Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
DARK DAYS (NR) *** Until 1997 when Amtrak routed them, a community of homeless people lived in railroad tunnels under New York City. With no previous filmmaking experience and using the residents as his crew, Marc Singer documented their last five years underground. Some of the results are what you'd expect, but the photography is surprisingly good and the people themselves may catch you off guard. -- SW

GIRLFIGHT (R) **** This smart, beautifully assured debut film from Karyn Kusama follows Brooklyn mean-streets teen Diana from aimless troublemaker to self-assured boxing diva. Michelle Rodriguez is remarkable in the lead, refusing to cave into the world of girly-girls and he-males but instead defining her identity on her own terms in this clever but never less than wholly entertaining riff on sexual politics. -- FF

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (PG) ** Kenneth Branagh has the ingenious idea of transcending the artifices of Shakespearean comedy and MGM musical by combining the two genres. Despite a pleasant design and songs by the likes of Porter and Berlin, the execution steps on Shakespeare's toes, offering too little of the original plot and too much amateurish dancing and labored clowning. -- CH

REMEMBER THE TITANS (PG) *** Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's films tend to be as slick as TV ads, but this depiction of a newly integrated high school football team's victories on the field and off plays more like a public service announcement on steroids. Glossy and shamelessly manipulative, it's nevertheless involving in spite of itself, with Denzel Washington leading an agreeable cast of young actors. Filmed in Atlanta -- CH

Duly Noted
101 RENT BOYS (NR) *** Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) don't have a Tammy Faye Bakker here, but they have a "Tommy Cruise" and 100 other mini-divas, all of whom peddle their bodies on LA's Santa Monica Boulevard. Some seem well past their sell-by date as they respond to the usual "What's a nice boy like you?" and "Does your mother know?" questions, but the bytes are well assembled and every bedspread tells a story. Out on Film, Sept. 30 at midnight, Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

AIMEE & JAGUAR (NR) ** 1/2 The true WWII-era love story of Lilly Wust (Juliane Kohler), a German housewife with four children, and Felice Schragenheim (Maria Schrader), a Resistance fighter who was closeted about her Jewishness but not her lesbianism, was better told in a BBC documentary, but if Max Farberbock's dramatization is the only version you can see, you'll be amazed by its stranger-than-fiction quality and moved by its tragic romance. Out on Film, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

THE BOYS OF MANCHESTER: ON THE SET OF "QUEER AS FOLK" and "QUEER AS FOLK" *** A slick, entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the creator, producers and stars of the wildfire British TV hit "Queer as Folk," this documentary does a good job capturing the sexy allure of the show and explaining why it has engaged such a large audience of both gay and straight viewers. The documentary will be followed by a screening of the concluding installment of "Queer as Folk." Out on Film, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB (R) *** A circle of interdependent -- or is it codependent? -- gay friends are there for each other in West Hollywood in Greg Berlanti's ensemble comedy. Like twentysomethings of all stripes, they can't figure out the relationship thing, and as long as they can cry on each other's shoulders, they don't have to. Housemates Dean Cain and Timothy Olyphant compete for newbie Andrew Keegan and play softball for restaurateur John Mahoney. Many of the film's pleasures lie in casual

conversation and other diversions. It's sitcommy but in a good way that makes for a perfect gay date movie. Out on Film, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

BUT I WAS A GIRL ... THE STORY OF FRIEDA BELINFANTE *1/2 There's a reason some people avoid documentaries like a case of active herpes and this film's it. What should be an inspirational tale of an unusual woman orchestra conductor who flaunted her lesbianism in pre-war Holland and then worked bravely for the Dutch Resistance during WWII is instead a tiresome, badly constructed snooze. Out on Film, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

CALL TO WITNESS ** 1/2 Openly gay and lesbian Lutheran pastors from progressive San Francisco to wholesome Iowa are shown defending their right to preach against a church bureaucracy that refuses to ordain them in this issue-oriented documentary. The subject of church hypocrisy is enough to rankle almost anyone as it's presented here, but Call soon devolves into a labyrinthine, exhausting personal battle between a pastor from Iowa, Steve Sabin, and the church elders that loses much of the emotional ground gained in the film's first half. Out on Film, Oct. 1 at 4 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

