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

The Art of War (R)

Christian Duguay. With Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michael Biehn, Donald Sutherland. (117 min.) *1/2 An undercover United Nations agent, assigned to help the US forward free trade with China, is framed for a political murder. Not to get snippety with this Snipes movie that's just meant as a harmless, summertime diversion, but it falls flat. And the paint-by-numbers script oddly enough doesn't make all that much sense. A little heart, but no art. By Katherine Dillin *1/2 Uninspired, gimmicky, flimsy.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex, 3 with nudity in a strip club. Violence: 27 scenes with violence, including 3 lengthy sequences, shooting, and a brutal fight. Profanity: 36 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, a few with tobacco, 1 with cocaine.

Highlander: Endgame (R)

Douglas Aarniokoski. With Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul, Bruce Payne, Ian Paul Cassidy. (100 min.) * This is the 4th (and last?) movie in the Highlander series that also included a successful syndicated television program. Unfortunately, it is also an obvious attempt to wring the last drop of revenue from fans of what was originally a very entertaining concept. The plot is nothing new: a dangerously strong nemesis of the MacLeod clan has surfaced, intent on exacting revenge for some centuries-old offense, and the two MacLeod immortals must combine strengths to defeat him. This is a film for diehard Highlander fans only. By Phelippe Salazar

It All Starts Today (Not rated)

Bertrand Tavernier. With Philippe Torreton, Maria Pitarresi, Nadia Kaci. (117 min.) *** An understated look at the quietly heroic activities of a provincial French schoolteacher who refuses to let his underprivileged pupils suffer at the hands of an overburdened social-welfare system. Tavernier's compassionate views and long filmmaking experience shine through this eloquently acted drama. In French with English subtitles

Nurse Betty (R)

Neil LaBute. With Rene Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Aaron Eckhart, Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince. (112 min.) ** Traumatized by a horrific event she's witnessed, a woman gets the deluded idea that her favorite soap opera is real and she's the main character in it; others on hand include a loathsome husband and a pair of hitmen. Zellweger is as charming as ever, and it's good to find LaBute working with a script by writers who don't fully share his crabbed, cramped view of human nature. His directorial personality still shows through in the story's wide-eyed fascination with confusion and humiliation.

Pola X (Not rated)

Leos Carax. With Guillaume Depardieu, Katerina Golubeva, Catherine Deneuve. (134 min.) ** After meeting a half-sister whose existence has been kept secret from him, a young man moves from his idyllic country life to the big city, striking up an affair with his newly discovered sibling and writing a book meant to plumb the depths of his increasingly confused soul. This ambitious melodrama uses a hyperactive visual style to evoke the explosively romantic prose of "Pierre, or, The Ambiguities," the delirious Herman Melville novel that inspired it. The results are often derivative and incoherent, but Carax's cinematic imagination makes it worth viewing by movie buffs with a sense of adventure and a tolerance for explicit sex. In French with English subtitles

Solas (Not rated)

Benito Zambrano. With Mara Galiana, Ana Fernndez, Paco De Osca, Carlos Alvarez-Novoa. (98 min.) *** Splendidly acted, sensitively directed tale of an aging Spanish woman who moves in with her loose-living daughter when her husband falls ill. Only an overly sentimental ending mars the story's strong emotional impact. In Spanish with English subtitles

This Is Spinal Tap (R)

Rob Reiner. With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal, Fran Drescher, Rob Reiner. (83 min.) **** The rock scene hasn't been the same since this hilarious 1984 comedy about a British heavy-metal band spilling its collective soul to a filmmaking team during an American tour. Labeled a "rockumentary" but really a "mockumentary," this classic parody skewers every clich ever coined about the pop-music scene, not to mention the pop-movie scene that feeds on it.

The Watcher (R)

Joe Charbanic. With James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson, Chris Ellis. (93 min.) * A cop plagued by unhappy memories plays cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who torments him with hints about his future victims. The story builds occasional suspense and Michael Chapman's gritty-glossy cinematography gives it a certain oomph. The picture's real interest lies in detailing the villain's sadistic crimes, though, and this is rarely fun or edifying to watch.

Whipped (R)

Peter M. Cohen. With Amanda Peet, Brian Van Holt, Judah Domke, Jonathan Abrahams. (85 min.) * Three buddies meet Sunday mornings to report on the week's victories in their favorite sport: scamming women into having sex with them. Things disintegrate when they all fall in love with the same woman (Peet). New York settings, Peet's lively performance, and a cute twist at the end can't save this one from ineptitude and lack of originality. Non-stop profanity, obscene sexual talk, and a demeaning of women and relationships don't help either.

By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 2 of implied sex, 41 instances of innuendo and frank descriptions of sexual situations. Violence: 2 scuffles. Profanity: 257 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 4 with both.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Autumn in New York (PG-13)

Joan Chen. With Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Jillian Hennessey. (105 min.) * Richard Gere plays Will, an aging skirt-chaser who falls for Charlotte, a sweet 20-something woman (Ryder) who has a terminal illness. Already, this flat storyline has problems. There's no on-screen chemistry between Gere and Ryder, and the lines are so sappy you'll want to burst out in laughter.

By Lisa Leigh Parney ** Harmless, romantic distraction, no sparks, done before.

Sex/Nudity: 1 suggestive scene and 2 of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 2 references to drug use.

