American Pie 2 (R)
Director: J.B. Rogers. With Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Chris Klein, Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott. (104 min.)
Sterritt ** It's summer vacation, the "American Pie" alumni are now college kids, and all they can think of is still - you guessed it - sex, sex, sex. This energetic sequel moves from one gross-out set piece to another, with occasional moments of teenpic sentimentality to cleanse the palate. It delivers all the raunch and ribaldry its designated audience could hope for, but others may find it more deliberately disgusting than effervescently outrageous.
VS/N: 19 scenes of graphic innuendo or implied sex, 1 sex scene with nudity. VV: 2 scenes of comic violence. VP: 124 very harsh expressions. VD: 20 scenes with alcohol, 1 with smoking.
Director: Miike Takashi. With Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Tetsu Sawaki. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** A middle-age widower takes a cue from the entertainment media and "auditions" women who might make good romantic partners. His selection turns out to be a very strange candidate, however, whose behavior grows more ominous the more he learns about her. The most startling aspect of this slow-building horror movie is how unexpectedly it morphs from a quietly romantic suspense yarn to a flat-out tale of terror that may have some viewers hiding under their seats. Stay far away unless you're in the mood for very violent surprises. In Japanese with English subtitles
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel. With Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat. (99 min.)
Sterritt ** Trying to protect her teenage son from the sinister influence of an ill-chosen older friend, a woman finds herself covering up a death and negotiating with a tenacious blackmailer. Swinton has some affecting moments as the mom, but the rest of the acting is second-rate, and the directors (previously known for "Suture," which also promised more than it delivered) give it little originality or oomph. The same story was told vastly better in the 1949 melodrama "The Reckless Moment," directed by the Max Ophuls and starring James Mason in one of his most indelible roles.
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. With Bill Murray, Molly Shannon, Chris Elliott, voices of Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne, William Shatner, David Hyde Pierce. (90 min.)
Sterritt ** Our hero has poor health habits - heavy on the snacks, light on the exercise - and we see the physiological fallout of his irresponsibility in animated sequences set at different times of day in different parts of his distressed innards, where a talkative white blood cell and an officious patent-medicine pill work to cure him. This mixture of cartooning and live action has antecedents as different as the science-fiction adventure "Fantastic Journey," old educational TV specials like "Hemo the Magnificent," and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which was far more ambitious. But the Farrelly brothers inevitably steer toward gross-out farce, and little they cook up here amounts to more than smart-alecky parody with an intermittently sour smell. Young viewers may guffaw, but seasoned fans of "There's Something About Mary" will be disappointed.
Director: Alejandro Amenábar. With Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Eric Sykes. (104 min.)
Sterritt ** A war widow, her little boy, and their new servants dwell amid the mysteries of what may be a very haunted house. This is a subdued and sometimes subtle exercise in ghostly doings, going against the horror-movie grain by relying on quietude and understatement. Kidman is a bit stiff as the increasingly anxious matriarch, though, and Amenábar's filmmaking is sadly short on surprises.
Director: Allan Miller. With Zhang Yimou, Zubin Mehta. (87 min.)
Sterritt ** Renowned conductor Mehta and celebrated filmmaker Zhang combined their talents to create a unique production of Puccini's opera "Turandot," first in Italy and then in China, where they ran into artistic and bureaucratic challenges they hadn't anticipated. Things worked out well in the end, and this attractively shot documentary of the production tells how the gifted duo managed to pull it off. Music buffs may wish there were a lot more Puccini and a little less talking-head chitchat, though. In English and in Mandarin and Italian with English subtitles
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 needlessly crude comedy.
Staff ** Formulaic, funny (at times), half-baked.
VS/N: 6 scenes of innuendo, 1 scene of implied sex. VV: 3 scenes, including 1 fight. VP: 31 harsh expressions. VD: 1 scene with smoking, 9 scenes with drinking, 2 scenes with pill-taking.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola. With Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper. (196 min.)
Sterritt **** Coppola has restored 53 minutes of material trimmed from the original 1979 release of "Apocalypse Now," his legendary drama about the Vietnam War. The story, based on Joseph Conrad's haunting 1898 novella "Heart of Darkness," hasn't changed: A soldier (Sheen) travels up a jungle river to assassinate a military officer (Brando) who's gone insane and established a private kingdom ruled by terror. The film is episodic and uneven, but it has moments of great emotional power.
Director: Lawrence Guterman. With Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Alexander Pollock. (87 min.)
