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

Recommended: Default

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

NEW RELEASES

The Big Kahuna (R) *** Director: John Swanbeck. With Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito, Peter Facinelli. (90 min.)

Three businessmen face uncomfortable questions about their lives during a long evening in a hotel hospitality suite where they've gathered to give a sales pitch. There's nothing cinematic about this transplanted stage play, but good acting and pungent dialogue - some of it about the place of religion in business and in life - lend it more than passing interest.

Bossa Nova (R) *** Director: Bruno Barreto. With Amy Irving, Antonio Fagundes, Alexandre Borges, Dbora Bloch. (95 min.)

Romantic comedy about an English teacher and an attorney who enter an unexpected love affair while assorted friends and associates search for their own happiness. The story is slender, but the Brazilian settings are exquisite and lilting tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim cast a spell over the entire enterprise. In English and Portuguese with English subtitles

Frequency (PG-13) ** Director: Gregory Hoblit. With Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Daniel Henson. (121 min.)

A young man discovers an old ham-radio hookup that allows him to communicate with his dead father in the past. He uses this miracle - caused by an unusual solar storm - to help his dad avoid the accident that killed him, thereby altering their family's history. This event has negative consequences too, putting another loved relative into the path of a serial killer whom only they can track down. Toby Emmerich's screenplay gains emotional punch from its sincere concern for family values, but science-fiction fans may be disappointed by the limited exploration of its fascinating time-travel premise.

Gossip (R) *1/2 Director: Davis Guggenheim. With James Marsden, Lena Headey, Norman Reedus, Kate Hudson, Joshua Jackson, Edward James Olmos. (100 min.)

Have you heard about "Gossip"? Did you know it's about three college friends who start a vicious rumor to study its effects for a class project? Did word arrive that this not-so-innocent idea ends up bringing out the worst in most involved? Did news reach you that it's a creepy, uncomfortable story with unlikable characters, but that the concept and plot twists are rumored to be intriguing enough to keep you in your seat? But, that's just what I heard. By Katherine Dillin

The Idiots (R) * Director: Lars von Trier. With Bodil Jorgensen, Jens Albinus, Louise Hassing, Bjarup Riis. (115 min.)

Depressed by recent events in her life, a young woman joins a group of antisocial rebels who like to gross out their middle-class neighbors by posing as mentally retarded "idiots" in public places. Filmed in the no-frills style of Denmark's much-publicized Dogma 95 group, which von Trier helped establish, the movie tries to be daring and iconoclastic but winds up seeming as spoiled and childish as its main characters. In Danish with English subtitles

Love and Basketball (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood. With Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert. (124 min.)

First-time feature writer and director Prince-Bythewood makes an impressive debut with a story about a girl and boy who grow up to pursue their own hoop dreams. Young Monica competes with the boy next door, Quincy, in a nice Los Angeles neighborhood, but when the two enter high school and then college, the tension between them eventually disappears and they fall in love. The story is a bit overlong, but it's refreshing to see a woman portrayed as headstrong and opinionated as Monica is - a great role model for women. By Lisa Leigh Parney *** Refreshing, cute, clich.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes with sexual content, including one fairly graphic sex scene; some innuendo. Violence: 1 mild scene with shoving. Profanity: 33 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol.

Time Code (R) *** Director: Mike Figgis. With Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kyle MacLachlan, Stellan SkarsgŒrd, Holly Hunter, Julian Sands, Saffron Burrows, Laurie Metcalf, Suzi Nakamura, Mia Maestro, Xander Berkeley, Leslie Mann. (93 min.)

The plot focuses on an aspiring actress, her jealous lover, and film-industry executives she panders to for the sake of her career. But what matters more is the picture's radical style, with different aspects of the story - photographed in digital video and uninterrupted by shot-to-shot cuts - unfolding at the same time on four adjacent portions of the screen. It's a daring experiment, taking cinema into areas usually associated with music, theater, and multimedia. It would be even more impressive if the story and characters lived up to the inventive techniques, though.

Where the Heart Is (PG-13) ** Director: Matt Williams. With Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Sally Field, Joan Cusack. (120 min.)

Alone and penniless, a young woman gives birth to her baby in a shopping mart, then accepts help from an eccentric couple with generous hearts and a slightly older friend with numerous kids of her own. The story shows commendable interest in women's issues and the challenges of single motherhood. But it covers so many events over such a long stretch of time that its meaningful moments fly away from each other when they should be working together for dramatic effect. Ultimately, it's more an emotional hodgepodge than a compassionate look at real human problems.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

American Psycho (R) ** Director: Mary Harron. With Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Willem Dafoe, Chlo Sevigny, Jared Leto, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Guinevere Turner. (100 min.)

A crazed yuppie divides his time between power lunches on Wall Street and vicious murders in the streets and skyscrapers of a Manhattan suffering its own hyperactive madness in the narcissistic '80s. Bret Easton Ellis's novel is a manic blend of incisive satire and repellent violence. Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner reduce it to a standard-issue slasher movie, stylishly shot, but with little to distinguish it from a long line of "Psycho"-spawned gorefests. **1/2 Grotesque, dark satire, eerily humorous.

Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes, including 2 graphic sex scenes, some shower scenes, and porn videos playing in the background. Violence: 7 scenes, including a shooting spree, a scene with dead bodies, and a murder with an axe. Profanity: 47 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 13 scenes with alcohol, 10 with tobacco, 5 with hard-drug use or implied hard-drug use.

Black and White (R) *** Director: James Toback. With Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Mike Tyson, Stacy Edwards. (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. ** Angry, soulless, thought-provoking.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with sex, implied sex, or suggestive content, 3 of them with nudity. Violence: 5 scenes with violence, including gun threats and slaps. Profanity: 358 mostly harsh expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 3 with marijuana, 1 with marijuana and alcohol.

The Last September (R) *** Director: Deborah Warner. With Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Jane Birkin, Fiona Shaw. (104 min.)

Picturesque adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's intelligent 1929 novel, centering on a group of Anglo-Irish aristocrats shortsightedly trying to maintain their way of life despite the growing instability of Ireland after the Republican uprising of 1916. The movie doesn't have much more get-up-and-go than the characters, but solid performances and richly textured camera work keep it involving most of the way through.

Return to Me (PG) * Director: Bonnie Hunt. With David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, David Alan Grier, James Belushi, Bonnie Hunt, Carroll O'Connor, Joely Richardson, Robert Loggia. (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. *** Refreshing, genuine, slow at times, Belushi was great.

Sex/Nudity: Mild innuendo. Violence: 2 instances, including a fairly graphic hospital scene. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 13 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 2 with alcohol and tobacco.

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 a little more original? *** Vibrant, fun, some adult themes.

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

28 Days (PG-13) ** Director: Betty Thomas. With Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Diane Ladd, Elizabeth Perkins, Steve Buscemi. (103 min.)

When alcoholic city girl Gwen Cummings (a luminous Bullock) wrecks her sister's wedding - and a limousine - while inebriated, she is sentenced to a month in rehab. The audience sees the clinic through Gwen's eyes as a nightmarish adult version of a happy summer camp. Given the formulaic story, it's no surprise that Gwen's cynicism diminishes as she learns to bond with fellow addicts and reevaluate her life. If the recovery seems too easy, at least the sporadic humor works well and Thomas doesn't overload the film with sentiment. By Stephen Humphries ** Bleak yet humorous, predictable, enlightening.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with sex and/or nudity. Violence: 2 scenes, including a self-inflicted wound and a punch. Profanity: 25 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 22 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 3 with prescription-drug abuse.

U-571 (PG-13) *** Director: Jonathan Mostow. With Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith. (120 min.)

You can't keep a good submarine story down. Our heroes are American sailors ordered to pose as Germans and capture a top-secret encryption device from a Nazi U-boat. Things get interesting when they find themselves stuck on the enemy vessel, unsure how it works and sitting ducks for any genuine Germans who happen to steam their way. The movie is full of old tricks - cuts between worried faces and overheated gauges inching into the red zone - but director Mostow pulls most of them off with conviction and pizazz. *** Sheer entertainment, not much sub-text, action-packed.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9, often prolonged, scenes with violence, including gunfights, fistfights, and torpedo attacks. Profanity: 50 expressions, mostly mild Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.

Where the Money Is (PG-13) ** Director: Marek Kanievska. With Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney, Susan Barnes, Anne Pitoniak. (89 min.)

Where the excitement isn't. A crafty old crook fakes a chronic illness to facilitate a jailbreak, then plans a new crime with his nurse and her suspicious husband. Newman's magnetic face isn't enough to raise this intermittently amusing thriller above the ordinary caper-comedy crowd. *** Entertaining, some surprises, Newman was terrific.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of implied sex; 1 scene with brief nudity; some innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes, including a car crash and an armed robbery. Profanity: 23 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores May. 2)

Anywhere But Here (PG-13) *** Director: Wayne Wang. With Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Bonnie Bedelia, Shawn Hatosy. (113 min.)

A single mom heads from Wisconsin to Los Angeles with dreams of Hollywood stardom for her teenage daughter, who'd rather be exactly what the title says. *** Touching, sad, edgy, funny lines.

Being John Malkovich (R) **** Director: Spike Jonze. With John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener. (112 min.)

Hilarious, utterly unpredictable comedy about an out-of-work puppeteer who finds a secret passageway into the famous actor's mind and decides to make a few bucks off his discovery. ***1/2 Weird, entertaining, boldly creative, comical.

Dogma (R) ** Director: Kevin Smith. With Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock. (115 min.)

Wildly irreverent fantasy about two fallen angels who hope to reenter Heaven by exploiting a loophole in a feel-good version of Roman Catholic dogma being promoted by a New Jersey church. **1/2 Piercing one-liners, ambitious, issue-based, shocking.

Galaxy Quest (PG) *** Director: Dean Parisot. With Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub. (102 min.)

A delegation from a faraway planet recruits the cast of a "Star Trek"-type TV show to help them win an intergalactic war, not realizing the Earthlings are just actors who've defeated all their "aliens" with plastic rayguns and camera tricks. *** Warp-speed spoof, affectionate "Star Trek" parody, more amusing than hilarious, wouldn't change a thing.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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