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Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure

Has no right to claim the 'National Lampoon' tag!
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003) Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Dana Barron, Jake Thomas, Sung Hi Lee, Eric Idle, Fred Willard, Ed Asner, D: Nick Marck. Embarrassing direct-to-video flop has oafish Cousin Eddie and family on an expenses-paid vacation to the South Pacific by his boss, hoping the dunce won't sue his company after being bitten by a smarter lab monkey! Idiotic spin off can't measure up to any of the Vacation films (even European Vacation!), with a question of whether or not the filmmakers thought the script was actually funny. Not even Quaid, Willard, or Asner can make it remotely watchable. 83 min., Not rated. *

The Singing Detective

Singing Detective, The (2003) Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Mel Gibson, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito, Carla Gugino, Saul Rubinek, Alfre Woodard, D: Keith Gordon. Half-baked translation of the 1986 BBC TV miniseries casts Downey Jr. as a hospitalized mystery writer suffering from a painful skin condition—who feels trapped in his own skin—and plays out a murder mystery musical in his own mind with him as his fictional alter ego, an L.A. gumshoe. Crime noir, slapstick comedy, and '50s rock n' roll musical audaciously combine to make an intricate puzzle structure, but compressed results never really draw you in. Everyone in the cast is very good, but the film is all over the map. Judging on its own merits, it misses the mark. Written by Dennis Potter, who also wrote the original. 109 min., rated R. ** ½

Sin City

'Sin City' is brutal, violent, gritty, and a lot of fun
Sin City (2005) Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, Brittany Murphy, Benicio Del Toro, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Madsen, Josh Hartnett, D: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino ("special guest director"). Gritty, violent, visually sensational comic-book film noir, based on Frank Miller's graphic novels, is set in the corrupt, crime-infested Sin City, full of thugs, dirty cops, bloodthirsty killers, and sleazy prostitutes. Film has a collection of interweaving stories: a burly brute (Rourke) on a mission to avenge the death of his love; an ex-photographer (Owen) who kills a cop with a gang of prostitutes and must cover it up; and a soon-to-be-retiring cop (Willis) who tries protecting the girl he once rescued. Virtuoso visual style (black-and-white with only splashes of color) feels overly self-indulgent at first, then overtaken by terrific energy from graphic violence, an array of hard-working talent, and crackling humor. Given a hard R-rating for a reason! 123 min., rated R. *** ½


High-tensioned at first, then just ugly and preposterous
Saw (2004) Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Monica Potter, Makenzie Vega, Michael Emerson, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith, D: James Wan. Misanthropic exercise in distinct unpleasantry and pretentious visual style about a nihilistic sicko who devises hideously intricate scenarios for his victims to kill themselves. Elwes plays a doctor who wakes up shackled in a decrepit bathroom with another man; their captor's instructions order the doctor to kill the other in eight hours, with his family's lives on the line if he fails the task. Inconsistent performance by Elwes who's believable at first, then hams it up in the final third. Loaded with grisly strategems of torture, which are scary and ingenious enough for the squeamish to be warned, but it's messy, overdirected, and ugly to no end, capped off by a ridiculously impossible twist. Feature debut by Wan. 100 min., rated R. **


One of Smith's best roles
Hitch (2005) Will Smith, Eva Mendez, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery, D: Andy Tennant. Smith shows off his movie star magnetism and slickster charisma playing Hitch the Date Doctor, a New York City professional dating consultant who offers tips and coaching to hapless bachelors. His latest client is a shy and tubby accountant (James) who wants to win over a rich and beautiful socialite, but Hitch has his own problems when he starts to fall for smart gossip columnist Mendez, who has the power to see right through him. Even if it's a bit too long given the forgone conclusion, this entertaining romantic-comedy is both smart and funny (a rarity for today) without relying all on slapstick, and TV's sitcom King of Queens star James is hilarious. 115 min., rated PG-13. ***


Flawed though enjoyable action-thriller
Hostage (2005) Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster, Serena Scott Thomas, Rumer Willis, D: Florent Siri. Grizzled hostage negotiator Willis exchanges his LAPD badge for a police-chief job in a sleepy town after two victims are killed on his watch. He gets a shot at redemption when he simultaneously tries to free an accountant and his two kids, held hostage in their hillside armored mansion by three delinquent teens, and—not known by his fellow lawmen—Willis's own wife and child, kidnapped by another group of unknown bad guys. Hard-edged, dynamically made action thriller has a veneer of sleaziness, mainly from the quietly psychotic delinquent (suitably loathsome and creepy by Foster). But its claustrophobic suspense, operatic slasher-inspired climax, and double-story make it entertaining throughout. Based on the novel by Robert Crais. Willis co-produced. 113 min., rated R. ***

