Films Review June


Despite an interesting cast, this long-on-the-shelf drama (it was originally shot in 1997) fails to capture the grit and intensity of director Abel Ferrara’s best work, including “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Addiction.” Matthew Modine plays Matty, a movie star who finds satisfaction in Miami Beach’s underground nightlife. Accompanied by his fiancee, Matty dives deep into the city’s pool of depravity, indulging in kinky sex and drugs. When his lifestyle gets the best of him and he blacks out, Matty decides to move on with his life. Eighteen months later Matty seems to have it all. He’s sober, got a new girlfriend, and living the good life. That’s when images of his old life start haunting his new life, images he can’t explain, images that seem to be linked to the night of his blackout, forcing him back into his old lifestyle to unlock the mystery. Modine does an excellent turn as a man whose inner demons are taking control of his life, while Beatrice Dalle and Claudia Schiffer deliver nice turns as the women in his life. Dennis Hopper plays to type as Matty’s friend and tour guide to the city’s dark side. There’s plenty of promise in the premise, but not nearly enough payoff. (Columbia-TriStar)


There aren’t many highs in this winsome little drama about a small farming community that is forced to grow and sell marijuana in order to pay off mounting debts. Like “Saving Grace,” all of this is played with a soft heart of the common folk, who are forced by big bad government to break the law in order to support it. Set in the fictional town of Oxford, this comedy-drama doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s more entertainment than rhetoric, with everyone working toward a similar goal. That means diverting a visiting DEA agent (Mary McCormack) and the local sheriff (John Slattery) until everyone can sell off their crop. Making matters worse is an internal feud between stoners and non-smokers, with “Dawson’s Creek” star James Van Der Beek lighting up for the cause. Director Stuart Burkin keeps things moving along without standing on a soap box, while the cast is actually better than some of the stuff they’re forced to say. (Artisan)


Writer Terry McMillan (“Waiting to Exhale”) and director Gina Prince-Blythewood (“Love and Basketball”) come together in this emotionally satisfying drama starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan. Working from a strong, observant and ultimately convincing screenplay by Lisa Jones, Prince-Blythewood has created yet another powerful look at relationships and the people involved in them. Snipes plays Franklin Swift, a construction worker who doesn’t work as much as he would like. Lathan plays Zora Banks, an aspiring singer-songwriter who is headed for stardom. Like “A Star is Born,” they meet in the middle, struggling to keep their love alive despite the different directions their lives are taking them. “Disappearing Acts” deals with real emotions on an adult level. The actors, especially Snipes and Lathan, explore the material with conviction. Director Prince-Blythewood dots the landscape with interesting actors, including Regina King, John Amos and CCH Pounder. Made for HBO, the film should find plenty of anxious renters. (HBO)


Ashton Kutcher (“That 70’s Show”) and Seann Scott Williams (“Evolution”) play Jesse and Chester, two airheads who party hearty one night and end up losing their car. Bad news, made even worse when they realize that the anniversary gifts they bought for their girlfriends are in the car. So they clear their heads and backtrack their moves, leading them from one outrageous encounter to another, including a group of aliens looking for a doomsday device, a transsexual looking for a briefcase full of money, and a pretty coed and her jock boyfriend. It’s like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” for a new Millennium. Kutcher and Williams perfectly convey two friends who share on brain cell between them. Their act is funny, but only in limited spurts. Luckily the film takes plenty of side trips, and ends up being funny in a dumb, stupid sort of way. Totally mindless fun, leave your brain at the door. (20th Century Fox)


East meets West in this blend of “Die Hard” and traditional Hong Kong martial arts movies. Writer-director Wong Jing pulls out all of the stops in this high-kicking, tongue-in-cheek action-comedy starring Jackie Cheung and Jet Li. Cheung plays popular action star Frankie Lane, whose legion of fans believe he does his own stunt work. He doesn’t. That task falls to his bodyguard Kit Li (Jet Li), a man who takes risks to hide his painful past. Out to expose their secret is a television reporter who will go to extreme lengths to get her story. She gets her wish when the hotel they are staying in is taken over by terrorists, led by the evil Doctor, who was responsible for the death of Li’s wife and child. Desperate to maintain his on screen image, Frankie takes on the terrorists, aided by Li, who has a personal score to settle. A bit corny at times, “Meltdown” (originally “High Risk”) should appeal to fans of the genre. Lots of fun with more than enough action. (Columbia-TriStar)


