BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (PG-13) With a lack of anything better to fill one's empty hours, this British comedy might provide a temporary distraction from inevitable mortality. A conventional -- emphasis on light -- crowd-pleaser about an 18-year-old girl (Parminder K. Nagra) who longs to play soccer despite the objections of her conservative Indian parents, Gurinder Chadha's box office-directed global comedy is the cinematic equivalent of a Happy Meal: bland, momentarily delightful, but with a lot of empty calories.--FF
DYSFUNKTIONAL FAMILY (R) This comedy concert film from Eddie Griffin of Undercover Brother fame has about 30 minutes of "A-material," including terrific bits about profiling and reverse-racism after Sept. 11. But director George Gallo undermines Griffin's material with unnecessary sound effects and too much cross-cutting between Griffin's family anecdotes and interviews with his admittedly interesting relatives. Compared to The Original Kings of Comedy, Griffin's more of a joker in the deck.--Curt Holman
A MAN APART F. Gary Gray directs Vin Diesel as a DEA agent who seeks revenge on drug dealers after they kill his wife. Co-starring Larenz Tate and Timothy Olyphant.
PHONE BOOTH (R) Following a co-starring role in The Recruit and a supporting turn in Daredevil, for his third film of 2003 Colin Farrell finds himself top-billed in this efficient drama about a New York publicist who gets pinned in a phone booth by a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland). With a crisp running time of 80 minutes, this taut psychological thriller (directed for maximum impact by Joel Schumacher) knows exactly when to clear the line. -- Matt Brunson
THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS (R) Go Fish and Bedrooms and Hallways director Rose Troche offers her own Ice Storm of ennui amongst the Manhattan bedroom community set. But her incident-dense, overly ambitious adaptation of A.M. Homes' collection of short stories tries to collapse far too much material into the film and her incompletely drawn characters suffer for it.--FF
WHAT A GIRL WANTS (PG) Colin Firth gets a Hugh Grant-style role as an Englishman who meets the teenage American daughter (Amanda Bynes) he never knew he had. The title comes from a Christina Aguilera song.
CHANDNI BAR (2001) (NR) Following a riot in her home village, a young woman (Tabu) flees to Bombay, where she's pressured into taking a job as a dancer at a beer bar in this film that's part feminist saga, part gangster movie. Film Festival of India: Bollywood and Beyond, April 4, 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium. $5. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.
COAL BLACK VOICES (NR) An ensemble of African-American poets and storytellers provide a mosaic of black life in the South and Appalachia, with themes ranging from racism and black identity to the pleasures of music, food and family. IMAGE Film & Video Center. April 2, 7 p.m. Atlanta Fulton Public Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square. Free. 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.
A FATAL FAIRY TALE (2001) (NR) An elderly carpenter, a popular storyteller for children, is discovered to be a murder suspect who may hold the key to other unsolved crimes. Germany in the Crosshairs: German Detective Thrillers on TV. April 2, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree Street, Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388.
THE JOURNEY (2001) (NR) Documentarian and Atlanta native Eric Saperston interviews corporate bigwigs and plain folk alike on a self-mythologizing cross-country trek in a 1971 Volkswagen minibus. Interviewees like Henry Winkler can be fun subjects, but the more the film focuses on the filmmakers as they pitch and package their own project, the less idealistic it seems. April 1, 7 p.m., White Hall, 480 Kilgo St., Emory University, and 9:30 p.m., Georgia Tech Student Center, 350 Ferst Drive. April 4-10, Phipps Plaza Theatre.-- CH
MOE KNOWS FILM: Independent Shorts Film Party. April 3 at 10 p.m. at Moe's, 863 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-723-7892.
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.
