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

Bob le Flambeur (Not rated)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. With Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Daniel Cauchy, Guy Decomble. (100 min.)

Sterritt **** Set in Montmartre's nightclub district, this 1955 comedy-drama follows the adventures of a high-rolling gambler who gets tired of losing money at the casino and decides to rob the place instead. This isn't one of the greatest French crime dramas, like Melville's own "Le Doulos" and "Le Samurai," both made in the '60s. But its dark-toned cinematography by Henri Decae still packs a wallop, and the screenplay has a refreshing sense of humor, reflecting Melville's concept of the picture as less a straightforward cops-and-robbers story than a scruffy comedy of manners. In French with English subtitles.

Bread and Tulips (PG-13)

Director: Silvio Soldini. With Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz, Giuseppe Battiston, Antonio Catania. (104 min.)

Sterritt *** A new life blossoms for a 40-year-old Italian housewife when she misses a bus, gets separated from her husband and children, and decides she'd rather explore the wonders of Venice - and the friendship of offbeat new acquaintances - than return to her old routine of worn-out domesticity. Maglietta gives a magical performance in this lightweight but flavorsome comedy. In Italian with English subtitles.

Jackpot (R)

Director: Michael Polish. With Jon Gries, Daryl Hannah, Garrett Morris, Adam Baldwin. (96 min.)

Sterritt *** The adventures of a would-be country singer who makes up in tenacity - and obliviousness to his own lack of talent - what he lacks in musical gifts and upward mobility in what he finds to be a very ungenerous business. Gries and Morris act up a storm as the optimistically named Sunny Holiday and his long-suffering manager. Kudos also go to director Polish and his co-writer Mark Polish, who give the comedy-drama a bittersweet quirkiness that recalls their earlier and even better feature, "Twin Falls Idaho."

Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

Director: Tim Burton. With Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Michael Clarke Duncan. (119 min.)

Sterritt ** Wahlberg crash-lands his spaceship on a world where supersmart simians have all the power and human beings are their slaves. Burton is an imaginative director with a distinctive artistic vision, but his originality is nowhere to be seen in this by-the-numbers retread of a science-fiction premise that seemed much fresher in 1968, when the original "Planet" was released. And what's the point of having gifted actors like Carter and Roth, when it's hard to savor their talents under all that monkey makeup?

The River (Not rated)

Director: Tsai Ming-liang. With Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Lu Hsiao-ling, Chen Chao-jung, Ann Hui. (115 min.)

Sterritt *** This moody domestic drama centers on a father and mother, both of whom have secret sex lives outside their marriage, and their grown-up son, who starts to experience a mysterious ailment after floating in a polluted river. Tsai has made greater films, like "The Hole" and "What Time Is It Over There?" but his distinctive style is present as this atmospheric story unfolds through leisurely shots that invite us not just to watch the characters, but to live and breathe along with them. In Mandarin with English subtitles

Currently in Release

America's Sweethearts (PG-13)

Director: Joe Roth. With Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal. (109 min.)

Sterritt * To build enthusiasm for an expensive production, a Hollywood publicist (Crystal) asks a feuding movie-star couple (Cusack and Zeta-Jones) to fake a reconciliation, helped by an assistant (Roberts) who has her own personal stakes in the situation. This story is complicated enough to look interesting on paper, but it falls flat on screen, weighed down by far-fetched plot twists and touches of needlessly crude comedy.

Staff ** Formulaic, funny (at times), half-baked.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes of innuendo, 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 3 scenes, including a fight. Profanity: 31 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking, 9 scenes with drinking, 2 scenes with pilltaking.

Cats & Dogs (PG)

Director: Lawrence Guterman. With Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Alexander Pollock. (87 min.)

Sterritt * The action centers on wicked cats who want to take over the world and resourceful dogs who want to save us all. The plot pants so hard to please that it makes less sense than the average pet-food commercial.

Staff **1/2 A casual joy, not quite purrfect, witty.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 16 scenes of cartoon-like violence. Profanity: 4 very mild. Drugs: None

The Closet (Not Rated)

Director: Francis Veber. With Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Michel Aumont, Jean Rochefort. (84 min.)

Staff *** Brian Francois Pignon's life is falling apart. Not only has his wife left him, but he is about to lose his job in a condom factory. Desperate, he pretends he's gay to save his job. And thus begins his trajectory from superbly dull, utterly conventional bore to a man suddenly more interesting to his co-workers, his family, and himself. Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu star in this delightful farce, in the tradition of "La Cage Aux Folles," which, at its best, is laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly warm-hearted. In French with English subtitles. By Amanda Paulson

Dr. Dolittle 2 (PG)

Director: Steve Carr. With Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, and voices of Steve Zahn, Lisa Kudrow. (90 min.)

Staff *1/2 Murphy reprises his 1998 role as Dr. Dolittle who must help save a forest from money-hungry loggers. The writers must have thought, "Hey, if we can feature a mafia-type raccoon, a drinking monkey, and a Latino chameleon that can talk, this movie will write itself!" They were so wrong. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 with alcohol.

The Fast and the Furious (PG-13)

Director: Rob Cohen. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez. (140 min.)

Staff **1/2 Brian (Walker), a not-so-hot rookie detective goes undercover to get to the bottom of a rash of truck hijackings. But will Brian learn how to double-pump the clutch before he blows out another set of piston rings? And did I mention there are lots of neat car chases? By Alex Kaloostian

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 11 scenes, including fighting. Profanity: 58 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking, 3 scenes with drinking.