Alex (William H. Macy) has a problem. He wants out of the family business, but he doesn’t know how to tell his father. In his mid-40’s, Alex wants to settle down and take care of his wife and young son. The problem is his father Michael (Donald Sutherland), a man who cannot tolerate weakness, and sees it as a sign of betrayal. How do you tell someone like that you no longer want to be a part of his life? It’s not easy, especially when you consider that the family business is killing people. Like father, like son, Alex makes his living as a contract killer. His wife Martha (Tracey Ullman) and son Sammy (David Dorfman) think Alex runs a mail-order business out of their home. He does, but only as a cover for his real job. Please click on title for complete DVD review. (Artisan)

PLEDGE, THE (R)pledge photo.JPG (239435 bytes)

“The Pledge” begins with the brutal murder of a young girl in a small town. Across town, the local police help detective Jerry Black celebrate his pending retirement. With six hours left on the clock, Black requests to be part of the crime team. Tough stuff, the kind of crime that stays with you. None of the local cops want to tell the parents, so as his last official duty, Black agrees to the task. It’s not easy. They’re good folk, the kind of parents who can’t understand how such a monster can exist. Black agrees, and desperate to help ease their pain, vows to find the killer. It’s a pledge that slowly takes its toll on Black, who becomes obsessed with the case. No one plays obsession better than Jack Nicholson, and as Jerry Black, he’s on very familiar territory. Nicholson convinces us that Black is the sort of man who will do what ever it takes to make good on that pledge. Too bad director Sean Penn isn’t as dedicated. “The Pledge” is Penn’s third turn behind the camera, and even though he has matured as a director, he still chooses material that’s all talk and no show. Please click on title for complete review. (Warner)


Despite the sparks that costars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe created off the screen during the production of “Proof of Life,” they share very little chemistry on the screen. Both are fine, but it’s David Morse, who plays Ryan’s husband, who steals the film. His scenes as a hostage are riveting and exciting, something the rest of the film lacks. Morse plays Peter Bowman, an engineer for an oil company that is building a dam in a Latin America country. When Peter is taken hostage by a terrorist group eager to collect a big oil company ransom, his wife Alice (Meg Ryan) meets with Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a hostage negotiator hired by the oil company. When the oil company declares bankruptcy, Alice is left hanging, forced to deal with a local negotiator. Feeling guilty, Thorne offers his services for free. There’s a lot of suspense in the negotiations, but the film really comes alive as we watch Peter do his own negotiating with his kidnapers. Director Taylor Hackford does an okay job of bridging the two worlds, and the supporting cast (Pamela Reed, David Caruso) keep things interesting. (Warner)


Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas sizzle in this inner-city riff on “Romeo and Juliet.” Stiles is Sarah Johnson, the white 17-year-old girl whose dreams of studying ballet at Julliard are dashed when her mother is killed in an accident while on the way to her audition. Thomas is Derek Reynolds, a smart black kid who gives Sarah a hard time when she transfers to his inner city school. They’re complete opposites, but that is what draws them together, with a little help from Derek’s sister Chenille (Kerry Washington), an unwed mother who understands Sarah’s state of mind. Of course Derek’s friends don’t approve, including his ex-girlfriend Nikki and his best friend Malakai, who fears that Sarah will turn his homeboy into a homebody. I liked the way the film uses dance as a metaphor, the one thing capable of bringing everyone together. Audiences also liked what they say, turning this small drama into a major hit. It deserves it. Even though the set-up is familiar, the execution is anything but. With understanding direction and a heart-felt script that doesn’t depend on cliches, “Save The Last Dance” emerges as a film about young people that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. (Paramount)


Shot in 1999 and now just making it’s debut on video, “Spanish Judges” shares a lot in common with “The Mexican.” Both films deal with an unsavory group of players in search of a prized pistol, or in the case of this film, two prized pistols. They are the “Spanish Judges,” which con man Jack (Matthew Lillard) hopes to obtain with the help of Max (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Jamie (Valeria Golino), a couple of professional thieves. The deal goes down, and then it’s every man (or woman) for himself. Filled with double and triple crosses, “Spanish Judges” has enough going for it to distinguish it from the Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts film. Still, the plot is overly familiar, and television director Oz Scott feels content to borrow someone else’s style (Tarantino) rather than create his own. (Studio)


There is a scene halfway through David Mamet’s lighthearted “State and Main” where a screenwriter tries to explain to the woman he likes why a nude starlet is standing in his hotel room. As strange as his explanation sounds, the woman seems to understand. He questions her sincerity, saying that even he knows it sounds absurd. She counters “So is our electoral process, but we still vote.” Always relevant, Mamet skillfully captures the current state of the union in a funny, old-fashioned comedy that instantly recalls such Hollywood classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Sullivan’s Travels.” The end result is a film that affectionately skewers the very hand that feeds it. Filled with engaging characters and witty dialogue, “State and Main” emerges as one of the best films of the year. Please click on title for complete review. (New Line)


HIGH NOON (PG-13/Artisan)


MIRROR, THE (NR/New Yorker)

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