The Monitor Movie Guide

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel. ++++ Excellent +++1/2 Very Good +++ Good ++ 1/2 Average ++ Fair +1/2 Poor + Worst

NEW RELEASES FOOLISH (R) Director: Dave Meyers. With Master P, Eddie Griffin, John Marlo, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Duke. (110 min.) + The title character is a stand-up comic struggling to maintain a career that's being exploited by the entertainment industry and his gangster brother. There's nothing funny about the movie's discriminatory material, and if the filmmakers are trying to convey a message through its poor acting and raunchy jokes, they've failed. By Laura Danese

FRIENDS & LOVERS (NOT RATED) Director: George Haas. With Robert Downey Jr., Claudia Schiffer, Stephen Baldwin, Alison Eastwood. (98 min.) + A close-knit group of young adults goes to Utah for skiing, romantic adventures, and an emotional encounter with one man's neglectful father. The screenplay is an uneasy mixture of sex comedy and family drama; at least Downey shows up periodically to show how awful dialogue can almost work if enough propulsive energy is thrown into it.

GOODBYE LOVER (R) Director: Roland Joff. With Patricia Arquette, Don Johnson, Dermot Mulroney, Ellen DeGeneres, Mary-Louise Parker. (104 min.) ++ Arquette plays a femme fatale who kills her brother-in-law, outfoxes an attractive rival, and spars with a feisty detective in a film-noir plot that pivots on the idea that everyone has a devious streak. Joff gives the action a certain amount of flair, but the story is instantly forgettable.

HIDEOUS KINKY (R) Director: Gillies Mackinnon. With Kate Winslet, Sad Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan. (99 min.) +++ After moving to North Africa in search of '60s-style adventure and enlightenment, a young Englishwoman raises her little girls and plans a visit to an Algerian guru for an encounter with Sufi wisdom. Winslet gives a very creative performance, and Mackinnon sketches a bemused yet sympathetic portrait of the cultural clash between the idealistic heroine and the ancient, intricate society that she embraces but scarcely understands.

HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS (NOT RATED) Director: Agns Varda. With Michel Piccoli, Julie Gayet, Marcello Mastroianni, Mathieu Demy, Grard Depardieu, Robert De Niro, Jean-Paul Belmondo. (101 min.) +++ Varda uses a humorous story idea - friendship between a young film student and a movie-loving old codger - as the excuse for a feature-length celebration of motion-picture history, complete with film clips and star cameos. The results are giddy, silly, and a treat for any cinephile.

JEANNE AND THE PERFECT GUY (NOT RATED) Director: Olivier DuCastel. With Virginie Ledoyen, Mathieu Demy, Jacques Bonnaffe, Valerie Bonneton. (89 min.) +++ French fable about a vivacious young woman who falls madly in love with a man she's just met, only to learn that he's been diagnosed with AIDS and faces an uncertain future. The movie confronts this situation forthrightly, but tempers its potential gloominess by surrounding the story with sprightly songs, dances, and colors, bringing an undertone of hope to a very bittersweet story.

LIFE (R) Director: Ted Demme. With Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Ned Beatty, Obba Babatund, Clarence Williams 3rd, Bernie Mac, Cicely Tyson. (118 min.) +++ Two small-time criminals are sentenced to life on a Mississippi prison farm for a murder they didn't commit, and sway between hope and despair as the decades roll by. The humor doesn't have much subtlety and the atmosphere doesn't have much authenticity, but Murphy and Lawrence are a natural-born comedy team and the supporting cast is fine.

LOVERS OF THE ARCTIC CIRCLE (R) Director: Julio Medem. With Najwa Nimri, Fele Martnez, Maru Valdivielso, Nancho Novo. (112 min.) +++ Inventive filmmaking and passionate performances enrich a basically slim story in this stylized romance about a boy and girl who fall deeply in love and stay that way as they grow into adults, when new challenges start to interfere with their relationship.

