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

Final Destination (R) * Director: James Wong. With Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd, Ali Larter, Amanda Detmer. (105 min.)

When a high school student has a premonition that the airline he has boarded will explode in midair, he and a group of friends leave the plane before its fateful takeoff. The group soon realizes, however, that they cannot cheat death which is killing them off one-by-one. The premise of this horror movie - that we are fated to die at a particular time - is pernicious. Worse, it delights in concocting the most elaborately gruesome deaths. Hopefully this movie is destined to die at the box office. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 1 nude photo. Violence: 11 scenes with violence, including a gory one in a mortuary. Profanity: 57 expressions, mostly strong. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Such a Long Journey (Not rated) *** Director: Sturla Gunnarsson. With Roshan Seth, Om Puri, Ranjit Chowdhry, Soni Razdan, Naseeruddin Shah. (110 min.)

As tensions build toward war between India and Pakistan in the early 1970s, a mild-mannered Parsee banker finds himself facing multiple challenges as his neighborhood declines in cleanliness and character, his son rebels against his career advice, and an old friend asks him for a secret, and possibly dangerous, favor. The dialogue and acting are stagy at times, especially in the early scenes, but the characters are compelling and the Indian atmosphere is vividly sketched.

Waking the Dead (R) *** Director: Keith Gordon. With Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Janet McTeer, Sandra Oh, Hal Holbrook, Molly Parker, Paul Hipp. (103 min.)

A bright young man pursues a political career in the 1980s, hoping to translate the idealism of the 1960s and '70s into better lives for his fellow citizens; but he feels himself literally haunted by visions of his former girlfriend, an activist killed in a terrorist bombing. Gordon is a serious and gifted filmmaker, and he takes interesting artistic risks in this offbeat tale, which tackles weighty themes. But sentimentality overtakes intelligence. And there's a shallow, simplistic edge to the implication that the ideals of the '60s era have become an irksome ghost that must be exorcised before society can improve.

Whatever It Takes (PG-13) 1/2 Director: David Hubbard. With Shane West, Marla Sokoloff, James Franco, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Aaron Paul. (92 min.)

Two high school seniors from different cliques strike a deal to help each other get their dream dates for the prom. Catchy premise, but whatever it took to make teen-movie hits like "Sixteen Candles" isn't here. Sidekick Floyd (Paul) provides the movie's few laughs. Overall, a tasteless and cheap approach to the genre. By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity: 2 sexual situations, 11 instances of innuendo, 2 graphic visuals. Violence: 1 rough football scene. Profanity: 44 profanities, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, including 1 long party scene; 1 with smoking.

X (Not rated) ** Director: Rintaro. With voices of Alan Marriot, Adam Henderson, Larissa Murray, Denica Fairman, Stacey Jefferson. (97 min.)

The future of civilization depends on a young man caught between two supernatural armies and two rival sisters working to ensure different outcomes to the imminent battle. This is an imaginative and well-produced example of Japan's popular anime animation style, but it isn't likely to tempt moviegoers not already fans of the genre. Leave the younger kids at home, in any case.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Beyond the Mat (R) **** Director: Barry Blaustein. With Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jack Roberts. (102 min.)

Riveting, rambunctious documentary about the professional-wrestling scene, focusing on the personal experiences of the "athletes" who bash one another around in the ring. The movie reveals much about public and private aspects of this so-called sport. But stay far, far away unless you can handle the copious amounts of blood (some of it phony) and agonizing psychological problems (all of them real) that its participants face on what seems like a daily basis.

Cotton Mary (R) *** Director: Ismail Merchant. With Greta Scacchi, Madhur Jaffrey, James Wilby, Sakina Jaffrey, Neena Gupta. (125 min.)

The arrival of a new baby sparks a conflicted relationship between a privileged British woman and her Anglo-Indian maid in South India during the 1950s. Although his directorial expertise doesn't yet match his brilliance as a movie producer, Merchant brings keen insight and rich humanity to this culturally revealing tale of psychological unease in a tense postcolonial world.

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.

Erin Brockovich (R) *** Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart. (131 min.)

Roberts plays a tough-talking but warm-hearted woman who wangles a job in a lawyer's office and becomes fascinated by a real-estate transaction involving a utility company and a family that's been dogged by a surprising amount of illness. Soon she's canvassing the community to organize its environmentally impacted residents into fighting for their rights. The acting is amiable and the story is crisply told. Still, the movie is less personal and inventive than Soderbergh's best pictures, and its love-interest subplot seems tacked on as an afterthought. **** Gripping, outstanding, explosive.

Sex/Nudity: 1 implied sex scene; plunging necklines throughout movie. Violence: 1 telephone threat. Profanity: 88 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 1 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 meets a mysterious end when they encounter an enigmatic structure nestled in the desolate Martian landscape. 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." ** Lacked mystery, slow, cardboard characters, corny, good concept.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes with violence, including an explosion. Profanity: 32 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking.

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 Next Best Thing (PG-13) * Director: John Schlesinger. With Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Illeana Douglas, Josef Sommer, Malcolm Stumpf, Lynn Redgrave. (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 Disappointing, poor story line, lacks focus.

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.

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.

Not One Less (G) ** Director: Zhang Yimou. With Wei Minzhi, Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman, Sun Zhimei. (106 min.)

In a rural Chinese village, a 13-year-old girl becomes the teacher in a school where she's hardly older than the pupils, and faces a crisis when a mischievous 10-year-old abruptly runs away to a nearby city. The theme recalls one of Zhang's greatest films, "The Story of Qiu Ju," but his use of a loosely written screenplay and a nonprofessional cast in this picture weakens its dramatic appeal even as it lends authenticity and local color. In Mandarin with English subtitles *** Charming, touching, innocent, real.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity: None. Violence: 1 mild scene of kids scuffling. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking.

What Planet Are You From? (R) ** Director: Mike Nichols. With Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, John Goodman, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino, Greg Kinnear. (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. **1/2 Shallow, funny first half, polished.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex, 3 with nudity, at least 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.

OUT ON VIDEO

Bandits (R) *** Director: Katja von Garnier. With Katja Riemann, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nicolette Krebitz. (110 min.)

Four women in a German prison organize a rock band, escape, and become folk heroes when a radio station plays their demo tape. In German with English subtitles; songs are in English. By M.K. Terrell

COMING SOON...

(In stores Mar. 28)

Body Shots (R) * Director: Michael Cristofer. With Tara Reid, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jerry O'Connell. (102 min.)

A self-proclaimed definitive look at sex and relationships in the '90s, "Body Shots" hasn't an iota of profundity.

By Stephen Humphries

Crazy in Alabama (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Antonio Banderas. With Melanie Griffith, David Morse, Lucas Black. (111 min.)

In 1965 Alabama, a young woman kills her cruel husband and drives off for Hollywood to try her hand as an actress. Banderas's directorial debut.

By M.K. Terrell ***1/2 Recommendable, rough around the edges, compassionate.

The Sixth Sense (PG-13) ** Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment. (107 min.)

A child psychologist treats an eight-year-old boy who has ghostly visions that can't be explained away by the doctor's theories. **1/2 loomy, surprising, a little stiff, original.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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