The Lost Boys

One of the most entertaining vampire flicks
Lost Boys, The (1987) Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest, Barnard Hughes, Edward Herrmann, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman, D: Joel Schumacher. Brothers move to the California town of Santa Carla with their jokester grandpa and recently divorced mom, unconvinced that the local punk gang of bikers is really a pack of vampires, until the eldest (Patric) falls in with them! Hip, campy teen spin on the vampire saga isn't too action-packed until a final showdown, but the fun humor, rock music, and effects that are convincing for their time do a job of making up for the weak plot. Sutherland is an ideal—not to mention scary—choice for the gang's spikey-haired leader. 97 min., rated R. ***

Urban Legends: Final Cut

Dull as a saw
Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner, Loretta Devine, Joseph Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendes, D: John Ottman. Film students at another New England university attempt to make their final thesis film on urban legends, while competing for a prestigious Hitchcock Award, but one by one the crew members become their own urban legend. Nondescript junk aplenty with gore and violence has the same story outline as Urban Legend, but it's more of an unrelated follow-up with the only returning cast member being Devine as the Foxy Brown-loving security guard. Doesn't catch fire, except in the film's single shock involving a kidney and a hungry dog. 94 min., rated R. * ½

Urban Legend

'Urban Legend' has a clever idea but "routines" it
Urban Legend (1998) Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Natasha Gregson Wagner, D: Jamie Blanks. Tepid horror film about coeds at a New England college being killed one by one by an unknown murderer in the style of famous urban legends. Clever concept gets routine treatment, and is further sunken by too many false alarms and an unsatisfactory ending, turning out to be just another SCREAM slasher clone. Red herrings keep one off-balance and logic is sacrificed for some good scares in this more-entertaining-than-most horror entry. Followed by a sequel. 100 min., rated R. ** ½


An intelligence-insulting opening scene shows how absurd 'Taxi' is
Taxi (2004) Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Ann-Margret, Henry Simmons, Jennifer Esposito, Giselle Bundchen, D: Tim Story. Hopeless comedy-action fare throws a hapless Manhattan cop into the suped-up taxi of a mouthy cabbie who helps him chase four leggy Portuguese supermodels robbing banks. The opening scene—where an athletic bike messenger, obviously a stunt double, rushes through the city—will insult anyone's intelligence when the messenger removes his helmet to reveal Latifah herself. Right from the start, the two stars' comic bickering is tiresome, and Fallon's thickheaded character helps sink this unfunny movie. Only real value are some gratuitous shots of scantily-dressed Bundchen and her Victoria's Secret cohorts. Remake of the French film series. 97 min., rated PG-13. * ½

Surviving Christmas

Any takers to see Ben Affleck in another movie?
Surviving Christmas (2004) Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O' Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison, Udo Kier, D: Mike Mitchell. Dumped by his girlfriend, a hotshot yuppie doesn't want to be left alone on Christmas so he decides to return to his boyhood home, imposing on the dysfunctional family that now lives there and bribes them to pose as his family. An obnoxious and one-dimensional performance by Affleck, who mainly acts with a flashy smile, makes his character come off as a mentally unbalanced creep, but Gandolfini and O' Hara breathe some life into this mess. Even for farce, its silliness is lumbering, not much makes sense from scene to scene, and its sentimental messages are as phony as Affleck's grin. 91 min., rated PG-13. * ½

Stuck on You

Not the Farrelly Brothers' funniest
Stuck On You (2003) Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes, Wen Yann Shih, Ray "Rocket" Valliere, Cher, Pat Crawford Brown, Tommy Songin, Terence Bernie Hines, Seymour Cassel, Griffin Dunne, Jay Leno, Meryl Streep, Frankie Muniz, D: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. One-joke comedy about Damon and Kinnear, a pair of conjoined twin brothers, leaving their burger joint in Martha's Vineyard so one of them can pursue his dream of Hollywood stardom. There, they run into a spoiled diva (Cher, mocking herself and her image) who hires them to co-star in her TV show. The Farrelly Brothers want us to embrace these "heroes" while at the same time be getting a laugh, but some scattered laughs aren't enough, especially when a thin setup like this feels so protracted. Some actors make cameos; decide for yourself to laugh or not. 118 min., rated PG-13. **

Shaun of the Dead

Enjoyable British twist on zombie movies
Shaun of the Dead (2004) Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, D: Edgar Wright. A 29-year-old British slacker, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, slowly realizes that London is crawling with zombies one morning, and with his slovenly flat mate they round up a band of survivors (including Shaun's ex, her roommates, and his mother) to hide out in the local pub. Mildly funny, genre-bending spoof nicely balances social satire, romance, and horror, though the final third (not without lots of blood and gore) goes on auto-pilot instead of being as original as its first two thirds. Written by Pegg and the director. 100 min., rated PG-13. ** ½

