The Monitor Movie Guide

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel.

++++ Excellent

+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

New Releases

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (R)

Director: Joel Coen. With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, David Huddleston, David Thewlis, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara. (117 min.)

+++ Hired to deliver a ransom in a kidnapping scheme, two bowling-league buddies decide to abscond with the money themselves, landing themselves in a heap of complicated trouble. There are many delirious laughs in the Coen brothers' sprawling crime-comedy, but the heroes - a dope-smoking relic of the '60s and a gun-toting Vietnam vet - aren't exactly role models, and beware of some outbursts of violence and other scruffy material.

CAUGHT UP (R)

Director: Darin Scott. With Bokeem Woodbine, Cynda Williams. (90 min.)

DUD Violence, sex, and drugs are the main ingredients of this gangsta rapper's attempt at film noir. Detestable characters, predictability, and a confusing murder-mystery plot are the biggest turnoffs. Although the movie boasts appearances by well-known rappers Snoop Doggy Dogg and LL Cool J, their screen time amounts to less than 30 seconds apiece. By Mariah Gardner

KISSING A FOOL (R)

Director: Doug Ellin. With David Schwimmer, Jason Lee, Mili Avital. (94 min.)

++ Schwimmer, one of TV's favorite "Friends," plays a ladies' man who tests his fiance's loyalty by setting her up with his best pal. This airy romantic comedy is clumsily told through the reflections of a third party, but the charming characters make this one love triangle worth watching. By Mariah Gardner

Sex/Nudity: Two bar scenes with bare-bottomed women; several seduction scenes. Violence: None. Profanity: Large number of expletives. Drugs: Many bar scenes with beer drinking.

LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (PG-13)

Director: Richard Kwietniowski. With John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Sheila Hancock. (93 min.)

++++ An aging widower strays into the wrong movie at a multiplex, becomes transfixed by the youthful charm of a third-rate actor he sees, and makes a pilgrimage from London to Long Island, New York, in hope of meeting the object of his dreams. Hurt gives an astonishingly sensitive and funny performance as the bedazzled intellectual, and first-time filmmaker Kwietniowski unfolds the story with an unfailing blend of humor and compassion.

LOVE WALKED IN (R)

Director: Juan Jos Campanella. With Denis Leary, Aitana Snchez-Gijn, Terence Stamp. (119 min.)

++ A songwriter, pianist, professional cynic, and would-be novelist imagines a world where the devil, instead of God, defines good and evil. Living out this notion, he tries to set a blackmail trap with his beautiful wife as bait. Skillful direction, acting, editing, and nice original songs can't save this tale from its utter lovelessness. It's well made, but unfortunately the content doesn't live up to its potential.

By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: Two scenes, one very explicit. Violence: About 12 scenes of fighting and killing. Profanity: About 48 instances, but the language fits the characters' mental states. Drugs: Many scenes of smoking and social drinking.

MEN WITH GUNS (HOMBRES ARMADOS) (R)

Director: John Sayles. With Federico Luppi, Damin Delgado, Tania Cruz, Mandy Patinkin. (128 min.)

+++ After years of training young doctors to help poverty-stricken rural families, an aging physician learns that many of his students have abandoned their posts or disappeared. He begins an arduous voyage into the interior, hoping to learn what's going on. This leisurely drama intelligently explores issues of social responsibility and political violence and earns extra praise for being an American movie that allows its Spanish-speaking characters to actually speak Spanish (with English subtitles).

THE REAL BLONDE (R)

Director: Tom DiCillo. With Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Daryl Hannah, Maxwell Caulfield, Elizabeth Berkley, Buck Henry, Marlo Thomas, Kathleen Turner, Christopher Lloyd. (105 min.)

++ An out-of-work actor, his long-suffering girlfriend, a model abused by her lover, and a gay headwaiter are among the many characters of this ambitious but poorly structured comedy-drama. The movie raises more interesting issues - often connected with the hazy lines between appearance and reality - than it's prepared to coherently explore.

SENSELESS (R)

Director: Penelope Spheeris. With Marlon Wayans, David Spade, Matthew Lillard, Brad Dourif. (93 min.)