WEST SIDE STORY (NR) (1961) Rocky Horror, it ain't, but the 1961 musical is getting new life on an audience-interactive tour hyping the release of its big-ass special edition DVD. On-screen subtitles let you sing along with classics like "America" and "Somewhere," and costumes are encouraged. Who knew that brutal inner-city gang warfare could be so fun? Screens April 2 at 7 p.m. Lefont Garden Hills Cinema, 2835 Peachtree Road. Free, but advance tickets required. 404-266-2202.--Tray Butler
ABOUT SCHMIDT (R) Jack Nicholson does an about-face in his performance as a smaller-than-life midwestern insurance executive facing multiple crises -- mostly funny ones -- upon retirement. Election director Alexander Payne's critique of American mediocrity can feel snide and elitist, but also has considerable comic invention, from Schmidt's inappropriate letters to an impoverished African boy to Kathy Bates and Dermot Mulroney as the prospective in-laws from hell.--CH
ADAPTATION (R) One of the best and brightest films of the year, this brilliant follow-up to director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich follows the self-loathing tribulations of Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) as he struggles to adapt cerebral New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) book The Orchid Thief for the screen. An astoundingly inventive exploration of writing's emotional and psychological complexity, the film also goes far deeper than its clever meta-construction to become a tender, lovely glimpse into the search for elusive dreams and desires in all of our lives.--FF
AGENT CODY BANKS (PG) Like Spy Kids hitting puberty, this action comedy stars "Malcolm in the Middle's" Frankie Muniz as a teen superagent trained for every conceivable mission -- except talking to girls. With Hilary Duff and Angie Harmon.
ANTWONE FISHER (PG-13) The screenplay's the story here, and Denzel Washington (in his directorial debut) gets out of its way, letting his actors relate it honestly without gumming it up with show-off stylistics. Antwone Fisher wrote the script, based on his own life story, and he and Washington luck out by having engaging newcomer Derek Luke handle the heavy lifting, playing a troubled sailor whose anti-social behavior brings him into contact with a Navy psychiatrist (Washington) who eventually helps him get to the root of his emotional problems.--MB
BASIC (R) Not even Nostradamus could have predicted every twist in this convoluted thriller, yet in the end, we don't feel fulfilled as much as happy to get out of the auditorium alive. Initially, the intrigue is entertaining, as an ex-Army Ranger (John Travolta) in Panama is tapped to find out what went wrong on a military exercise that led to the death of a reviled sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson). Two witnesses (Brian Van Holt and insufferable Giovanni Ribisi) offer differing accounts, but any hope of a modern-day Rashomon is soon dashed as the movie gets bogged down in a haphazard series of twists, turns, backslides and pirouettes. -- MB
BIKER BOYZ (PG-13) Adapted from a New Times article about African-American motorcycle gangs, though doubtless greenlit because of the success of The Fast and the Furious, this stars Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) as a young cycle ace who squares off against a veteran racer (Laurence Fishburne). Good performances help us swallow the rampant melodrama -- even Kid Rock, cast as a rival biker, isn't bad -- but ultimately, the picture isn't especially fast or furious, just fleeting.--MB
BLUE COLLAR COMEDY TOUR (PG-13) Jeff Foxworthy offers kind of a white, working class equivalent to The Original Kings of Comedy concert film, headlining in a stand-up show that also features like-minded comics Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy.
BOAT TRIP (R) Cuba Gooding Jr. is using his Oscar for Jerry Maguire as a springboard to making the dumbest movies of our time: Snow Dogs, Chill Factor, Pearl Harbor and now this comedy that pairs him and Horatio Sanz as would-be skirt-chasers who unwittingly board a cruise ship for gay singles.
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (PG-13) An ex-convict (Queen Latifah), insisting she was framed, forces a whiter-than-white attorney (Steve Martin) to try to clear her name. The story is utter nonsense, but what makes the film work are the terrific comic performances driving it: Martin hasn't been this engaging in years; Queen Latifah is sexy, spirited and smart; and Eugene Levy, as a nerd who finds his inner funk, continues to prove that he's one of the best second bananas in modern movie comedy.--MB
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (PG-13) Steven Spielberg's most purely entertaining film since the early 1980s finds Leonardo DiCaprio as a chameleon-like high schooler who flees his broken home by brazenly passing as an airline pilot, an Atlanta pediatrician and more. Tom Hanks finds plenty of rueful humor as the Joe Friday-esque FBI agent who's always one step behind. When other filmmakers remake classics like Charade, they're striving for the kind of ease, star power and fluency that this film generates without breaking a sweat. --CH
CHICAGO (PG-13) First-time feature director Rob Marshall reclaims the musical genre from Moulin Rouge with this sexy, robust, big-screen version of Bob Fosse's cynical stage hit. As Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones play Jazz Age murderesses vying for the attentions of superlawyer Richard Gere, showbiz and the legal system prove to be opposite sides of the same tarnished coin. The entire cast, including John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah, reveal remarkable musical showmanship, selling the hell out of the vaudeville-style numbers.--CH
CITY OF GOD (R) This gritty crime drama from Brazil uses the flashy, pulp-fiction techniques of Tarantino and Scorsese to draw attention to the violence and crushing poverty in Rio's sprawling slums. Tracking a bloodthirsty drug dealer and a meek photographer from the '60s to the '80s, the filmmakers make the most of every cinematic trick at their disposal, although their greatest resource is a sense of social outrage that mourns how penniless orphans become larcenous killers. At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--CH
THE CORE (PG-13) Burrowing beneath the earth rather than taking off into space, this is basically an inverted Armageddon. The pedestrian script isn't nearly as compelling as the special effects, though an able cast lends conviction to this drama in which a group of "terranauts" head to the planet's center in an effort to prevent worldwide destruction. The movie's science wouldn't hold up under the scrutiny of an 8-year-old, but viewers fond of far-fetched fantasies like Journey to the Center of the Earth should have an okay time.--MB
CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE (R) Martial artist extraordinaire Jet Li joins DMX and the Exit Wounds creative team for an action film about kidnapping and weapons of mass destruction. The trailers suggest it'll be ridiculous and audacious.