FIRST LOVE AND OTHER PAINS *** 1/2 This great, diverse omnibus of six short films covers topics from coming-out in a hostile world to a bitchy, revisionist cartoon-take on Greek myth, to the unfeeling bureaucracy encountered by an HIV sufferer at an AIDS health center, as well as many other lively, creative tales. Out on Film, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

GIRLS SHORTS (NR) ** 1/2 Running a sperm bank; intergenerational dating; being in a straight wedding party; butch/femme role-playing; secrets in an Asian-American family and the hilarious aftermath of a one-night stand are the topics handled, mostly with mid-range skill, in this package of short subjects. Jennifer Thuy Lan Phang doesn't seem to know whether "Love, Ltd." should be melodrama or farce, but Samantha Bakhurst and Lea Morement know how to do comedy. Out on Film, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

GRASS *** and REEFER MADNESS *1/2 Dude, this is a double-feature you don't wanna miss. Reefer Madness, a fake documentary for concerned parents and the all-time winner of the campiest drug movie ever made award, has the Devil Weed driving the world's oldest teenagers to hard drugs, homicide and mixed dancing, while Grass, a real documentary by Ron Mann, the man behind Comic Book Confidential, traces the political and social causes and consequences of our 60-plus-year War on Pot. Sept. 29-Oct. 5 at GSU's cinefest. -- EM

GYPSY BOYS (NR) ** 1/2 In the long shadow of The Broken Hearts Club lands Brian Shepp's similar film, which is set in San Francisco and confined to a single weekend. Steven (Adam Gavzer) and Manny (Alberto Rosas) are each trying to squeeze love out of platonic friendships, while everyone else is in search of what they'll settle for until they figure out what they want. You can OD on witty repartee as Shepp reinforces the stereotype that "sex" is the operative syllable in "homosexual." Out on Film, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

HEAVEN'S GATE This 20-year-old Western is part of the Emory Fall Festival of Really Big Films, most shot in 70 mm film with sharp, striking visual clarity. Michael Cimino's would-be flop has garnered praise and scorn for providing stunning cinematography as well as astute social commentary. This film almost caused United Artists to fold when it was unable to return its $36 million budget. Oct. 4 and 7 at 7:30 p.m., 208 White Hall, 480 Kilgo Circle, Emory.

JOHNNY GREYEYES **1/2 A Native-American brother and sister in two different cities but on the same side of trouble are at the center of this melancholy drama about family violence and its effect on the next generation. While Johnny finishes a women's prison term and falls in love with a fellow inmate, her brother returns to a life of crime. A dreamily constructed narrative flitting back and forth between the past and the present, this intriguing but often-frustrating film is also scattered and at times amateurishly acted. Out on Film, Sept. 30 at 10 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

REVOIR JULIE (JULIE & ME) **** A fresh, endearing first film from Canadian director Jeanne Crepeau, this tale of two best friends who reunite as adults after a 15-year absence deals with the complex sexual subtexts often underlying friendships. The two leads are utterly charming and match up nicely with director Crepeau's thoroughly original, quirky vision. Out on Film, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

LOST IN THE PERSHING POINT HOTEL (NR) ** 1/2 Local nostalgiacs will have to settle for a Bayou Landing reference as the only specific (besides the residence of the title) that places this dramedy in 1976 Atlanta. Leslie Jordan's play makes a shaky transition to the screen with cast intact. It's the story of how Jordan, then pushing 40, left the rural South for the big city, where he found a lot of drugs and a little love that most of us would be embarrassed to call our "grand passion." Out on Film, Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- SW

OUR HOUSE: A VERY REAL DOCUMENTARY ABOUT KIDS OF GAY & LESBIAN PARENTS **** This instantly engrossing documentary looks at how five different families from rural Arkansas to Manhattan to a Mormon household in Arizona cope with social discrimination and the unusual internal family politics involved in having two parents of the same gender. House demonstrates the resilience of children and the integrity of these "alternative" families in an age when family values have been appropriated by the right wing. Out on Film, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. A panel discussion follows this film -- FF

