Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
ANALYZE THAT (R) Sure, "The Sopranos" does the whole mobster/shrink thing with deeper insights and better jokes, but the original comedy with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal had its share of harmless laughs. Going back for a sequel, though, seems like beating a dead horse -- then putting its head in somebody's bed.

EMPIRE (R) John Leguizamo plays an up-and-coming, South Bronx crime lord whose bid to make a Wall Street killing leads to bloodshed. Featuring Denise Richards, Isabella Rossellini and Fat Joe.

EQUILIBRIUM (R) In the post-WWIII future, feelings that cause violent conflict have been outlawed, and butt-kicking "Clerick" John Preston (Christian Bale) is the man who enforces this law of the land. A sci-fi effort to put a topical Prozac Nation spin on a Fahrenheit 451 story line, this Matrix-style film disappoints in every case -- neither brainy science-fiction nor a galvanizing action thriller.--Felicia Feaster

Duly Noted
THE BISUMA ADVENTURE (1999) (NR) This documentary chronicles a German social project, akin to American "boot camps," in which young German drug addicts find rehabilitation through hard work in a Nicaraguan jungle village. Dec. 4, 7 p.m., Goethe-Institut Atlanta, Colony Square, 1197 Peachtree St. $4 for non-members. 404-892-2388.

FOR REAL Tim Reid of "Frank's Place" stars in and directs this romantic comedy that's promoted as a My Fair Lady kind of story with a hip-hop backdrop. Dec. 7, 6:30 p.m., Robert Ferst Center for the Arts, Georgia Tech. $15-$50. 404-894-9600. www.ferstcenter.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical horror spoof follows an all-American couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a drag-queen/mad scientist from another galaxy. It's all fun and games until Meatloaf gets killed. Dress as your favorite character and participate in this musical on acid. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Marietta Star Cinema.

ABANDON (PG-13) Steve Gaghan, Oscar-winning writer of Traffic, tries his hand at directing with this college thriller about a student (Katie Holmes) torn between her feelings for her mystery-man boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) and an older detective (Benjamin Bratt).

ADAM SANDLER'S 8 CRAZY NIGHTS (PG-13) In this animated Chanukah story, Adam Sandler provides the voice for a lead character patterned after himself, as well as an elderly basketball coach and his wife. Such former "Saturday Night Live" players as Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon and Jon Lovitz also provide speaking parts.

BARBERSHOP (PG-13) Ice Cube goes for a day-in-the-life-of-the-'hood vibe comparable to his trilogy of Friday films, but this modest comedy centered around a Chicago hair-cuttery feels trimmed of laughs. The labored slapstick with two accident-prone ATM thieves and the squabbles between the barbers are about as thin as a comb-over. As the oldest and most outspoken barber, Cedric the Entertainer makes a lonely effort to give the film some old-school personality.--Curt Holman

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R) An often cruelly jocular agitprop documentary about an out-of-control American gun culture, Michael Moore's (Roger & Me) nightmare tour of America's covert foreign policy, Michigan Militia and NRA rallies, conspiratorial kooks and sleazy TV producers makes a good case for the hair-trigger viciousness of our eye-for-an-eye culture even as it reduces painful, profound issues to irony-laced, laughable sport. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

BROWN SUGAR (PG-13) This predictable romantic comedy centers on two lifelong best friends, a music business executive (Taye Diggs) and a music magazine editor (Sanaa Lathan), who spend the entire movie fighting the fact that they're meant for each other. The film's whole point is that these two are forever linked through their love of hip-hop, but aside from the obligatory music biz cameos and lots of lip service from the leading characters, hip-hop rarely comes alive as its own fire-breathing entity, meaning that the pair might as well be joined by a mutual love of pro wrestling, Alan Rudolph flicks or Pokemon trading cards.--Matt Brunson

COMEDIAN (R) This backstage documentary follows Jerry Seinfeld as he rejects retiring as a zillionaire TV star to return to the stand-up comedy circuit, painstakingly crafting an all-new routine of his trademark observational comedy.

DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13) Pierce Brosnan's fourth outing as 007 isn't the best Bond film by a long shot, but it may be the fastest. Director Lee Tamahori brings a breakneck pace and a spirited willingness to show the audience some wild, new spectacle, notably a melting ice palace and chases across a frozen lake. Homages to earlier films are plentiful, while Halle Berry, as comely assassin Jinx, and Judi Dench, as Bond's spy boss, each have Academy Awards, lending a little legitimacy to the silly puns and stuntwork.--CH

8 MILE (R) Bratty rapper Eminem plays a struggling hip-hop artist loosely based on himself in this struggling-artist story from Academy Award-caliber director Curtis Hanson. Structured around a series of public rap "duels," the film plays like a Rocky or Karate Kid movie, only with profane rhymes substituting for fisticuffs. If not a versatile thespian, Eminem proves comfortable in front of the camera, and the film reveals a genuine interest in hip-hop culture and the impoverished Detroit setting.--CH

EL CRIMEN DE PADRE AMARO (R) A hunky young priest (Y Tu Mama Tambien's Gael Garcia Bernal) moves to a corrupt town and finds his morals put to the test, not the least by a teenage parishioner (Ana Claudia Talancon). With everything from highway robberies to cats that eat communion wafers, the film provides some watchable melodrama. But neither director Carlos Carrera nor his main character show much interest in spirituality, making the film a heavy-handed critique of Catholicism, but with little soul-searching of its own. At Lefont Garden Hills.--CH

THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG-13) This prep school dramedy about a bookish teacher (Kevin Kline) and a spoiled student (Emile Hirsch) plagiarizes a little from Dead Poet's Society before developing some fresh ideas about second chances and how youthful experiences shape adult character. Subtract points for its sleepy tone and for putting contemporary slang in the mouths of students in the '70s. That's not how they did it Old School.--CH

EXTREME OPS (PG-13) Fans of XXX make the target demographic for this action flick in which some extreme sports filmmakers must use their talents at stuff like snowboarding to outmaneuver terrorists in the Alps.

FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13) A rhapsodic, and often surreally accurate homage to the classic 1950s melodramas made by one of the genre's greatest subversives, Douglas Sirk, this tale of homosexuality and prejudice in 1957 Connecticut stars Julianne Moore and has all the stifled passion and bone-deep malaise of a Sirk production. As he did in the neo-rock opera Velvet Goldmine, director Todd Haynes has revitalized a disparaged genre, the women's picture, and in the process made one of the most heartfelt expressions of female confinement around.--FF

FRIDA (R) Tony Award winning director Julie Taymor brings a slightly off-kilter sensibility to this strong bio-picture of the tempestuous life and times of Mexican painter and feminist icon Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina as the love of her life, Diego Rivera, are convincing and human as the terminally at-odds husband and wife whose fascinating involvement with the art and radical politics of the '30s and '40s makes them long overdue for such a film treatment. . At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

FRIDAY AFTER NEXT (R) The Ice Cube series of comedies becomes a trilogy, with Mike Epps and John Witherspoon returning for this Christmas-themed installment.

GHOST SHIP (R) Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies play salvage officers aboard a haunted vessel. It's from Steve Beck, director of Thir13een Ghosts, but doesn't have a "clever" title like that one.

HALF PAST DEAD (PG-13) It's a steel cage rasslin' match when a high-tech band of thieves break into a maximum security prison and butt heads with death row inmates lead by Steven Seagall.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG) Schoolboy sorcerer Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals try to solve a series of mysterious attacks at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The first film found narrative momentum in Harry discovering his place in the newfound magical realm, but the sequel plays like an overlong Hardy Boys story set in Disneyworld's Haunted Mansion. Exciting scenes involve monstrous spiders and snakes, and Kenneth Branagh conjures huge laughs as a fatuous professor, but they can't make up for the slack storyline and surplus characters. Call it Harry Potter and the Chamber of Exposition.--CH

I SPY (PG-13) Mindless entertainment, with the emphasis on mindless -- unless you happen to find particularly entertaining the idea of yet another buddy/action comedy in which mismatched partners must overcome cultural differences (and death-defying stunt sequences) to save the world. This in-name-only "remake" of the '60s secret-agent series features a disarmingly agreeable turn by Owen Wilson as the flustered straight man, but Eddie Murphy really ought give his obnoxious smart-ass routine a rest.--Bert Osborne

IMAX Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (NR) Jeff Bridges narrates this sweeping documentary that traces the famed explorers' 8,000-mile trek across America. Through March 14. Australia: Land Beyond Time (NR) Check out the kangaroos, koalas and other denizens of Down Under in this travelogue of the world's biggest island. Through Dec. 13. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road.