Seed of Chucky

Why'd Chucky have to get hitched?
Seed of Chucky (2004) Jennifer Tilly (voice), Brad Dourif (voice only), Redman, Billy Boyd (voice only), Hannah Spearritt, John Waters, D: Don Mancini. As the "ingenious" title suggests, killer doll Chucky and bride Tiffany have had an offspring, who finds himself an orphan, then brings Mom and Dad back to life in Hollywood on the set of their own movie. Tilly plays a bimbo caricature of herself, who's victimized by the dolls, and king-of-camp Waters appears for a short time as a sleazy paparazzi. Some viewers may take their cue to the exit after the opening with a tasteless computer-animated reproduction sequence; this overly gory, hopefully last installment goes more for self-parody and camp, though fails to inject any of the clever dark energy that worked in Bride in Chucky. Quite a chore to slog through. 87 min., rated R. *

Road Trip

Any frat boy will find crude but hilarious lunacy in 'Road Trip'
Road Trip (2000) Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo, DJ Qualls, Tom Green, Rachel Blanchard, Anthony Rapp, Fred Ward, Andy Dick, Horatio Sanz, Jessica Cauffiel, D: Todd Phillips. College guy suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him, so he takes free time by settling down with another girl, makes a videotape of them having sex and mails it to her . . . but after realizing he made a big mistake, he and his buddies go on a wild road trip to retrieve it. Wild, raunchy teen-sex comedy is surprisingly funny and entertaining; it has enough gratuitous female nudity and lowbrow frat-boy humor for its intended audience crowd to howl over. 94 min., rated R. ** ½


As good as any Pixar animated film
Robots (2005) Voices of Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Halle Berry, Drew Carrey, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Paul Giamatti, Jim Broadbent, D: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha. In a robot-populated world, an ambitious small-town inventor journeys to Robot City to sell his new gizmo to a tycoon, and along the way meets many wacky characters, but finds himself in an evil plot to deny robots their needed spare parts. Every bit as clever and visually delightful as anything produced by Pixar Animation, with cute, colorful characters and funny one-liners, but the storyline is collected from spare parts and pop culture references are getting old. The vocal performances by everyone are still entertaining, and as one of the characters, the hyperactive Fender, Williams fortunately gets most of the funny lines. 91 min., rated PG. ***

Shall We Dance

OK as fluff
Shall We Dance? (2004) Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Ann Walter, Anita Gillette, D: Peter Chelsom. Overworked middle-aged attorney Gere finds a change of pace by taking up ballroom dancing after he's intrigued by the lovely, loney-looking instructor (Lopez), whom he spots staring out the window of a downtown dance studio. Beginning to take dance lessons, he finally discovers the one passion that gives him release and happiness, unbeknownst to wife Sarandon and his family. The extraneous characters are done in broad-brush strokes, including a one-note Lopez, but are colorful and likable. Pleasant-enough fluff may be clumsy compared to its source, the Japanese film of the same name, but the dance numbers are alive, and it's a nice surprise that the romance is between the married Gere and Sarandon, not Gere and Lopez. 98 min., rated PG-13. ** ½

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Zellweger is lovable, but the script goes more for the cheap joke
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Jacinda Barrett, D: Beeban Kidron. Mediocre, slapsticky sequel picks up with the klutzy, pleasingly plump journalist—Bridget Jones herself—no longer a spinster, but living her happily-ever-after with stuffy barrister Firth. Deeply in love, she soon becomes jealous of her beau's young, slim assistant and questions his relationship fidelity. Renée makes Bridget pretty infectious and gets most of her charm from her innocent foolishness, but this time, the writers are more concerned with making her the butt of embarrassment. Watching the Londoner dress herself in a gold gown that forces her to waddle like a penguin has its enjoyment, but other bits of the script feel hopelessly contrived (i.e. Bridget getting thrown into a Thai prison). Luckily, Grant shows up again doing his usual love him-hate him lothario role. 108 min., rated R. ** ½


Huge disappointment from Wes Craven
Cursed (2005) Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Milo Ventimiglia, Judy Greer, Michael Rosenbaum, Portia de Rossi, Shannon Elizabeth, Mya, Scott Baio, D: Wes Craven. Predictable Scream-like spin on the werewolf saga set in Hollywood: siblings Ricci and Eisenberg are bitten by a wolf after a car accident, only to discover they have been given a lycanthrope curse by their attacker and superhuman powers to go with it. Script and story twists are much too silly, and special effects and performances are badly groan-inducing that this, easily Craven's worst film credit, veers in the direction of schlocky camp. 86 min., rated PG-13. * ½

