable amount of dead air and jokes that go nowhere, for sure — but the highs, when they come, are substantially higher, too. The movie is set in a San Diego TV newsroom in the 1970s, where popular but clueless anchor Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) becomes drawn into the war of the sexes when pretty but uncommonly capable Christina Applegate enters the picture. There's a solid running commentary bubbling under the surface about what happened when feminism first began creeping into the American workplace, but the movie is really anything but serious. Most of Anchorman plays out like a series of Ferrell's stranger skits from his Saturday Night Live years, with the scattershot non sequiturs eventually giving way to a crescendo of fabulously over-the-top (and gratuitous) parodies of fight scenes. Lots of amusing cameos here too, including Vince Vaughan, Tim Robbins and Jack Black, who is given the honor of lethally punting a pooch. Also stars Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Fred Willard. 1/2
BEFORE SUNSET (NR) Richard Linklater's wonderful sequel to his 1995 Before Sunrise is basically just two people talking to each other, presented in something very close to real-time. But what's said and what happens in the course of that 80-minute conversation should be of interest to almost anyone who is remotely curious about human beings and how they relate to each other, especially in matters of the heart. Before Sunrise was a film about a boy and a girl meeting and making a connection one night in a beautiful, faraway city. Celene (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) were strangers on a train who came together for a one-night stand of conversation, confessions and romance, then parted ways with a vow to meet again six months hence. Before Sunset catches up with those same two people, nine years later, as they meet, more or less by chance, in a bookstore in Paris. What ensues is a veritable talkfest between two hyper-articulate individuals who have a lot to say to one another, as well as a walking tour of Paris in the fall (and it doesn't get much better than that). The verbal dance between the characters is beautifully played by Hawke and Delpy (who helped write their own dialogue), and the movie manages to thrill us by throwing into our faces most of our expectations about what we think a film should be.
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (PG-13) Matt Damon, who's beginning to resemble a younger, buffer Al Franken, returns as the memory-challenged assassin from The Bourne Identity. The plot here is fairly standard stuff — Damon's character is framed, resulting in a movie-length series of chases in assorted cities around the world — but the material is directed by Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) with frenetic energy and a taut precision that maximizes suspense. Cinematographer Oliver Wood applies an almost exclusively handheld technique, his camera nearly always in motion, lending the proceedings a tougher, edgier momentum than is usually found in action thrillers like this. The film has loads of texture and almost no flab, not to mention some of the best chase scenes (specifically car chases) that you'll ever see on a movie screen. Also stars Joan Allen, Brian Cox and Julia Stiles. Opens July 30 at local theaters. 1/2
CATWOMAN (PG-13) Halle Berry risks career suicide, donning a strategically ripped full-leather outfit and slinking around in what might well be the worst movie of the summer. Before putting on the stupid duds, Berry's character learns of a dastardly cover-up at a cosmetics company, and then becomes transformed (by a mystical Egyptian cat — don't ask) into the super-powered titular hero. Or is it villain? Catwoman is such a confused mess that it's hard to tell. The movie looks good, in a slick, gratuitously showy way, but the script, while utterly formulaic, is full of disjointed and downright jarring elements that don't mesh, with a cumulative effect that's shallow, silly and too annoying to really qualify as fun. Also stars Benjamin Bratt, Alex Borstein and Sharon Stone. Opens July 30 at local theaters.
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (PG-13) A sequel of sorts to Pitch Black, in which Vin Diesel's self-serving, intergalactic bad-ass Riddick returns to find himself pitted against the Negromongers, a group of death-worshiping religious warriors going from planet to planet demanding "Convert or Die." Director David Twohy (The Arrival) might be offering up some thinly veiled allusion to the ongoing Islamist problem (or maybe he's just riffing on the Borg), but the movie has New Testament connections too, with Diesel's character eventually being set up as some sort of reluctant Messianic figure. All of this is just window dressing, however, for the movie's incessant action scenes, fights, chases and explosions, not to mention the non-stop digital effects, and sets and costumes directly lifted from David Lynch's Dune. Also stars Colm Feore, Judi Dench, Thandie Newton and Alexa Davalos.