JACKASS: THE MOVIE (R) See grown men flip golf carts on themselves, fire bottle rockets from their rectums, snort wasabi like its cocaine and terrorize innocent bystanders in the unjustifiable, often sickening, yet at times exhilarating big-screen version of the MTV series. One hates to encourage self-destructive frontman Johnny Knoxville and his kamikaze skatepunks to hurt themselves, but their idiotic exploits provide the longest, loudest laughs at the cineplex this year.--CH

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (G) Who says Hollywood has no new ideas? Here we have an animated, musical interpretation of the Bible story, with Jonah portrayed by a talking asparagus -- no doubt to be swallowed by a vegetarian whale. It's the first feature film from a popular Christian video series for kids.

MOONLIGHT MILE (PG-13) It's hard to imagine anyone stealing a movie not only from rising star Jake Gyllenhaal but also from Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman and Holly Hunter, yet newcomer Ellen Pompeo pulls off the feat with aplomb. She's the main reasons to see this highly likable if somewhat calculated melodrama about a young man (Gyllenhaal) who, after the senseless slaying of his fiancee, moves into the home of her parents (Sarandon and Hoffman, each making returns to form) yet soon finds himself falling for a local bar owner (Pompeo).--MB

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG) While not as accomplished as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, this is nevertheless a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, the film centers on the plight of a 30-year-old lonelyheart (Vardalos) who risks the wrath of her family when she falls for a non-Greek (John Corbett).--MB

MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS (NR) Yvan Atall plays a guy named Yvan driven to distraction by the movie-star career of his wife Charlotte (played by his wife Charlotte Gainsbourg). For his first film, Atall steals the stylistic trappings of Woody Allen to enjoyable effect, and Terence Stamp gives a likable performance as a fatuous matinee idol. But the effervescence goes out of this French trifle in its final half-hour. At United Artists Tara Cinemas. --CH

PAID IN FULL (R) Wood Harris and Mekhi Phifer play impoverished young men who rise to the top of Harlem's crack cocaine trade during the 1980s in this crime drama based on true events.

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (R) This disappointing Paul Thomas Anderson follow-up to the ambitious Magnolia features Adam Sandler in typical idiot-boy mode as a sad-sack Los Angeles small businessman who gets himself into trouble with some Provo, Utah, thugs and finds that only his love for an angelic woman (Emily Watson) can save him. The French went ga-ga for Sandler and Anderson's riff on Jerry Lewis' bumbling half-wits, honoring the latter with a Best Director prize at Cannes, but beyond that meta-cinematic conceit, there's not a whole lot to hold onto in this thin, tired film.--FF

RED DRAGON (R) The second film adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon feels less like a remake of Michael Mann's menacingly sterile Manhunter than a stylistic imitation of Jonathan Demme's impeccable Silence of the Lambs. Director Brett Ratner offers an overlong but adequately suspenseful B-movie with an A-list cast that boasts remarkable work from Ralph Fiennes as a tormented killer and Emily Watson as his sightless paramour. Anthony Hopkins still zestfully chews scenery and hapless co-stars alike as Hannibal Lecter, but hopefully his third outing marks his retirement from the role.--CH

THE RING (PG-13) Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts plays a Seattle reporter investigating an urban legend about a videotape that kills its viewers -- which may be no myth. This American remake of the superb Japanese thriller Ring can be both more self-consciously arty and more expensively gory than the restrained original. Director Gore Verbinski nevertheless finds some honest, atypical scares, generating paranoia of communications technology with the spookiest staticky TV set since Poltergeist.--CH

THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 (G) In the modestly entertaining original, Tim Allen played a hapless Joe who became a better dad by taking the role of St. Nick. The sequel, at one point known as The Mrs. Clause, finds Allen's portly Kris Kringle tasked to find a wife in modern-day America.

