Barry Levinson’s Men in Black (C) is a warmed-over, less-funny Ghostbusters, as two clean-up artists (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) rid NYC streets of pesky aliens. Smith has some witty lines, and there’s a cute dog. Not much more to offer!
Robert Zemeckis’s Contact (A) succeeds on the power of its leads’ Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey’s central debate of science and faith as they explore the notion of finding life outside earth in the universe. The film’s powerful performances and effects are used at the mercy of its central questions and get a nice payoff in the film’s final reel.
Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (D-) is a cluttered cacophony of hardware and hardbodies, of mechanical merchandising mayhem, madness and magnificent men in their flying machines. But there’s nary an ounce of human connection in a comic book adaptation that all of a sudden got too cluttered and silly for its own good.
Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World (C-) unleashes more Jusassic Park dinosaurs but little of the imaginative whimsy for which he is famous. This unfocused action film coasts on a meandering plot with bland characters and a lack of discipline that sometimes results in self-parody.
P.J. Hogan’s My Best Friend’s Wedding (A) gamely casts Julia Roberts as the woman who doesn’t get the guy, and that drives her character crazy. Knocking the Pretty Woman off her pedestal turns out to be a winning formula for a spiteful revenge comedy co-starring Cameron Diaz, Dermot Mulroney and Rupert Everett. It’s cheeky and joyous.
David Mirkin’s film Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (B+) is a surprisingly winning female empowerment comedy with Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino posing as impresario inventors to wow the folks they want to school with as they return to their ten-year get-together. Splashes of neon color, smart flashbacks, spicy writing and a potpourri of whimsical characters blend for an all-out comic joyride.
Every groovy costume, character and quirk in director Jay Roach’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (C-) suggests the film will be a smashing fun-fest. But regardless of the kitschy freeze frames, the spiraling flowers and the lace-lined crushed velvet suits, the film often strikes an empty pose. Mike Myers plays the zany leading character in this 007 spoof. It’s a flighty romp that seems more suited for a Saturday Night Live segment than a feature film.
David Lynch’s Lost Highway (C-) is a film noir with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette that loses its way with some plotting hokum about characters that possibly move out of each other’s souls. It’s a jarring, disconnecting ride that starts with promise and goes off the rails.
For writer/director Kevin Smith, making movies seems a lot simpler than therapy. A pioneer of no/low budget films with his Clerks debut, he is creating a cottage industry out of working on his own hang-ups, insecurities and doubts on the big screen. It’s as if he says, “let’s have a dialogue” to his inner selves, and out pops a talky movie from his percolating psycho-mind. In Chasing Amy (A-), Smith further explores how one’s skewed outlook of the world alters one’s own relationships as a central character (Ben Affleck) determines if he can successful date and “convert” a woman who is a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams). Funny friendship dialogue between Affleck and Jason Lee is a highlight; Adams is somewhat successful in embodying her part (it could be better written). Peppered with whip-smart wit and irrational human obsessions, it’s a mature look at human connections from a filmmaker who sometimes refuses to grow up.
Betty Thomas’ film about and starring controversial radio personality Howard Stern, Private Parts (B-) turns out to be more genial than genital. Instead of showcasing the sex-obsessed shock jock, the film portrays Stern as a doting husband. It’s sometimes sweet but not necessarily what fans may have expected. Still there’s plenty of funny stuff and gross gags here too.
Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones (B-) tells a love story set in Chicago’s sexy art district as Larenz Tate and Nia Long discover the pacing, rhythm and rhyme of romance to the beat of a modern beat poetry community. This slice of life pulses with power and opportunity; and even when it doesn’t land just right, it’s great to see a story told in this milieu with talented actors strutting their stuff.