DAREDEVIL (PG-13) The same accident that blinded Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) also enhanced his other senses, giving him a bat-like sonar vision that he uses to fight crime. Though Jennifer Garner ("Alias") sparkles as ninja vixen Elektra, and Colin Farrel makes bad-guy Bullseye an almost likable psychopath, the film fails to live up to the standards set by X-Men or Spider-Man, other recent adaptations of Marvel comic books.--Tray Butler
DARK BLUE (R) Director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) has a tendency to bluntly overstate his points, but his cop thriller has a gripping, nihilistic story reminiscent of the B- and C-noirs of classic Hollywood. Kurt Russell delivers a powerful performance as a corrupt L.A.P.D. cop whose own personal meltdown parallels the 1992 trial of four white officers for the beating of Rodney King and the verdict that set the city on fire.--FF
DREAMCATCHER (R) Four hunting buddies run afoul of both a downed U.F.O. and Morgan Freeman as a demented military man sent to contain it. Director Lawrence Kasdan brings slick professionalism to this well-cast, increasingly berserk Stephen King adaptation with enough plot for three movies. It eventually collapses under the weird of its weird combinations of grisly violence and bathroom humor, alien invasion and boyhood nostalgia, military psychos and mentally disabled saints. Shown with "The Final Flight of Osiris" a flashy but empty CGI short set in the Matrix universe.--CH
EVELYN (PG) Pierce Brosnan takes a break from James Bond for some double-o hokum as a single dad challenging the Irish church and legal system to get his kids back. The climatic courtroom scenes hold our interest, but director Bruce Beresford tries so hard to offer a wholesome crowd-pleaser he waters down the darker implications of the material in favor of sugary platitudes. With Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn and Alan Bates taking turns intoning "David and Goliath" cliches as the legal team.--CH
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.--FF
GANGS OF NEW YORK (R) Though Martin Scorsese's historical epic has a more conventional plot line than his more morally ambiguous, violence-soaked films, Gangs of New York is no small feat. A vortex of crime and corruption based on the real life mire of 1800s Manhattan street gangs, Gangs is a smarter than average epic, though far short of Scorsese's best work. Its greatest saving grace is a brilliantly charismatic, psychopath leader of the Native gang, Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) whose often justified guttersnipe rage far outshines the milquetoast heroism of his Irish gang rival played by Leonardo DiCaprio.--FF
GODS AND GENERALS (PG-13) Ted Turner Pictures offers a would-be epic of the first two years of the Civil War that feels like it was shot in real time. Gettysburg writer-director Ronald Maxwell does a fine job at battlefield reenactment, especially for the extended sequence of Fredericksburg, but has no clue how to make such figures as Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) into intriguing characters. The film's tedium is easier to forgive, though, than its whitewashing of the institution of slavery, which here merely seems like a bad career choice.--CH
HEAD OF STATE (PG-13) If there was ever a time when we could use a raucous political satire to shake things up, this is clearly that time. Unfortunately, Head of State clearly isn't that movie. Rather than grab the political bull by the horns (think Bulworth or Bowling for Columbine), Chris Rock is content to make a comedy that could easily play on network TV as a pilot for a proposed sit-com. (My Big Fat Freak Election, anyone?) Still, for a movie that traffics in timidity rather than temerity, this offers a handful of inspired gags, as well as charismatic roles for Rock and Bernie Mac as siblings who run for the Oval Office. -- MB
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (PG-13) Kate Hudson's magazine columnist puts her ideas about feminine dating mistakes to the test with Matthew McConaughey, who believes he can win any woman in 10 days. Though predictable to a fault, the romantic comedy wrings a certain charm out of the formula and takes a couple of well-placed stabs at the genre in the process.--TB
THE HOURS (PG-13) Stephen Daldry's splendidly literate film uses Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to unite three women, cutting between the day Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is writing it, a 1950s housewife (Julianne Moore) is reading it, and a 2002 book editor (Meryl Streep) is somehow living it. The film's increasing reliance on theatrical monologues means the pay-off doesn't equal the brilliant set-up, but its nevertheless a lush, rich film experience, with Kidman donning a prosthetic nose and being more liberated as an actress than she's ever been.--CH
