Writ. & dir. Reggie Rock Bythewood; feat. Derek Luke, Lawrence Fishburne, Orlando Jones, Kid Rock (PG-13)

Touted as "an action-packed contemporary Western on wheels," Biker Boyz leaves a bad metallic taste in the mouth that even $6 nachos can't erase. Maybe it's all the chrome-colored plastic on hundreds of souped-up crotch rockets. Maybe it's just all that exhaust, seeping into the voids a strong plot would have filled.

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Derek Luke in Biker Boyz

Blue- and white-collar citizens by day, these urban cowboys meet by night in an underground community of competitive motorcycle clubs - not gangs - replete with colors, insignias, and flashy gear. On steel horses they ride, clad in black leather chaps and sleek, chic safety helmets. Smoke (Fishburne) reigns regionally supreme, holding the coveted title "King of Cali" - the most rootin'est, tootin'est rider in California.

Enter the courageous Kid (Luke), a strong young upstart with a dead-father vedetta and a sports bike powered by one part nitrous and two parts testosterone. He challenges Smoke to race for the crown, a showdown that writer/director Bythewood builds up to with ill-conceived plot twists that are too ridiculous (and too revealing) to recount here. (Bythewood's mantra - "If at first you don't succeed, contrive and contrive again" - doesn't serve the story too well.)

There is a conspicuous lack of gunplay in this alleged Western, and it's hard to remember any Clint Eastwood movie in which he cleaned up a town by riding really, really fast on his horse. Dubious genre comparisons aside, the lack of substantial female characters - typical in both horse- and cycle-riding flicks - is disappointing in a film that actually puts independent women on bikes, but doesn't let them race. Let it ride, though, because none of this movie is up to speed. WK


Dir. Gary Hardwick, writ. James Iver Mattson, B.E. Brauner; feat. LL Cool J, Gabrielle Union, Essence Atkins, Mel Jackson (R)

Audiences who enjoy seeing LL Cool J raising his eyebrow and wearing tight sweaters will be pleased with this Taming of the Shrew update, but the rest of us should donate the admission price to the newly established Institute for Rap Stars Who Wish to Become Leading Men.

The first half of Eva reads like a high-school rendition of the classic play - you know the lines better than the actors, and your heart goes out to them as they fumble the material. Even the "you're going to pay me to go out with her?" plotline is beyond the reach of leading man LL, whose "acting faces" are reminiscent of one Derek Zoolander. Don't go in expecting Gabrielle Union's Bring It On sass: her cock-blocking character works as a restaurant health inspector, and half of her supposedly withering tirades involve quasi-scientific babble about poultry temperatures. Fortunately, in the grand tradition of cinematic sexism, Union's Eva Dandridge becomes a different person once she gets some of the LL-lovin' - a transformation that leaves her radiant.

Confusion will set in when the movie grinds to a halt (literally), and LL begins to narrate - you'll remember that the movie began with his funeral, but it's still disconcerting to hear him say, "Now that I'm dead ..." - just as the romance begins to blossom. His explication signals the descent into a screwball ending that seems dreamed up halfway through production. It involves a pair of tight man-panties, steel chains, and a white horse - and it wouldn't be surprising to hear that LL thought it up himself. The Men Are From Mars... camp will get a kick out of lines like "women uplift humanity, men uplift lapdances," but a date movie this is not. You won't walk away feeling warm and cuddly - just confused, and hoping that the aforementioned acting Institute sends a whole pack of galloping white horses to capture LL before he makes another romantic comedy. LMF


Dir. David Ellis; writ. J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress; feat. Ali Larter, A.J. Cook, Michael Landes, Terrence Carson, Keegan Connor Tracy (R)

For those of a stoic bent, death is merely a state designating the end of bodily function, the question of sentience thereafter unanswerable and, all things considered, irrelevant. By contrast, Final Destination 2 portrays death as Death - a force, an active agent, a mover and shaker with a penchant for dispatching its rightful quarry as bloodily and convolutedly as possible. One by one, Destination's victims, having already eluded the reaper once, become fodder for some of the most elaborately imagined demises ever put to celluloid. Only an acid-dropping Rube Goldberg could conceive of more perverse uses for plate glass, airbags, PVC pipes, leaky fuel tanks, nitrous oxide, errant pigeons (!), or some combination thereof; and it's just that algebra of complex, interconnected occurrences that sets in motion each evisceration or impalement, making this beyond-the-pale horror film so simultaneously loathsome and irresistible.

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Impending death becomes them: A scene from Final Destination 2

Similar to its predecessor, FD2 begins with a winsome teenager (A.J. Cook) experiencing a premonition of carnage to come (in this case, a multiple-car pileup). Because of her refusal to continue driving, a traffic jam is created, vehicles can't enter the freeway, and, subsequently, a handful of lives are saved. The respite is only temporary, however, her vision and quick thinking having merely delayed Death's fell swoop. What follows is a pessimist's wet dream, with everything that can go wrong when it comes to dangling spikes and spewing flammables going very, very wrong.

