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 '+' marksin each review) reflect the sometimes diverse viewsof at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity iscompiled by the panel.

++++ Excellent

+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

NEW RELEASES

JACK FROST (PG)

Director: Troy Miller. With Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston, Joseph Cross, Mark Addy. (96 min.)

++ Killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve, a rock musician returns to life as a snowman to be with his young son again. The story is rarely as touching or funny as it wants to be, but children may enjoy the family and fantasy elements.

PORT DJEMA (NOT RATED)

Director: Eric Heumann. With Jean-Yves Dubois, Nathalie Boutefeu, Frederic Pierrot, Claire Wauthion, Edouard Montoute, Christophe Odent. (95 min.)

+++ A physician travels from Paris to a war-torn East African country on a compassionate mission, searching for a child that one of his humanitarian colleagues tried to rescue from danger before meeting an untimely death. Already respected as an important French producer, Heumann makes a striking directorial debut in this superbly controlled drama, which builds a spellbinding atmosphere of mystery and menace before a reverse-twist finale that would be equally at home in a Hollywood thriller or a Michelangelo Antonioni psychodrama.

RUSHMORE (R)

Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Mason Gamble, Brian Cox. (95 min.)

++++ A precocious prep-school student juggles a ridiculous number of extracurricular projects while falling in love with an attractive teacher and sparring with his romantic rival, a sleazy businessman. Anderson fulfills the promise of his inventive "Bottle Rocket" with this quirky, often hilarious comedy, and Murray gives his most uproarious performance since the groundbreaking "Groundhog Day."

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R)

Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Simon Callow, Colin Firth. (122 min.)

++ The young playwright fights off writer's block, scrambles for ideas, and falls in love with a would-be actress who wears men's clothing as readily as a character in one of his cross-dressing comedies. This romantic farce has a talented cast and energy to spare, but somehow the ingredients don't burn as brightly as one would expect from such promising ingredients.

Star Trek: Insurrection (PG)

Director: Jonathan Frakes. With Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn. (113 min.)

++1/2 The crew of the Enterprise finds itself in a far-off galaxy, defending a small civilization that shuns technology from bad guys who will stop at nothing to conquer the culture and steal its secret. Peppered heavily with humor and laser fights, "Insurrection" also tackles issues this world is still fighting to overcome. Trekkers will be pleased by new characters and stunning special effects.

By John Christian Hoyle

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (G)

Director: George Miller. With Magda Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mickey Rooney, Mary Stein, E.G. Daily. (95 min.)

+++ In his second screen adventure, the talking pig goes to a big city for a sheep-herding convention, landing in a strange new home populated by performing monkeys, singing cats, friendly dogs, and a weird old entertainer. The movie is crammed with wildly imaginative sights and sounds, but parents should be strongly warned that it's not for young children, or anyone else likely to be unsettled by bizarre, often violent, sometimes nightmarish images. Proceed with caution.

++ 1/2 Dark, scary, cute.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 scary violent scenes, 5 slapstick. Profanity: 1 vulgarity. Drugs: None.

A BUG'S LIFE (G)

Director: John Lasseter. With Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Madeleine Kahn, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, David Hyde Pierce, Alex Rocco, John Ratzenberger, Edie McClurg, Roddy McDowall. (86 min.)

+++ A feisty ant decides to challenge the bullying grasshoppers who live off his colony, but when he visits the big city to recruit a warrior gang for the battle he comes back with a beat-up circus troupe that's desperate for any audience it can find. The story is amusing and the animation is first-rate, but there's less sparkling originality than in "Toy Story," the previous collaboration between Disney and the inventive Pixar people.

++++ Stunning, captivating, funny.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 17 mild, cartoon bug battles. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 instance of bugs drinking intoxicating dew drops.

CELEBRITY (R)

Director: Woody Allen. With Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Michael Lerner, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria. (113 min.)