A CINDERELLA STORY (PG) With her own convertible, a personal computer and a fancy cell phone, Sam Martin (Hilary Duff) doesn't exactly strike one as the Cinderella type. On the other hand, her father has been killed in an earthquake, and she is forced to serve her evil stepmother and her wicked stepsisters (while also working seven days a week to finance her college tuition). This curiously compromised Cinderella momentarily escapes her troubles via the cyberworld, where she connects with an Internet crush whose mysterious identity leaves her enchanted until she comes to find that her prince isn't as he seems. Tailored in this way to a post-millennium high school setting, A Cinderella Story neglects the fantasy components of the original tale, and Duff's character becomes the stereotype of a not-so-cool girl played upon too many times in recent years. Overtly predictable and dreadfully bland, this movie would be better as an after-school television special than a full-length feature film. Also stars Jennifer Coolidge and Chad Michael Murray.
THE CLEARING (PG-13) A more grownup role for Robert Redford (complete with semi-grownup haircut and an on-screen wife who's roughly his own age), but nothing much else to write home about. Redford plays a successful businessman who's kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee (Willem Dafoe), while Redford's wife and family sit at home trying to keep it together. While not as flashy as something like Memento, the film eventually reveals that its dual his-and-her storylines aren't actually taking place at the same time, a device that provides a few interesting moments but isn't really crucial to what's happening in The Clearing. Redford and Dafoe's characters do a lot of talking out in the woods, and the movie is ultimately more interested in functioning as an engaging character study than in offering up the expected payload of suspense or mystery. The film is carefully crafted and atmospheric, with strong performances from Redford and Helen Mirren, but it's not quite the human drama it wants to be, nor does it really add anything new to the thriller genre. Also stars Matt Craven and Melissa Sagemiller.
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (R) Filmed over the course of 17 years in between various "real" feature films, Jim Jarmusch's latest project has an even slighter, sketchier feel than most of the director's work. As the title more or less spells out, Coffee and Cigarettes revolves around the finer points of those grand old twin addictions, as seen through a series of minimalist vignettes in which small groups of characters sit around smoking, drinking joe and talking. Even for a Jarmusch film, there's not much going on here, but diehard fans will find some moments of pleasure, and even non-diehards are likely to be impressed by Cate Blanchette's dual performance as a pair of very different cousins. Other highlights include tête-à-têtes between Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, and RZA, GZA and Bill Murray. On the other hand, far too many of the scenes, including the droll interactions between Jack and Meg White (of the White Stripes) and Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, are real letdowns. Opens July 30 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm.
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (PG-13) Having built a career on destroying the world (by, among other things, aliens in Independence Day and giant lizards in Godzilla), Roland Emmerich is up to his old tricks again. This time, however, we've only got ourselves to blame, as global warming and an out-of-control greenhouse effect create a new Ice Age, making life very difficult for a courageous scientist (Dennis Quaid) and his dreamboat son (Jake Gyllenhaal), not to mention a couple billion bit players. The movie's first hour is a straightforward eco-disaster movie featuring scads of massively proportioned, apocalyptic imagery. The movie's second half prompts more than its share of unintentional laughter, though, with bland heroics, wooden dialogue and every cliche in the book taking center stage. Also stars Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum and Sela Ward.
DE-LOVELY (PG-13) This latest bio-pick on legendary American tunesmith Cole Porter reportedly focuses on the man's not-so-secret homosexuality (something that was strictly taboo in previous Porter pics) and takes a stylistic approach that sounds suspiciously like what Bob Fosse did in All That Jazz. A number of contemporary musicians are on hand too, including Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette, performing various Porter standards. Stars Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd and Jonathan Pryce. (Not Reviewed)
DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY (PG-13) Despite much talk of aiming low, debuting writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber finds a nice middle ground with material that would be offensive if it weren't funny; but most of it is funny. Corporate shark Ben Stiller's attempt to swallow Vince Vaughn's funky neighborhood gym is settled by a David vs. Goliath championship dodgeball match in Vegas. Stay through the credits for Stiller's final scene.
FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (R) Michael Moore's new movie is indisputably important, but not so much as a film as a phenomenon. Moore wears his agenda on his sleeve, and most of the points he drums home are already familiar to most of us, regardless of what our politics may be. Still, it's more than a little unnerving to see all those points rattled off in rapid succession, and with such iron-willed eloquence. Yes, we all know the 2000 election was a sham. Yes, we know Bush is a doofus (also lazy, hypocritical and quite possibly pretty mean-spirited). And yes, we know that the Bush clan is wallowing in bed with the Saudi royal family, and that, where our foreign policy is concerned, Arab oil money probably speaks louder than suicide bombers. Still, what is Moore really saying by all this, besides pleading with us to dump Bush posthaste? The movie is glib enough that we barely notice Moore talking out of both sides of his mouth (exactly what he accuses Bush of doing), and it might just be the most effective political advertisement of all time. Faults aside, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a big deal — more passionate and, in its way, more serious than anything Michael Moore has ever attempted, and a movie that deserves to be seen, pondered and carefully debated. 1/2
GARFIELD: THE MOVIE (PG) This kitty's story is better told through the comic strip that made him famous. Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray) must protect his domain after caretaker Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer) brings home his new pal, Odie. After the new dog disappears, it is up to the orange cat to find him and get him home safely. Though the movie has surreal components based on its cartoon animation, too many pop culture references and an abundance of senseless jokes spoil the fantasy of the film. Also stars Jennifer Love Hewitt. 1/2
GYPSY 83 (R) Director Todd Stephens' heartfelt but moderately edgy tale of coming of age, coming out, and just plain cumming follows two quirky young misfits as they make their way from their dull Midwestern hometown to the big city. The duo's road trip results in the obligatory payload of small pleasures, medium-size trauma, liberating and/or painful sexual encounters and, in the end, a sappy life-changing experience or two. Sara Rue is extremely watchable as a big-but-proud-of-it Goth gal obsessed with Stevie Nicks, but Kett Turton, as her younger, gay pal, often seems painfully aware that he's acting in a movie. The awkward delivery isn't helped by sections of clunky, unnatural dialogue and a script that doesn't take many chances. There are some very nice moments here, though, including an interlude featuring Karen Black as a deluded karaoke queen. (Held over at Sunrise Cinemas.)
HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (R) If Martin Scorsese's After Hours had a baby with a Cheech and Chong movie, it might look a little like this raunchy, ill-mannered and wildly funny comedy from director Danny Leiner. The movie is a road trip of sorts that all takes place in the course of one very strange night, in which stoner roommates Harold and Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn) embark on a quest to stuff themselves with White Castle burgers. Everything goes wrong, of course, and the more wrong things go, the more right the movie becomes. Every detour is an opportunity for another surreal gag, the jokes pile up faster than in a Naked Gun flick, and the decidedly non-PC humor targets Asians, Jews, Blacks and gays with equal relish. Despite the obvious Bill and Ted/American Pie youth-market/gross-out connections, the movie is smarter than it has any right to be, but in a way that sneaks up on you when you're not even looking. Best of all, much of it is genuinely funny — enough to almost make you forget that the director was also responsible for Dude, Where's My Car? Also stars Neil Patrick Harris, Paula Garces and Malin Akerman. Opens July 30 at local theaters. 1/2 HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG) Even if Harry Potter hasnt quite come of age in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it sure looks like the franchise has. Director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) replaces the reliable but hardly inspirational Chris Columbus this time, giving the new installment a grittier, wittier, more palpably dangerous feel, both in its drama and its comedy. If theres a real flaw here, its that the movie tends to meander a little too much, teasing us with nuggets of plot and sub-plot that dont gel until the last half-hour of this 135-minute film. The new faces here — a veritable whos who of the crème de la crème of British thespianism that includes David Thewlis, Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman — raise Azkaban to even greater heights. Also stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Alan Rickman. HER MAJESTY (PG) The time is 1953, and a 13-year-old New Zealand girl named Elizabeth (Sally Andrews) finds that her dream is about to come true when Queen Elizabeth II schedules a stop at the youngster's tiny hometown. The inevitable complications ensue, including run-ins with nasty locals, but there are also wise and kindly friends, like Elizabeth's Maori pal (Vicky Haughton) to offer advice and possible solutions. The film's emotions are none too subtle, and its tone is too cute and sweet to be taken completely seriously, but director Mark J. Gordon tinkers with some worthwhile aspects of class and race issues, and the whole thing is rarely less than entertaining. Also stars Craig Elliott. Opens July 30 at local theaters. I, ROBOT (PG-13) Despite some strong, stylish moments where director Alex Proyas seems to be evoking the moody paranoia of sci-fi noirs such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and his own Dark City, this really isn't much more than your standard bubble-headed blockbuster. The script, co-written by glorified hack Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin, Lost in Space), throws out most of Isaac Asimov's best ideas in favor of a fairly standard action-thriller in which future cop Will Smith chases around trying to prove his conspiracy theory while everyone tells him he's crazy. Plot points are telegraphed, most of the characters are cardboard cutouts (particularly an extremely wooden Bridget Moynahan), and Smith's incessant wise-cracking and wannabe catch phrases stick out like a sore digit, breaking any semblance of mood the film might have had. The special effects are great, of course, but when all hell breaks loose during the movie's final 20 minutes — and then just goes on and on — even all the razzle dazzle becomes a bit boring. Also stars Bruce Greenwood and James Cromwell. 1/2
