Films Review March

2001: A SPACE TRAVESTY (R)

The cinematic equivalent of a bad case of hemorrhoids. Leslie Nielsen wears out his welcome as the king of slapstick, obvious comedy in this horrible Canadian-American production that takes a bad idea and makes it worse.


Nielsen plays a futuristic police detective named Marshall Dix who has been summoned to the planet Vegan to break up a conspiracy to kill the President. Impotent jokes, garish production numbers and hack directing ruin any chance this supposed “Airplane” type comedy had of even being slightly amusing. (Columbia-TriStar)

DONNIE DARKO (R)

Extraordinary drama by first-time director Richard Kelly stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager whose future is in doubt. Part science-fiction, part thriller, part drama, “Donnie Darko” is a complete surprise, a film of unique ideas and superb performances. One night while trying to get to sleep, Donnie receives a message from a 6-foot rabbit that tells him to leave the house. Just as he exits, an airliner engine crashes into the house, destroying his room. With every appearance, the rabbit convinces Donnie that the world will end soon, and gives him a horrifying glimpse of what is to come. The revelation forces Donnie to seek out help, first from a psychiatrist (Katherine Ross) and then new girlfriend Gretchen (Jena Malone), who have a hard time believing him. As the rabbit’s predictions begin to play out, Donnie is forced to either accept the doomed future or do something to change it. “Donnie Darko” is filled with colorful characters who add to the drama, including Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker who hides a dark secret, mother Mary McDonnell who fears for her son’s sanity, and English teacher Drew Barrymore, who along with fellow teacher Noah Wylie, sees something special in Donnie. Highly recommended. (Fox)

FOCUS (PG-13)

William H. Macy delivers a winning performance as Lawrence Newman, a quiet, unassuming man living in Brooklyn in 1942. Anti-Semitism is at an all time high, and Newman, who is neither Jewish nor particularly religious for that matter, finds himself caught between trying to do the right thing while surviving in a neighborhood filled with bigots. The biggest bigot is Newman’s neighbor Fred (Meat Loaf Aday), who keeps an eye on the neighborhood to help keep it pure. Newman’s life becomes even more complicated when he is fitted for a pair of eyeglasses that give him a “Jewish” look. Soon he finds himself being shunned by friends, he’s moved from his high profile job to a something more secular, and when he refuses to hire a woman out of fear for his job because her name sounds too Jewish, Newman finally quits. He eventually ends up marrying the woman, Gertrude Hart (Laura Dern), and faces even more scrutiny from his friends and neighbors. David Paymer is wonderful as the local market owner who sees and knows everything that is going down, while Dern is spirited as the woman who steals Newman’s heart. Based on an Arthur Miller novel, the first time effort by director Neal Slavin doesn’t try to modernize the horrors of the era but creates a film that perfectly reflects the time and place. (Paramount)

HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II (G)

Most of the original voice talent returns for this satisfying direct-to-video sequel. While the animation isn’t nearly as detailed as the original, and the songs are less-than-show stopping, I believe kids of all ages will enjoy the further antics of bell ringer Quasimodo and his continuing search for true love. Kevin Kline and Demi Moore return briefly as Phoebus and Esmerelda, whose young son Zephyr (voice of Haley Joel Osment) takes center stage. Tom Hulce returns as the voice of Quasimodo, who falls in love with the magician’s assistant of a traveling circus. Jennifer Love Hewitt voices Madellaine, the assistant who first uses Quasimodo, and then actually falls in love with him. She’s pushed into action by master thief Sarousch (voice of Michael McKean), who travels with the circus and has designs on the famous bell. Quasimodo receives support from his friends, gargoyles Victor, Hugo and Laverne, voiced by Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough and Jane Withers. There’s enough action, romance and comedy to entertain kids over and over again. (Walt Disney)

RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (PG-13)

As anyone who has made the journey from teenager to adult will testify, the trip is filled with many unexpected speed bumps and detours. For 15-year-old Beverly D’Onofrio (Drew Barrymore), “Riding in Cars with Boys” leads to more than a good time. It leads Beverly to a lifetime commitment she isn’t prepared to deal with. While other teenage girls are worrying about graduating high school and what to wear to the prom, Beverly finds herself pregnant and married to the poster boy for irresponsible fathers. Based on the book by the real D’Onofrio, “Riding In Cars With Boys” is another example of how Hollywood can take something thoughtful and squeeze the life out of it. What remains is a familiar tale that lacks its own personality, which is pretty ironic when you consider that all of this is based on real life. Please click on title for complete review. (Columbia-TriStar)

RISK (R)

Mildly diverting Australian thriller stars Tom Long as Ben Madigan, a wet behind the ears insurance adjuster who has just started working for a new firm. His mentor is John Kreisky (Bryan Brown), a veteran in the business who uses him to defraud the company. What Ben believes is a plan to save the company money turns out to be a scam perpetuated by John and his girlfriend Louise (Claudia Karvan) to line their pockets and bank accounts. When Ben finally catches on, he must choose between doing the right thing or falling under the spell of the sexy Louise. Okay, but no big deal. (Lion’s Gate)

TRAINING DAY (R)

Harrowing, gritty street drama features an Oscar-winning performance by Denzel Washington as a corrupt Los Angeles narcotic’s officer breaking in a new team member, well played by Ethan Hawke. When young cop Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is teamed up with veteran Alonzo Harris (Washington), he’s thrilled to be learning the ropes with the best of the best. All that changes when Hoyt slowly learns that in order to keep the peace, Harris has been breaking the law. Not just breaking it, but using it to satisfy his thirst for power. After several chilling encounters with some of Harris’ friends, Hoyt finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Does he clam up and do the job, or does he break ranks and turn Harris in? His decision is made for him when Harris abandons Hoyt with some gang bangers, where his life literally hangs by a thread. The power and intensity of Washington’s performance makes him truly scary, while Hawke really comes alive for once in his career. Both men take us on a dark, twisted journey that will haunt you long after the film is over. (Warner Bros.)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

DIAMOND OF JERU, THE (NR/USA)

GAMBLER, THE (NR/Wellspring)

I’LL TAKE YOU THERE (R/First Look)

JACKIE’S BACK! (NR/Xenon)

OPERATOR (NR/First Look)



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