15 Minutes (R) Robert De Niro and Ed Burns play the pistol-packing Good Guys on the trail of a pair of mad-dog killers with a mania for videotaping their crimes. Tough, exciting and just off-kilter enough to keep us guessing, 15 Minutes is a thriller that manages to transcend the buddy movie genre and even say a few interesting things along the way about America's mania for celebrity and sordid reality TV. Also stars Kelsey Grammer and Avery Brooks.
All Access (PG) IMAX Channelside's five-story tall screen and 14,000-watt sound system add immeasurably to the pleasures of this hourlong concert film shot in New York and Chicago. The basic formula here is extreme eclecticism of a type both cross-cultural and cross-generational: Elder statesmen like Carlos Santana, B.B. King and Al Green hook up with young turks like Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) for a selection of We-Are-The-World group-hug performances that shouldn't by all rights work, but do (generally). Highlights include a fabulous medley of P-Funk classics performed by George Clinton and Mary J. Blige, and an incredible turn by Macy Gray (confirming her God-like status for anyone who still might have doubts). There are other nice surprises as well: Kid Rock turns out to be pretty watchable; Moby has a nice moment or two; and Algerian vocalist Cheb Mami, teaming up with Sting for a rendition of the Brit singer's hit Desert Rose, takes some of the pain out of sitting through the ex-Cop's umpteenth IMAX appearance. Opens April 6 at IMAX Channelside.
Along Came A Spider (R) Morgan Freeman returns to the role of Dr. Alex Cross in this follow-up to Kiss the Girls (1997). Both films are based on novels by James Patterson. Cross is a renowned profiler, or psychological detective, chosen by a serial killer who wishes to gain crime-of-the-century status for his kidnapping of a senator's daughter by luring Cross into the case. The movie uses several cop-drama cliches: the disillusioned officer whose last partner died in the line of duty; the detective who can peruse the miscellany of a crime scene and pick out the cryptic clue; the psychopath who torments his would-be captor. Yet all of these effectively increase the suspense and the dialogue's vigor. The supporting actors — Monica Potter (Agent Jezzie Flannigan) and Michael Wincott (Gary Soneji) — lend credibility to characters whose motives are largely implausible. Directed by Lee Tamahori (Mulholland Falls), Along Came a Spider is fun and exciting. But if you dislike feeling duped by slick plot twists, read the Patterson thriller beforehand, then buy a large popcorn and affect a smug grin.
Billy Elliot (R) The film borrows a good bit more than just its economically depressed but high-spirited, working-class English environment from The Full Monty; the whole comedic premise here depends on turning gender roles upside down and flying them in our face — in the nicest possible way, of course. See, 11-year-old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) has a problem: He's discovered he has an unexpected passion and aptitude for ballet, something no self-respecting coal miner's son should ever be caught dead fancying. When the film is in pure feel-good mode, it does a bang-up job of it. Also stars Gary Lewis and Adam Cooper.
The Brothers (R) Four successful black men ponder life, love, and friendship while on the brink of marriage. Sound familiar? It should. This is the third in a string of such films (including The Wood and The Best Man) and is by far the worst of them. Morris Chestnut (The Best Man, Boyz 'N the Hood) plays the compassionate one who thinks he's finally met the right woman — until he discovers that she used to date his father (Oops!). Also stars Bill Bellamy, Shemar Moore and D.L. Hughley.
Cast Away (PG-13) Tom Hanks stars as a Fed Ex employee whose plane goes down, stranding him on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. Cast Away makes us feel the physical suffering the central character endures, and there are some engaging sequences here, but most of the movie's pretty unsurprising, with a curiously formless ending that just seems to go on forever. Also stars Helen Hunt.
The Caveman's Valentine (R) Samuel L. Jackson stars as a deranged man living in a cave in Central Park who becomes drawn into a murder investigation. Also stars Ann Magnuson. Opens April 6 at local theaters.
Chocolat (PG-13) Free-spirited Juliette Binoche opens a chocolate shop in a repressed village, setting up a didactic conflict of indulgence vs. denial. The French locales, food and faces are lovingly photographed (the disarming ensemble includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Alfred Molina), but the film cannot equal the comparably themed but richer Babette's Feast. Chocolat melts in your hands, not in your heart.