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

ELECTION (R) Director: Alexander Payne. With Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell. (104 min.) ++ The director of Citizen Ruth strikes again with this pitch-dark satire about a high-school election, three contrasting candidates, and a teacher with very divided loyalties. Many moviegoers will find its rough sexual humor unnecessary, unjustified, and offensive. Others may consider this the perfect teen comedy for the Clinton era, saVy and cynical about the adolescent version of modern politics. Either way, Broderick and Witherspoon give perfectly matched performances at the head of a first-rate cast.

EXISTENZ (R) Director: David Cronenberg. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Christopher Eccleston, Don McKellar. (90 min.) ++ Fantastic experiences zap a young man who meets a computer-game designer and agrees to test her most ambitious creation, which generates a more-than-virtual reality by plugging directly into the senses of its participants. Cronenberg reaches tantalizing new heights in his longtime project of blurring the boundaries between human and machine, organic and inorganic, fantasy and actuality. But viewers should stay far away unless they have a strong stomach for disorienting, sometimes deliberately disgusting effects.

LOST & FOUND (PG-13) Director: Jeff Pollack. With David Spade, Sophie Marceau, Martin Sheen, Patrick Bruel, Artie Lange. (105 min.) + A lovestruck Californian kidnaps a neighbors dog as a way of getting her attention. Marceaus charm keeps this dopey, demeaning comedy from being a total loss, but it comes perilously close.

N (NOT RATED) Director: Robert Lepage. With Anne-Marie Cadieux, Alexis Martin, Marie Brassard, Richard Frechette. (83 min.) ++ A pregnant actress, a French-Canadian terrorist, a Worlds Fair in Japan, and a heady dose of theatricality are among the main ingredients of this unconventional melodrama, which often seems self-consciously exotic when its trying to be crisp, colorful, and creative.

PUSHING TIN (R) Director: Mike Newell. With John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie. (120 min.) ++ Romance and rivalry among a group of air-traffic controllers, portrayed as suburban roughnecks with a penchant for rowdy behavior. The movie bids for novelty by focusing on a profession that Hollywood rarely notices, but theres nothing fresh about the smart-alecky characters or love-triangle plot. Such an appealing cast deserves more appealing material to work with.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE COOKIES FORTUNE (PG-13) Director: Robert Altman. With Glenn Close, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Charles S. Dutton, Chris ODonnell, Patricia Neal, Lyle Lovett, Ned Beatty. (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 Altmans 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. +++ Southern fried, well-acted, clever plot. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 scene of a suicide. Profanity: 29 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of smoking and/or drinking.

THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (NOT RATED) Director: Erick Zonca. With Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Rgnier, 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. Zoncas filmmaking is smooth and assured, but top honors go to Bouchez and Rgnier for their superb performances as the emotionally troubled heroines. Contains sex and nudity. +++1/2 Compassionate, down-to-earth, sincere. 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.

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 thats being exploited by the entertainment industry and his gangster brother. Theres nothing funny about the movies discriminatory material, and if the filmmakers are trying to convey a message through its poor acting and raunchy jokes, theyve 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 mans 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. + Vulgar, unoriginal, darkly predictable. Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes of graphic sex. Violence: 8 instances. Profanity: 105 expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes of drinking and smoking.

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 shes just met, only to learn that hes 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 didnt commit, and sway between hope and despair as the decades roll by. The humor doesnt have much subtlety and the atmosphere doesnt have much authenticity, but Murphy and Lawrence are a natural-born comedy team, and the supporting cast is fine. ++ Incongruous, difficult subject, endearing crooks. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of implied sex. Violence: 10 instances. Profanity: 214 expressions. Drugs: 18 instances.

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 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, Molly Shannon. (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 todays kids. Barrymore continues to grow as a comic actress, with solid support from Sobieski and Arquette. Much of the humor is so youth-centered that older moviegoers wont 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.

OPEN YOUR EYES (R) Director: Alejandro Amenbar. With Eduardo Noriega, Penlope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Chete Lera. (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 thats as gripping as it is unpredictable.

TRUE CRIME (R) Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods. (115 min.) +++ Assigned to interview a condemned prisoner, an aging reporter tries to salvage whats left of his alcohol-ruined career by proving the convicts innocence just hours before his execution. The drama is crisply acted and entertainingly filmed until credibility wanes in the last half hour. +++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 salesman while tending her kids at a Jewish bungalow colony in the summer of 1969. The movie doesnt 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 Coming Soon ... (In stores April 27)

AT FIRST SIGHT (PG-13) Director: Irwin Winkler. With Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis. (124 min.) ++ A blind masseur falls in love with a young architect, regains his sight through a new surgical procedure, and experiences vision for a limited time before losing it again. +++ Touching, unsentimental, refreshing ending.

CENTRAL STATION (R) Director: Walter Salles. With Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira, Marilia Pera. (115 min.) +++ A feisty Brazilian widow meets a little boy with no home, takes him under her wing, and helps him find elusive family members deep in the countrys interior. +++1/2 Compassionate, moving, thought-provoking.

ELIZABETH (R) Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes. (124 min.) +++ Pungent bio-pic about the famous queen and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Acted and directed with great energy and imagination. +++ Majestic, complex, bloody.

STEPMOM (PG-13) Director: Chris Columbus. With Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, Jena Malone. (124 min.) ++ A divorced woman vies with her former spouse's new fiance for the affection of her young children. The movie is reasonably smart and touching when it deals with the plight of a family on the rocks, but it pushes too many emotional buttons. +++ Touching, uplifting, the little boy stole the show!

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