Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Christian Gudegast; feat. Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant (R)
A Man Apart is derivative, mindless, and nauseatingly nonchalant in its depiction of violence, but perhaps most grating is the dialogue. A film this stupid shouldn't be confusing, but what to make of the slang? To paraphrase: "You want me to do a 30 on the up and side? I can't carry that kind of weight!" Huh? In the end, though, it doesn't really matter what's being said. JW

Dir. Harold Zwart; writ. Ashley Edward Miller; feat. Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon (PG)
Teenaged CIA operative Cody Banks has all the concerns common to adolescence, and some that aren't so common - his mission is to woo a foxy girl so he can learn more about her scientist father, who works for the world's most color-coordinated terrorists. What follows is stupid semi-fun that follows every rule and strays from nary an entrenched convention of the genre. The film's vision of the CIA, folksy agents who will help you wash dishes and who ride around headquarters in fleets of Segways, is a candy-coated image difficult to reconcile with reality - but this is a kids' movie, neither eager nor able to look beneath the polish of adolescent fantasies. JW

Dir. Peter Segal; writ. David Dorfman; feat. Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzmán, John Turturro (PG-13)
The director of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, brings us this season's dumb-and-dumberered down version of Punch-Drunk Love, in which Sandler is oddly less volatile than in any of his other films. No coincidence is too outlandish for these filmmakers, no star cameo too silly to be included in the hopes that, amid the hoopla, you won't notice how flat this film reallly is. JD

Dir. John McTiernan; writ. James Vanderbilt; feat. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen (R)
A convoluted mess of a mystery that defies logic and explanation, Basic offers a few good characterizations, a lot of screaming by Travolta and Jackson (though the two only appear together in one scene), and Giovanni Ribisi puking blood from a hospital bed. In this time of war, Basic offers little in the way of social commentary; sadly, it even fails as a conscience-free action film. SM

Dir: Gurinder Chadha; writ. Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges; feat. Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (PG-13)
Beckham is the endearing story of culture clash - between England and India, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, immigrants and their assimilating children. While Jess rejects the cultural role assigned her, Bend It Like Beckham follows the conventions of inspirational sports movies - montage of matches, crisis in the team we are rooting for, a modicum of suspense over who wins the big game. Relentlessly cheerful, it is Rocky served up with samosas and bitters. SGK

Dir. Adam Shankman; writ. Jason Filardi; feat. Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart (PG-13)
Queen Latifah is an escaped convict who intends to disrupt tax attorney Steve Martin's life until he helps clear her name. Blacks and whites may truly live in different worlds, but the filmmakers behind House don't know much about either one; only Eugene Levy, as a repressed white man in lust with a black woman, grasps the absurdity of this, and as a result gets most of the laughs in this bland, mechanical film. JD

Dir. Paul Hunter; writ. Ethan Reiff; feat. Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King (PG-13)
While ostensibly a tale of reluctant heroism and inner-peace gobbledygook, Monk is really just another vehicle for trotting out the horsewhipped East vs. West culture clash and all that goes with it. Since Monk is "enlightened" and polar-opposite Kar has no doubt spent a third of his life watching network television, the screenwriters are able to have an easy, paint-by-number time of things, apparently in the hopes that you will, too, and not resent it. JW

Dir. Linda Mendoza; writ. Laura Angelica Simon; feat. Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara, Jaci Velasquez, Eduardo Verástegui, Lisa Vidal (PG)
How many screenwriters does it take to write drivel? Four, say the credits to Chasing Papi. Three must have been busy changing a light bulb, since one is enough to conjure up this fluff about a three-timing ad executive whose women get wise, then even - despite moments in which Chasing Papi promises the madcap mirth of Billy Wilder, it settles for being much tamer. SGK