RED RAIN and THE SINGLE MOST FEMINIST THING *** A double bill of documentaries devoted to women working in traditionally male-dominated careers, the real stand-out is Red Rain about the salty, hardboiled boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi and her equally scrappy, supportive family. Guidi is a magnetic presence who keeps the energy going as she trains for the Women's Junior Welterweight World Championship. A rambling, disorganized short about a female metal worker, sound recordist and bicycle mechanic, Feminist Thing has these three, admittedly strong-willed women discussing their pleasure in a job well done as well as the discrimination they've faced on the job. Out on Film, Sept. 29 at 9:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24. -- FF

SHADOW MASTER This film, which has appeared on PBS and the Discovery channel, chronicles Indonesian shadow puppetry as seen through the eyes of Larry Reed, whose talent in filmmaking and Balinese shadow theater has been hailed as strikingly innovative. Sept. 29 at 1 p.m., Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St.

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (PG) (Star rating: Off the scale, in both directions!) Until you've seen it with a gay audience you may think this camp classic is merely the worst picture of 1967; but a crowd that gets it knows the right wrong places to laugh at this soapy showbiz saga about three young women (Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, Sharon Tate) and one veteran (Susan Hayward) who prove if you can get made in New York you can get made anywhere. Out on Film, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m., Regal Cinemas, Hollywood 24. -- SW


ALMOST FAMOUS (R) ***1/2 Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe romanticizes his experiences as a 15 year-old Rolling Stone reporter, on tour with a fictional band called Stillwater. The film oversells the puppyish cuteness of leads Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit but offers a pleasingly nostalgic portrait of a rock writer and the rock industry's loss of innocence, with terrific turns by Billy Crudup, Jason Lee and Philip Seymour Hoffman. -- CH

THE ART OF WAR (R) ** 1/2 Framed for murder while working on a top-secret UN security force, Wesley Snipes has to clear himself in an overlong but visually dazzling action flick with a reasonably intelligent and pleasantly fanciful script. Director Christian Duguay (TV's Joan of Arc) has no trouble filling a wide screen with some of the most interesting work of any western director in this genre. It's no milestone in the art of cinema, but it offers fair competition to the Mission: Impossible films, with a lot less hype to live up to. -- SW

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (PG-13) ** Is Will (Richard Gere), 48, a cradle-robber or a grave-robber when he romances Charlotte (Winona Ryder), 22, whose mother he once dated? That depends on the ending, which I won't reveal. Elaine Stritch, as Charlotte's grandmother, provides almost as much comic relief as the idea of Ryder and Gere as lovers. It's a definite step down for director Joan Chen after her amazing debut with Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, but not quite as bad as was feared when MGM decided to release it without advance press screenings. -- SW

BACKSTAGE (R) This documentary about the Hard Knock Life tour follows rapper Jay-Z down the road, through hotel rooms and concert halls to depict the daily grind of rap stardom. The cast of director Chris Fiore's debut film also includes DJ Clue, DMX, Ja Rule, Method Man, Redman, Amil, Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel.

BAIT (R) ** Another comic dud for the very funny Jamie Foxx, this is one slow-ass action movie that, even for a comedy, takes too many liberties with time and space. Foxx plays a petty (but sincere) thief who's used by the feds to draw out a killer (played by Doug Hutchison like Frank Gorshin imitating John Malkovich), but the killer's not the only thing that's drawn out. Given a choice of "fish or cut bait," I recommend you cut Bait out of your movie diet. -- SW

BLESS THE CHILD (R) ** 1/2 Though neither intellectually stimulating nor spiritually challenging, this woman-and-child-in-jeopardy flick with a supernatural twist provides a tense couple of hours. Kim Basinger raises her niece Cody for six years, until she's kidnapped by Rufus Sewell's cult that's out to win God's special child for Satan. Cody has special powers but the script is unclear about what they are and under what circumstances she can use them. She may turn up someday in an X-Men sequel, enrolling in Prof. Xavier's school. As usual in these movies, the devil wins the special effects battle but God wins the war. -- SW

BRING IT ON (PG-13) ** 1/2 For a long while it's hard to tell whether this is a seriously comic look at high school cheerleaders or a tongue-in-cheek satire of teen flicks, and by the time it turns relatively serious you'll be caught up in the story and you won't care. Kirsten Dunst leads the all-white San Diego squad and Gabrielle Union is her inner-city counterpart in the face-off at the national finals. Eliza Dushku and Jesse Bradford bring LA attitude and romance to the (California) Southland. -- SW

