BOSTON — 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.
+++1/2 Very Good
++ 1/2 Average
EAST PALACE, WEST PALACE (NOT RATED)
Director: Zhang Yuan. With Si Han, Hu Jun. (90 min.)
+++ A police officer confronts unexamined aspects of contemporary China and his own sensibility while interrogating a gay man he's arrested in a public park. This capably filmed drama combines earnest performances with an informed interest in psychological and sociological issues.
EVER AFTER (PG-13)
Director: Andy Tennant. With Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Jeanne Moreau. (124 min.)
+++ Prettily filmed retelling of the Cinderella story, complete with mistreated heroine, wicked stepmother, and handsome prince. There's no earthly reason for stretching this often-told tale to more than two hours, but Huston is amusingly tart as the stepmom, and it's hard to resist a movie that substitutes Leonardo da Vinci for the traditional fairy godmother.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes, mostly mild, sometimes cartoonish. Profanity: 2 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.
THE GOVERNESS (R)
Director: Sandra Goldbacher. With Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Harriet Walter, Florence Hoath, Bruce Myers, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. (110 min.)
+++ Seeking broader horizons for her life, a young Jewish woman leaves her comfortable London home in the 1840s and becomes governess in the Christian household of an inventor who's trying to perfect the newfangled technology called photography. Driver gives a winning performance in a human-scaled story that mostly avoids romantic clichs and gender stereotypes, although a few of both creep in from time to time.
THE NEGOTIATOR (R)
Director: F. Gary Gray. With Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, J.T. Walsh. (139 min.)
+ Accused of murdering an informer to cover up a financial scam, a police-force hostage negotiator takes several prisoners of his own, then refuses to speak with anyone except another hostage expert he's never met. The concept of dueling negotiators has strong dramatic potential, but the filmmakers are more interested in gimmicks and gunshots than in the psychological face-off between sharp-witted criminologists. Jackson and Spacey deserve much better material.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Numerous scenes of violence and threats of violence. Profanity: 138 expletives, often harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes involving alcohol, 6 scenes with tobacco.
THE PARENT TRAP (PG)
Director: Nancy Meyers. With Lindsay Lohan, Natasha Richardson, Dennis Quaid, Lisa Ann Walter. (128 min.)
+++ Remake of the popular 1961 comedy about long-separated identical twins who learn of each other's existence at summer camp and decide to get their warring parents back together. Lohan is sparklingly good as the look-alike little girls, and the movie as a whole has enough bounce and energy to overcome a few dull spots and a too-long running time.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 fencing scene, not violent. Profanity: None. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking (1 in which adults permit a child to taste wine); 1 scene with a cigarette.
SEVENTH HEAVEN (NOT RATED)
Director: Benoit Jacquot. With Sandrine Kiberlain, Vincent Lindon, Franois Berland. (88 min.)
+++ During a time of mounting confusion in her life, a young woman meets an eccentric psychotherapist who claims to have a cure for her ills, and their relationship leads to new problems with her professionally successful but emotionally insecure husband. Jacquot makes good use of his filmmaking skills and shows his usual concern for problems faced by contemporary women, although this drama would be stronger if the male characters were fleshed out more convincingly.
Currently in Release
BROTHER (NOT RATED)
Director: Alexei Balabanov. With Sergei Bodrov Jr., Victor Suhorukov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Maria Zhokova. (96 min.)
+++ Ready to start life afresh after leaving the military, a young Russian man goes to work for his brother, an unthinking thug who regards the new capitalist system as a license to cheat, steal, and kill. Balabanov employs both humor and horror in painting this harrowing portrait of Russia today.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 15 instances, not unnecessarily graphic. Profanity: 18, mostly strong expressions. Drugs: Several scenes of smoking and drinking, 1 instance of pot smoking, 2 instances of offers to buy drugs.
DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (R)
Director: David Nutter. With James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Bruce Greenwood, William Sadler (95 min.)
