MOVIE GUIDE

Ratings and comments by David Sterritt and Monitor staff Staff comments 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 MEANING

**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor DUD The Worst

New Releases

Boys to Men (Not rated)

Directors: Phillip Bartel, Duncan Tucker, Dan Castle, Carl Pfirman. With Ema A. Tuennerman, Brett Chukerman, John Sloan, Paul Dawson, Wayne Danner. (75 min.)

Sterritt **

An anthology of four short films about gay-related subjects. "Crush" is a gentle but ordinary coming-of-age story. Neither "The Mountain King" nor "...lost" has much of interest to say. By contrast, "The Confession," about a man returning to religion late in his life, is extraordinarily sensitive and original, marking Pfirman as a highly promising talent.

Driven (PG-13)

Director: Renny Harlin. With Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Estelle Warren, Gina Gershon. (120 min.)

Staff **1/2

Actor, writer, and producer Sylvester Stallone and director Renny Harlin hope to re-create the success they had with "Cliffhanger" in this well-done, but flat, action-drama. The story of this racing-car tale is pure formula: A young rookie beats all odds to come out on top, and finds out what he's made of. The classic themes of courage, determination, and brotherhood hold up well enough, even if audiences are a bit more jaded since the good old days of "Rocky." But it's the racing scenes that take center stage, and the crashes are among the most realistic ever put on film. By Alex Kaloostian

The Golden Bowl (R)

Director: James Ivory. With Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Northam, Uma Thurman, James Fox, Anjelica Huston. (130 min.)

Sterritt ***

Henry James's psychologically dense novel inspired this introspective drama about an American businessman and his daughter, who discover that their new spouses share a hidden past. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and produced by Ismail Merchant, the film will be too staid and stolid for audiences on the hunt for easy entertainment. Ivory gives it a sumptuous visual style and an exquisitely crafted early-20th-century milieu, though, offering fine pleasures for the eye and the imagination.

Mauvais Sang (Not rated)

Director: Leos Carax. With Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks, Serge Reggiani, Hans Meyer, Hugo Pratty. (116 min.)

Sterritt ***

Carax assembled a sensational cast for this moody 1987 fantasy about a man who joins a scheme to steal the cure for a new illness that only afflicts lovers who don't really care about each other. Also present is Carax's cinematic verve and a love for pop-culture detritus which gives the story much of its distinctive feel. Also known as "Bad Blood" and "The Night Is Young." In French with English subtitles

One Night at McCool's (R)

Director: Harald Zwart. With Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Michael Douglas, John Goodman, Paul Reiser. (93 min).

Sterritt **

Tyler plays a loose-living woman whose beauty bedazzles every romance-starved man who takes a look at her - which might bode well for her future if the men weren't such a sorry lot: a lawyer who lusts for her, a barfly whose house she decides to rob, and a policeman trying to crack a murder she's bumbled her way into. There's plenty of sex and violence in this "Pulp Fiction"-style comedy, but it's all so fast and frenetic that you may notice its MTV-style energy more than its gross-out moments. What you can't miss is Tyler's ability to look tantalizing in every outfit the hyperactive costume designer could dream up.

Town and Country (R)

Director: Peter Chelsom. With Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Gary Shandling, Goldie Hawn, Andie McDowell, Jenna Elfman, Nastassja Kinski. (106 min.)

Staff **1/2

Mona and Griffin, Ellie and Porter are the "oldest friends." But when Mona (Hawn) discovers her husband is cheating on her with a redhead, she sets off a domino effect of midlife crises within the group of friends. Marital commitments are thrown to the wind as the two couples draw the battle lines for the kind of nasty divorce settlements that result when Fifth Avenue apartments and Sun Valley hallets are at stake. There are so many twists and turns in this light-hearted, sometimes hilarious, comedy that it's a wonder they are untangled by the movie's end. By Katie Nesse

Currently in Release

Along Came A Spider (R)

Director: Lee Tamahori. With Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Jay O. Sanders. (104 min.)

Staff **1/2

Morgan Freeman is back as Washington detective Dr. Alex Cross in this well-paced thriller, which is technically the prequel to "Kiss the Girls." He's on the trail of an intelligent and cunning villain - Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott) - who has kidnapped the daughter of a US senator. "Along Came a Spider" is filled with surprising twists, which often evoke a smile. By Steven Savides

Staff *

Stale dialogue, ridiculous twists, Morgan Freeman is the only redeeming aspect.

Sex/Nudity: 1 reference to sex. Violence: 9 instances of fairly graphic violence, including one car crash and several shootings. Profanity: 9 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 cigarette.

Blow (R)

Director: Ted Demme. With Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ray Liotta, Paul Reubens, Rachel Griffiths. (119 min.)

Sterritt **

The fact-based story of George Jung, a small-time California crook who became a big-time associate of Pablo Escobar's notorious Colombia drug cartel, is inherently stale, especially since Martin Scorsese did it better in the 1990 hit "GoodFellas." But Depp evokes emotional depth with a characteristically subtle performance, and Demme elicits fine acting from the strong supporting cast.

Staff ***

Realistic, compelling, thought-provoking.

Sex/Nudity: Brief nude shots in a photo collage, topless women in a pool, and backside shots of nude women. Violence: Graphic fighting scenes with guns and 1 slap to a woman. Profanity: 134 harsh expressions. Drugs: 31 scenes with alcohol and 39 with drugs.

Bridget Jones's Diary (R)

Director: Sharon Maguire. With Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent. (94 min.)

