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 DAVID STERRITT MONITOR PANEL MEANING

**** **** Excellent *** *** Good ** ** Fair * * Poor DUD DUD The Worst

New releases

America's Sweethearts (PG-13)

Director: Joe Roth. With Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci. (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. Not even the stellar cast can sweeten this sour-hearted satire.

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.

Brother (R)

Director: Takeshi Kitano. With Beat Takeshi, Omar Epps, Claude Maki. (112 min.)

Sterritt ** On the run from murderous rivals, a Tokyo thug relocates to Los Angeles, takes over a relative's drug racket, and strikes up a complex relationship with a new African-American crony. As usual, Kitano's deadpan style serves him better as an actor than a director. Kitano stars in this melodrama under the name Beat Takeshi, which he uses in his popular Japanese television shows - but his first production made outside Japan has enough odd twists to be mildly interesting. Look out for a good deal of stinging violence, though.

In Japanese with English subtitles

Ghost World (R)

Director: Terry Zwigoff. With Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro. (111 min.)

Sterritt *** 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 of his own, leading to various emotional complications. Zwigoff's first fiction film recalls his 1994 documentary "Crumb" in the sympathy it shows for marginalia of American life that most people overlook and undervalue. 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.

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 as impressive as executive producer Steven Spielberg's bottomless resources can make them. But the screenplay is so stale that even fans of the previous "Jurassic" installments might think this is one clone too many.

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

Currently in Release

A.I. (PG-13)

Director: Steven Spielberg. With Haley Joel Osment, Frances O'Connor, Jude Law, William Hurt. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** The time is the distant future, and 11-year-old David (Osment) is a new kind of android whose "artificial" intelligence is programmed with "authentic" emotions. Spielberg took over this fantasy from the late Stanley Kubrick, but his own approach favors the pure fantasy styles of "E.T." and "Pinocchio," bringing the results closer to a joy ride than a thought-provoking parable.

Staff ** Pointless, shallow characters, stale.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 20 scenes, one quite violent torture scene. Profanity: 1 expression, mild. Drugs: None.

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 all conceivable tastes 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.

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.

Everybody's Famous (R)

Director: Dominique Deruddere. With Josse de Pauw, Werner De Scmedt, Victor Low, Thekla Reuten. (97 min.)

Staff *** Suddenly out of work when a factory closes down, a Belgian bottle inspector hatches a plan to launch his career as a songwriter and make his unprepossessing daughter a singing star. His scheme is to hold the country's top singer hostage until her manager gives him the backing he needs. This perfectly cast dig at fame and the entertainment industry, filled with misfits, look-alikes and wannabes, takes its potshots gently, with subtle delights and surprises at every fun.

In Flemish with English subtitles. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of implied sex, with nudity; 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 2 mild scenes. Profanity: 15 harsh expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with smoking, 4 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with pilltaking.

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 (yet again) and Earth has been decimated by aliens. The military wants to blast them into oblivion, but the brainy and beautiful Dr. Aki Ross thinks she can solve things with a more high-minded approach. The movie is the first major Hollywood release to feature an entire cast of human characters generated completely through computer animation. The movie abandons the anything-goes imaginativeness of animation by slavishly imitating human traits.

Staff ** Creative, pantheistic, Digitally sophisticated, intense.

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

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. How does she get into such a prestigious institution? This doesn't make much sense, even by the movie's own sitcom logic. 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.

Kiss of the Dragon (R)

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

Staff ** Don't go to this martial arts movie expecting "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." There's none of that movie's nuanced acting or genteel violence on display in this tale about a Chinese policeman (Li) framed for murder while on assignment in Paris. Stylish production values and inventive choreography fail to paper up the cavernous cracks in the story, but Li's karate chops are impressive. 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.

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, in the "Naked Gun" vein. Well that vein has apparently run dry, for 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 with Tim Curry. By Alex Kaloostian

The Score (R)

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

Staff ** Any movie poster boasting De Niro, Norton, and Brando - three great actors from three different generations - is sure to generate excitement. 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 to help out an in-debt Brando. Norton, as De Niro's partner, is a pleasure to watch, but like the other actors he's hardly stretching himself here. By Stephen Humphries

Staff *** Intelligent, lacks emotional drive, thrilling, ordinary.

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

Tomb Raider (PG-13)

Director: Simon West. With Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig, Iain Glenn. (80 min.)

Staff DUD The plotline has young archaeologist Lara Croft (Jolie) traversing the planet's ancient temples in search of keys that control time and space. "Tomb Raider" isn't a story as much as it is a show reel of circus stunts inside elaborate sets. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of partial nudity - male and female. Violence: 11 scenes. Profanity: 10 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking.

Out on video in stores July 24

Pollock (R)

Director: Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort. (117 min.)

Sterritt *** Harris is close to perfect as Jackson Pollock, the legendary artist who revolutionized modern painting in the 1940s before losing his life in a tragic accident. The filmmaking sinks into cliches at times, as when Pollock's breakthrough into "drip painting" is announced with portentous close-ups of the artist's eyes and the blank canvas he's about to fill, but the film is enriched by its fine acting.

Sweet November (PG-13)

Director: Pat O'Connor. With Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves, Greg Germann, Lauren Graham. (120 min.)

Staff ** Sara Deever (Theron) is dying of a diagnosed disease. Committed to an alternative lifestyle, she convinces an emotionally void workaholic (Reeves) to live with her for 30 days, and the agreement quickly progresses into an unlikely romance. The sweetest thing about "Sweet November" is the on-screen magic between Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves, but neither actor can completely internalize a character. By Steven Savides

Staff ** Anti-climactic, banal, sappy.

Valentine (R)

Director: Jamie Blanks. With Denise Richards, David Boreanaz. Jessica Capshaw, Marley Shelton. (96 min.)

Sterritt * A masked murderer stalks a series of women, and if you can't figure out the killer's identity at least 20 minutes before the end, pay more attention to "Scream" the next time you see it. The slasher-movie genre may never die, but can't its perpetrators think up variations more clever than this by-the-numbers rehash?

Staff 1/2 Gruesome, no-brainer, dead on arrival.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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