+ "Disturbing Behavior" is like a bad imitation of an "X-Files" episode, but it takes nearly twice as long to tell. This high school comedy-thriller takes place in a small Pacific Northwest town where all the high school rebels are mysteriously turning into a bunch of psychopathic nerds called the Blue Ribbons. Neither the special effects, action sequences, character development, photography, nor dialogue come together to create anything resembling a solid plot. Contains graphic violence. By Ari Denison
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of partial nudity, 1 scene of sex. Violence: Several very bloody scenes. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with drugs, lots of smoking.
LETHAL WEAPON 4 (R)
Director: Richard Donner. With Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Renee Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li. (127 min.)
++ As fans of this series know, the lethal weapons aren't the guns the guys carry, but the guys themselves - two L.A. cops whose pursuit of wrongdoers often causes more damage than the wrongdoers. Gibson and Glover haven't lost their crowd-pleasing chemistry, and the story's manic violence is partly balanced by glimpses of antigun posters at the police station. The movie has homophobic touches, though, and with so many Asian characters, some viewers may wonder why every single one is portrayed as either a hapless victim or a wicked villain.
++ Explosive, gratuitous violence, plotless.
Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo, nothing graphic. Violence: About 75 instances. The film was a vehicle for violent action sequences. Profanity: Over 110 expressions, most highly offensive. Drugs: About 6 scenes of drinking and/or smoking.
Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer. With Hatty Jones, Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne, Stphane Audrane. (90 min.)
+++ Young children will enjoy this colorful tale of a little girl who tries to save her beloved boarding school from being shut down by the wealthy old coot who owns it; there's also a subplot about a naughty neighbor who gets kidnapped by his tutor. Based on the classic children's books by Ludwig Bemelmans.
++++ Witty, sweet, charming.
Sex/Nudity/Violence/Drugs: None. Profanity: One French swearword.
Director: Jim Abrahams. With Lloyd Bridges, Christina Applegate, Jay Mohr, Billy Burke, Olympia Dukakis. (86 min.)
++ Over-the-top parody of the "Godfather" saga, with Bridges as a klutzy patriarch, Mohr as his basically decent son, and Burke as his basically indecent son. The movie pitches so many gags that the quantity will impress you even if the quality doesn't. Some are hilarious but others are silly, stupid, vulgar, pointless, old, borrowed, or blue.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of sex; no nudity. Violence: 17 instances of cartoonish violence. Profanity: 21 vulgar or profane expressions. Drugs: 5 instances of drug use, 4 instances of drinking.
THE MASK OF ZORRO (PG-13)
Director: Martin Campbell. With Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Maury Chaykin Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher. (136 min.)
++ The legendary freedom-fighter of 19th-century California trains a young bandit to carry on his struggle against a former Spanish governor who has already wrecked Zorro's family and now wants to create an independent nation on the backs of its ruthlessly exploited people. This is proudly old-fashioned entertainment in every respect except its often excessive violence. The heroes are as dashing as can be, and Zeta-Jones definitely has a promising Hollywood future.
++1/2 Spirited, classic hero-villain tale, fun.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Several dozen scenes of high-intensity sword-fighting and brawls resulting in deaths, some explosions. Profanity: One mild expression. Drugs: 11 scenes of social drinking and smoking, 2 scenes of drunkenness.
POLISH WEDDING (PG-13)
Director: Theresa Connelly. With Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne, Claire Danes, Mili Avatal, Adam Trese, Rade Serbedzija. (111 min.)
+++ The lives and loves of a working-class family in Detroit, centering on the emotional adventures of a teenage daughter whose place in a church pageant is threatened by her high-spirited nature and pregnancy. The appealing honesty of this modest comedy-drama is supplemented with beautifully filmed touches of atmospheric detail, although the story takes some regrettably unconvincing turns during its last half-hour.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (R)
Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg. (160 min.)
+++ This extremely violent World War II drama focuses on an Army captain ordered to penetrate dangerous territory and rescue an ordinary private whose mother has already lost three sons in combat, even though this places the lives of his other soldiers in jeopardy. The story raises hard moral questions relating to the relative value of human lives and the overwhelming debt that may be felt by those who benefit when others sacrifice. But the movie falls short of excellence because it doesn't so much explore these issues as finesse them in an action-filled climax. Contains horrific mayhem and very foul language.
+++ Masterpiece, grimly realistic, definitely not for kids.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of soldiers talking about women and sex. Violence: 5 sweeping scenes of violence, all of them graphic, war-related, and almost continuous. First and last scenes are at least a half-hour long. Profanity: 79 expletives, usually during battle. Drugs: Medicinal use of morphine, 22 instances of smoking.
SMALL SOLDIERS (PG-13)
Director: Joe Dante. With Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Denis Leary, and voices of Frank Langella, Tommy Lee Jones, Christina Ricci. (101 min.)
++ Two groups of ridiculously high-tech action figures - soldiers with more muscles than brains and barbarians looking for their homeland - get into a furious war in a sleepy Midwestern town, thanks to a high-schooler who installs them in his dad's toy store. The teenage characters are bland and the cartoonish violence is surprisingly strong at times, but the picture erupts into Dante's patented lunacy - he directed "Explorers" and "Gremlins" years ago - just often enough to keep things interesting.
++ Cynical, ballistic, violent.
Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: Numerous scenes of fighting between toy action figures, bloodless but strong hints of ugliness. Profanity: Several strong expressions.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (R)
Directors: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly. With Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans. (120 min.)
++ Still hopelessly in love with a high school heartthrob he hardly knew, a New England yuppie tracks her down to Miami, then competes for her affection with various new rivals, including the private eye he hired to locate her. This comedy is as down-and-dirty as you'd expect from the Farrelly team, who launched their career with "Dumb and Dumber" and "Kingpin," but more than one sequence manages to be hilarious on its own outrageously crass terms.
++ Crass, irreverent, gross-out comedy.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of implied sex, 3 brief instances of nudity. Violence: Mostly slapstick, nothing graphic. Profanity: About 80 crude or harsh expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking, 3 of smoking.
THE THIEF (R)
Director: Pavel Chukhrai. With Vladimir Mashkov, Ekaterina Rednikova. (97 min.)
+++ The setting is the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the main character is a little boy facing the difficult task of growing up with an attractive but dependent mother and her emotionally unstable boyfriend, a Stalinist with a tendency toward mean, sometimes violent behavior. The story is bleak, but the acting is strong and the filmmaking is vivid.
WESTERN (NOT RATED)
Director: Manuel Poirier. With Sergei Lpez, Sacha Bourdo, lisabeth Vitali, Marie Matheron, Basile Sieouka. (120 min.)
+++ Offbeat buddy movie about a Spanish-born shoe salesman and a Russian-born con artist wandering through France's Brittany region in search of companionship and contentment, however temporary these may prove. The story meanders down a couple of unproductive pathways during its journey, but the characters are appealing and the wide-screen cinematography has extraordinary charm.
OUT ON VIDEO
(In stores Aug. 4)
JACKIE BROWN (R)
Director: Quentin Tarantino. With Quentin Tarantino, Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson. (154 min.)
+++ In trouble with the law, a flight attendant cooks up a self-protective scheme that plays a murderous old friend against a burned-out businessman and a wheeler-dealer cop.
THE PROPOSITION (R)
Director: Lesli Linka Glatter. With Kenneth Branagh, Madeleine Stowe. (115 min.)
++ In 1930s Boston, an infertile husband hires a young man to impregnate his wife, an author who's convinced this arrangement will deepen their happy marriage.
THE WEDDING SINGER (PG-13)
Director: Frank Coraci. With Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore. (95 min.)
+++ A wedding singer, whose career flops after he's left at the altar, falls in love with a waitress who's about to marry an unfaithful man.
++1/2 Nostalgic, hilarious, silly but sweet.