Dir. Rob Marshall; writ. Bill Condon; feat. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski (PG-13)
Never mind that the story's moral is stale and the musical's Bob Fosse roots are dyed beyond recognition. Chicago has the kind of infectious flash and flair that could make people take musicals seriously again. Marshall could have let some of his song-and-dances play out with fewer edits, but other sequences are perfect. And who'd have guessed? - Zeta-Jones was born for this stuff, and proves it in every scene. JD

Dir. Jon Amiel; writ. Cooper Layne; feat. Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Tcheky Karyo (PG-13)
Compared to the protagonists of Armageddon, these guys and one gal are fairly likeable. But it's always a bad sign when the only truly interesting character is played by binary code. The interior of the planet, full of sweeping magma plumes, amethyst canyons, and Brobdignagian diamonds the size of ocean liners is a CGI masterwork worth watching when nothing else is, but by no means is enough to justify The Core's two-hour-and-15-minute running time. JW

Dir. Lawrence Kasdan; writ. William Goldman; feat. Morgan Freeman, Damian Lewis, Tom Sizemore (R)
This mostly faithful, generally effective adaptation of Stephen King's bestseller is stocked with alien

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Morgan Freeman goes all mean 'n' Mr. Freeze in Dreamcatcher.
beings who incubate inside human stomachs and exit, as revoltingly as you'd think, through the anus. It's an obvious amalgam of King's past ideas, but with source material as good as It and Stand by Me, business as usual makes for enjoyably squirm-inducing viewing that revels in the human form's grotesqueries and our society's obsession with them. JW

Dir. George Gallo; writ. & feat. Eddie Griffin (R)
Outrageously offensive in all the expected ways, Eddie Griffin's stand-up routine won't disappoint those who need to have oral sex or the differences between white and black folks explained to them. He's a funny guy, though, and gets his share of laughs when this performance film isn't busy cutting away to footage of the family members who inspired much of the comedian's material. JD

Dir. Martin Scorsese; writ. Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan; feat. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson (R)
Scorsese at his worst is still an event, and although this compromised film hardly shows the director at his best, it is at least enormously personal: Catholic immigrants, viciousness, and the Big Apple make for a heady Scorsese stew. There are wonders here, the characters will mean little to most viewers, and the story seems to have been lost somewhere in the gritty grandeur. JD

Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the world's most famous ship comes alive here, with one of Hollywood's most gifted spectacle-makers using 3-D cameras to document the wreckage of the Titanic. James Cameron uses generous doses of computer imagery and re-created sets to show how great masses were once elegant decks and sepulchral chambers were once luxurious staterooms -- combining science, history, and gee-whiz effects in a very satisfying way. JD

Dir. Chris Rock; writ. Rock, Ali LeRoi; feat. Rock, Bernie Mac, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker, Robin Givens (PG-13)
Chris Rock plays an ordinary Joe who gets to run for President in this, his debut film as a director. Behind the camera, Rock has the grace and skill of a middle-schooler, but every now and then his awkwardness works to the advantage of gags that come out of nowhere and wouldn't make sense in a better-made film. With Bernie Mac to strongarm some laughs out of the crowd and a decent joke here and there, it's no big thrill - but at least it's more engaging than the other racial comedy out there, Bringing Down the House. JD

Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. Louis Sachar; feat. Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette (PG)
An engaging, worthwhile, and clever film for both children and adults, Holes follows young Sidney Yelnats into a mysterious desert reformatory. It's good to see a kids' film with a multicultural cast, even if the filmmakers do resort to the oldmotif in which noble black savages help a white protagonist "build character." SM

Dir. Stephen Daldry; writ. David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; feat. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes, John C. Reilly (PG-13)
An extraordinary act of homage (nay, femage) to the woman who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, The Hours is a lushly layered fulfillment of Woolf's aspiration "to look life in the face and to know it." The film does not attempt to explain despair, merely to confront it fully, through a single day in the lives of three women living in different cities and eras - women portrayed by an ensemble that provides a workshop in the intricacies of the acting art. SGK