SOLARIS (PG-13) Steven Soderbergh's remake of the 30-year-old Russian science-fiction film is more of a psych 101 exercise than a sci-fi vehicle. The film's quiet, minimal tone is a little too subtle for George Clooney, playing a psychiatrist who investigates why surveyors of an alien planet have all gone insane. Though the film has an intriguing first act and raises questions worthy of a good "Star Trek" episode, it shies away from the premise's deeper implications about grief and memory.--CH

SPIRITED AWAY (PG) When her parents are turned into pigs, a Japanese girl enters the realm of spirits and deities to save them and herself. An Alice in Wonderland for the 21st century, this animated treasure finds director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) at the height of his powers, offering mature characterizations, sharp conflicts without violence and one of the strangest, least predictable coming-of-age stories you've ever set eyes on.--CH

STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (PG) The Funk Brothers -- the unsung session musicians on the Motown label -- finally get their due for providing pop music with more hits than any other combo in history. The respectful but spirited documentary delivers earthy interviews with the surviving musicians as well as exuberant performances from a 2000 reunion concert, with the likes of Joan Osborne and Chaka Khan singing classics like "Heat Wave" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." At Lefont Plaza.--CH

STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (PG-13) The second installment of George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy get the IMAX treatment. Though the star-crossed love story of Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) and Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) falls flat, a mystery subplot connecting bounty hunters and clone armies plays like a delicious wedding of Star Wars and James Bond. Regal Cinemas Mall Of Georgia IMAX, 3379 Buford Drive, Buford.--CH

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (PG-13) You get a more accurate depiction of the South in that movie about the Country Bears than this lazy, laugh-deficient romantic comedy. Reese Witherspoon plays a hotshot designer engaged to the son of New York's mayor, who she must get a divorce from the laid-back husband (Josh Lucas) she abandoned in her sleepy Alabama home town. Witherspoon's controlled performance gives a few grace notes to a predictable parade of both Southern and wedding movie cliches.--CH

THE TRANSPORTER (PG-13) Snatch's Jason Statham plays a buff, hard-boiled courier who rebels against his evil bosses upon learning that his latest "package" is a kidnapped young woman (Shu Qi). Directed by Hong Kong fight choreographer Cory Yuen.

TREASURE PLANET (PG) Disney's heart is in the right place for this animated, space-faring version of the Robert Louis Stevenson adventure, which boasts spectacular set pieces and a nice relationship between cabin boy Jim Hawkins and a cybernetic pirate named Silver. But unnecessary ballast comes from such shameless, pandering touches as a wisecracking robot (voiced by Martin Short), a pop power ballad, a cutesy alien sidekick and interludes for extreme sports.--CH

THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (PG-13) Daft remake of deft 1963 comedy-caper Charade puts Thandie Newton in Audrey Hepburn's place as a woman pursued all over Paris by bad guys convinced that her murdered hubby gave her their missing loot. Mark Wahlberg sleepwalks through it as a suitor who might know more than he admits about the money and the murder.--Eddy Von Mueller

THE TUXEDO (PG-13) The best special effect in a Jackie Chan movie is always Chan himself, which makes the affable performer's latest American vehicle an especially ill-fitting and ill-conceived affair. Chan plays a bumbling, insecure chauffeur who dons a top-of-the-line government issue suit that turns him into a superspy of sorts. Dressed to thrill, he teams up with a rookie agent (Jennifer Love Hewitt, enjoyably awful) to stop a power-mad bottled-water magnate (dull Ritchie Coster). It's always a rush to witness Chan kick and chop his way across the screen, but the film forces him to play second fiddle to the dull effects that allow the suit to come to life. -- MB

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS THEY (PG-13) Robert Harmon, director of the cult suspense film The Hitcher, presents this horror flick about hotties who fear that their "night terrors" suggest that bona fide boogeymen are stalking them.


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