While Destination offers less than nothing in the way of acting, dialogue, or logic, its existence simply a means to the depiction of many vicious ends, its over-the-top glee in doing so exhilarates for the same reason the Grand Guignol did nearly a century ago: We love death and gore - spectacular and visceral, on-stage or on-screen - because it reminds us so bracingly that we're still alive. JW


Dir. Donald Petrie; writ. Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Burr Steers; feat. Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, Michael Michele (PG-13)

The screenwriters based their script on the dating guide The Rules, which is apt considering this movie's slavish reiteration of chick-flick conventions. If (as those conventions assume) a romantic comedy with a bet is funny, hilarity is bound to ensue with two cross-purpose bets. Throw in a mangy dog in a sweater, a supporting cast of Cosmopolitan-drinking gal pals (hers), and stogie-smoking poker buddies (his), a painful karaoke scene, and Eureka!: You've got the formula for a blockbuster romantic comedy.

At last week's sold-out preview, The Rules worked: As the winsome Kate Hudson traipsed about the set trying desperately to lose Matthew McConaughey, the audience giggled and tittered in all the right places. Hudson sets out to commit all the classic dating "mistakes," but her ever-escalating series of ridiculous demands, schizophrenic antics, and crying jags seem more than anything else like classic symptoms of dementia.

Meanwhile, McConaughey is trying to get her to fall in love, so he acquiesces, even to the egregious instance in which she makes him blow his nose into a Kleenex she's holding - after all, "nobody likes a Mr. Sniffles." McConaughey is passable but unconvincing: winning his bet hardly seems worth putting up with these histrionics. The soundtrack is offensively obvious, cueing us to the actors' emotions with the subtlety of a WWF play-by-play. Hudson, on the other hand, milks her role, which would once have been perfect for her mother, Goldie Hawn: As a beautiful, irreverent clown, her talents are immense.

In perhaps the most ridiculous scene in the film, Hudson presents McConaughey with a digitally produced family album of their potential future offspring. Viewers who had been skeptical up to this point will surely take one look at the warped faces of Hudson's digital spawn and high-tail it out of this cheeseball. LMF


Dir: Roger Donaldson; writ. Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Mitch Glazer; feat. Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Kenneth Mitchell, Brian Rhodes (PG-13)

"Everything is a test," declares Walter Burke (Pacino), repeatedly, and he is not describing educational policy under the Bush administration. Burke is an instructor at the Farm, the secluded estate where the Central Intelligence Agency prepares novices for covert operations. For its first 40 minutes, The Recruit provides convincing immersion into boot camp for spooks - training in lie detector deception, surveillance, cryptography, and combat.

"Nothing is what it seems," warns Burke, keeping his recruits - and the audience - forever unsure of what is real. When James Clayton (Farrell), an agile computer geek from MIT, is tortured, it is not immediately clear whether he has been abducted by foreign agents or the ordeal is a lesson orchestrated by his CIA instructors. James, whose father may or may not have been working for the Company when he died in Peru, looks to Burke as a surrogate father and counts on him for a clear moral compass. "We believe in good and evil, and we choose good," proclaims the older trickster master. The Recruit recalls the repeated trompe l'oeil experience of F/X, in which the ambiguities of simulation are cinematic stimulation.

The plot begins to unfold, and unravel, when James, who falls in love with a fellow recruit named Layla (Moynahan), is informed that she is a mole and is assigned to prevent her from swiping a CIA program that could incapacitate the entire electrical grid of the United States. Layla may or may not be who James thinks she is, but when she does something that contradicts who we are supposed to think she is, ambiguity yields to mere confusion. "Don't you appreciate the complexity of this thing?" Burke asks James. Exasperated by inconsistent details in a convoluted plot contrived by three different writers, a reviewer might come away with renewed appreciation for simplicity of design. SGK


Dir. David Dobkin; writ. Alfred Gough & Miles Millar; feat. Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson, Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher (PG-13)

Maybe screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, brainstorming for their sequel to Shanghai Noon, had a look at that other Jackie-plus-American buddy flick Rush Hour 2 and decided that rehashing their original film was a pretty dull idea. Instead they took their cues from an unlikely source, aiming for a sort of Shanghai Gump.

As Chan and Wilson cavort around a 19th-century London in which Stonehenge is apparently just on the outskirts of town, they can't take a step without unwittingly making history: They give Arthur Conan Doyle the idea for Sherlock Holmes, pick up a tramp named Chaplin, and cross paths with Jack the Ripper. But where Forrest Gump's creators made his adventures semi-plausible, Gough and Millar are terrified of calendars: They kill Jack the Ripper off months before his killing spree began, introduce a 10-year-old Chaplin two years before he's born, and so on. Those who accept this kind of thing as par for the course probably won't mind the soundtrack's inexplicable goofiness, shifting at will from Elmer Bernstein to Singin' in the Rain to the British Invasion, none of which is imitated with much skill.

But after the debacle of The Tuxedo, Jackie Chan's fans won't be too picky. Knights isn't as funny as Noon was, and the chemistry the two actors had in the first isn't quite recaptured, but there are still laughs to be had. Much more importantly, Chan delivers a few fight scenes that, while shorter than you'd like, are as inspired as any he has made. The movie's last half hour is one big embarrassment, but those action sequences prove that Chan's a long way from losing his touch. JD

Films reviewed by:
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
LM: Lynette Miller
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
JW: Joe Weiss



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