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

Big Momma's House (PG-13) ** Director: Raja Gosnell. With Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Dashon Howard. (105 min.)

Lawrence makes his summer debut playing FBI agent Malcolm Turner. He heads down South to stakeout the house of Big Momma, whose soon-to-visit granddaughter used to date a recently escaped bank robber. When Big Momma has to leave town, Turner goes undercover as Big Momma. Although Lawrence brings his natural humor to the screen, and some moments are laugh-out-loud funny, most of the scenes are predictable, and, even for a wacked-out comedy like this one, a little too unrealistic.

By Christy Ellington

Grass (Not rated) *** Director: Ron Mann. With Woody Harrelson. (79 min.)

A revealing, often amusing, sometimes disturbing look at the history and politics of marijuana use in American society. Much of the footage comes from heavy-handed government films on the subject, which undermine their own effectiveness so consistently that Mann's bemused skepticism toward them seems almost superfluous.

Passion of Mind (PG-13) ** Director: Alain Berliner. With Demi Moore, Stellan SkarsgŒrd, Sinead Cusack, William Fichtner, Peter Riegert. (105 min.)

Moore plays a woman with a double life as a high-powered Manhattan literary agent and a home-loving mother in provincial France, uncertain which existence is real and which - if either - is just a vivid dream. The acting is sincere and the camera work is pretty, but this art-movie variation on "The Sixth Sense" doesn't have enough energy to fulfill the high promise of Berliner's previous picture, the enchanting "Ma vie en rose."

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 1 mild innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 11 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 3 with tobacco, 6 with both.

Road Trip (R) * Director: Todd Phillips. With Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo, DJ Qualls. (91 min.)

An Ithaca University student accidentally sends an incriminating video to his girlfriend in Texas. He and three buddies hit the road to intercept it. The highlight, if there is one, comes when the all-white group of guys tries to talk their way into a Tennessee frat house for the night, and press gamely on after they realize it's all-black. But overall, this sophomoric combination of college high jinks and road movie is about as lame as its title.

By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 5 sexually suggestive scenes, 2 of them with nudity; 15 instances of raunchy innuendo. Violence: 7 scenes, including implied cruelty to animals and a car explosion. Profanity: 69 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, smoking and/or marijuana use.

Shanghai Noon (PG-13) *** Director: Tom Dey. With Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Alexis Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan. (110 min.)

Chinese Imperial Guard Chon Wang (Chan) must corral some John Wayne-style savvy to save a kidnapped princess in America's Wild West. He gets help and hindrance from bumbling bandit Roy O'Bannon (a great comic turn by Wilson). While playing off the name of Gary Cooper's classic 'High Noon,' this action-comedy doesn't try to imitate or spoof it. It's just smart and loads of fun.

By Katherine Dillin *** A good time, action-packed, comical.

Sex/Nudity: 2 fairly mild suggestive scenes. Violence: 25 scenes with violence, some long, mostly for comic effect. Profanity: 8 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, tobacco, and/or mild drug use.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Battlefield Earth (PG-13) * Director: Roger Christian. With John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates. (117 min.)

It's the year 3000 and a race called the Psychlos have invaded Earth and enslaved mankind for a mining operation. The film starts well with interesting comic book-style camera angles, but it never generates enough tension due to preposterous plot holes and liberal borrowings from other movies. Worse, alien villain Travolta delivers the script's risible lines in an over-the-top "Rocky Horror Picture Show" performance that is completely at odds with the square-jawed approach of the hero (Pepper). It's like another awful "Planet of the Apes" sequel.

By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes with violence, including shootings and beatings. Profanity: 12 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

The Big Kahuna (R) *** Director: John Swanbeck. With Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito. (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. *1/2 Slow, subtle, insightful.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 mild tussle. Profanity: 31 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 4 with smoking.

Center Stage (PG-13) *** Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Amanda Schull, Peter Gallagher, Susan May Pratt, Donna Murphy. (113 min.)

The place is a Lincoln Center ballet school that's as competitive as it is prestigious, and the main characters are young dancers who learn the rules of their new home, scope out the strengths and weaknesses of their teachers and fellow students, and plunge into their designated tasks with all the enthusiasm - and anxiety - of people who'll end the process as either newly discovered stars or instant has-beens. Rarely has a dance movie done so many cinematic pirouettes with such a graceful sense of audience-pleasing fun. **1/2 Exuberant, beautiful dancing, formulaic.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex, a few instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 52 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 5 with tobacco, 2 with both.

Dinosaur (PG) **** Directors: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag. With voices of D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright. (82 min.)

Dinosaurs speak and show human emotion in this story of Aladar, a giant Iguanodon, raised by monkeylike lemurs. Aladar eventually meets up with his own kind when he joins a pack on a life-or-death march across a forbidding landscape where water is scarce and meat-eating Carnotaurs pursue them. Despite a touch of Bambi-style pathos, Disney goes for a ferocious amount of prehistoric realism in this animated tour de force. It combines computer-generated characters with real, digitally enhanced scenery. Visually, it's a treat. By Ross Atkin ***1/2 Classic Disney, predictable, tremendous fun.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, mostly dinosaurs hunting or battling.