THE CELL (R) ** The director of the "Losing My Religion" video offers a psychotropic serial killer thriller in which the mind of a murderer looks like an evening of MTV's "120 Minutes." When Jennifer Lopez makes a mental interface with deranged Vincent D'Onofrio, the film yields plenty of voluptuous, nightmarish images, which ultimately amount to no more than window-dressing to a high-tech knock-off of The Silence of the Lambs. -- CH

CHICKEN RUN (G) ***1/2 World War II POW flicks like The Great Escape are re-imagined with plucky poultry trying to break out of an English chicken farm. Compared to the brilliant whimsy of the creators' Oscar-winning "Wallace and Gromit" shorts, Chicken Run is a more conventional cartoon feature, but it still offers inspired sight gags and exciting action scenes by the dozen. -- CH

COYOTE UGLY (PG-13) *** Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings his Midas touch to this crowd-pleaser about a pretty Jersey girl who moves to Manhattan to pursue her songwriting career but becomes sidetracked by her glamorous, sexy job as a dancing babe bartender at the rollicking Coyote Ugly bar. Expect the expected and you won't be disappointed by the mindless fun of this Hollywood guilty pleasure. -- FF

THE CREW (PG-13) ** 1/2 Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel play lovable OldFellas who inadvertently trigger a mob war when they pretend to be back in business to save their South Beach retirement hotel from the trendoids. The visual motif of this sitcommy chucklefest is built around Jennifer Tilly's breasts. -- SW

CROUPIER *** This look at a would-be novelist's venture into the seamy aspects of a London casino reveals fascinating details of gambling and has a crisp, efficient directing style. But though Clive Owen, in the title role, is meant to be detached and voyeuristic, the twists at the end muddy the precedings rather than illuminate them. Alex Kingston affirms her acting potential as a quirky and enigmatic high roller. -- CH

DISNEY'S THE KID (PG) ** 1/2 As a 40-year-old image consultant visited by his eight-year-old self (Spencer Breslin), Bruce Willis is a true movie star in a wide-ranging role that affords him some of his broadest comedy as well as tender and romantic moments. The film is funny for most of its length but gets overly sentimental toward the end - a predilection of director Jon Turteltaub, whom I suspect of being Penny Marshall in drag -- and is exceptionally well acted by Willis and Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Jean Smart, Dana Ivey, etc. -- SW

DUETS (R) ** Character actor Bruce Paltrow directs his Oscar-winning daughter Gwyneth in an odd dramedy about three couples on a cross-country collision course at a karaoke contest. The film is never as revealing about "karaoke kulture" as you might expect, but it's probably wise to emphasize the mismatched buddies of burnt-out businessman Paul Giamatti and ex-con Andre Braugher (the only one of the leads who doesn't do own singing). -- CH

GODZILLA 2000 (PG-13) The Japanese village of Shinjuku gets a wake-up call from an alien lifeform that goes head-to-head with an angry, 180-foot lizard. The future of humanity hangs in the balance as the two leviathans have at it.

HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME (R) * 1/2 Like a TV series clip episode, Endgame jumps around in time and place to try to resolve conflicting mythologies of the movie and TV Highlanders - including retroactively inventing previous meetings between the immortal brothers MacLeod, television's Duncan (Adrian Paul) and the movies' Connor (Christopher Lambert). If you've never seen a "Highlander" don't start now. If you have, you may understand why one MacLeod has to die for their combined energy to defeat their immortal enemy, Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne). After the summer movies, it will take better stunts and effects than this production can muster to impress you. -- SW

HOLLOW MAN (R) ** Four-star special effects can't save the latest letdown from the man who gave us Showgirls. Kevin Bacon plays a scientist turned now-you-see-him-now-you-don't sociopath who uses his miraculous invisibility mostly to sexually harass his co-workers, then switches to serial murder. This ugly, adolescent thriller might have worked as a satire if the plot devices and cliches weren't as transparent as the protagonist. -- EM