++ A journalist drifts away from his marriage while cultivating acquaintances with various celebrities who cross his path for professional and personal reasons. The idea of a Woody Allen movie about fame is enticing, given the complexities of his real-life media image, but a meandering screenplay and uninspired acting make this one of his thinnest, tinniest films.

++1/2 Worldly, wry, pessimistic.

Sex/Nudity: 9 instances, mainly innuendo. Violence: 3 mild instances. Profanity: 88 expressions, 60 harsh. Drugs: drinking, smoking, and hard drugs prominent.

ELIZABETH (R)

Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant. (124 min.)

+++ Pungent bio-pic about the famous queen and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Acted and directed with great energy and imagination, it may be too explicit in its depictions of sex and mayhem for moviegoers accustomed to old-fashioned historical epics.

+++ Majestic, complex, bloody.

Sex/Nudity: 8 instances. Violence: 19 graphic instances. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.

ENEMY OF THE STATE (R)

Director: Tony Scott. With Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Lisa Bonet, Jake Busey, Gabriel Byrne, Barry Pepper. (128 min.)

++ After a congressman is murdered, a piece of deadly evidence comes into the hands of an easygoing lawyer who doesn't even know he has it, and can't imagine why a rogue security official has mustered all the high-tech power of the US government to track him down and ruin his life. The movie itself has plenty of high-tech power, spinning out action so explosive you'll hardly notice how preposterous the story is or how cardboard-thin the characters are.

++1/2 Herky-jerky cinematography, far-fetched, provocative.

Sex/Nudity: 2 suggestive scenes involving such things as scantily clad women in a lingerie shop but no sex scenes. Violence: 23 instances of violence with gunfire. chase scenes. Profanity: 96 oaths and often harsh vulgarities. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, one with cigarettes.

HOME FRIES (PG-13)

Director: Dean Parisot. With Drew Barrymore, Catherine O' Hara, Jake Busey, Luke Wilson,Shelley Duvall. (105 min.)

++ An unexplained corpse, a pregnant fast-food waitress, and two feuding brothers are among the characters of this very dark, fitfully amusing comedy. Barrymore and Busey walk away with the acting honors, but no aspect of the picture is more than mildly entertaining.

+++ Sweet love story, rowdy, funny.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 instances of violence. chase scenes. Profanity: 26 mild vulgarities. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, a few scenes with cigarettes.

JERRY SPRINGER: RINGMASTER (R)

Director: Neil Abramson. With Jerry Springer, Jaime Pressly, Michael Dudikoff, Molly Hagan, Jai White. (95 min.)

DUD I'll keep it short. Crude. Trashy. Lewd. Foul. Smutty. Waste of film. Waste of time. These are a few choice words that come to mind which describe this awful tale of a trailer-park love triangle that airs its dirty laundry on Jerry's TV talk show. Note to Mr. Ringmaster: Leave the movie making to Oprah. By John Christian Hoyle

LITTLE VOICE (R)

Director: Mark Herman. With Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent. (99 min.)

+++ A shy young woman with a gift for movie-star impersonations wants a quiet life but can't escape the pushy plans of her loud-mouthed mother and a sleazy entrepreneur who wants to capitalize on her talent. The movie is often as raucous and seedy as its less-attractive characters, but it gains power from inventive acting and poignant touches in the screenplay.

PSYCHO (R)

Director: Gus Van Sant. With Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall. (109 min.)

++ A step-by-step remake of Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant 1960 thriller about a mad killer, a lonely motel, and a woman on the run from her ordinary life. Some glimmerings of Hitchcock's magic shine through the imitative haze, but Vaughn doesn't have a fraction of Anthony Perkins's weird magnetism in the central role, and one can't help wondering what the point of the project is supposed to be.

++ Vaughn miscast, don't mess with Hitchcock, better in black and white.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance, the infamous shower scene. Violence: 2 graphic knife slayings, guy gets whacked with golf club. Profanity: None. Drugs: Man smokes cigar.

