Movie Listings

America's Sweethearts
It sounds like a great idea: make a romantic comedy with three big stars and set it in the glossy, absurd world of studio press junkets. But even the best ideas can be sabotaged by bad writing and poor casting choices, as "America's Sweethearts" proves all too well. A love triangle between movie star ex-couple Eddie and Gwen (John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gwen's mousy sister (Julia Roberts), the film tries hard to be charming and satirical at the same time. Unfortunately, the script by co-star Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan only goes for the most insultingly obvious jokes, and the actors just don't have the chemistry to rise above the material. Instead of skewering Hollywood shallowness, "America's Sweethearts" ends up being just another example of it. (PG-13) -- LL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Dish
Because the footage of Neil Armstrong taking the first human steps on the moon has been repeated so many times, it's easy to take the image itself for granted. Thanks to the crew of scientists (played by Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton) operating the radio telescope at Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, those pictures made it back to earth. Their story makes for a fresh and beguiling comedy loaded with dozens of amusing characters and situations -- for example, the telescope or "dish" is located in the middle of a sheep ranch. The story's a tad episodic and there's no suspense to speak of, but the Working Dog production team (who's also responsible for the hilarious Aussie film "The Castle") brilliantly pokes fun at the foibles of 1969 living (check out the amusingly accurate recreations of period news casts) without ever slipping into derision. Because of this attitude, viewers are treated to an enjoyably human story from what appears to be a cold, scientific instrument. (PG-13) -- DL
*** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Jurassic Park III
Sam Neill reprises his paleontologist role, this time reluctantly agreeing to act as guide for a wealthy adventurer couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) who wish to fly over a dino-infested island. Inevitably, they become stranded there. While the original star of "Jurassic Park" returns for this sequel, the original director doesn't. Joe Johnston ("October Sky") replaces Steven Spielberg, competently keeping the action flowing with some key scenes -- including one set in a giant birdcage that houses Pteranodons, and a running gag concerning a Spinosaurus who announces his arrival via the noise of a swallowed satellite phone. The audience probably won't maintain much interest or sympathy for the stock characters to whom these events are happening, though. (Macy and Leoni's relationship woes are especially sleep inducing.) But the film's worst aspect is its abrupt conclusion, which is the digital equivalent of the cavalry riding in. While "Jurassic Park III" reeks of consumer pandering with its lazy plot and recycled scenarios, it musters just enough slick sequences to keep the blockbuster series from becoming extinct. -- JN
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Legally Blonde
In films like "Election" and "Freeway," actress Reese Witherspoon convincingly plays against her cute, cherubic demeanor by portraying women whose perkiness masks darker dimensions. As her latest movie repeatedly points out, that's hard to do when you're blonde. In "Legally Blonde," Witherspoon stars as Elle, a fashion-obsessed sorority girl who has overachieved her whole life -- except at anything that actually matters. When her Harvard Law School-bound sweetheart dumps her to get "serious" with his career ambitions ("I need to marry a Jackie not a Marilyn"), Elle hatches a scheme to get into Harvard so that she can win him back. By keeping the rivalries shifting and by introducing a murder trial (though, admittedly, a very bogus one), the filmmakers hoist this light comedy above its one-joke premise. But they still manage to throw in such inanities as an irrelevant dance montage and a mawkish ending. Like its lead actress, "Legally Blonde" falls into the category of "cute." If only the movie itself could have maintained the same underlying depth that Witherspoon always brings to her roles. (PG-13) -- JN
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Memento