KING ARTHUR (PG-13) This new take on the life of the legendary King Arthur is far removed from the mystic, romanticized fantasy of the famous tale. Rather, the film tells a version of the fable with only slight references to a round table and a sword in the stone. A story of liberation and bloody sacrifice, it is a well-executed portrait of how Arthur (Clive Owen) and his entourage may have defeated the Saxons through a series of gruesome battles. Other characters of Arthurian legend appear throughout the movie, though not quite in a traditional sense. Merlin (Stephen Dillane) is not a magician but a warlord, and the contention between Arthur and a pretentious Sir Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) for the affection of Lady Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is only a vague sidetrack. Nonetheless, the luster of this legend is magnified on the big screen and packed with action and valor. 1/2
MAN ON FIRE (R) John Creasy (Denzel Washington) doesn't say much about himself but you've seen enough movies to recognize a burned-out drunk seeking redemption when you see one. He's hired as bodyguard for Dakota Fanning in Mexico City, who rehumanizes him before she's kidnapped, and he sets out for revenge. Brian Helgeland's screenplay leaves serious questions if you think about it but director Tony Scott ensures you won't, keeping the film well paced and visually exciting with some amazing montages. You can't expect a movie to entertain and make sense in 2004.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (R) Although the villains here aren't necessarily the ones you'll expect, Jonathan Demme's remake offers a near-perfect transposition of the original film's Cold War paranoia to the contemporary paranoia of the Age of Terror. An extremely effective Denzel Washington takes on the Frank Sinatra role as a nightmare-ridden soldier who starts to doubt reality as he comes to smell conspiracy all around him, beginning with a vice-presidential candidate who may not be at all what he seems. Most of the political satire of John Frankenheimer's original film has been axed in favor of a creepy and steadily gripping atmosphere, but the film works fine that way. This new Manchurian Candidate is faithful to the spirit of the original while presenting itself as nothing less than a horror movie of the scariest sort — a political horror story. The ending is a bit disappointing and there are some unfortunate oversimplifications and clumsy exposition along the way, but the film is, for the most part, a grand entertainment. Also stars Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. Opens July 30 at local theaters.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (NR) Along with all those conscience-wracked mafiosos, samurai warriors and other good-bad guys the movies love to show wrestling with various codes of honor, you can now add one more unlikely name to the list: heavy metal gods Metallica. As observed in this fascinating new documentary, the seasoned headbangers find themselves caught between (forgive me, somebody has to say it) rock and a hard place, struggling to balance what's expected of them as celebrity musicians with what they need to survive as human beings. Over the course of three years, this epic, 140-minute doc focuses on the various band members as they air their beefs in therapy, fall apart, come together, and try to get a new record made. Directed by probably the best team working in documentary film today, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Brothers Keeper, Paradise Lost), Some Kind of Monster is a far cry from your conventional rock documentary. The talented filmmakers don't gloss over their subjects' faults, but they use those faults as entry points into the characters' lives, using their very human natures to make them engaging and even appealing. Ultimately, the film is a little like a heavy metal version of Let It Be (that's a compliment, by the way), and, as its subjects whine and rattle on and on, the success or failure of the film really depends upon just how much Metallica you can take. Stars Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Bob Rock and Jason Newsted. Opens July 30 at local theaters. 1/2
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (PG) Maybe the best movie ever about all-American high school geeks, and certainly one of the funniest, Napoleon Dynamite is about a slack-jawed loser with a tight red perm and almost no concept of how to live in the world. Mouth permanently agape, and eyes simultaneously squinty and glazed, Napoleon is barely a millimeter away from being a zombie — but then again, so are most everybody else in the movie. The film takes place in a bland little town in Idaho where time passes slowly, as do the thoughts and words of the inhabitants, and the movie depicts it all with sly humor and affection. Most of the conventions of the high school comedy are here — the school prom, the class election — but the film transcends cliche with a lethal combo of slapstick, absurdity and dry, deadpan Jarmusch-ian wit. The young, mostly nonprofessional cast was largely drawn from 24-year-old director Jared Hess' pals at Brigham Young University, but don't hold that against them. Among its many other virtues, Napoleon Dynamite offers proof positive that Mormons really do have a sense of humor. Stars Jon Heder, Sandy Martin, Tina Majorino and Aaron Ruell.