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. *** Intelligent plot, touching, creepy, occasionally very violent.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of fairly graphic violence, including explosions and use of shotguns. Profanity: 37 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 18 scenes with alcohol, 25 with tobacco.

Gladiator (R) ** Director: Ridley Scott. With Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris. (150 min.)

Sold into slavery by an emperor's jealous son, a Roman general spends his time slaying fellow gladiators before bellowing crowds and dreaming of revenge against you-know-who. Scott's filmmaking is as blunt and bullying as the mayhem it portrays, but Crowe and Reed lend touches of intermittent class to the bone-crunching spectacle. *** Ambitious, bloody, grand, crowd-pleasing, moving.

Sex/Nudity: An instance of incestuous kissing. Violence: 17 scenes of mostly gory violence, including gladiator spectacles and a lengthy war episode. Profanity: 1 expression, somewhat harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Hamlet (R) **** Director: Michael Almereyda. With Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora. (111 min.)

Updated versions of Shakespeare are common, but there's amazingly sharp creativity in this New York-based interpretation of the timeless tragedy about a young man driven to desperation by his father's murder. The acting is smart and gritty, Almereyda's visual style has a raw immediacy found in few films with Shakespearean pedigrees, and an eclectic music score adds atmosphere and surprise every step of the way. **1/2 Royalty meets a New York minute, innovative, tragic, entertaining.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sexual situations. Violence: 5 scenes with violence, 2 of them somewhat graphic. Profanity: 13 expressions from the Bard's script. Drugs: 12 scenes with alcohol or tobacco.

Mission: Impossible 2 (PG-13) ** Director: John Woo. With Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson. (120 min.)

Our dashing hero enlists a beautiful but devious thief in his assignment to track down the power-mad holders of a deadly new virus and its equally rare antidote. Woo's patented pyrotechnics - intricate editing, acrobatic camera movements, slow-motion mayhem - lend intermittent sparks to the violent action sequences, but the two-dimensional characters have little personality. Robert Towne's screenplay takes the easy route of blending elements from the first "M:I" movie and Woo's own "Face/Off" with Hitchcockian touches (the classic "Notorious" is a major source) as well as every James Bond movie ever made. **1/2 Action-packed, entertaining, unoriginal, impressive stunts.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene implied sex, 2 sexually suggestive scenes. Violence: 58 scenes with violence, including shooting and hand-to-hand combat. Profanity: 11 expressions. Drugs: 1 cigar.

Small Time Crooks (PG) *** Director: Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Elaine May, Hugh Grant, Michael Rapaport. (94 min.)

Allen and Ullman play a married couple who fail at crime, bumble into success the honest way, and then quarrel over how they should use their newfound wealth - to live a lowbrow version of the good life, or barge into high society despite their lack of welcome there. The plot is lively and the dialogue packs many good laughs. But the entertainment is marred by a lingering sense that Allen rarely portrays working-class characters except to make fun of them. *** Classic Allen, surprisingly wholesome, witty.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 scene with a policeman pointing a gun. Profanity: 13 fairly mild expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol, 1 with alcohol and tobacco.

U-571 (PG-13) *** Director: Jonathan Mostow. With Matthew McConaughey. (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 subtext, 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.

The Virgin Suicides (R) *** Director: Sofia Coppola. With Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain. (96 min.)

Is suicide the only escape route from an obsessively proper middle-class home? The question arises when an adolescent girl kills herself for no clear reason, and her sisters may be drifting in the same direction as they try to steer a course between their unbending parents and the neighborhood boys who'd like to become part of their lives. **1/2 Lacks fluidity, superficial, mysterious, a bit of a downer.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of statutory rape, 3 of sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 instances, all involving suicide. Profanity: 4 expressions, 1 of them harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 6 with tobacco, 2 with marijuana.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores June 6)

Girl, Interrupted (R) * Director: James Mangold. With Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Vanessa Redgrave. (125 min.)

A young woman fights mental illness in a well-appointed institution. For a movie about people with hugely complicated inner lives, this sadly unconvincing drama stays resolutely on the surface. *** Sincere, provocative, not particularly involving.

Next Friday (R) DUD Director: Steve Carr. With Ice Cube, John Witherspoon, Don "DC" Curry, Tom 'Tiny' Lister Jr. (92 min.)

Did we really need a sequel to the 1995 sleeper hit "Friday"? The pointless story revolves around aimless Craig (played by Ice Cube, who also produced), who goes to live with his Uncle Elroy and cousin Day-Day in the bully-filled L.A. suburbs. By Lisa Leigh Parney 1/2 Raunchy language, awful, grossly offensive.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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