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

Black and White (R) *** Director: James Toback. With Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Mike Tyson, Stacy Edwards, Ben Stiller, Gaby Hoffman, Elijah Wood, Jared Leto, Claudia Schiffer, Marla Maples, Scott Caan, Joe Pantoliano, Bijou Phillips, Brett Ratner. (100 min.)

Wishing to explore the influence of black hip-hop culture on white youngsters, a filmmaker and her husband start hanging around the Manhattan youth scene to see what revelations might pop up. The story is a mess, as usual with Toback's movies, but intricacies of contemporary urban culture are vividly illuminated by his insistence on blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. Contains some very explicit sex.

Breathless (Not rated) **** Director: Jean-Luc Godard. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean Douchet, Philippe de Broca, Andr-S. Labarthe, Jean Domarchi, Henry-Jacques Huet, Daniel Boulanger. (90 min.)

Reissue of the 1960 classic that helped launch France's revolutionary New Wave filmmaking group with an imaginatively told story of a Paris gangster wooing his American girlfriend while scouting up the money he needs to get out of town after an impulsive crime. Godard's most popular movie is also his most influential, doing more to modernize the tone of world cinema than any other single picture of its time. In French with English subtitles

East-West (PG-13) ** Director: Rgis Wargnier. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menchikov, Catherine Deneuve, Serguei Bodrov Jr. (120 min.)

Hard times befall a Russian physician, his idealistic French wife, and their young son when they move to the Soviet Union after World War II and tumble into a much harsher environment than they'd expected. As in his earlier "Indochine," director Wargnier chooses a sweeping title and a sweeping topic, then turns everything into half-baked melodrama, heavy on over-the-top emotion but light on subtlety and ideas. In French and Russian with English subtitles

Joe Gould's Secret (R) *** Director: Stanley Tucci. With Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Susan Sarandon, Steve Martin. (104 min.)

Bittersweet drama based on journalist Joseph Mitchell's real-life friendship with an eccentric writer of the 1940s who lived a hand-to-mouth existence in Greenwich Village while claiming to be at work on an epic history of modern life. The subject is fascinating and Holm is riveting as the title character, but the film never equals the pictures that appear to have influenced it, from newspaper dramas like "Citizen Kane" to studies of mental instability like "A Fine Madness" and even "The Shining."

Me Myself I (R) ** Director: Pip Karmel. With Rachel Griffiths, David Roberts, Sandy Winton, Yael Stone, Shaun Loseby. (104 min.)

Having a premature midlife crisis in her early 30s, a successful woman fears she lost her opportunity for true happiness when she decided not to marry her boyfriend years ago - but she gets a second chance when a magical time-warp allows her to travel down the path she once refused to take. Griffiths is fun to watch and the treatment of might-have-been fantasy is less sappy than that of "Sliding Doors," which this comedy-drama resembles. Still, it doesn't add up to very much in the end.

Price of Glory (PG-13) ** Director: Carlos vila. With Jimmy Smits, Jon Seda, Clifton Gonzlez Gonzlez, Maria del Mar. (118 min.)

A father tries to manage his sons' boxing careers, hoping to spare them the exploitation that cheated him out of success. As the kids advance through juvenile and teen competitions to the pros, their father's growing obsessiveness leads to tragedy as well as triumph. The filmmakers go for realism and a positive message, but some audiences may wish they had picked a sport with less physical damage, backstage manipulation, and crime. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: Some mild innuendo. Violence: 13 scenes with mostly boxing violence, some brutal. Profanity: 42 expressions, some harsh Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking, 1 with alcohol and cocaine.

Ready to Rumble (PG-13) *1/2 Director: Brian Robbins. With David Arquette, Oliver Platt, Scott Caan, Martin Landau. (104 min.)

When an ambitionless duo's wrestling hero, Jimmy King, gets the boot from World Championship Wrestling, their mission is clear: They must help King regain his kingdom. Some fun moments with energetic acting and impressive acrobatics by real WCW wrestlers, but many a crude moment.

By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex, 1 with nudity; some innuendo. Violence: 19 scenes of mostly wrestling-related violence. Profanity: 80 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 2 with smoking.

Return to Me (PG) * Director: Bonnie Hunt. With David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Carroll O'Connor, David Alan Grier, Joely Richardson, Robert Loggia, James Belushi, Bonnie Hunt. (116 min.)

A widower falls in love with a woman he's just met, not realizing she's the recipient of his late wife's transplanted heart. The picture goes for sentimentality rather than substance every chance it gets, and the cast falls right into its syrupy trap.

Rules of Engagement (R) * Director: William Friedkin. With Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones, Guy Pearce, Blair Underwood, Ben Kingsley, Philip Baker Hall, Kim Delaney, Anne Archer. (127 min.)

A military lawyer defends an old friend who's being court-martialed on charges of killing civilians while they demonstrated outside the United States embassy in a Middle Eastern country. The grimly compelling plot builds toward a gripping courtroom climax. But the movie is spoiled by its simplistic portrait of people from the Mideast as incorrigibly violent and untrustworthy, and by its jingoistic suggestion that self-protective ends justify murderous means when American soldiers are at risk. ** Macho, stiff, dry, plot-heavy, sincere.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes of violence, including 2 very long scenes and 3 with images of gore. Profanity: 69 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 1 with smoking, 1 with both.

