The Monitor Movie Guide

Red stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel ( blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other moviegoers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the Monitor panel.

STAR RATINGS

David Sterritt Monitor panel Meaning

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

NEW RELEASES

Condo Painting (Not rated) *** Director: John McNaughton. With George Condo, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Anna Condo. (87 min.)

A lively portrait of contemporary painter George Condo, with cinematic sketches of his friends Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, colorful characters if ever there were any. The movie would be stronger if it stuck with its high-energy documentary style, though, instead of tacking on silly fantasy elements that are more distracting than diverting.

Deterrence (R) ** Director: Rod Lurie. With Kevin Pollak, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Timothy Hutton, Sean Astin, Clotilde Courau. (103 min.)

The year is 2008, the Iraqi army has just invaded Kuwait, and the president of the United States - stuck in a snowbound Colorado diner during a campaign swing - has only moments to decide whether he should unleash his nuclear arsenal or rely on conventional weapons and diplomacy. The setting is cramped and the story is illogical, but it's suspenseful as long as you don't think about it very hard.

Drowning Mona (PG-13) *1/2 Director: Nick Gomez. With Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck. (95 min.)

When Mona's car veers off a cliff and into a river, everyone in a small town is suspected of murder. After all, flashbacks of the bullying Mona (Midler), the town's least popular resident, make Lady Macbeth seem like a huggable Disney character by contrast. The few humorous moments that do succeed are the darkly comic sequences. Indeed, the movie would have benefited from following the potential of a darker path offered by the slight story line, rather than trying to make its unwholesome characters more likable.

By Stephen Humphries ** Strained humor, unappealing characters, depressing at times.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 1 lesbian kiss. Violence: 12 instances, some done for comic effect. Profanity: 62 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol, 5 with smoking.

Mission to Mars (PG) ** Director: Brian De Palma. With Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O'Connell, Tim Robbins, Peter Outerbridge. (113 min.)

A group of astronauts meet a mysterious end when they encounter an enigmatic structure nestled in the desolate Martian landscape, and a second group rockets off to find out what happened, finding the same puzzling object but responding in a different way that brings very different results. The picture is equally long on eye-dazzling camera work and New Age sentimentality. Even viewers who find it soggy can enjoy spotting the ideas and effects borrowed from a gaggle of earlier science-fiction epics, though, from "This Island Earth" to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

My Dog Skip (PG) *** Director: Jay Russell. With Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Kevin Bacon, Luke Wilson, Caitlin Wachs, Bradley Coryell, Harry Connick Jr. as narrator. (95 min.)

This moving, coming-of-age story stars Muniz ("Malcolm in the Middle") as Willie Morris, an only child growing up in a small Mississippi town in the early 1940s. His father (Bacon) - an overprotective but good-hearted man - feels his son is too young to have a dog, but his mother (Lane) opens up Willie's world with a Jack Russell terrier puppy on his ninth birthday. This fact-based tale is about the bond between a father and son and the realities of war. A wonderful and meaningful family film. By Lisa Leigh Parney *** Rich family entertainment, endearing, contrived.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, including a hunting scene and some bullying. Profanity: 12 very mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 2 with cigars.

The Ninth Gate (R) *** Director: Roman Polanski. With Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford. (133 min.)

An unscrupulous rare-book expert scavenges Europe for two obscure volumes penned by the devil himself. Polanski returns to the supernaturally tinged territory he explored so memorably in "The Tenant" and "Rosemary's Baby," punctuating the old-fashioned yarn with an occasional self-satirizing touch to show he's as aware as we are that it doesn't make a bit of sense. The spooky proceedings go on too long and don't have much of a payoff, but Polanski's directing is marvelously assured and Depp is always fun to watch.

Orphans (Not rated) *** Director: Peter Mullan. With Douglas Henshall, Stephen McCole, Rosemarie Stevenson, Gary Lewis. (95 min.)

The gloomy, sometimes violent adventures of three Scottish brothers and their disabled sister, who endure various forms of emotional upheaval during the night before their mother's funeral. The atmosphere is realistic and the acting is vivid, but look out for explicit vulgarity and much extremely foul language. In Scottish dialect with English subtitles

Set Me Free (Not rated) *** Director: La Pool. With Karine Vanasse, Nancy Huston, Alexandre Mrineau, Miki Manojiovic, Charlotte Christeler, Pascale Bussires. (94 min.)

Sensitively told, coming-of-age tale about an adolescent French-Canadian girl, her very different parents, and a teacher who strikes her as a life-changing role model. Beautifully acted and richly filmed, with superb use of an excerpt from Jean-Luc Godard's classic drama "My Life to Live." In French with English subtitles

3 Strikes (R) DUD Directed by D.J. Pooh. With Brian Hooks, N'Bushe Wright, Faizon Love, E40, Starletta DuPois, George Wallace, David Alan Grier. (83 min.)

Two-time offender Rob Douglas can't afford to land in prison again (a third strike under California state law will get him an automatic 25 years). But mere moments after his release, he inadvertently gets in trouble when a friend picks him up in a stolen car. There's some commentary on the distrust of police held by the Los Angeles black community, but mostly what ensues is a chase that is only occasionally funny and an endless stream of degrading sexual humor. First-time director, rapper D.J. Pooh, can't beat that rap. By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes of implied sex or sexual situations, 7 instances innuendo, several video games featuring graphic sex. Violence: 14 scenes, ranging from slaps to shootouts. Profanity: 321 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 3 with smoking, 2 with both, 5 with marijuana.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Agnes Browne (R) ** Director: Anjelica Huston. With Anjelica Huston, Ray Winstone, Marion O'Dwyer, Arno Chevrier, Tom Jones. (92 min.)

