Local cinema New reviews and special screenings

'The Water Magician,' 'The Sinus Show' and 'The Interpreter'

Sean Penn is a Secret Service agent who begins to fall for Nicole Kidman's intepreter, who has overheard a plot to kill an African leader at the United Nations, in The Interpreter.

The Interpreter

Dir. Sydney Pollack; writ. Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian; feat. Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris (PG-13)

By the time they're revealed, many of The Interpreter's secrets feel like MacGuffins, those plot mysteries that turn out to be inconsequential in films such as Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest (which, like this one, brings violence into the United Nations' halls). The movie's plot is built around Big Topics, but their real-life weight never clings to the drama in a way that would raise The Interpreter above the ranks of other generically entertaining thrillers.

Nicole Kidman plays a woman who fled the fictional African nation of Matobo after the country's popular new ruler began slaughtering his opponents. As she tells us often, she went to work as a U.N. interpreter because of her fervent belief in the institution's power to fix the world's problems. When she overhears someone plotting to kill Matobo's leader, her faith in diplomacy is tested.

Sean Penn is the Secret Service agent assigned to the case, and he turns out to be a good deal less tolerant of Kidman's secrets than the filmmakers are. Penn begins with professional distance, but when he is forced to spend more time guarding Kidman's life, surveillance (shades of another Hitchcock film, Rear Window) turns to a predictable infatuation.

Pollack indulges in some tacky devices to help us identify with his emotionally distant heroine, and the technique gets ugly near the end when the sights and sounds of the past literally materialize in front of Kidman as she grapples with some tragic news.

On its way toward a resolution, though, the movie delivers some good moments of suspense: One particularly nail-biting sequence has multiple manhunts converging on a city bus, an unforseen meeting that has the audience as unsettled as the cops.

The film's ending dredges up the victims' names in Matobo's ethnic cleansing and reads them aloud. But while The Interpreter is a fine cat-and-mouse game, it doesn't have the gravitas to deal with genocide. Those names feel like a well-intentioned afterthought, the fictional counterparts of Africans who should be uppermost in the minds of the real United Nations, not one invented to house a near-romance between Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. John DeFore

Special screenings

The Water Magician
Dir. Mizoguchi Kenji; writ. Izumi Kyoka, Masuda Shinji, Higashibojo Yasunaga, Tateoka Kennosuke; feat. Irie Takako, Okada Tokihiko (NR)

Japanese silent-film director Mizoguchi Kenji made nearly 90 films before his death in 1956, but only a fraction of them have received the international notoriety that accompanies Akira Kurosawa's and Ozu Yasujiro's filmographies. The Water Magician, adapted from the novel by Izumi Kyoka, is a 1933 production starring Irie Takako, the beautiful star of Japan's silent film era, as a famous water magician who falls for a carriage driver (Tokihiko) and promises to put him through law school. Needless to say, not everything goes as planned. The screening accompanies three works from the McNay's Taisho¯ Chic exhibition that depict Takako.

The Water Magician screens at 7pm Thursday, April 28 at the McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels. Admission is free.

The Sinus Show does 'Top Gun'

Austin-based The Sinus Show, a trio of quick-witted adlibbers who rose to fame spoofing bad cinema at the original Alamo Drafthouse, is coming to town to mock the '80s touchstone Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. The, er, gentlemen will have mics in hand, mouths running, during the film's many highlights, including the famous motorcycle makeout scene, the famous jukebox scene, and the famous tighty-whiteys scene.

7:30pm Thursday, April 28, at the Alamo Drafthouse, 1255 SW Loop 410. Admission is $8. For more info, call 677-8500 or visit alamodrafthouse.com/westlakes/frames.asp.

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