The Skulls (PG-13) * Director: Rob Cohen. With Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker, Leslie Bibb, Craig Nelson, Hill Harper. (107 min.)

In his feature film debut, Jackson ("Dawson's Creek") stars as Luke McNamara, a student at Yale University who works in the cafeteria and aspires for something better. Then one night, he is invited to join The Skulls, a secret society that "lives by the rules and dies by the rules." It's a silly little thriller that will make you laugh more than it will make you tremble. By Lisa Leigh Parney ** Frightening, unbelievable, half-baked plot.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes, including a hanging. Profanity: 12 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking.

Southpaw (Not rated) *** Director: Liam McGrath. With Francis Barrett, Chick Gillen, Kathleen McDonagh. (77 min.)

Documentary about the life and times of a young Irish boxer who used prizefighting as a temporary escape route from poverty, almost achieving stardom along the way. The picture is more sociologically instructive than emotionally involving, serving as a document of contemporary Irish life rather than an ordinary inspirational story.

This Is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis (Not rated) ** Director: Gerald Fox. With Bret Easton Ellis, Will Self, Jay McInerney, Rachel Weisz, Morgan Entrekin, Blake Morrison, John Bryan, Dechen Thurman. (80 min.)

Mildly informative documentary about the author of "American Psycho" and other books, touching on everything from his high-school moodiness to the threats he's received from outraged readers. In the spirit of its subject, the movie has excesses of its own, via dramatizations of a few scenes from Ellis's sometimes sensationalistic work.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

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.

Here on Earth (PG-13) *1/2 Director: Mark Piznarski. With Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Michael Rooker, Annie Corley. (110 min.)

Romantic teen drama revolves around a rich prep-school boy who falls in love with a small-town girl, and then finds out she has a terminal illness. The movie begins entertainingly enough - two enemies must set aside their differences to help rebuild the town's diner. Meanwhile, both have eyes for the same girl. But it suffers from a weak script and an overly sentimental and predictable plot. Sobieski's expressionless face doesn't help either. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: Implied teen sex. Violence: 4 mild scenes including a shoving match, a fist fight, and a scuffle. Profanity: 12 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of beer drinking.

High Fidelity (R) ** Director: Stephen Frears. With John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet. (107 min.)

Cusack plays a record-store proprietor who tries to end his string of romantic failures by tracking down his former girlfriends - back to junior high - and asking why they dumped him. Along the way he finds time to banter with his goofy shop assistants and strike up a new affair with a gorgeous singer. Music fans and Cusack admirers will find much to enjoy, but the comedy's meandering story and channel-surfing style prevent it from gathering the emotional momentum it would need to get below the hero's skin and let us know what really makes him tick. *** Clever, hip, intelligent, very funny.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 2 of implied sex, 1 sexual situation. Violence: 2 instances, both in comical context. Profanity: 79 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with alcohol, 11 with smoking, 4 with both.

The Road to El Dorado (PG) ** Directors: Eric "Bibo" Bergeron, Don Paul. With voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez. (89 min.)

Animated tale of two Spanish adventurers who find a mythical land of gold and beauty, pose as gods in order to get their hands on the kingdom's wealth, and run into trouble when their human limitations raise suspicions about their real identities. The cartooning is stylish and the action is spiced with a few good laughs. But the package would be more enticing if it didn't fall so squarely into overused Hollywood formulas, from its standard-issue songs to its simplistic portrait of lovable white rascals surrounded by silly dark-skinned natives. Aren't animation fans ready for something more original?

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of backside nudity. Violence: 5 scenes, including a sword fight. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol and smoking, 1 with an unlit cigar.

Romeo Must Die (R) **1/2 Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Jet Li, Aaliyah. (130 min.)

A martial-arts expert, wrongly framed for a crime, breaks out of a Hong Kong prison and comes to the US to find his brother's killer. He lands in the middle of a gangland war between Chinese and black mobsters. Young R&B singer Aaliyah makes a winning film debut as his cross-cultural love interest. The stunts are spectacular, Li is a modest and genial hero, and the gunplay is mostly bloodless. By Gregory M. Lamb

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores April 11)

End of Days (R) * Director: Peter Hyams. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne. (115 min.)

The new millennium is approaching, and only Schwarzenegger can save the cosmos from satanic forces.

Happy, Texas (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Mark Illsley. With Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, Illeana Douglas. (104 min.)

Two escaped prisoners appropriate the identities of two gay men who organize children's beauty pageants.

By Stephen Humphries

The Insider (R) **** Director: Michael Mann. With Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer. (155 min.)

Pacino is in top form as a crusading "60 Minutes" journalist and Crowe is even better as a whistle-blower in the tobacco industry whose life is almost ruined by his decision to take a stand against corporate greed and deceit.

Superstar (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Bruce McCulloch. With Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell. (92 min.)

Mary Katherine Gallagher (played by Shannon who created the character on "Saturday Night Live") is a nerdy but ambitious Catholic schoolgirl who dreams of superstardom. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Three Kings (R) ** Director: David O. Russell. With George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube. (105 min.)

At the close of the Persian Gulf War, a small group of American soldiers go on a treasure hunt for piles of gold bullion hidden away by Saddam Hussein.

Tumbleweeds (PG-13) ** Director: Gavin O'Connor. With Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Gavin O'Connor. (100 min.)

A working-class woman and her adolescent daughter drift to a new town in search of a better life.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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