THE RUGRATS MOVIE (G)

Directors: Norton Virgien, Igor Kovalyov. With E.G. Daily, Kath Soucie, Whoopie Goldberg, David Spade. (87 min.)

++ A new baby enters the Pickles family, sparking jealousy in his big brother and danger for his friends when they load the newcomer into a wagon and lose their way in the woods. The animation is rough around the edges, and the sometimes vulgar jokes lack the wit of a good "Simpsons" episode, but fans of the TV series will be pleased.

++ Hyperactive, family oriented, cutesy.

Sex/Nudity/Drugs/Profanity: None. Violence: 2 crashes, but no one gets hurt.

SAVIOR (R)

Director: Peter Antonijevic. With Dennis Quaid, Nastassja Kinski, Stellan Skarsgrd, Sergej Trifunovic, Matasa Ninkovic. (120 min.)

+++ Driven to despair by the geopolitical violence of today's turbulent world, an American becomes a mercenary fighter in Bosnia. There, he encounters ever-higher levels of brutality but also finds a chance for redemption when he's forced to care for the newborn baby of a woman who's been traumatized beyond endurance by the horrors around her. Although the story doesn't always ring emotionally true, the acting is vigorous and a message of hope eventually glimmers through the frequently horrifying carnage.

SHATTERED IMAGE (NOT RATED)

Director: Raul Ruiz. With William Baldwin, Anne Parillaud, Graham Greene, Lisanne Falk, Bulle Ogier. (103 min.)

+++ A young woman oscillates between two lives, one as a troubled newlywed and the other as a man-hating assassin, uncertain which is reality and which is a recurring dream, or whether there's any way of determining the difference. Ruiz gives the impishly inventive tale enough twists, turns, and surrealistic surprises to fill a dozen ordinary movies. Photographed by the gifted Robby Muller.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances, not graphic. Violence: 12 instances, some graphic. Profanity: 5 expressions. Drugs: 7 instances of drinking; 9 smoking.

A SIMPLE PLAN (R)

Director: Sam Raimi. With Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, Gary Cole. (115 min.)

+++ Two brothers face a moral crisis when they stumble on a cache of apparently illicit money and decide to keep it instead of calling the authorities and turning it in. Sensitive performances and intelligent storytelling keep the sometimes-violent tale involving from start to finish, marking a giant step for director Raimi, previously known for action stories and over-the-top fantasies.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance, not graphic. Violence: 9 very disturbing, graphic instances. Profanity: More than 25 expressions. Drugs: 6 instances of heavy drinking.

WAKING NED DEVINE (PG)

Director: Kirk Jones. With Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch. (91 min.)

++ A lottery prize is about to go unclaimed because its owner has died, so residents of his little Irish village decide to cover up his demise and pocket the money themselves. The tale has touches of winning humor, but it's too illogical and sentimental to deserve a box-office jackpot.

OUT ON VIDEO

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.

+++ Delightful, lighthearted, generic.

COMING SOON ...

(In stores Dec. 15)

HALLOWEEN: H20 (R)

Director: Steve Miner. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adam Arkin, LL Cool J, Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett. (86 min.)

++ Former babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now a headmistress of an isolated boarding school in California who's trying to put serial killer Michael Myers out of her mind. She's divorced, battling a drinking problem, and trying to reconnect with her teenaged son. Meanwhile, the masked maniac is hot on her trail. By Lisa Leigh Parney

++ Fun thrill ride, gory, occasionally funny.

(In stores Dec. 29)

THE AVENGERS (PG-13)

Director: Jeremiah Chechik. With Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent. (90 min.)

+ This dull spinoff of the 1960s TV series has a spectacular cast but little energy and no ideas, squandering its resources on an idiotic story about government agents chasing a villain who wants to control the world's weather. ++ Style without substance, disjointed, surreal.

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