Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

Editor's Note
An ad for Citizen Verdict in this and recent issues of the Weekly Planet indicated that we had given the movie 5 planets and referred to it as "stellar." In fact, our first review of the film by Sarasota staff writer Allyson Gonzalez gave the movie a 3-planet review in the Jan. 26 issue when it was part of the Sarasota Film Festival. Through a computer error, the review showed up with 5 planets on the website. The "stellar" was not in the text of Gonzalez's review; rather, it's the term we use to describe a 5-planet review (4 planets is "Heavenly"). Film critic Lance Goldenberg's review in this issue coincides with Citizen Verdict's theatrical release.


CITIZEN VERDICT (NR) Reality TV and the American legal system are the primary targets in this bungled project, set in Tampa but shot mostly in South Africa and Canada, from South Florida filmmaker Phillippe Martinez. Jerry Springer references himself, playing a sensationalistic TV personality who hooks up with a tough-on-crime Florida governor (a sleepwalking Roy Scheider) to produce a new show where viewers put someone on trial, vote on the verdict, and then get to witness a pay-per-view execution. Citizen Verdict's themes are undeniably important but they've all been tackled many times before, usually with significantly more skill and imagination - and even if the movie's attempts at satire weren't so over-obvious and out of date they'd still be watered-down to the point of no return. Ill-considered scenes designed to assure us of the movie's patriotism pop up every so often for no apparent reason other than to atone for the film's periodic jabs at America's bad habits. It's hard to say whether Citizen Verdict lacks the courage of its convictions or if it simply lacks vision, but the movie seems to be working overtime to please all the people all the time, and, as is usually the case with something so transparently desperate, fails. The clumsy editing, mediocre performances and erratic pacing don't help either (the film veers haphazardly from satire to melodrama via glimpses into the cliché-ridden personal lives of its characters), and the numerous shots of South Africa unconvincingly standing in for Tampa don't exactly add much local color. Also stars Armand Assante and Justine Mitchell. Opens May 6 at local theaters.

FEAR AND TREMBLING (NR) It's not just the Lost in Translation fan club who'll be taken with this delightfully droll account of a Westerner on the other side of the looking glass in Japan. Sylvie Testud is marvelous as Amelie, a Belgian woman whose nostalgia for a brief childhood stint in Japan prompts her to leave Europe and secure a translator's job at a big Japanese corporation. Positioned at the very bottom of a long and elaborate chain of command, Amelie soon finds herself thrown into a state of perpetual confusion and humiliated at every turn by her various superiors, often for the apparent sin of doing too good a job. Burdened with ever more maddening or mundane tasks, Testud's character takes the very Japanese tack of saving face and refusing to resign, while taking the very un-Japanese tack of sticking around the office after hours and prancing about on her bosses' desks stark naked. Based on an autobiographical novel by Amelie Northomb, Fear and Trembling has a ball skewering the rigidly codified and (to us) incredibly bizarre hierarchies of the Japanese workplace. The film is most engaging when it's observing the oddities of Japan's corporate arena as conscience-less food chain, but there are glimpses of compassion here too that keep the film from becoming anything less than three-dimensional. Also stars Kaori Tsuji, Taro Suwa and Bison Katayama. Opens May 6 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call theater to confirm. 1/2

HOUSE OF WAX (R) If you're expecting anything remotely like a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price film by the same title, forget it. Other than boasting a deranged sculptor as one of its characters (here lovingly renamed Vincent), this House of Wax bears virtually no resemblance to the quaint little 3D thriller for which it's named. Instead, what we have here is one of those ultra-aggressive, modern day descendants of the slasher movie and the Texas Chainsaw school, in which attractive-but-none-too-bright kids venture into some area where they have no business being and find themselves summarily sliced and diced by sadistic mutant rednecks. There are lots of creepy mannequins on display, the one big holdover from the original House of Wax (although the way they're obsessed on is closer to another vintage horror flick, 1979's too-often-overlooked Tourist Trap), but the movie mostly eschews atmosphere in order to do what's expected of it. To the movie's credit, it does what it does pretty well, and some of its imagery is genuinely disturbing in a borderline surreal way, but the real reason to buy a ticket is for the sheer weirdness factor of watching Paris Hilton's "performance." Also stars Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt and Jared Padalecki. Opens May 6 at local theaters.

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