All about the benjamins

Rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube does double duty as co-writer and star of this highly entertaining comedy about a bounty hunter and a con artist who team up to locate a stolen van of diamonds. Cube is on the money (excuse the pun) as Bucum Jackson, a no-nonsense bounty hunter whose latest target is con artist Reggie Wright (Omar Epps). Jackson’s pursuit of Reggie takes an unexpected turn when Reggie finds himself in the back of a getaway van used in a multi-million dollar diamond heist.

Reggie manages to escape, but not before dropping his wallet. No big deal, unless you factor in the $60 million winning lottery ticket inside the wallet. Now the bounty hunter and his prey must team up together to locate the van and retrieve the wallet. Oh yeah, and the diamonds. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but they make the men in this comedy caper do some amazing things. Commercial and video director Kevin Bray, making his feature debut, does more than just the camera in the right place. He takes us along for the ride, and what a ride it is. I like Ice Cube, and Epps makes a great buddy. Hopefully we’ll see more of these two. (New Line)


My mother always told me that if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all. My mother didn’t see “Queen of the Damned,” another MTV-influenced horror film shot and edited for people with the attention span of a music video. Take away the eye candy and rock music and what’s left is a vampire film that is sorely in need of a transfusion. The second film to fly out of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” belfry, “Queen of the Damned” is a sad follow-up to Neil Jordan’s “Interview with a Vampire,” which starred Tom Cruise as the enigmatic vampire Lestat. Please click on title for complete review. (Warner Bros.)


It’s rare when a film about the gay porno industry crosses over to the mainstream. “The Fluffer” isn’t a porno film, but it is set in the world of gay porn. It’s also a funny, revealing, occasionally touching and poignant tale of a naive gay man who learns the ropes of the gay porno business the hard way, literally. Sean McGinnis (Michael Cunio) has never seen a gay porno film, but when one accidentally pops up in a rental case, he takes a look and likes what he sees. What he sees is popular porn actor Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), who is known in the business as strictly “gay for pay,” meaning he’s straight. That doesn’t stop Sean from adoring him, which he does from afar and then up close when he lands a job as a cameraman for an gay film company. Imagine Sean’s surprise when he’s requested to serve as Johnny’s “Fluffer,” the person who keeps the star stimulated between takes. It’s a dream come true for Sean, who falls head over heels for Johnny, who has other problems: his stripper girlfriend (Roxanne Day) is getting fed up with him and his work. That means Johnny must put up for shut up, which leads all of the characters in this morality play down an eye-opening path of self-discovery. The gay porno business is presented matter-of-fact, with directors Richard Glatzer and Wash West never stooping to exploitation. With the help of a talented cast, they create real, living and breathing characters who have to face up to their life choices. (First Run Features)


Judi Dench and Jim Broadtbent (he won a Best Supporting Oscar for his portrayal) deliver heartfelt and sympathetic performances as British novelists Irish Murdoch and John Bayley, who struggle through Murdoch’s Alzheimer’s Disease by reflecting on their school days together. Directed with respect and admiration by John Eyre, who co-wrote the screenplay (based on two of Bayley’s novels), “Iris” is an emotional Valentine that aims straight for the heart and hits a bulls-eye. Dench is remarkable as a woman so full of life that when she becomes stricken, we feel her loss. Broadbent helps us feel that loss as well, putting on a brave front to keep the woman he loves from disappearing. The flashbacks benefit from strong performances by Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as Iris and John in their younger years. A wonderful, human story about true love. (Miramax)


It’s sad how some films get lost in the holiday shuffle. Take “Joe Somebody.” A decent comedy with a bankable star, but it came and went in theaters so fast last December that virtually no one got a chance to see it. Audiences were too busy watching “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” Now audiences can catch up with this simple yet very effective comedy about an office worker who decides to get even with the office bully. Allen is quite funny as Joe Sheffer, a divorced father who finds himself on the wrong end of a bully’s fist. Instead of crawling into his own humiliation, Joe decides to regain his manhood by challenging the bully to a rematch. That means Joe has to prepare, which leads Joe to a former (washed up is more like it) movie action star to teach him to defend himself. It’s pretty much what you expect, but it’s such a pleasant no-brainer. Patrick Warburton makes a great office bully, and Julie Bowen is sweet as the woman Joe has his eyes on. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)