"John G raped and murdered my wife." Normally, it's not a piece of information one would need to tattoo on his chest to remember -- unless, of course, if during the murder/robbery attempt he was injured and lost all short-term memory. Such is the fate of Leonard Shelby (Australian actor Guy Pearce), a former insurance claims investigator now "living only for revenge." Already the hero of writer-director Christopher Nolan's haunting "Memento" is operating under a set of rules unique to detective cinema. Yet Nolan also throws an additional twist to the proceedings: He films the movie in reverse chronological order. This tactic suits the material because it puts the audience in the same predicament as the hero, in that past information is a total mystery. While this also means the movie has the potential to be anti-climactic (it starts with a murder and spells out to the audience who committed it and why), the story is relentlessly compelling thanks to Nolan's tricky script. Despite a downbeat ending that also makes one question what has previously transpired, "Memento" definitely earns the distinction of being termed unforgettable. (R) -- JN
*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Original Sin
When a film's release is pushed back several months, it usually means the movie stinks and the studio doesn't know what to do with it. "Original Sin" has been held up for almost a year now, so consider that fair warning. This is supposed to be an intense erotic thriller, about the obsessive affair between a Cuban plantation owner (Antonio Banderas) and his enigmatic mail-order bride (Angelina Jolie). Instead, it's a sordid mess, with leaden pacing and dialogue so bad it makes one wonder how its writer-director, Michael Cristofer, once managed to win a Pulitzer Prize for his theater work. Banderas and Jolie are known for the passion they usually bring to their roles, but this movie just drains the energy right out of them -- and the audience. (R) -- LL
* Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Planet of the Apes
Tim Burton brings his twisted sensibilities to the 1968 sci-fi classic, taking the basic plot, about an astronaut (Mark Wahlberg) who crash-lands on a world where apes (led by a terrifying Tim Roth) enslave humans, and giving it the patented Burton touch. That means creating a unique, fantastical world and throwing in lots of twisted humor. It also means going overboard with that humor (Charlton Heston shows up to say one of THOSE lines at a pivotal dramatic moment) and tacking on a surprise ending that's really freaky, but makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Burton never fails to be interesting, but his sillier impulses make it hard to tell what kind of movie he's trying to make -- or if he even knows himself. (PG-13) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Princess Diaries
Garry Marshall does it again, turning a virtual unknown into a real movie star in less than 2 hours. In 1990, it was Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." This time, it's Anne Hathaway in a fluffy fairy tale about a teen-ager who discovers she's the heir to a European throne. Hathaway's character learns to be regal from her grandmother, played by Julie Andrews, who could give lessons in class and elegance to anyone by simply standing in the same room. Hathaway is a quick study, and she's charming enough to carry the film without too much help. This is a perfect confection for its target preteen audience, who haven't had many movies made for them, let alone one as likable as this. (G) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Rush Hour 2
The pairing of veteran Hong Kong star Jackie Chan with loudmouth comic Chris Tucker isn't quite as novel with "Rush Hour 2," but there is enough of Chan's comic acrobatics to compensate for some of Tucker's less charming moments (what exactly IS he doing in Hong Kong besides making a jerk of himself?). This time around, Chief Inspector Lee (Chan) and Detective Carter (Tucker) try to take out a murderous gang of counterfeiters. The new film has a stronger villain. Zhang Ziyi from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" may be pint-sized but she's all cold menace -- not bad for someone who doesn't speak a word of English on-screen. Chan gets to put a wastebasket to novel use, and Tucker has a couple of bits (one where he demolishes a Michael Jackson song and another at a craps table) where he demonstrates some chops we haven't seen before. The story's thin and a bit flat, but there's enough action to feed the rush. (PG-13) -- DL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Sexy Beast
"Sexy Beast" starts off as a conventional British heist film but progresses in delightfully strange and unpredictable ways. Ray Winstone ("Nil by Mouth") stars as a retired British gangster who is bullied back into crime by a small but demonically persistent criminal named Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). The veteran Kingsley is so fearsome and eerily amusing that one almost forgets the other performers, and the fact that he once won an Oscar for portraying Gandhi. Winstone, who normally plays heavies, is suitably likable, and Ian McShane (TV's "Lovejoy") is terrifying as the cold-hearted mastermind of the robbery. Rookie feature director Jonathan Glazer picked up a lot of camera tricks from helming Radiohead videos, but he thankfully uses them for the benefit of the story. The folks behind this flick sometimes err on the side of outrageousness. Nonetheless, in a summer full of "poxy" flicks that aim for formula and fail at even that lowly goal, "Sexy Beast" is a ferocious alternative. (R) -- DL
*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

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