THE MONSTER (R) Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Michel Blanc. (111 min.) + Before he tried to make the Holocaust funny in "Life Is Beautiful," filmmaker- comedian Benigni tried to make sex crimes funny in this 1996 farce about a bumbling worker mistaken for a serial killer. It's full of his usual manic energy, but that's no match for the sheer bad taste of the picture.

OPEN YOUR EYES (R) Director: Alejandro Amenbar. With Eduardo Noriega, Penlope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Chete Lera, Gerard Barray. (110 min.) +++ This extremely clever Spanish thriller starts as the romantic story of a young man and his jealous lover, then becomes a tale of physical and emotional trauma, and finally plunges into surreal mystery and science-fiction pyrotechnics. That may sound like a hodgepodge, but Amenbar weaves it into a smoothly flowing tale that's as gripping as it is unpredictable.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE COOKIE'S FORTUNE (PG-13) Director: Robert Altman. With Glenn Close, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Charles S. Dutton, Chris O'Donnell, Patricia Neal, Lyle Lovett, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Donald Moffat. (118 min.) +++ Friendships and family ties are tested when the police of a little Mississippi town launch an investigation into the death of a local dowager, not knowing her nieces have tampered with evidence to protect their inheritance from the old lady. As in most of Altman's best pictures, the story is a loosely strung excuse for various digressions, distractions, and diversions, filmed by a restless camera that pokes around like a sharp-eyed traveler on the lookout for tantalizing anecdotes to share with the folks back home. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 scene of a suicide. Profanity: 29 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of smoking and/or drinking.

DIAL 'M' FOR MURDER (NOT RATED) Director: Alfred Hitchcock. With Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson, John Williams. (105 min.) +++ Revival of the 1954 murder mystery based on Frederick Knott's popular play about a husband's almost-perfect plot to kill his unfaithful wife. Although it's one of Hitchcock's less-imaginative works, this is the only film ever shot by a major director in the 3-D format; it originally went to theaters in a "flat" version because the 3-D craze had ended by the time Hitchcock completed it, but it has strong visual impact when theaters now show it in its intended form.

THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (NOT RATED) Director: Erick Zonca. With Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Regnier, Patrick Mercado, Jo Prestia, Grgoire Colin. (113 min.) +++ Sharing an apartment in a small French city, two rootless young women develop a complex relationship based on their mutual need for companionship and support. Zonca's filmmaking is smooth and assured, but top honors go to Bouchez and Regnier for their superb performances as the emotionally troubled heroines. Contains sex and nudity. Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes of nudity and innuendo, and 1 graphic sex scene. Violence: 4 instances of slapping, 1 of suicide. Profanity: 29 expressions. Drugs: 20 scenes of smoking, drinking, and marijuana use.

GO (R) Director: Doug Liman. With Sarah Polley, William Fichtner, Desmond Askew, Katie Holmes, Taye Diggs, J.E. Freeman, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Breckin Meyer, Jane Krakowski, Timothy Olyphant. (100 min.) ++ Three interrelated stories about a teenage checkout clerk who gets involved in a drug scam, two men on the run from outraged enemies, and a cop who may be pushing a sinister scheme. The screenplay often seems like a rehash of Quentin Tarantino's aptly named "Pulp Fiction," and although some of the acting is strong, the atmosphere is so relentlessly sleazy that many moviegoers will want to go long before the final credits. ++ Fast-paced, unoriginal, sleazy. Sex/Nudity: 5 instances, including a strip-bar scene and two explicit sex scenes. Violence: 4 scenes, including a graphic car accident. Profanity: 79 expressions. Drugs: Constant use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs.

THE MATRIX (R) Directors: The Wachowski Brothers. With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano. (132 min.) +++ Juiced up with nonstop action and a megadose of special effects, this science-fiction thrill ride begins with the paranoid premise that evil conspirators have all humanity trapped in a web of illusion that perpetuates their control by blinding us to reality. The plot switches gears every time it threatens to run out of energy, which keeps the show as lively as it is preposterous. +++ Original, clever, solid sci-fi. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes, some lengthy. Profanity: 48 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking and/or drinking.

