Accidental spy

Jackie Chan is quite engaging as a salesman whose day to day doldrums are interrupted when he accidentally foils a bank robbery, becoming a hero in the process. His notoriety is not lost on Many Liu (Eric Tsang), a mystery man who claims that Buck Yeun (Chan) comes from a long line of spies. With a little training, Buck finds himself on his first mission, where his martial arts skills and quick wit will be his only weapons. Sounds like a Hong Kong version of “The Master of Disguise,” or is it the other way around? Doesn’t matter, because Chan fans will eat up this non-stop barrage of incredible stunts, action and tongue in cheek humor. (Dimension)


SHOWTIME (PG-13)

Talk about being in a rut. “Showtime,” a buddy comedy, is directed by Tom Dey, whose freshman outing was “Shanghai Noon,” a buddy comedy starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. The film is co-written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who not only wrote “Shanghai Noon,” but the cop buddy comedy “Lethal Weapon 4.” “Showtime” stars Robert De Niro, whose credits include the buddy comedies “Midnight Run” and “Analyze This,” and Eddie Murphy, who counts among his buddy comedies “48 Hrs.” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” Please click on title for complete review. (Warner)

BIRTHDAY GIRL (R)

Nicole Kidman is the main draw here, playing a Russian mail order bride who is not what she seems. Talk about truth in advertising. That’s exactly what British banker John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin, appropriately frazzled) thinks when he meets Nadia for the first time. She’s gorgeous, speaks very little English, and seems to like John. What begins as a funny little character branches out into other genres, including a muddled thriller that begins with the unexpected arrival of Nadia’s Russian cousins. British director Jez Butterworth does a good job of pulling the different aspects of the film together, but the film still suffers from an unfocused script. The leads are fun to watch and are occasionally funny, but they seem stifled by the confines of the script. (Miramax)

CLOCKSTOPPERS (PG)

Really cool science-fiction adventure that delivers the goods without having to resort to graphic violence or adult themes. This Nickelodeon Movie stars Jesse Bradford (now on display in “Swim Fan”) as Zak Gibbons, a typical teenager who only thinks about one thing (okay two, but remember, this is a family film): buy a car. And why not. Most teenagers dream about getting their first car. How many teenagers dream about being able to freeze time? Okay, how many who are not on Ritalin? While rummaging through his father’s inventions, Zak finds a souped-up wristwatch and puts it on. Wow. The watch freezes time, allowing Zak to move about in “hypertime.” At first Zak uses the watch for a little fun, but when other parties become interested in the gadget, he must use it to save the day. Okay, it’s a little hokey, but I really didn’t mind. I had a good time watching it, and the young cast and filmmakers didn’t insult my intelligence. Now I have just one question: Can you buy one of those watches through Sharper Image? (Paramount Home Video)

CROCODILE 2: DEATH SWAMP (R)

Those nasty Crocodiles are back for more, but I doubt anyone else will bite. Poor flight attendant Mia Bozeman (Heidi Noelle Lenhart). Her airline may not have gone belly up, but the plane she’s on does when it hits a storm and is then overtaken by thugs, who force the plane to crash land in a Mexico swamp. So who would you fear most if you were a hostage: the dudes with the guns, or the 30-foot crocodile who hasn’t had lunch yet? You probably won’t care. “Death Swamp” is a lesson in futility. (Lion’s Gate)

DAY THE WORLD ENDED, THE (R)

The final chapter Columbia-TriStar Home Video’s “Creature Feature” series that ran on Showtime before making the leap to video. Terrence Gross revisits the 50s science-fiction thriller about a small desert town that hides a deep, dark secret. Nastassja Kinski stars as Dr. Jennifer Stillman, a big city therapist who has relocated to the small town of Sierra Vista, Nevada. With her arrival comes a series of brutal murders, and the good doctor immediately receives a cold shoulder from all but young and ambitious student, who insists that his adoptive father (Randy Quaid) and the rest of the town are aliens. Not as bad as “Teenage Caveman” or “How To Make A Monster,” the film rises above the rest thanks to over-the-top performances and some great gross out effects by Stan Winston. (Columbia-TriStar Home Video)

IN THE BEDROOM (R)

Harrowing drama about the effects the death of a son have on his family. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, “In The Bedroom” features flawless performances from Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson as the parents who are left alone with their grief after the murder of their son. Director Todd Field, who co-wrote the adapted screenplay, fills each character with nuance and substance, while the actors bring them vividly to life. Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) is a young man home from college. His parents are glad to have him home, but become concerned when Frank begins seeing a divorcee (Marisa Tomei) with two children and a violent, abusive ex-husband. Despite his parent’s warnings, Frank continues to see Natalie (Tomei), leading to deadly consequences. How his parents deal with the tragedy makes for riveting viewing. It’s such a pleasure to have Spacek back on the big screen, and she’s so powerful and gripping, you wonder why she hasn’t been working more. Wilkinson is equally powerful as a husband who feels like he’s let his family down, and will do anything to plug that hole. (Miramax)

LAST ORDERS, THE (R)

A great cast and a great script succumb to director Fred Schepsi’s lethargic pacing, which turns what could have been a winning character study into a marathon of yawns. The cast is so good I really wanted to like the film more than I did, but this geriatric road trip runs out of gas long before the stars do. Schepsi’s script is smart and handles the various time frames with finesse, but behind the camera, the director is his own worst enemy. This film is like watching grass grow in the winter. When their friend (Michael Caine) dies, his friends (Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins) agree to fulfill his last wishes and dispose of his ashes at Margate Pier. As the men make the road trip, memories of their past begin to surface. Helen Mirren is wonderful as Caine’s wife, while Winstone is a real pistol as Caine’s son. (Columbia-TriStar)

PAULINE & PAULETTE (R)

Charming, sweet and emotionally satisfying tale of two sisters who even though they come from two different worlds, are very much the same. The Cannes Film Festival favorite marks the writing-directing debut of Lieven Debrauwer, and what a marvelous debut it is. The great Dora van der Groen is absolutely amazing as Pauline, a mentally challenged 66-year old woman who arrives on the doorstep of her younger sister Paulette (Ann Peterson, equally great) after her caretaker dies. Unprepared to care for her older sister, Paulette makes do until she can figure out what to do with Pauline, who has turned her life upside down. Paulette tries to dump Pauline off on another sister, but it’s not long before both women are again living under the same roof. “Pauline and Paulette” is a character piece, there’s very little in the way actual plotting, but what characters they are. Groen and Peterson are excellent together, playing off each other’s strengths. Debrauwer balances the film’s drama and melodrama well, never allowing sentimentality to smother the sweet nature of the story. (Columbia-TriStar)

RACE TO SPACE (PG)

It’s easy to see why this theatrical release crashed and burned on reentry. Kids may go for this simple tale of a young boy who helps train the first chimpanzee to go into outer space. James Woods stars as German rocket scientist Wilhelm Von Huber, who arrives in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1960 to assist on the NASA Space Program. What could and should have been a sentimental drama about coming of age instead becomes nothing more than one of those ABC Movies-of-the-Week they used to make for children. Director Sean McNamara must have been asleep at the wheel, because there’s no sense of continuity or restraint. The actors, especially Woods, are so larger-than-life they become fake. Alex D. Linz and his simian co-star steal the show, but then who would want it? (Lion’s Gate)



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