THE NOTEBOOK (PG-13) Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams (the head mean girl from Mean Girls) star as star-crossed lovers in this slow-moving, sticky-sweet, cliche-ridden romance. The tale is told in flashback, with a nicely evoked setting of coastal North Carolina in the 1940s being one of the film's few saving graces. The source here is yet another assembly line product generated by romance novelist Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember), so you pretty much know what you're getting into even before the opening credits roll. Also stars James Garner, Gena Rowlands, James Marsden and Sam Shepard. 1/2
SHREK 2 (PG) While not quite the raw burst of unbridled (and vaguely subversive) creative energy that the original was, Shrek 2 is just as loaded with wall-to-wall gags, and may even boast a tighter, more traditionally compelling story. The narrative this time out features a deliciously nasty fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders) who wants to pry apart our two favorite ogre lovebirds, and give Fiona to her vain, vapid Prince Charming of a son (Ruppert Everett). The movie also makes great use of its other voice talents, both old and new, showcases some of the best computerized animation ever seen, and grooves along on an eccentric soundtrack that includes everything from vintage '70s disco-funk to Nick Cave. Features the voices of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese and Julie Andrews.
SLEEPOVER (PG) Having survived the Spy Kids trilogy, Alexa Vega faces a real adventure: high school. At a junior high graduation slumber party she and her uncool friends compete with the popular (i.e., mean) girls in a scavenger hunt. This sweet 'tween fantasy will give false hope to real 14-year-olds but may empower a few to transcend their niche in the established social order.
SPIDER-MAN 2 (PG-13) Spider-Man 2 concentrates and amplifies the strengths of the first film, skillfully interweaving human-size dramatic elements with enormous and enormously visceral action set pieces. Much time is spent reintroducing the film's characters and rehashing their relationships, but this turns out to be essential in getting us to care about what happens to those characters once the sparks eventually begin to fly. And what sparks they are! Where the first movie's nemesis, Green Goblin, was somewhat (unintentionally) silly, the sequel's mechanical-armed transgressor, Doctor Octopus, is a monumental and menacing foe — and, as we all know, movies like these live or die by their villains. Sam Rami stages Doc Ock's every scene brilliantly, harking back to the director's pre-blockbuster days as a class horror act with pulp fare like Darkman and the Evil Dead movies. It's all part of a web of solid gold, providing substance and flavor to what is essentially a kick-ass action movie. Stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Alfred Molina.
STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL (PG) Nanook of the North and the pioneering documentary techniques of its creator, Robert Flaherty, were direct influences on the authenticity factor of this beautifully shot but no-frills tale of a family of nomadic Mongolian herders out in the middle of nowhere. Directors Byambasuren Divaa and Luigi Falorni take the most simple of narratives — the Mongolian herders are distraught when a mother camel refuses to nurse her newborn — but imbue the film with a fascination for its characters and a meticulous attention to detail that keeps it very watchable. The filmmakers also resist the temptation to play up the story's sentimental aspects, leaving us with a deliberately paced and rigorously minimalist film that feels both real and timeless. The movie could be taking place almost anytime, in fact, to the point where it's actually a bit of shock when, late in the film, modernity intrudes in the form of the electronic gizmos stocked in a ramshackle village visited by two of the Mongolian children. Stars Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar, Odgererl Ayusch, Janchiv Ayurzana and Botok. 1/2
THE TERMINAL (PG-13) Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks together again, in a curious little project about a man who becomes stuck in an airport when his country ceases to exist, plunging him into bureaucratic limbo. Spielberg turns the airport terminal into a microcosm, as Hank's character learns to survive within its confines, making friends (and an enemy or two), finding love (with an emotionally fragile stewardess played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), and eventually becoming a hero to the employees. The movie is a bit quirky and even minimalist in ways that we don't normally associate with Spielberg, at times almost like something Rod Serling might have cooked up as a Twilight Zone episode many decades ago. The film ultimately suffers from having too many sub-plots crammed into it, particularly the syrupy romantic interludes that are its least interesting elements. Also stars Stanley Tucci and Bernie Mac.
