Dir. Jon Amiel; writ. Cooper Layne; feat. Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Tcheky Karyo (PG-13)

The earth's outer core has stopped spinning, thus throwing off its cosmic equilibrium and allowing solar winds and electromagnetic fields to wreck the kind of havoc wide-eyed, cricket-eating wanderers of the desert have been warning humankind about for millennia. Thank goodness, then, for a giant, laser-tipped screw piloted by the Hunky

(L to r) Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank heat things up in The Core.
Hero, the Beautiful but No Nonsense Love Interest, the Nod to the NAACP, the Arrogant Guy, and the Foreigner, who plan to drill all the way to the Core and detonate enough nukes to "jump start the planet." Can you guess who survives long enough to romance Hilary Swank? (Hint: it's not the Foreigner.)

Compared to the protagonists of Armageddon, the mess that so obviously begat this one, these guys and one gal are fairly likeable. Of course, that's like saying that constipation is better than explosive diarrhea. Always a bad sign, 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 (but no Starbucks ... yet), is a CGI masterwork worth watching when nothing else is, but by no means is enough to justify the Bay City in ruins, The Core's two-hour-and-15-minute running time, or three bucks for a box of Junior Mints. JOE WEISS

Dir. George Gallo; writ. & feat. Eddie Griffin (R)

Whether you're a hardcore rapper or a racist cracker, Eddie Griffin says "nigger" more than you do. In the first 15 minutes of this stand-up comedy film, those two syllables trip from his tongue so often that they sometimes fuse. Much of black culture has adopted the word, transforming it from an insult to an affectionate term, but Griffin goes further, using it as punctuation the way most folks would say "you know?" The film's opening reels need little punctuation, though, as the filmmakers cut like mad from shot to similar shot, making MTV look like an instructional video.

Eventually the filmmaking settles down, allowing Griffin to do his thing, and he's good at it. The topics and attitudes are familiar - white people, oral sex, getting beat up by your mom - but Griffin wrings more big laughs from them than most comics can, offending as many people as possible along the way.

The non-standup excuse for the film's existence, though, is pretty contrived. Griffin is going home for a family reunion, and the filmmakers follow him around his old haunts. The comic is a talented guy who recently carried his own (funnier than it looked) vehicle, Undercover Brother, but he's not near famous enough for the kind of nostalgic stuff the movie tries to pull - like walking him through his old high school, where he says "this is where it all began." And the occasional cutaways to footage of family members who appear in Griffin's routine get in the way as well; the oddball uncles, who are exploited heavily in the film's ads, are much more entertaining when Griffin tells us about him than when we see him, and the stories his mother tells are far funnier coming out of his mouth. You can go home, after all, but sometimes you shouldn't. JOHN DEFORE

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

Sometimes a film deserves extra credit simply for doing something other movies wouldn't dare. For instance: Cast Away's long, long stretch without dialogue, telling a survival story through universal images, made most of us forget that the ending was pretty sketchy.

So it is with Phone Booth, which dares to spend almost all of its running time watching Colin Farrell standing, crouching, whimpering, or flipping out in one of those little Plexiglas booths that used to be so common. Farrell plays a slick publicist who lies

Trapped in a phone booth, Stu (Colin Farrell) plays a deadly game with an unseen caller.
for a living. He visits this pay phone every day to call a would-be mistress (he could use a cell phone, but his wife might notice the unfamiliar notice on the phone bill); on this day, somebody calls him, saying that there's a rifle pointed at Farrell's chest and insisting that he call his wife and come clean.

Screenwriter Larry Cohen has come up with enough complications to make an hour and a half in a phone booth fly by: People get shot and nearly shot, cops and TV crews arrive, mistress and wife get to meet each other. Behind the camera, Joel Schumacher avoids the shallow excesses that have made some of his work so hard to endure; the stylistic devices he does employ - he splits the screen 24 style to show overlapping action and alters the image to present point-of-view material - are appropriate and effective. And Farrell, whose offscreen excesses have been so joyously chronicled in the media, is completely believable as an egotistical slimeball. Tabloid readers may not think that's much of an acting challenge, but being on camera for an entire film (and staying interesting) is a challenge any way you slice it.

Late in the film, the characters start to take the tale's simplistic premise seriously, turning it into a Dog Day Afternoon for the Age of Therapy. The resolution may be hard to buy, but it fits the tone of this life and death morality play, and it comes quickly and cleanly enough that we don't feel we have been victimized by another overblown Hollywood product. That in itself is probably the nicest thing you can say about a Joel Schumacher film. JOHN DEFORE

Writ. & dir: Michael Petroni; feat. Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Brooke Harman, Lindley Joyner (R)

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" asks T.S. Eliot's feckless J. Alfred Prufrock. Till Human Voices Wake Us is not nearly as disturbing or universal as it aims to be. ("That is not it at all," whines Prufrock, "That is not what I meant, at all"). Novice Australian director Michael Petroni takes the title of his psychological thriller from the final line of Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." He takes its plot from Freud's idea of the return of the repressed.

When Melbourne psychiatrist Sam Frank (Pearce) returns to Genoa, the town in the Australian bush where he grew up, in order to bury his father, he exhumes powerful memories. During one idyllic summer, 15-year-old Sam (Joyner) fell in love with a bright and spunky girl named Silvy (Harman). One night, swimming with Sam by moonlight after removing the braces from her legs, Silvy suddenly vanished into the river. Tormented by grief and guilt, Sam withdrew from any further emotional vulnerability. The stolid, taciturn man who returns to Genoa after more than 20 years slowly reawakens one rainy night after a mysterious stranger, Ruby (Carter), plunges off a bridge into the river. Sam retrieves and revives her and discovers uncanny links between Ruby and Silvy.

Till Human Voices Wake Us is constructed through repeated crosscuts between Sam and Ruby in the present and Sam and Silvy in the past. It ponders the weight of repressed memories at a genuinely ponderous pace. The story of an oneiric exorcism, the film more nearly remains an exercise in flashback editing. Some films are adapted from novels, others from plays. Till Human Voices Wake Us lifts familiar lines from a familiar modern poem, which Silvy recites at several points in the screenplay. But I do not think that it will sing to me. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN

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