Director Ilya Chaiken’s drama about a Brooklyn Bohemian forced into adulthood when she becomes a single mother was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s appeal is readily evident. The title suggests a much lighter film, and anyone looking for an upbeat romantic comedy like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will be sorely disappointed. Those looking for a well acted, thoughtful and ultimately despairing character study will appreciate the film’s tone and voice. Eleanor Hutchins is excellent as Zelda, the new mother who slowly begins to realize that her lifestyle, good for nothing boyfriend, and all night partying are not conducive to being a proper mother. Chaiken captures the Bohemian lifestyle with affection, but her characters are hardly sympathetic. They mostly hang out and discuss life’s problems, never realizing that they’re part of it. Small, independent film that has a big voice that should be heard. (Wellspring)


Extremely agreeable belated sequel to the original animated classic features the usual suspects and one new addition, Wendy’s 12-year-old daughter Jane, who becomes a pawn in Captain Hook’s ultimate quest to get Peter Pan. While things have remained the same in Never Land, with Peter, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys constantly giving Hook the hook, Wendy has grown up and had children of her own. Daughter Jane is one of those non-nonsense kids who doesn’t believe in fairies, pixie dust or flying. Too bad, because those are the very beliefs Jane will need in order to defeat the evil Captain and return home. While not nearly as inspired or enchanting as the original, the sequel more than suffices as engaging entertainment. Children of all ages will enjoy the colorful characters, decent songs, and sense of adventure. Available for sell-through at $24.99 video and $29.99 DVD. (Walt Disney)


This Viper could use a pit stop. More hokum about top military projects that go madly out of control and threaten the world. This one stars Patrick Muldoon as a Mike Connors, a loose cannon who is called in to help contain a military prototype that is one part microbiology, one part computer, and fully capable of adapting to any environment and protecting itself. Writers Curtis Joseph and David Mason layer the script with bland characters, insulting logic, and enough cliches to write a book. The cast walk blindly through Jay Andrew’s non-direction. (Lion’s Gate)


Michael Caine shines in this British crime thriller about a boxing promoter named Billy “Shiner” Simpson, whose bad life choices have come back to haunt him. Realizing that he’s at the end of his rope, Billy desperately pins his hopes on an illegal boxing match that leaves his son dead. John Irvin directed this tough and gritty tale of one man’s effort to avenge the death of his son. Caine is outstanding as Billy, who knows from the outset that things will probably go bad, and when they do, snaps. Caine always excels in this type of character, and Irvin gets the best out of him. Irvin also delivers a crisp underworld thriller that could be a little smarter but remains effective nonetheless. Martin Landau and Frances Barber co-star. (Miramax)


Another case of what happened! Here’s an outrageous comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair that virtually came and went in theaters without a blip. I was hesitant to watch “The Sweetest Thing” because it got such bad reviews, but I’ve never let that stop me. What I discovered is that some people have no sense of humor. I laughed both of my asses off while watching this hilarious, gross, nasty and downright naughty comedy about three female best friends who say and do things that would make the gals on “Sex and the City” blush. Cameron Diaz is absolutely delightful as Christina Walters, a San Francisco party girl who decides it’s time to settle down. She finds the perfect guy (Thomas Jane, so adorable) in a bar, but blows him off. Then Christina sets out to find Mr. Right, leading to one disaster after another. Like “There’s Something About Mary,” Diaz and her gal pals are real sports for creating some of the film’s most memorable and gross moments. It’s short, funny, romantic and worth a look. (Columbia-TriStar Home Video)

VAN WILDER (R & Unrated)

National Lampoon attempts to reinvent their “Animal House” formula, and you know what, they actually succeed. Yet another film you wouldn’t give a second thought to, but once you’re done watching it, you can’t wait to tell your friends. Maybe not. It depends on how your friends feel about college hi-jinks that involve doggie fluids and pastries, or topless tutors, or just about every imaginable collegiate joke you can squeeze out of the formula. After watching “The Sweetest Thing,” I was glad I glued my ass back on, because I laughed it off again watching this zany comedy starring a very likeable Ryan Reynolds as the cool guy on the Coolidge College Campus. So what if Van Wilder has been at Coolidge for seven years. When you’ve got a good thing going, why give it up? Especially when your rich father is footing the bill. When dad realizes that his son is a loafer, he puts down the other foot and pulls Van Wilder’s tuition. That means he must come up with the funds or find another gig. It’s typical National Lampoon rabble rousing, with enough outrageous moments to make a second and possibly third viewing a must. Tara Reid is quite good as the college newspaper reporter out to get Van Wilder’s story. Buy the unrated DVD. You’ll be glad you did. (Artisan)

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