The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (Not rated)

Aiyana Elliott. With Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Odetta, Kris Kristofferson. (105 min.) *** The life and times of folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott, capturing his public persona - part cowboy, part hobo, part folkloric researcher, part barroom raconteur - and glimpses of the private individual who's been playing this self-invented role since the '50s. The archival and interview footage is priceless, and the documentary gains extra interest from the fact that Elliott's daughter directed it, using it as a way to gain some fatherly attention she didn't get as a child.

Sex/Nudity: Some innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 expressions, a few harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 6 with tobacco, 1 with marijuana.

Bring It On (PG-13)

Peyton Reed. With Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Eliza Dushku, Gabrielle Union, Clare Kramer. (98 min.) ** High-schoolers hop and holler as they vie for the cheerleading championship and work out their rivalry with a competing inner-city team. The story is as simple as the average football cheer, but the dialogue has amusing echoes of "Clueless," and Dunst and Bradford make a mighty cute couple. ** Fresh-faced, predictable, harmless, upbeat.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances of sexual innuendo. Violence: 3 mild instances of violence, including slapping, a hard-hitting football sequence, and a bloody nose. Profanity: 62 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 instance of prescription-drug abuse.

The Cell (R)

Tarsem Singh. With Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Baker. (115 min.) ** Lopez plays a psychotherapist who makes a high-tech journey into the mind of a demented serial killer in a desperate effort to help the police figure out where he's stashed his latest victim. The action is as grisly as it is surrealistic, which is what you'd expect from a cinematic visit to a particularly loathsome subconscious. But the film's patches of lurid sensationalism are partly offset by the director's explosive visual imagination, which keeps the screen jumping when the plot and dialogue sag. Howard Shore's music adds a dose of pounding energy.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with nudity, mostly autopsied bodies. Violence: 24 scenes of gruesome violence, ranging from a child beating to a man being gutted. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 5 with tobacco.

The Crew (PG-13)

Michael Dinner. With Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Dan Hedaya, Seymour Cassel. (88 min.) * Facing a rent increase, four retired thugs in Miami concoct a shady scheme to combat the hike. But watching this cast of middle-aged actors pretending to be nearly on their deathbeds (and working with a script riddled with old-folk jokes from 5 o'clock dinners to bodily functions) is just plain old depressing. A criminal use of some good actors.

By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with sex, 2 with nudity; 6 suggestive scenes, including innuendo and a strip club. Violence: 15 scenes with violence, including baseball-bat beatings as well as more comic moments. Profanity: 50 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, 8 with tobacco, 4 with both.

The Original Kings of Comedy (R)

Spike Lee, With Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac. (117 min.) ** A session with four popular African-American comedians, filmed during the North Carolina portion of an enormously well-attended tour. Sometimes they're truly hilarious; sometimes they're lazy enough to milk laughs from scattershot vulgarity; and sometimes they try to pummel the audience into submission with humor so belligerent you don't know whether to give a nervous laugh or hide under your seat. It's hard to say which moments the on-screen spectators love most, since they appear to be howling with amusement from beginning to end. **1/2 Profane, a scream, in-your-face comedy.

Sex/Nudity: 10 instances of innuendo and descriptions of sexual activity. Violence: Some talk of violence. Profanity: 504 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: One instance of smoking and drinking offstage.

The Replacements (PG-13)

Howard Deutsch. With Gene Hackman, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden. (115 min.) * The heroes are a bunch of strike-breaking athletes who agree to replace a picketing football team. The movie is so vulgar and incoherent that even Hackman's gifts can't score a touchdown. Add the grotesque racial stereotypes, the irresponsible gunplay, the treatment of a bitter strike as an occasion for smirks and mockery, and the demeaning depiction of women, and you have a losing package all around. *** Energetic, earnestly sweet, lightweight.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes with roughhousing, punches, and bar fights. Profanity: 88, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 instances of drinking, 8 with smoking.

Space Cowboys (PG-13)

Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner. (126 min.) *** Three aging test pilots undertake a NASA mission to repair a Soviet space satellite in orbit, uncovering a cold-war secret along the way. The story takes a while to get started, but the acting is lively, the special effects are snazzy, and the picture's last couple of minutes pack a bittersweet punch. It's not "Grumpy Old Astronauts," and that alone is cause for gratitude! *** Classy, fun, engaging, intelligent.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild nudity. Violence: 2 mild fistfights. Profanity: 83 expressions, only 1 of them harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

Titanic Town (Not rated)

Roger Michell. With Julie Walters, Ciaran Hinds, Nuala O'Neill, James Loughran, Barry Loughran. (96 min.) *** Outraged by the sectarian violence that's disrupting her neighborhood, a middle-aged Irish mother decides to take matters into her own hands and wage a war for peace, even as she copes with domestic challenges, including her teenage daughter's first love affair. Michell treats the Irish troubles of the 1970s with clear-eyed compassion.

Sex/Nudity: Some innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes with violence, including mob violence. Profanity: 48 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 10 with tobacco, 2 with both, 1 valium overdose.

OUT ON VIDEO

In Stores Sept. 12

East Is East (R) ** Damien O'Donnell. With Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jordan Routledge, Emil Marwa. (96 min.)

In the early 1970s in England, a suburban family is presided over by a Pakistani patriarch who can't understand why his thoroughly British children aren't just as Asian as he is. ***1/2 Tender, hilarious, emotionally wrenching, uneven.

Mission to Mars (PG)

Brian De Palma. With Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O'Connell. (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. ** Lacks mystery, slow, cardboard characters, good concept.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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