Sterritt **

A romantic Englishwoman searches for a man who won't mind her slightly bulky figure and slightly dissolute habits, and finds herself dallying with her cocky boss while dodging the company of a lawyer who'd be a duller but more dignified partner. This lightweight comedy evidently sees itself as a Jane Austen spinoff in the "Clueless" vein - Firth even plays a character called Mr. Darcy - and fans of the genre will enjoy it if they're not distracted by trite plot twists, Firth's one-note formality, or Zellweger's on-and-off English accent.

Staff ***1/2

Exaggerated, v.g. (very good), very British.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, no nudity. 3 instances of innuendo and several sexual references. Violence: 1 scene with a fistfight. Profanity: 35 including many harsh expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of smoking and drinking.

The Claim (R)

Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski. (120 min.)

Sterritt **

An offbeat adaptation of Thomas Hardy's eccentric novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge," about a self-made man whose privileged existence masks two secrets: a sordid episode in his past, and an unstable personality that threatens to reemerge when life and love stop going his way. It's not clear why Winterbottom has moved the story to California in 1869, changing its wealthy grain merchant to a gold-rush tycoon and its young Scottish upstart to an aggressive railroad surveyor. In any case, his version seems more clever than heartfelt.

Staff **1/2

Atmospheric, epic, a snowed-in western.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with implied sex and partial or full nudity. 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 9 scenes including a brawl, gunfights and a suicide. Profanity: 7 including many harsh expressions. Drugs: 9 scenes of smoking. 7 scenes of drinking.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (PG)

Director: Simon Wincer. With Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski. (92 min.)

Staff *

You'll sooner find snow on Ayers Rock than you will laughs in this third outing of the Crocodile Dundee series. The flimsiest plot device sends Dundee, his girlfriend, and child from the Australian outback to Los Angeles. Dundee then wanders about L.A. from one flat episode to another. Stay home and watch the real crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, on the cable channel Animal Planet instead.

By Stephen Humphries

Josie and the Pussycats (PG-13)

Directors: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont. With Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey. (98 min.)

Sterritt ***

Our heroines are wannabe rock stars who soar to fame and fortune without quite knowing why, then stumble on a sinister scheme for selling pop-culture products through subliminal messages. The action is as perky as the main characters, all of whom are awesomely cute, and the ubiquitous Mr. Moviephone makes an amusing contribution to the plot. It's ironic that this satire of pop commercialism sets a record for product-placement plugs, but ironies like this should appeal to hip young viewers.

The Luzhin Defence (PG-13)

Director: Marleen Gorris. With John Turturro, Emily Watson, Stuart Wilson, Geraldine James. (108 min.)

Sterritt **

Turturro plays a chess master whose brilliance with knights and pawns is offset by an insecure, even bumbling approach to other aspects of life. Visiting an Italian resort to play an important match, he gets romantically involved with a beautiful Russian woman and has trouble coping with the situation - partly because he's so unworldly, and partly because his childhood was disrupted by his own parents' unhappy marriage. The story (based on a Vladimir Nabokov novel) has promise, but it fails to score a checkmate because of Gorris's failure to build dramatic momentum or elicit first-rate performances.

Spy Kids (PG)

Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher. (93 min.)

Staff **

Billed as a spy caper for all ages, "Spy Kids" is indeed that. Carmen and Juni Cortez are two ordinary kids who must save their parents - and the world - from the evil techno-wizard, Floop. With bright colors and child-friendly names and settings, the movie definitely skews toward the under-10 set. By Gloria Goodale

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of comic violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 instances with drinking.

With a Friend Like Harry... (R)

Director: Dominik Moll. With Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin. (117 min.)

Sterritt ***

With a friend like Harry you don't need enemies, and with a foreign movie like this - a startling, suspenseful ride few will forget in a hurry -you don't need Hollywood pictures. Lopez is perfect as an off-kilter old friend who barges into the life of a high-school pal and starts doing shady, violent favors that nobody ever asked him for. Moll mingles mystery with humor in just the right proportions, painting a perceptive portrait of middle-class domestic life into the bargain. The result is a pitch-dark tragicomedy that really deserves the often-abused adjective "Hitchcockian."

In French with English subtitles

OUT ON VIDEO in Stores MAY 1

All the Pretty Horses (PG-13)

Director: Billy Bob Thornton. With Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Ruben Blades. (116 min.)

Staff **1/2

An all-but-orphaned Texan (Damon) who hungers for horses and a land without borders flees with his childhood pal to Mexico where he finds lessons in love, death, and revenge. Occasional surprises in the camerawork and direction barely keep the adventure from slipping into tiresome epic formula.

By Samar Farah

The Emperor's New Groove (G)

Directors: Roger Allers, Mark Dindal. With voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt. (72 min.)

Staff **1/2

The title says it all: Disney's latest animation sets out to be as loose and funky as a bassline on "Seinfeld." The story packs its share of laughs as a spoiled emperor of a South American land is turned into a llama by a witch so that he has to trust a peasant to find an antidote. By Stephen Humphries

uuu Colorful, good llama humor, offbeat

Miss Congeniality (PG-13)

Director: Donald Petrie. With Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, William Shatner. (111 min.)

Staff *

When FBI agents get wind of a plot to bomb the Miss America beauty pageant they send agent Gracie (Bullock), a decidedly uncouth klutz, to work undercover by posing as an entrant. It's a promising conceit for a comedy, but the execution is lazy and there just aren't enough laugh lines in the script to utilize the radiant charm that Bullock can bring to a movie. The supporting cast are wasted, too. You won't feel very congenial after watching it.

By Stephen Humphries

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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