THUNDERBIRDS (PG) Ex-Star Trek Next Generation beefcake Jonathan Frakes can't direct an action scene to save his life, but he does a serviceable job bringing to life this vintage cult kiddie TV show about a family of high-flying rescue heroes. The production design captures the colorful, snappy vibe of the original series, the characters are pleasantly cartoonish (particularly Ben Kingsley as the resident bad guy) and the special effects are passable, but nothing much really happens until the movie's final 15 minutes. The movie is skewed very young, as well, with the action focusing on a trio of Spy Kids-lite youngsters, while nominal star Bill Paxton and his older co-stars mostly just hang around the sidelines looking heroic. Adult moviegoers will be mildly amused, at best, but young boys will be in heaven. My 5-year-old thinks it's the greatest thing he's ever seen. Also stars Anthony Edwards, Brady Corbet and Soren Fulton. Opens July 30 at local theaters.
VALENTIN (NR) A sweet (sometimes almost unbearably so) coming-of-age tale about a precocious little cross-eyed boy growing up in Buenos Aires in the early '60s. Valentin (Rodrigo Noya) is a cute and wise-beyond-his-years 8-year-old, living with his loving but cranky grandmother (Carmen Maura), and struggling to understand what's going on with all the crazy and difficult adults surrounding him. Valentin befriends them all, though, from the local doctor to the lonely musician across the street to his absent father's ex-girlfriends, and each of the bummed-out adults come under his spell, apparently infected by the adorable tyke's irresistibly upbeat sincerity. There are some nice moments here and bits and pieces of charming local color, but the film doesn't add up to much. Also stars Julieta Cardinali. 1/2
VAN HELSING (PG-13) Even hardcore horror fans aren't likely to find much worthwhile in this bombastic mess in which a pair of fashionably dressed monster slayers (Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale) spend a couple of hours running around like headless chickens, shooting bullets, arrows and stakes at anything that moves. The CGI effects are omnipresent and absolutely awful, and the flesh and blood creatures don't fare much better. The look of Van Helsing is darkly luxurious and faithful in its way to the old Universal horror films on which it's based, but director Stephen Sommers mistakes attractive set design for mood, and his movie is so frenetic it kills any chance for a poetic moment. Also stars David Wenham and Kevin J. O'Connor.
THE VILLAGE (PG-13) Strange creatures lurk in the woods surrounding the little Pennsylvania burg in M. Knight Shyamalan's latest movie. The premise (isolated, ordinary folks encounter things that go bump in the night) sounds more Signs than Sixth Sense, but with Shyamalan you never know. The movie was screened so close to opening day that almost nobody had a chance to review it in a timely fashion, but we'll give the studio the benefit of the doubt and try not to assume this means they know there's something's rotten in Shyamalan Land. Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody and William Hurt. Opens July 30 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
WHITE CHICKS (PG-13) There's nothing funnier than a guy in a dress, right? Unless, of course, it's a black guy in a dress, trying to pass as a white girl. OK, now picture a couple of Wayans Brothers as FBI agents pretending to be a pair of Hilton Sisters clones. Is it funny yet? If your answer is "Not by a long shot," then you're just beginning to scratch the surface of this mind-numbingly dull, extended sketch featuring Marlon and Shawn Wayons impersonating a pair of bubble-headed bimbettes. The only thing of interest about the film is the freakish, barely human look of the "girls" themselves, who would have made a fine addition to the remake of The Stepford Wives. Also stars Jamie King, Frankie Faison, Lochlyn Munro and John Heard.
Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted.