Fanily Movie Guide

THE FAMILY MOVIE GUIDE

This guide covers "family films" plus movies that could become blockbusters or may especially pique the interest of teenagers. Only films with G ratings are tagged as all-family fare by Hollywood. Most have stronger MPAA ratings that call for extra alertness from parents.

During the summer, this guide for families and the Monitor's more comprehensive movie guide will appear on alternate Fridays.

Our star ratings (see below) indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children.

Film critic Dave Steritt's star rating proceeds the details. A staff panel's follows.

o Forget it

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME [G]

**** Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline. Running time: 86 minutes. ***

Plot Victor Hugo's tragic hero becomes a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a beautiful gypsy from an evil judge.

MESSAGE Have confidence in yourself even when your good qualities aren't appreciated.

SEX, PROFANITY None.

VIOLENCE Four scenes involve attempted stabbings, and at one point, the hero appears to have been killed by an arrow. Villain finally falls into pool of molten iron.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two scenes with wine drinking.

FLIPPER [PG]

** Directed by Alan Shapiro. With Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan. Running time: 96 minutes. ***

Plot Adventures of a boy who wishes his life was happier, a dolphin who becomes his unusual new friend, and a crusty old uncle who loves them both.

Message Family and friends are always valuable, and good things may swim unexpectedly into your life.

SEX None.

PROFANITY Three instances.

VIOLENCE Contains graphic fishing scenes that could upset young children. Also, Paul Hogan punches out the bad guy.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL One bar scene, and one scene involving cigar smoking.

HARRIET THE SPY [PG]

*** Directed by Bronwen Hughes. With Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Robert Joy, Eartha Kitt. Running time: 96 minutes. ***

PLOT A sixth-grade girl loves to watch the world and jot her observations in a notebook, but grownups are unhappy when this interferes with school and kids complain when her writing criticizes them.

MESSAGE Creativity is fine, but it should be balanced with other parts of life.

SEX, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE Harriet slaps a classmate across the face; scary pictures are seen in a book she reads.

PROFANITY A little vulgar talk.

THE PHANTOM [PG]

*** Directed by Simon Wincer. With Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Casey Siemaszko, Samantha Eggar. Running time: 100 minutes. ***

PLOT Considered by many to be a ghost or spirit, an enigmatic jungle dweller battles a corrupt businessman trying to obtain three mysterious skulls with magic powers.

MESSAGE Good motives will eventually defeat evil ones, and things aren't always what they seem.

SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE More than a dozen very violent scenes including a person skewered by a spear, another shot by a cannon at close range, and the disintegration of a person into a ball of fire by a supernatural force.

PHENOMENON [PG]

*** Directed by Jon Turteltaub. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Forest Whitaker, Kyra Sedgwick. Running time: 117 minutes. ***

PLOT An ordinary man gets zapped by a mysterious light-flash and acquires a lightning-quick mind, an unquenchable appetite for knowledge, and the ability to move objects at a distance - all of which frightens his friends and neighbors.

MESSAGE The human spirit is greater and has more potential than can be understood by technologies and philosophies that try to explain it in material or mystical terms.

SEX Brief nudity - a person moons someone.

VIOLENCE One scene in which a character slides a beer mug across the bar into other patrons.

PROFANITY About seven instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A number of bar scenes where patrons are drinking.

OTHER Discussion of the hero's medical condition, and a bittersweet ending involving death.

THE CABLE GUY [PG-13]

** Directed by Ben Stiller. With Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Janeane Garofalo. Running time: 95 minutes. *

PLOT A quiet businessman accepts a free hook-up from a cable-TV installer, then discovers the technician is a total weirdo who expects "preferred customers" to be his friends.

MESSAGE Choose your new friends carefully.

SEX Five scenes of innuendo and one scene with a prostitute, but no nudity.

VIOLENCE Four scenes of exaggerated and disconcerting violence.

PROFANITY Spoken throughout.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Karaoke party scene.

DRAGONHEART [PG-13]

** Directed by Rob Cohen. With Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Julie Christie, and the voice of Sean Connery. Running time: 103 minutes. ***

PLOT A dragonslayer and the last dragon on Earth join forces to defeat an evil tyrant whose life is magically linked to the dragon's.

MESSAGE Things that look scary might really be good on the inside, and friendship can blossom in the most unexpected circumstances. Also, that good and evil can be combined in one heart.

SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE At least 17 instances of fantastical but explicit violence. They range from people getting impaled by sharp objects to having their eyes burned out. In one very graphic scene, a man's open chest wound is shown prior to receiving half the dragon's heart.

INDEPENDENCE DAY [PG-13]

** Directed by Roland Emmerich. With Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Vivica A. Fox. Running time: 145 minutes. ***

PLOT A soldier, a scientist, a crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth in a battle with outer-space invaders.

MESSAGE People can pull together when faced with a common enemy.

SEX About five sexual situations; one scene in a striptease club.

VIOLENCE 17 instances, from the destruction of American landmarks to the president firing on a craft from a fighter jet.

PROFANITY About 25 instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL At least 12 instances, including six with cigars. One character is always drunk.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE [PG-13]

** Directed by Brian De Palma. With Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Bart, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave. Running time: 110 minutes. **

PLOT An espionage expert cracks a case involving a computerized list with the names of undercover agents, hindered by the presence of a dangerous mole within his own organization.

MESSAGE Tenacity, cleverness, and a willingness to engage in violence can defeat threatening foes. Superior technology helps, but a "righteous" sense of revenge helps most of all.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Contains much violent and gory action. At least nine violent deaths are shown, including stabbings, explosions, and gunshots.

PROFANITY Some.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drugs are administered in several instances as tools of espionage, either to feign death or induce illness.

THE NUTTY PROFESSOR [PG-13]

** Directed by Tom Shadyac. With Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn. Running time: 95 minutes. ***

PLOT An overweight scientist slims down with a potion he's cooked up, creating a new self who's brash, aggressive, and unpredictable.

MESSAGE It's better to be yourself than to follow the crowd.

SEX Two scenes, sexual innuendoes throughout.

VIOLENCE About three instances.

PROFANITY Plentiful.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Nightclub scenes, and the professor's potion is a sort of drug.

TWISTER [PG-13]

** Directed by Jan de Bont. With Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt. Running time: 114 minutes. ***

PLOT A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his new girlfriend and his about-to-be-divorced wife.

Message Courage is an important value for people who want to help the world, and it's all right to laugh at natural disasters like tornadoes from the safety of a movie theater.

SEX Implied but not graphic.

VIOLENCE Lots of weather-related violence.

PROFANITY Plentiful.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

COURAGE UNDER FIRE [R]

* Directed by Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Michael Moriarty, Lou Diamond Phillips. Running time: 120 minutes.

PLOT An officer uncovers a tangled story as he conducts an investigation into whether a medal should be posthumously bestowed on a female soldier killed in the Persian Gulf war.

MESSAGE Truth can be hard to determine, especially when factors like wartime violence and gender stereotypes are involved.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Explicit violence in combat scenes.

PROFANITY Plentiful.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A main character is an alcoholic; a secondary character is a drug addict.

ERASER [R]

* Directed by Charles Russell. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Vanessa Williams, James Coburn. Running time: 115 minutes. ***

PLOT A witness-protection agent battles his treacherous boss over a weapons-smuggling operation, with help from a man whose life he saved at the beginning of the story.

MESSAGE Violence is necessary to beat a violent and dangerous enemy, and prior good deeds may pay dividends when most needed.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Contains more than a dozen minutes-long scenes of extreme violence, including man-eating alligators, a graphic suicide scene, gory flesh wounds, and multiple murders.

PROFANITY Exhaustive.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL One scene in drag-queen bar.

LONE STAR [R]

* Directed by John Sayles. With Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Morton, Miriam Colon. Running time: 135 minutes. uu

PLOT A skeleton is found near a small Texas border community, rekindling old debates about what happened to a sheriff who once ruled the county with a violent and racially bigoted hand.

MESSAGE Changing times can bring new pressures to small communities, especially when they have diverse populations. Public debates can overlap with private feuds and faulty memories.

SEX One sex scene with semi-nudity. Also, a surprise conclusion involving incest.

VIOLENCE Three shootings, not graphically portrayed. One beating and some slapping around by a brutal sheriff.

PROFANITY Much.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Several scenes are in a bar.

OTHER Depictions of racial bigotry.

THE ROCK [R]

* Directed by Michael Bay. With Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris. Running time: 131 minutes. **

PLOT A mild-mannered toxicologist and a one-time Alcatraz inmate break into the former prison to foil a loony general who's stashed away a pile of poison-gas missiles and threatens to destroy San Francisco if his demands aren't met.

MESSAGE Unlikely allies can work successfully together if they're single-minded and recognize one another's good qualities. Don't attempt to blackmail the US government.

SEX One mild sex scene. No nudity.

VIOLENCE The uncountable multitude of violent scenes include a man's face being melted by poison gas, a strangulation, and an impaling by fence post.

PROFANITY In almost every line.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

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