NEVER BEEN KISSED (PG-13) Director: Raja Gosnell. With Drew Barrymore, Leelee Sobieski, David Arquette, Jeremy Jordan, Garry Marshall, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Michael Vartan. (108 min.) ++ Colorful comedy about a 25-year-old journalist assigned to relive her senior year in high school, this time as an undercover reporter getting the scoop on today's kids. Barrymore continues to grow as a comic actress, with solid support from Sobieski and Arquette, and the story has energy to spare. Much of the humor is so youth-centered that older moviegoers won't always get the point, though, and some scenes trivialize sensitive sex-related issues. +++ Hilarious, trendy, crowd-pleaser. Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 9 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of smoking and drinking; main character eats a hash brownie

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (PG-13) Director: Gil Junger. With Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller. (94 min.) ++ Shakespeare strikes again with this teenage comedy based on "The Taming of the Shrew," transferred to an American high school where boys launch a complicated scheme to woo a pair of sisters who won't go out with them. Junger spins hilariously written scenes with split-second timing, although the story sags during its long middle portion. Contains a lot of explicit sexual humor. ++1/2 Good take on adolescent angst, juvenile-humor, music-driven. Sex/Nudity: Continuous talk of sex. Violence: A few teenage fistfights. Profanity: 43 expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes of high-school parties with smoking and drinking.

TRUE CRIME (R) Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton. (115 min.) +++ Assigned to interview a condemned prisoner, an aging reporter tries to salvage what's left of his alcohol-ruined career by proving the convict's innocence just hours before his execution. The drama is crisply acted and entertainingly filmed until credibility wanes in the last half hour. It would be even better if Eastwood followed his character's lead and emphasized "real issues" over "human interest" in a story that touches on important social problems without doing much to illuminate them. +++1/2 Sharp dialogue, crackling good story, Eastwood-esque. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 98 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of cigarettes and/or alcohol.

A WALK ON THE MOON (R) Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Diane Lane and Anna Paquin. (107 min.) ++ The first lunar landing and the Woodstock music festival are the historical backdrops of this mostly well-acted drama about a married woman who has an affair with a traveling salesman while tending her kids at a Jewish bungalow colony in the summer of 1969. The movie doesn't quite manage to weave its lonely-wife story and summer-of-love setting into a satisfying whole, but Lane is touching as a woman who fears she missed the fun of life by marrying too young. ++1/2 Nostalgic, good acting, flimsy plot. Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of sex and/or nudity. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with cigarettes with drinking, and 2 with marijuana use.

OUT ON VIDEO APT PUPIL (R) Director: Bryan Singer. With Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Bruce Davidson, Elias Koteas, David Schwimmer. (113 min.) ++ A smart but troubled 16-year-old uncovers the Nazi past of an elderly neighbor and blackmails the old man into mentoring the boy's own ambitions to become a thuggish, even murderous manipulator. The subject is timely, but the sensationalistic tale doesn't delve very far into the issues it raises.

Coming Soon ... (In stores April 20)

SIMON BIRCH (PG) Director: Mark Steven Johnson. With Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn. (110 min.) +++ The hero is a very small boy who's convinced his "abnormal" physique is proof of God's particular interest in him, and feels he'll fulfill some special purpose as soon as he can figure out what it is. The movie is lively and endearing. +++ Tear-jerker, intriguing, literary.

A BUG'S LIFE (G) Director: John Lasseter. With Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Madeleine Kahn, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, David Hyde Pierce, Alex Rocco, John Ratzenberger, Edie McClurg, Roddy McDowall. (86 min.) +++ A feisty ant decides to challenge the bullying grasshoppers who live off his colony, but when he visits the big city to recruit a warrior gang for the battle he comes back with a beat-up circus troupe that's desperate for any audience it can find. The story is amusing and the animation is first-rate, but there's less sparkling originality than in "Toy Story," the previous collaboration between Disney and the inventive Pixar people. ++++ Stunning, captivating, funny.

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