Sterritt * Goldblum plays a scientist working on an anti-allergy medicine, but the real 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.
VS/N: None. VV: 16 scenes of cartoon-like violence. VP: 4 very mild. VD: None
Director: Steve Carr. With Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, and voices of Steve Zahn, Lisa Kudrow. (90 min.)
Staff *1/2 Murphy reprises his 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
Staff *** Family fun, rapid-fire humor, upbeat.
VS/N: None. VV: 1 comic scene. VP: 21 mild expressions. VD: 2 with alcohol.
Director: Terry Zwigoff. With Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro. (111 min.)
uuu Reluctant to enter the ordinary adult world, which they find shallow and tedious, two girls just out of high school strike up a smirky relationship with an older man who has antisocial tendencies. While this isn't a showy or flashy movie, it has social, psychological, and ultimately mystical overtones that raise it leagues above most other teen-centered comedies.
Director: Joe Johnston. With Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola. (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.
VS/N: None. VV: 11 scenes of dinosaur attacks. VP: 5 mild instances. VD: 1 scene with drinking.
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.
VS/N: None. VV: None. VP: 15 mild expressions. VD: 4 scenes with alcohol.
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?
Staff 1/2 One-dimensional, Burton succeeds again, never dull, terrific sets and makeup.
VS/N: 1 scene of innuendo. VV: 22 scenes, including gore. VP: 10 mild expressions. VD: 2 scenes with smoking, 2 scenes with drinking.
Director: Garry Marshall. With Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Heather Matarazzo, Hector Elizondo. (114 min.)
uu Andrews is excellent as the queen of an itsy-bitsy European principality who decides the nation's next ruler should be her granddaughter, a San Francisco teenager. With its leisurely pace and unfancy filmmaking, this is a likable throwback to an old tradition of family-friendly comedies from Disney, spinning its unpretentious yarn with a quiet but inventive sense of humor. The problem is that it goes on much too long.
uuu Benign, whimsical, endearing, fluffy, bland.
VS/N: None. VV: None. VP: None. VD: 2 scenes with drinking.
Director: Bret Rattner. With Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Zhang Ziyi, Chris Penn, Don Cheadle. (88 min.)
Staff **1/2 Just put Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker together for 90 minutes, and you've got a hit movie. Here, the detectives chase Triad counterfeiters from Hong Kong to Las Vegas. Never mind that the sequel's stunts and fight-scene choreography aren't as impressive as that of the first movie - the amped-up comedy more than compensates to carry the day. By Matthew MacLean
Staff *** Flashy, nonsensical, simplistic, cocky.
VS/N: 4 scenes of innuendo. 3 scenes male posterior nudity. VV: 11 scenes, including martial arts. VP: 40 expressions, many harsh. VD: 3 scenes with alcohol, 3 scenes with smoking.
Director: Frank Oz. With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando. (124 min.)
Staff ** "The Score" boasts De Niro, Norton, and Brando - three great actors from three different generations. But this heist movie, about a thief (De Niro) on his last job, is also third-rate material. Like the other actors, De Niro's hardly stretching himself here.
By Stephen Humphries
Staff *** Intelligent, no emotional drive, thrilling.
VS/N: None. VV: 5 scenes, including a fight. VP: 79 harsh expressions. VD: 2 scenes with smoking; 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud. With Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes. (133 min.)
Sterritt * Rivalry flares between a Soviet sniper and his Nazi counterpart as they turn their sights on each other during World War II's Battle of Stalingrad. Annaud seems more interested in epic visual sweep than deep-rooted human emotion, though. Add a perfunctory love affair, and you have a movie that's its own worst enemy.
Staff ** Shallow, authentic, suspenseful.
Director: John Herzfeld. With Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks. (120 min.)
Sterritt ** A homicide cop and an arson investigator get into a New York tussle with two thugs from Eastern Europe. Herzfeld cares more about sensationalism than substance, and portions of the picture are far nastier than they had to be.
Staff ** Uneven tone, well edited, silly.
Directors: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont. With Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid. (98 min.)
Sterritt *** Our heroines are wannabe rock stars who stumble on a scheme for selling pop-culture products through subliminal messages. The action is perky, but it's ironic that this satire of commercialism sets a record for product-placement plugs.
Director: Daniel Minahan. With Brooke Smith, Mark Woodbury, Michael Kaycheck. (85 min.)
Sterritt *** This ferocious satire of "reality television" presents a (bogus) show that arms ordinary people with weapons. Too cynical to believe? Project your imagination into the future, and ponder the possibilities.