THE HUNTED (PG-13) A U.S. trained assassin (Benicio Del Toro) starts giving hunters a lethal taste of their own medicine until his old mentor (Tommy Lee Jones) tracks him down. Supposedly a trip-wire killing machine, del Toro instead seems bored and skeptical, as if he can't believe this is the best he could do after his Oscar for Traffic. Jones gives an unexpectedly vulnerable performance, but his presence and the unimpressive stunts only make us pine for The Fugitive. "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting Dew Towo."--CH
IMAX Whales (NR) Follow orca, blue, humpback, right whales and dolphins through oceans around the globe in this doc narrated by Patrick Stewart. Through May 23. Coral Reef Adventure (NR) Ocean explorers Howard and Michele Hall journey to some of the world's largest, most beautiful and most endangered coral reefs. Through Sept. 1. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. www.fernbank.edu.
IRREVERSIBLE (NR) Gaspar Noe's technically accomplished exercise in brutality is like watching a one-hour snuff film with a final third of "normal" behavior. A la Memento, we see the major scenes in reverse order, including a nine-minute rape of a beautiful woman (Monica Bellucci) that may be the ugliest such sequence ever shot. Noe's cheap misanthropy proves a weak justification for such unsparingly repellent material, which ultimately rests on such thin ideas as "Revenge is self-defeating" and "Hindsight is 20-20."At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--CH
THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (G) Disney continues to make unnecessary sequels to its classic cartoon features, with Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) returning for another rumble in the jungle. John Goodman is a natural choice to replace Phil Harris as the laid-back Baloo, but what's next? Sleeping Beauty Hits the Snooze Button?
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (R) A reporter (Kate Winslet) races the clock to learn whether a condemned "death penalty abolitionist" (Kevin Spacey) was framed for murder. The preposterous sleuthing provides a weak vehicle for the film's anti-capital punishment boilerplate. The flashbacks about how the Spacey character's life was ruined by false accusations and politically correctness play better, but the actor still hasn't rediscovered the icy charisma that drove his work before his American Beauty Oscar.--CH
THE LION KING (G) Disney's highest grossing film ever gets the IMAX treatment. Sort of like Hamlet on the plains of Africa, it depicts a young lion trying to reclaim his place atop the food chain from his usurping uncle. It's not really in the league of classics like Pinocchio or Beauty and the Beast, despite its all-star voice cast and Elton John/Tim Rice songs that a generation of kids knows by heart. Regal Cinemas Mall Of Georgia IMAX, 3379 Buford Drive, Buford.--CH
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (PG-13) The middle film based on Tolkein's Middle-Earth epic is so full of spectacle it makes Fellowship of the Rings look like director Peter Jackson was just clearing his throat. It's also a more black-and-white affair, stressing mortal combat over moral struggles as heroes like Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) resist the forces of evil. The schizophrenic Gollum, an all-CGI creation superbly voiced by Andy Serkis, has the most complicated inner life and proves the film's unlikely star.--CH
OLD SCHOOL (R) Returning to his distinguished oeuvre of college comedies, director Todd Phillips (Frat House, Road Trip) takes a promising gimmick, of three thirtysomething friends (Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn) who start their own fraternity. Phillips unfortunately forms that tasty notion into a tasteless soy retread inspired by films like Animal House, but without the brains to retool the collegiate comedy genre. Vaughn and Ferrell, however, make a valiant effort to inject some much needed goofiness into their parcel of the film.--FF
THE PIANIST (R) Though less stylish and darkly humorous than typical Roman Polanski fare, this true story of Polish pianist and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman (the Oscar-winning Adrien Brody) will be fascinating stuff for Polanski fans who will find copious allusions to the director's life and films in this somber and enlightening story.--FF
PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE (G) Audiences may feel exhausted at the prospect of another journey into the Hundred Acre Woods and at the feeling they'd seen all the Heffalumps and Woozles they could handle. But director Francis Glebas does a remarkable job injecting a much-need dose of reality into A.A. Milne's tales of honey crazed bears and manic-depressive donkeys. Stepping out from behind Winnie-the-Pooh's shadow, Piglet proves himself a uniquely gifted and engaging performer, bringing poignancy to this story of a Piglet who feels unappreciated and overlooked by the friends who eventually understand how much they need him. Bring a hankie.--FF.