IMAX AT FERNBANK ADVENTURES IN WILD CALIFORNIA (NR) *** It's "California Dreamin'" for the new millennium as IMAX and Everest director Greg MacGillivray pack a lot of extreme sports and environmentalism into 40 unhurried minutes, including sky- and sea-surfing sequences that put Hollywood movie stunts and special effects to shame. You'll see baby otters and bald eagles being prepared by humans for life in the wild and trees that have lived for 3000 years. You'll ride a roller coaster at Disneyland, walk down the red carpet at the Academy Awards and descend 125 feet into a hollow space in an ancient sequoia. -- SW Shows daily at 11 a.m. and 1, 3, 5 and 9 p.m. on Fridays MYSTERIES OF EGYPT Omar Sharif hosts this sensory exploration of the Nile, the Valley of the Kings and modern Egyptian culture. Shows daily at 10 a.m., noon., 2 and 7 p.m. on Fridays DOLPHINS Narrated by Pierce Brosnan, this documentary takes a playful look at the life and times of Atlantic spotted, dusky and bottlenose dolphins. 4 p.m. daily and 10 p.m. on Fridays. Films run from Sept. 5 through Jan. 1 at Fernbank Museum, 767 Clifton Road.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG *** You don't need to be Jewish or a baseball fan to thoroughly enjoy this documentary about Hank Greenberg, who became America's first star Jewish athlete in the 1930s and 1940s. Director Aviva Kempner blends archival footage and new interviews so divertingly that accounts of decades-old pennant races and challenges to the record books have edge-of-the-bleachers excitement. -- CH

NURSE BETTY (R) ** 1/2 In the Company of Men's Neil LaBute swaps his trademark nihilism for an improbably sentimental comedy, with mixed results. A trauma convinces a Kansas waitress (Renee Zellweger) that her favorite soap opera is real, leading to amusing misunderstandings worthy of Being There, but also too much of David Lynch's small-town condescension and Tarantino style ironic violence. Morgan Freeman's scary but quixotic hitman stands out among an appealing ensemble. -- CH

NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS (PG-13) ** Eddie Murphy adds to the shortage of African-American movie roles by playing half the cast in the frantic, sporadically funny follow-up. Rotund Sherman Klump remains Murphy's most endearing comic creation, but the story's sci-fi conceits are more contrived, while the coarse jokes prove more cruel and scattershot. -- CH

THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY (R) *** Seeing four comedians best known for their work on WB and ABC's "TGIF" sitcoms might sound unpromising, but Spike Lee effectively captures the excitement and hilarity of history's highest grossing comedy concert. Dapper Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric "The Entertainer" and Bernie Mac offer a profane, uninhibited evening, with Hughley offering the most cathartic and pointed riffs on America's racial differences. -- CH

THE PERFECT STORM (PG-13) *** The movie may not be perfect, but the storm sequence sure is, with the special effects offering a terrifyingly realistic treatment of a tempest at sea. Das Boot director Wolfgang Petersen credibly captures the lives of six ill-fated fishermen, but the film proves flat and unengaging until the weather starts getting rough, and it becomes the cinematic equivalent of a ride like "Splash Mountain." - CH

PERSONALS *** A charming, funny film that manages to make something appealing out of the dreadful "relationship" genre, this well-executed, jocular comedy stars Malik Yoba as a Village Voice writer doing a story on the urban dating scene. The story requires that he date 30 women in a month, a circumstance that initially reaffirms Yoba's hound-dogging ways, until his conscience starts to bother him. Through Oct. 1 at Magic Johnson Theatre, Greenbriar Mall. -- FF

THE REPLACEMENTS (PG-13) ** 1/2 As predictable as any movie this year and just about as entertaining, this comic recycling of the formula about a bunch of misfits and losers learning to work together to win stars Keanu Reeves as the quarterback of a team of scab football players hired during a strike. Their winning ways develop along with Reeves' romance with cheerleader Brooke Langton. Any Given Sunday raised the bar for big-screen football action and The Replacements returns it to an acceptable but hardly thrilling level. Reeves' stunt double sees plenty of action as the masochistic Falco takes the hits and never cries "Whoa!" -- SW