The place is Dublin in 1967, and the heroine is a good-natured widow striving to raise her seven young children, fend off a loan shark who's wormed his way into her life, and test the waters of romance with a French baker who appears to be casting an eye her way. The material is familiar and the ending is corny, but Huston's acting and directing keep the comedy-drama likable if not very imaginative.

Hanging Up (PG-13) ** Director: Diane Keaton. With Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow, Walter Matthau, Adam Arkin. (92 min.)

Three sisters cope with the declining mental state of their elderly father, trying to help him but finding that their own busy lives - and complex relationships with each other - interfere with their good intentions. There's lots of lively acting, but Keaton doesn't have quite enough filmmaking savvy to balance the story's heart-wrenching and smile-coaxing aspects. **1/2 Tiresome, dark comedy, some good laughs, not memorable.

Sex/Nudity: 1 brief, suggestive scene. Violence: None. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol.

The Next Best Thing (PG-13) * Director: John Schlesinger. With Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Illeana Douglas, Josef Sommer. (107 min.)

Madonna plays a not-quite-young woman who's afraid family life will pass her by if she doesn't have a child soon, then discovers she's pregnant after a one-night fling with her best friend, a gay man who finds fatherhood quite agreeable once the little boy is born. The movie has a well-meaning message about love and loyalty being the bedrock of real family values, but its good intentions sag as the story trades its air of mischievous comedy for trite sentimentality, arbitrary plot twists, and enough maudlin melodramatics to sustain a tabloid TV series. *1/2 Lacks focus, disappointing, poor story line.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with nudity, 1 of implied sex, some instances of sex-related dialogue. Violence: None. Profanity: 22 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 4 with smoking.

Reindeer Games (R) ** Director: John Frankenheimer. With Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise, Clarence Williams III. (104 min.)

Affleck plays a freshly released jailbird who's determined to go straight until he meets the girlfriend of a former cellmate - and her psychopathic brother, who's planning a robbery that won't succeed unless his reluctant new acquaintance gets involved. The wildly implausible story twists every expectation into the shape of a particularly gnarled reindeer horn, but what you'll remember most vividly is the sadistic violence that breaks out almost every time Sinise's evil character enters a scene. A director of Frankenheimer's stature deserves less-sensationalistic material, and so does his audience. *1/2 Mindlessly violent, passes the time, mean, despicable characters.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes with nudity, somewhat graphic. Violence: 27 scenes, many graphic. Profanity: 79 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol, 6 with smoking.

What Planet Are You From? (R) ** Director: Mike Nichols. With Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, John Goodman, Ben Kingsley. (100 min.)

Lightweight farce about an alien who arrives on Earth to get a woman pregnant so his all-male race can spread to this corner of the galaxy. The lively cast and occasionally bright dialogue can't overcome the movie's large doses of vulgar silliness. Goodman's comic delivery gets maximum mileage from a few amusing situations, though.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex, 3 with nudity, 17 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including a gunshot. Profanity: 68 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking, 3 with smoking, 1 with both.

The Whole Nine Yards (R) ** Director: Jonathan Lynn. With Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amanda Peet. (97 min.)

Perry plays a mild-mannered dentist whose marriage is so miserable that he welcomes the distraction when a notorious killer (Willis) moves in next door and strikes up a neighborly friendship with him. But things get complicated when various others - murderers, cops, and our hero's ill-tempered wife - barge into their relationship with different agendas. The story is amusing when the stars deadpan their way through the early scenes, and Peet is terrific as a psychopathic dental assistant. But the picture runs out of good ideas long before it's over, falling below "Prizzi's Honor" and "The Freshman" in the dubious genre of contract-killer comedies. **1/2 Funny tale, unexpected twists, well-done hamming by actors, hollow.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with sex and/or nudity; 1 suggestive scene; 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes with violence, including punching and shooting. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol, 5 with smoking, 3 with both.

Wonder Boys (R) ** Director: Curtis Hanson. With Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire. (112 min.)

Douglas and Maguire play writers at opposite ends of their careers. Both are apprehensive about what will happen when (and if) they finish the books they're working on. Douglas gives a nicely relaxed performance as the world-weary professor, but Maguire delves into a too-familiar bag of tricks that grows tiring after the first few scenes. While the story takes some clever turns, its psychology is far from convincing and its momentum flags long before the end. **1/2 Drug-hazed, wicked and wacky, good acting, somewhat a downer.

Sex/Nudity: Implied adultery, 2 instances of implied sex. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including a gun threat. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 17 scenes with alcohol, smoking, and/or marijuana.

OUT ON VIDEO

In stores March 14

The Bone Collector (R) ** Director: Phillip Noyce. With Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah. (118 min.)

From his electronically enhanced apartment, a paralyzed policeman guides a talented young colleague through a dangerous hunt for a sadistic serial killer. **1/2 Explicitly graphic, ruthless, entertaining but nothing spectacular, clich.

Drive Me Crazy (PG-13) ** Director: John Schultz. With Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Grenier, Stephen Collins. (103 min.)

High-schoolers Nicole and Chase pretend they're dating to make their dream mates jealous. This movie is cute, and will appeal to the teen set.

By Lisa Leigh Parney ** Good-natured, fresh performers, somewhat scattered.

Guinevere (Not rated) * Director: Audrey Wells. With Sarah Polley, Stephen Rea, Gina Gershon. (104 min.)

Just when she's supposed to head for college, a talented but insecure young woman falls in love with a much older photographer.

Outside Providence (R) ** Director: Michael Corrente. With Shawn Hatosy, Alec Baldwin, Amy Smart. (95 min.)

A working-class father packs his trouble-making son off to a prep school, where the well-heeled students show instant contempt for his blue-collar background. ** Predictably funny, sometimes entertaining, dazed 1970s atmosphere.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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