THE QUIET AMERICAN (R) This respectable, nuanced, if at times slightly passionless adaptation of Graham Greene's 1955 novel is well-served by Michael Caine's cynical personification of a classic emotionally and morally detached Greene hero. Caine is a jaded British correspondent whose neutral view of politics in a '50s Saigon where French, Communist and American forces vie for power begins to change with his growing friendship with a mysterious American (Brendan Fraser).--FF
THE RECRUIT (PG-13) At first, this elaborate spy game, about a veteran CIA agent (Al Pacino) who takes a rookie (Colin Farrell) under his wing, looks like it might be one of the elite thrillers that keep us guessing right to the end. Indeed, the first half smacks of David Mamet at his trickiest, but the fun dissipates during Hour Two. Having acclimated ourselves to the movie's internal logic, we can see where this is heading, and the lack of surprises provides time to dwell on the plot holes.--MB
SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (PG-13) The sequel to Shanghai Noon gives Jackie Chan a fine foil in Owen Wilson and some wonderful slapstick fight scenes that use every available prop from umbrellas to Ming vases. But the action comedy set in Victorian London denies its stars a decent script, instead marching them through lazy historic anachronisms and Brit-bashing stereotypes more shameless than Austin Powers.--CH
SPIDER (R) David Cronenberg puts aside his usual trick bag of pulsating orifices and open wounds to offer a compellingly repressed but synonymous world of psychological trauma. His adaptation of New Gothic novelist Patrick McGrath's brilliant Spider takes the vantage of a recently released asylum patient (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the source of his dementia in home-sweet-home.--FF
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 winner of the 2002 Best Animated Feature Oscar 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
TALK TO HER (R) A surprisingly grown-up and restrained Pedro Almodovar shifts into hyper-serious mode in this disappointingly inert film with the ardent tone of a women's picture but dominated by the romantic agonies of two men. Sensitive guys Javier Camara and Dario Grandinetti try to sustain relationships with women who have both ended up in a coma on the same hospital ward and end up developing a deep bond with each other. All of Almodovar's inventive, garish imagination seems to have flown the coop in this soapy stab at adult themes with occasional forays into creepy, kinky sexual compulsion. At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--FF
TEARS OF THE SUN (R) On the heels of Hart's War, Bruce Willis returns to combat duty in this plodding drama that's about as battle-fatigued as they come. This simplistic story about a Navy SEAL (Willis, all grunts and squints) protecting Nigerian villagers from rebel extremists results in a picture that's painted in wide swaths of soldier-boy posturing and pontificating. It may serve as a slick piece of propaganda but won't satisfy anyone who prefers to be challenged by military movies. Rent the superior Three Kings instead. --MB
VIEW FROM THE TOP (R) Gwyneth Paltrow's participation in such brainy entertainment as Shakespeare In Love makes it easy to forget that this talented actress has starred in her share of imbecilic features, including this clunker about a small-town girl who dreams of making it as a flight attendant. There's much to cherish in this so-bad-it's-good movie, the type that would have been right at home on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's the sort of mishmash that finds room for an offensive gay caricature (Joshua Malina), plenty of back-catalog tunes on the soundtrack, and even a cameo by that esteemed thespian Rob Lowe.--MB
WILLARD (PG-13) As if we needed any further proof that Crispin Glover is creepy, he goes and stars in the remake of the 1971 thriller about a disturbed boy who befriends a rat. Glover's Willard twitches and whines, mimicking his army of loyal rats until they ultimately mutiny. A mixture between horror and action-hero movie with a campy flair for the macabre, the film will unsettle any rat loather or cat lover, but it luckily has room for a laugh. --Jerry Portwood
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