Final Fantasy (PG-13)

Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi. With the voices of Alec Baldwin, Ming Na, James Woods. (106 min.)

Sterritt ** It's the distant future and Earth has been decimated by aliens. The beautiful Dr. Aki Ross thinks she can solve things with a high-minded approach. The movie is the first to feature an entire cast of human characters generated through computer animation, but it abandons the imaginativeness of animation by slavishly imitating human traits.

Staff ** Creative, pantheistic, intense.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 14 instances, quite intense. Profanity: 18 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (R)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell. With John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask. (94 min.)

Sterritt *** The hero was named Hansel during his East Berlin childhood. But after changing his sex and moving to the United States, he's become Hedwig the transgendered rock singer, playing in small-time restaurants and dreaming of revenge against Tommy Gnosis, a protege who stole his songs. Cameron's imaginative directing and screen-shaking performance give this rock musical plenty of oomph, although some may find it a coolly calculated effort at instant cult-film fame.

Jurassic Park III (PG-13)

Director: Joe Johnston. With Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Laura Dern. (90 min.)

Sterritt ** After their 14-year-old son disappears into an island jungle inhabited by Jurassic Park's prehistoric critters, an unhappy couple shanghais mild-mannered paleontologist Alan Grant into helping their rescue effort. The cast is solid, and the special effects are impressive, but the screenplay is so stale that fans of the previous "Jurassic" installments might think this is one clone too many.

Staff *1/2 Poorly paced, summer fun, empty theme park ride, blessedly short.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes of dinosaur attacks. Profanity: 5 mild instances. Drugs: 1 scene with drinking.

Kiss of the Dragon (R)

Director: Chris Nahon. With Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo. (100 min.)

Staff ** Stylish production values and choreography can't paper up the cavernous cracks in this martial arts story about a Chinese policeman (Li) who's been framed for murder while on assignment in Paris. Impressive karate chops, though. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of implied sex. Violence: 79 scenes, extremely violent. Profanity: 48 harsh expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with smoking, 4 scenes with drinking, 2 scenes with drugtaking of cocaine and heroin.

Legally Blonde (PG-13)

Director: Robert Luketic. With Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair. (94 min.)

Sterritt ** When her boyfriend proposes breaking up instead of getting married, a ditsy sorority girl follows him to Harvard Law School and continues her courtship on his own turf. Witherspoon fills the screen with bright-eyed bounce but the rest of the cast is as forgettable as the flimsy story.

Staff **1/2 Perky, Light-hearted, delightful.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 15 mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

Made (R)

Director: Jon Favreau. With Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Peter Falk. (95 min.)

Staff ** "Made" reunites Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, stars of the 1996 cult hit "Swingers." Bobby (Favreau) and Ricky (Vaughn) are small-time thugs sent to New York to help a deal go down. But professionals they're not, and do their best to (unintentionally) screw things up. Vaughn's comic talents shine with brilliant delivery and timing, while writer/director Favreau shows his skill with strong characterization and snappy dialogue. The pair's chemistry is dynamic, but a more seasoned director may have told a better story. By David S. Hauck

Staff ** Pointless, 'Not very money,' waste of time.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes of innuendo, 2 scenes with nudity, 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 6 scenes, including fight Profanity: 368 extremely harsh expressions. Drugs: 14 scenes with smoking; 9 scenes with drinking, 2 scenes with cocaine.

Scary Movie 2 (R)

Director: Damon Wayans. With Carmen Electra, Shannon Elisabeth, Hector Elizondo, Tim Curry. (88 min.)

Staff 1/2 The original "Scary" movie was a smart, funny riff on horror movies but all this sequel can offer is lots of cliches and bathroom humor. You won't laugh, and you won't be scared, but you may be embarrassed for the teenagers trapped in an archetypical haunted house for a weekend. By Alex Kaloostian

The Score (R)

Director: Frank Oz. With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, Angela Bassett. (124 min.)

Staff ** "The Score" boasts De Niro, Norton, and Brando - three great actors from three different generations. But this heist movie is also third-rate material. De Niro plays a safecracker who, you guessed it, accepts one last job before he retires. Like the other actors, he's hardly stretching himself here.

By Stephen Humphries

Staff *** Intelligent, no emotional drive, thrilling.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes, including beating. Profanity: 79 harsh expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking; 6 scenes with drinking.

Out on video in stores July 31

The Brothers (R)

Director: Gary Hardwick. With Bill Bellamy, Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Shemar Moore. (103 min.)

Staff ** Commitment suddenly becomes an issue in the lives of four 30-ish African-American buddies when it dawns on them that they could be taking a more mature approach to relationships with women. Despite predictable plotting, uneven acting and direction, and sexual banter more raunchy than necessary, positive values shine through. By M.K. Terrell

Coming soon ... (In stores Aug. 7)

Chocolat (PG-13)

Director: Lasse Hallstrom. With Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp. (121 min.)

Sterritt ** A peaceful French village gets more excitement than it bargained for when a feisty newcomer sets up a shop devoted to chocolate and a local curmudgeon decides to combat her immoral influence at any cost. Binoche and Molina are as magnetic as usual, but the unsubtle story is full of simplistic divisions between right and wrong, and the filmmaking is pretty but predictable. As the title inadvertently hints, the picture's aftertaste is more sugary than satisfying.

Staff ***1/2 Quirky, sweet, engaging, "Babette's Feast" redux, a visual banquet.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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