+ Marlon Wayans plays a young man who will do anything to finish college and get his family out of the ghetto. He volunteers for an experiment that multiplies his senses by 10. It seems to have had the opposite effect on the director's taste, as she strives for new levels of raunchiness. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but much innuendo and salaciousness. Violence: About six mild instances. Profanity: About 36 vulgarities. Drugs: Beer drinking.

TWILIGHT (R)

Director: Robert Benton. With Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Stockard Channing, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Reese Witherspoon, M. Emmet Walsh. (96 min.)

+++ An aging private eye investigates a long-ago murder case that may involve two of his longtime friends, including an ailing millionaire who has virtually taken him into his family. The vintage detective-movie plot takes on extra interest from Benton's visual style, tinged with sad nostalgia for the vanished past, and from superb acting by a uniformly excellent cast.

Currently in Release

THE APOSTLE (Not rated)

Director: Robert Duvall. With Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Farrah Fawcett. (133 min.)

++++ Robert Duvall wrote, directed, and stars in this riveting tale of a religiously devout but humanly flawed preacher, who flees from Texas to Louisiana after a violent incident sparked by his wife's infidelity and another minister's move to oust him from his church. Avoiding the clichs and condescension that characterize many films on religious figures, the movie is at once a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at faith-related issues on personal, social, and cultural levels.

+++ Compelling, inspiring, provokes thought about religion.

Sex/Nudity: One scene of a couple in bed together. Violence: One outburst. Profanity: One vulgarity. Drugs: None.

THE BORROWERS (PG)

Director: Peter Hewitt. With John Goodman, Jim Broadbent. (83 min.)

+ A 10-year-old boy discovers a family of miniature people in his house, and when crooked lawyer Ocious P. Potter wrongly repossesses the place, the tiny "borrowers" fight to get it back. While the special effects are admirable and children may be amused, there's no enduring lesson or moral impact in the poorly developed plot. By Mariah Gardner

Sex/Nudity, Profanity: None. Violence: A few instances, but very mild. Drugs: One instance with a cigar.

+++1/2 Magical, wholesome, superb special effects.

BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN (R)

Director: Alan Smithee. With Ryan O'Neal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Harvey Weinstein, Joe Eszterhas. (83 min.)

DUD "An Alan Smithee Film" is how Hollywood labels a movie that's been disowned by its real director. This satire tells the allegedly comic tale of a filmmaker who burns his latest epic after the studio reedits it. The idea has potential, but Eszterhas's screenplay smothers it with ham-fisted vulgarity and unamusing in jokes. The picture was reportedly directed and then disowned by Hollywood veteran Arthur Hiller, incidentally, making this "Alan Smithee Film" an Alan Smithee film!

Sex/Nudity: One brief sex scene and a lot of innuendo. Violence: About a dozen scenes of violence played for laughs. Profanity: Large amount of expletives. Drugs: Social drinking and smoking.

DANGEROUS BEAUTY (R)

Director: Marshall Herskovitz. With Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Jacqueline Bisset, Oliver Platt, Moira Kelly, Jeroen Krabb, Joanna Cassidy, Fred Ward. (114 min.)

+ The setting is Venice in the 16th century; the heroine is a young woman who becomes a courtesan on the advice of her mother, gets involved in high-level political intrigue, and lands in perilous trouble when a would-be lover wields the power of the Inquisition against her. The camera work is pretty, but the drama is flat and lifeless, more concerned with titillating its audience than illuminating its historical background.

++1/2 Sensual, historical, melodramatic.

Sex/Nudity: Sex and nudity are central to the plot - very graphic. Violence: Some sword fighting. Profanity Mild. Drugs: Fair amount of wine drinking. Other: For mature audiences only.

DARK CITY (R)

Director: Alex Proyas. With Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brien. (103 min.)

+++ A man finds himself accused of awful crimes he can't recall, struggles to regain his memory and solve the puzzle, and enters a conflict with aliens who can change reality with their thoughts. The story is dark and often violent, but it's told with a remarkable sense of visual energy and imagination.

++1/2 Surreal, action-packed, visually stylish.

Sex/Nudity: Some brief nudity. Violence: Murder victims shown, stabbings, gory decapitation scene. Profanity/Drugs: None.

