The Monitor Movie Guide

STAR RATINGS Excellent ++++ Good +++ Average ++ Poor + The Worst DUD

AMERICAN PIE (R) Director: Paul Weitz. With Jason Biggs, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Seann W. Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy. (100 min.) + A bunch of high-school boys make a vow to consummate their sex lives before graduation, and pursue various girls with this project in mind. Teenybopper comedies rarely reach heights of inspiration, and this one is mostly unappealing despite a handful of amusing performances. Contains a high degree of gross-out humor.

ARLINGTON ROAD (R) Director: Mark Pellington. With Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett. (117 min.) +++ A widowed college teacher gets the idea that his clean-living suburban neighbors may be involved in a terrorist plot. The story is vivid, involving, and thought-provoking, and Pellington keeps it moving at such a steady clip that you almost don't notice when Ehren Kruger's screenplay makes an occasional lapse into far-fetched coincidence. Be warned that this Hitchcockian thriller pursues its ideas to grim and unsettling conclusions.

AUTUMN TALE (PG) Director: Eric Rohmer. With Batrice Romand, Marie Rivire, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre, Alexia Portal. (110 min.) ++++ Two friends decide to fix up a middle-aged widow with a new man but get distracted by romantic agendas of their own. A founding member of French film's revolutionary New Wave movement, Rohmer gives this bittersweet story a truly autumnal mood, tinged with the melancholy of lives that won't see spring again, yet as bracing as the energy of its refreshingly mature main characters. French with English subtitles.

THE DINNER GAME (NOT RATED) Director: Francis Veber. With Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret, Francis Huster, Daniel Prevost, Alexandra Vendernoot, Catherine Frot. (82 min.) +++ Playing an obnoxious game he enjoys, a publisher invites an eccentric man to dinner so he and his friends can mock him, but the unsuspecting guest proves to be more solid and sensitive than anyone else around. France invented this sort of crackling farce, and the tradition remains alive and well in Veber's able hands. French with English subtitles.

LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER (NOT RATED) Director: Olivier Assayas. With Mathieu Amalric, Virginie Ledoyen, Franois Cluzet, Jeanne Balibar. (112 min.) ++ This multilayered drama sketches the lives of several Parisians juggling personal and professional challenges, ranging from romance to serious illness. It falls short of Assayas's most inventive work, but reconfirms his ability to ferret out hidden facets of the personalities he explores. French with English subtitles.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AN IDEAL HUSBAND (PG-13) Director: Oliver Parker. With Jeremy Northam, Julianne Moore, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, John Wood, Minnie Driver, Peter Vaughan, Jeroen Krabb. (97 min.) +++ Oscar Wildes play inspired this supple comedy, centering on a well- starched British gentleman whos hiding a secret that could touch off a political scandal if a beautiful blackmailer doesnt get what she wants. The dialogue is witty, the cast is appealing, and modern-day moviegoers will spot more than a few parallels between their morally checkered age and London of a century ago. +++1/2 Sparkling comedy, fun plot twists, intelligent, charming, witty. Sex/Nudity: Fleeting nudity, mild innuendo, 1 instance of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 7 mild expressions. Drugs: 9 scenes with drinking and/or smoking.

BIG DADDY (PG-13) Director: Dennis Dugan. With Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Steve Buscemi. (95 min.) ++ Adam Sandler fans ought to be pleased with this latest lighthearted release. The former SNL-er plays Sonny Kou-fax toll collector with a law degree who suddenly finds himself playing dad to a kindergartner. Sophomoric antics abound from the top pop, enough to please high-schoolers on down and gross out the rest of us. By Katherine Dillin ++1/2 Crude, comical, juvenile. Sex/Nudity: 1 morning-after scene; 1 homosexual kiss. Violence: 4 slapstick scenes. Profanity: 13 mild expressions. Drugs: 4 mild party/bar scenes with alcohol.

THE GENERALS DAUGHTER (R) Director: Simon West. With John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson, James Cromwell, Clarence Williams III, Timothy Hutton. (116 min.) ++ A military cop and a rape investigator make disturbing discoveries as they probe the bizarre murder of a female officer whose father, a top-ranking commander, is about to enter politics. The capably filmed story builds effective suspense at times, and scores telling points against military machismo. But its impact is weakened by clunky dialogue, too many plot twists, and a weakness for pop psychologizing. Contains explicit sexual violence. +++ Dark, clever, disturbing flashbacks. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene with nudity, 1 with disturbing videotaped sexual exploits. Violence: 13 harsh scenes with gang rape, assault, and a gun wound. Profanity: 57 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 16 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking.

MY SON THE FANATIC (R) Director: Udayan Prasad. With Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths, Stellan Skarsgard, Akbar Kurtha, Gopi Desai. (86 min.) +++ The venturesome Hanif Kureishi wrote this colorful drama about a hard- working Pakistani immigrant who agonizes over his sons decision to become an Islamic fundamentalist instead of blending into their adopted English culture. The story loses momentum when it wanders into the fathers friendships with a businessman and a prostitute, but overall its intelligently written and appealingly acted. Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with nudity, 2 implied sex, 1 morning-after. Violence: 1 brief riot, 1 with a man being beaten. Profanity: 29 expressions. Drugs: 13 instances with drinking and/or smoking, 1 with drugs.

THE RED VIOLIN (NOT RATED) Director: Franois Girard. With Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Don McKellar, Jean-Luc Bideau. (130 min.) +++ This omnibus-style film traces the fictional history of a superbly crafted violin, and the mystery attached to it, as it passes from 17th-century Italy to China during the Cultural Revolution, with stops in Austria and England along the way. Movies in this genre are often made with more attention to international marketing than first-rate storytelling, but Girard invests each episode of this Canadian production with dramatic credibility and emotional strength. In four languages, with English subtitles when appropriate. +++ Lushly scored, unusual, leisurely paced, rewarding, haunting. Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of nudity, 1 explicit sex scene, innuendo. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 6 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking, 1 with opium.