SAVING GRACE (R) *** In the small, English seaside region of Cornwall, everyone knows everyone else's business, except, of course, their own. A garden-variety homemaker, Grace (Brenda Bleythn) is the last to learn of her late husband's infidelity which, as it turns out, is the least of her problems. It seems the old bastard went and died broke, as well. Post-menopausal and without any marketable skills, she has only the gift of her green thumb. Grace has only a short period of time to come up with more than 300,000 pounds, but when Michael (Craig Ferguson of "The Drew Carey Show"), Grace's loyal gardener, asks her to nurse his wilted marijuana plants back to health, she begins to think outside of the box. KL

SOLOMON AND GAENOR (R) *** A familiar tale of star-crossed lovers, this romantic tragedy set in 1911 Wales becomes more engrossing despite some expected twists and turns, as our interest in its well-sketched characters deepens. The film's greatest asset are its moving performances by Ioan Gruffudd as a Jewish merchant's son and Nia Roberts as the gentile girl he falls in love with amidst the brewing labor problems and growing anti-Semitism in a small Welsh village. -- FF

SPACE COWBOYS (PG-13) *** I don't know how much charm weighs but in Space Cowboys it's measured by the ton. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film's about a pride of old lions, Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland and Tommie Lee Jones, called upon to repair an obsolete Russian satellite about to fall out of orbit. Its heroes may be too old for teenagers to identify with but for boomers, it's a hoot. It's predictable in many ways but it contains genuine tension, belly laughs and human warmth. Go see it. -- RJ

THE TAO OF STEVE (R) * 1/2. A one-joke indie romance about a roly-poly slacker Casanova (Donal Logue) whose philosophy about attracting and abandoning women fails him when he falls in love. Clownish Logue spends scene after scene extolling his ho-hum blend of Buddhism and pop iconography, while the other roles are too bland to seize center stage. - CH

TURN IT UP (R) This film stars Fugees member Prakazrel "Pras" Michel as a Brooklyn rapper trying to hit the big time. Also starring Vondie Curtis Hall, Ja Rule, Patricia Velasquez, this film is based on a book that Pras co-authored that takes a stab at the entertainment business.

URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (R) ** Alfred Hitchcock is invoked countless times to no avail in John Ottman's sequel to the campus cut-up saga. This time it's film students who are being murdered, in between shooting murder scenes for their thesis films. It's confusing, occasionally amusing, but never frightening, suspenseful or surprising (you know the dude who says "Fuck George Lucas!" is gonna die). That it's no worse than the original is hardly praise. -- SW

THE WATCHER (R) Keanu Reeves and James Spader wage psychological warfare in this thriller about a serial killer and the FBI agent who loves to chase him. Reeves stars as the clever psychopath who tempts Spader out of retirement and back into his career-long and macabre obsession of discovering who the next victim will be.

THE WAY OF THE GUN ** Christopher McQuarrie, Oscar-winning scripter of The Usual Suspects, makes his directing debut with a usual assortment of crime cliches. Things go awry when two small-time hoods (Ryan Phillipe, Benicio Del Toro) kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) employed by a mob accountant. McQuarrie's exciting, bracing first act gives way to trivial subplots painted with repellent amounts of blood. --CH

WHAT LIES BENEATH (PG-13) ** 1/2 After 1 3/4 hours of routine filmmaking, a lengthy, largely terrifying climax tells you whether you've been watching a ghost story or a domestic drama. Directed by Robert Zemeckis with standard shocks and excellent photographic effects, it showcases Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire, who forms an outwardly perfect couple with Norman (Harrison Ford). But Claire has been seeing -- or thinks she's been seeing -- a ghost. Which is in greater danger, their marriage or one or both of their lives? This is a fair-to-middlin' tale of a fair-to-middle-aged couple and whatever comes between them -- or brings them together. -- SW

WOMAN ON TOP ** A featherweight romantic comedy with more than a hint of Like Water For Chocolate's culinary magical realism, Fina Torres' story of a Brazilian woman successful in the kitchen but unlucky in love is as flat as a fallen souffle. Almodovar regular Penelope Cruz is charming in the lead, but there's little else to recommend this frivolous affair. -- FF

FF is Felicia Feaster, CH is Curt Holman, RJ is Richard Joseph, Kate Lueker is KL, EM is Eddy Von Mueller, SW is Steve Warren.


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