HURRICANE STREETS (R)

Director: Morgan J. Freeman. With Brendan Sexton Jr., Shawn Elliot, Jos Ziga, David Roland Frank. (86 min.)

++1/2 Nicely shot film and touching story about tough-city kids on the fast track to becoming tough adults. The story is about a young teenager whose mother is in prison for killing his abusive father, and his life of petty street crime. His "gang" of friends drifts toward harder crimes, but our hero dreams tenaciously about becoming good. By Lynde McCormick

++1/2 Gritty, cohesive story, well-acted.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Graphic scene of a man getting shot; fighting among teenagers. Profanity: Large amount of expletives. Drugs: Teenagers on drugs; several scenes take place in a bar.

KRIPPENDORF'S TRIBE (PG-13)

Director: Todd Holland. With Richard Dreyfuss, Jenna Elfman, Lily Tomlin, Tom Poston, Elaine Stritch. (98 min.)

DUD After spending a research grant without doing the research, an anthropologist gets his children to pose as New Guinea natives so he can impress his colleagues with video footage of a "lost tribe." This is a celebration of a freewheeling fraud, hardly edifying for young or old. You don't have to be a multiculturalist to find the picture's blackface comedy and stereotyped "savages" a regrettable throwback to a less-civilized Hollywood era.

MOON OVER BROADWAY (Not rated)

Directors: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. With Carol Burnett, Philip Bosco, Ken Ludwig, Tom Moore. (98 min.)

+++ Lively, funny documentary about a cast and crew bringing a musical comedy from the drawing board to the Broadway stage, with previews in Boston and plenty of suspense along the way. An entertaining eyeful from two of the finest nonfiction filmmakers around.

MRS. DALLOWAY (PG-13)

Director: Marleen Gorris. With Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox. (97 min.)

+++ A few years after World War I, a well-heeled London woman prepares for a party she's giving, encounters a long-ago suitor who's returned from India, and hears of a tragedy affecting a shellshocked veteran whose image has been haunting her. Vanessa Redgrave is almost too radiant as the title character of Virginia Woolf's virtuosically written novel, intelligently adapted by screenwriter Eileen Atkins.

PALMETTO (R)

Director: Volker Schlondorff. With Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny. (114 min.)

+++ Just out of jail on a trumped-up charge, a Florida reporter gets involved in a phony kidnapping cooked up by a millionaire's greedy wife. Harrelson hits just the right sardonic note in this self-mocking crime drama, but look out for grisly touches along the way.

++ Senseless, weak, missed its potential.

Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but scantily clad women and implied sex. Violence: 8 violent acts ranging in severity from a simple slap to murder. Profanity: 35 expletives. Drugs: Mild drinking.

TITANIC (PG-13)

Director: James Cameron. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher. (197 min.)

+++ The great ship's legendary voyage, as recalled by an elderly woman who fell in love with a young scamp and rejected her pompous fianc in the hours before the awful iceberg struck. The first half drags a bit, but the adventure scenes are exciting and the visual effects are as dazzling as Hollywood's most advanced technology can make them.

++++ Awesome epic, riveting, tragic.

VSex/Nudity: Brief, fairly explicit sex. Nude woman sketched by artist. VViolence: One suicide. Suffering, fighting as ship sinks; gunfire wounds two people. VProfanity: Several dozen four-letter words. VDrugs: Frequent scenes (27) of drinking and/or smoking.

Out on Video

(In stores March 10)

THE FULL MONTY (R)

(Comedy)

+++ Director: Peter Cattaneo. With Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Steve Huison, Paul Barber, Hugo Speer, William Snape. (90 min.)

+++ Hilarious, touching, clever.

IN & OUT (PG-13)

(Comedy)

+++ Director: Frank Oz. With Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Bob Newhart. (90 min.)

++ Clever dialogue, mildly embarrassing, politically correct.

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (R)

(Dark comedy)

++ Director: Danny Boyle. With Cameron Diaz, Ewan McGregor, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, Ian Holm. (103 min.)

+ Strange, lacks a plot, unsatisfying.

THE PEACEMAKER (R)

(Action/thriller)

+ Director: Mimi Leder. With George Clooney, Nicole Kidman. (123 min.)

+ Silly, simplistic, unconvincing.

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