Man on Fire

'Man on Fire' has some good actors, and starts out well, then degenerates into pointless violence
Man on Fire (2004) Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Mickey Rourke, D: Tony Scott. Bruised former CIA operative gets hired as a bodyguard for a young girl to protect her from the epidemic kidnapping threats in Mexico City. Though promising to maintain a professional distance from his client, he grows close to the child, so when she's kidnapped he vows to kill anyone involved. Initially, we are emotionally attached to the credible relationship before movie devolves into a senseless vigilante-DEATH WISH picture, which wants us to root on the brutality of those who deserve it. Director Scott's slick, self-indulgent style of dizzying hand-held camera-work, grainy shots, and quick editing seems bold at first, then runs pointless after a while. Main highlights are the sturdy performances by Washington and Fanning, who holds her own next to a major actor. Based on the novel by A.J. Quinnell. 142 min., rated R. ** ½

Mars Attacks!

Campy alien invasion is a hoot
Mars Attacks! (1996) Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Lukas Haas, Sylvia Sidney, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield, Natalie Portman, Tom Jones, Joe Don Baker, D: Tim Burton. Schlocky parody/homage to '50s alien-invasion inspired loosely by a series of bubble gum trading cards. U.S. President Nicholson is optimistic when an army of martin flying saucers are found hovering around the Earth, but everyone has a different response, until they are greeted in Nevada and turn out to be nasty predators who want to wipe out the population! Cartoonish special effects and animation (of the martians) are good since the movie is a live-action cartoon, but while campy and a hoot, it feels self-satisfied and Burton bites off more than he can chew with the big-name cast. 107 min., rated PG-13. ** ½


Extremely overwrought version of 'Frankenstein'
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, Tom Hulce, Aidan Quinn, Richard Briers, Robert Hardy, John Cleese, D: Kenneth Branagh. Overwrought, gore-ridden depiction of the classic Frankenstein saga is a major disappointment when it's less faithful to the narrative source. As usual, Branagh (who stars as the mad doctor) keeps the camera constantly moving through a nightmarish, frantic style. De Niro wasn't the best choice as the escaped creation, considering that under all the makeup he still reminds us of a grinning De Niro. Unredeemed by the efforts of cast, director, and an artistically handsome production. 124 min., rated R. **

The Mexican

'The Mexican' barely has anything to recommend it
Mexican, The (2001) Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, Bob Balaban, J.K. Simmons, D: Gore Verbinski. Mob errand runner Pitt heads to Mexico to retrieve a rare pistol for a crime lord on his supposedly last job, or so he tells displeased girlfriend Roberts who breaks up with him and goes to Las Vegas. While things go wrong in Mexico for him, his girlfriend is kidnapped in Vegas by a compassionate hit-man (Gandolfini) to insure the pistol is delivered as planned. Quirky screwball romantic-comedy caper throws two of America's biggest superstars (who share few scenes together) into an overlong script that doesn't really go anywhere. Although, a few amusing moments with Pitt in Mexico make it enjoyable and Gandolfini's surprising character is the most interesting part of the film. 123 min., rated R. ** ½

Meet the Fockers

Hoffman and Streisland are funniest additions to recycled 'Fockers'
Meet the Fockers (2004) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe DAnner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, D: Jay Roach. It's a role reversal from the first time in Meet the Parents for uptight De Niro to meet his daughter's fiancée Stiller's parents, The Fockers, but what he doesn't expect is for a chink in his "chain" to form when he discovers them to be a couple of crazy, flowerchild types. Very funny in small doses, but this long, crude sequel tries desperately squeezing jokes out of the title's family's last name, embarrassing scenarios, and a randy dog, which feel repetitive after the six or seventh time they're reused. Hoffman and Streisland (as a sex therapist) seem to be having a ball, which is more than what can be said for the audience. 116 min., rated PG-13. **

Meet the Parents

Stiller and DeNiro make good foils for one another in 'Meet the Parents'
Meet the Parents (2000) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Nicole DeHuff, Jon Abrahams, James Rebhorn, Phyllis George, Owen Wilson, D: Jay Roach. A hapless male nurse spends a weekend with her girlfriend's parents during her sister's wedding, hoping to ask her uptight father, an ex-CIA agent, for her hand in marriage . . . but he's intimidated by her dad along with being caught in many errors to ruin his chances. There's rarely a humorless moment in this entertaining comedy, where the situation leaves for plenty of funny moments and maintains a satisfying comedic momentum. With great chemistry, Stiller works well as a comic foil to De Niro, who plays it straight but still gives off a hilarious comedy performance without being too serious. Followed by a sequel. 107 min., rated PG-13. ***

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