Dir. & writ. Rob Zombie; feat. Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels (R)
Those who have seen Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will immediately find Rob Zombie's House to be a tacky, trite imitation of the seminal 1974 horror film. In an attempt to distinguish his film from today's WB-populated horror dreck, the shock rocker has the story take place in 1977 - but the heavy metal maven cannot help himself from parroting Natural Born Killers and Oliver Stone's manic, montage-heavy style, making House more a butchery of Massacre's legacy than a tribute to it. AL

Dir. William Friedkin; writ. David & Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli; feat. Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Jenna Boyd, Leslie Stefanson (R)
In some ways, it more than resembles a Fugitive remake: Jones is the ubermanhunter, his prey escapes after the van ferrying him to his doom overturns in an accident, and the chase takes a dramatic turn involving a surprise plunge in deep water. A few viewers will empathize with Del Toro, whose years as a black ops military man may have made him a paranoid killer. Friedkin strips his manhunter story to its bones, which works perfectly for this testosterone showcase. He stumbles briefly with a couple of contrivances near the end, but more than compensates with two extraordinarily brutal scenes of hand-to-hand combat, maybe the best sequences of their kind ever shot. JD

Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom (PG-13)
The second installment in what is shaping up to be the greatest fantasy film of our age jumps right in, skipping the exposition that bothered some in the first film, and emphasizing the slow-motion icons it has created. JD LOST IN LA MANCHA
Dir. and writ. Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe; feat. Jeff Bridges (voice), Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort (R)
A video chronicle of a filmmaker's real-life nightmare, La Mancha follows Terry Gilliam and company as they battle weather, illness, and NATO in a Quixotic attempt to make a movie about La Mancha's most famous Don. Given some of the rumors that circulate about Gilliam, the film's biggest surprise is how mature he is dealing with disaster - which makes his final defeat practically heartbreaking. JD

Dir. Joel Schumacher; writ. Larry Cohen; feat. Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes (R)
One location, one central

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Colin Farrell stars prettily in Phone Booth.
actor: You've gotta give Phone Booth bonus points for pulling off something few films would dare. Farrell gives an appropriately over-the-top performance as a public-relations huckster cornered by a sniper with an overgrown sense of self-righteousness, and director Joel Schumacher is smart enough not to adorn this lean, no-frills thriller with a lot of extraneous nonsense. (The screenplay heaps enough pulpy, hyperbolic complications onto the scenario that nobody need add to it.) JD

Dir. Jonas Akerlund; writ. Will De Los Santos; feat. Jason Schwartzman, John Leguizamo, Brittany Murphy, Mena Suvari (NR)
Director Akerlund's descent into the gyre that is a speed freak's existence disgusts to no end, and does so without a mote of the compassion that made the drug-induced horrors of Requiem for a Dream moving commentary. Vile almost beyond words, Spun assaults the viewer like a psychic rape, thanks to the filmmakers' faulty assumption that ugliness equals authenticity. JW

Dir. Antoine Fuqua; writ. Patrick Cirillo, Robert Orr; feat. Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser (R)
What could have been a powerful glimpse into the plight of war-pocked Africa is denigrated by clunking Hollywood convention: good and evil are unequivocally demarcated, characters are either angelic or beastly. Willis plays a Navy S.E.A.L. who decides to go beyond his mission to rescue an American doctor - an act of macho, messianic selflessness that sets in motion two hours of the most blithely pro-American-intervention propagandizing this side of "Fox News." JW

Dir. Bruno Barreto; writ. Eric Wald; feat. Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Mark Ruffalo, Kelly Preston, Mike Myers, Candice Bergen (PG-13)
In this soulless "girl follows her dream" fable, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a rural gal whose plans to become a flight attendant threaten to get between her and true love. The filmmakers don't know whether they're making slapstick, a parable about empowerment, or a romantic comedy, and wind up delivering none of the above. JD

Films reviewed by:
AL: Albert Lopez
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
LMF: Laura Fries
JW: Joe Weiss
AP: Alejandro Pérez



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