RUN LOLA RUN (R) Director: Tom Tykwer. With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Herbert Knaup, Armin Rohde. (81 min.) ++++ Amazingly creative filmmaking propels this anything-goes tale of a young woman who has just 20 minutes to save her boyfriends life by raising a huge amount of cash. Tykwers style gives the movie an explosive energy that never quits, marking him as the most ingenious new talent to hail from Germany in ages. Contains violent action. In German with English subtitles. Sex/Nudity: 1 very brief scene. Violence: 9 scenes with gunshots, mugging, car crashes followed by threats of violence. Profanity: 18 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 drug deal, 2 scenes with smoking, 4 with drinking.

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (R) Director: Trey Parker. With voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, George Clooney, Brent Spiner, Minnie Driver. (80 min.) ++ A bunch of third-graders sneak into an adults-only movie that teaches them even more obscenities than they already know, touching off a visit to Hades and a war with Canada, among other adventures. Based on the TV cartoon series with a knack for titillating youngsters and irritating parents, the comedy labors mightily to be as offensive and obnoxious as possible. Its inventive in an idiotic sort of way, though, and pauses occasionally to make serious points about movie violence and censorship. Contains extremely foul sexual and scatological humor.

STAR WARS: EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE (PG) Director: George Lucas. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd. (132 min.) +++ The series heads into its second trilogy as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a boy named Anakin Skywalker on the desert world Tatooine during a dispute between the minor planet Naboo and a powerful trade federation. The computer-driven effects are impressive, but the adventure is hampered by a flat screenplay and dull acting. +++ Thrilling visuals, earnest, action-packed. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 27 scenes of bloodless combat.

SUMMER OF SAM (R) Director: Spike Lee. With John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Anthony LaPaglia, Jennifer Esposito. (145 min.) +++ The real-life crimes of the Son of Sam killer, who terrorized parts of New York City in 1977, inspired this boisterous melodrama about hot-headed vigilantes who think the psychopath may be huddled in their own Bronx neighborhood. Lee focuses less on the murders than on the social hysteria they generate, the mass media that capitalize on them, and the shaky moral climate that allows such decadence to develop. The movie is so ambitious and rambunctious that it tends to drown out its own cautionary messages, but theres no mistaking its outrage over the ethical decay in contemporary urban life. Contains foul language, sex, and violence. u1/2 Excessive, perverse, tedious, inflammatory. Sex/Nudity: 12 explicit sex scenes including group and homosexual incidents. Violence: 11 graphic instances with shootings, fistfights, and close-ups of victims. Profanity: 522 expressions. Drugs: Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes present throughout movie.

TARZAN (G) Directors: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck. With voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close. (88 min.) +++ Animated version of the classic yarn about an orphaned child who grows up with gorillas until humans barge into his domain. The cartooning is lively and funny, and the voice-only cast brings the characters to vivid life. Theres no over-the-top music or comedy sequence to place this with the very best Disney animations, though. +++1/2 Exhilarating, may be too intense for the under-six crowd, fast-paced. Sex/Nudity/Profanity: None. Violence: 9 scenes, including the implied killing of Tarzans parents and a baby gorilla by a leopard. Drugs: 1 scene of a hunter drinking wine and Tarzan making fun of cigar smoker.

WILD WILD WEST (PG-13) Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. With Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek. (107 min.) ++ Smith and Kline play 19th-century government agents chasing a mad scientist (Branagh) who wants to conquer America with weapons as surrealistic as they are scary. Their energy cant outweigh the trite action scenes havent we seen enough fiery explosions and head-butting fistfights by now? The flat dialogue sinks into racial slurs and disability jokes whenever it runs out of ideas. That happens constantly, even though no fewer than six writers cooked up the screenplay. u1/2 Silly, idiotic plot, vacuous. Sex/Nudity: 2 light scenes and some innuendo. Violence: 17 scenes involving cannons, gunfire, knives, and fistfights. Profanity: 16 mild expressions. Drugs: 14 scenes with alcohol and/or cigars.

OUT ON VIDEO HILARY AND JACKIE (R) Director: Anand Tucker. With Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, Charles Dance, David Morrissey. (121 min.) +++ Handsomely filmed drama based on the real-life relationship between Jacqueline du Pr, a cellist who became one of the worlds most acclaimed musicians, and her sister, who traded in her musical talent for domestic life. +++1/2 Wonderful music, intense, moving.

COMING SOON ... (In stores July 13)

A CIVIL ACTION (PG-13) Director: Steven Zaillian. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Kathleen Quinlan. (113 min.) +++ A self-centered attorney takes on a case involving claims of illness caused by toxic waste and finds himself making great personal and professional sacrifices as he becomes increasingly committed to righting the insidious wrongs uncovered by his investigations. Splendid acting and a taut screenplay make the fact-based tale highly involving until its abrupt, underdeveloped ending. +++ Compelling, intense, solid acting.

SHES ALL THAT (PG-13) Director: Robert Iscove. With Freddie Prinze Jr., Kieran Culkin, Jodi Lyn OKeefe, Anna Paquin, Rachel Leigh Cook, Usher Raymond, Kevin Pollack. (96 min.) ++ The most popular boy in school bets that he can turn an art-class dork into the prom queen, then finds himself (surprise!) captivated by her hidden charms. This teenage Pygmalion is predictable and a bit gawky, and some wont like its flashes of gross-out humor. The cast is appealing, though, and there are a few hilarious jokes tucked in around the edges of the plot. ++ Superficial, silly, cute.

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