ARCHIVED REVIEWS (St-Sz)
Star Trek: Nemesis
Star Wars: Episode I...
Star Wars: Episode II...
State and Main
Stealing Harvard
Stigmata
Stir of Echoes
Story of Us, the
Straight Story, the
Stuart Little
Stuart Little 2
Sugar & Spice
Sum of All Fears, the
Summer Catch
Summer of Sam
Sunshine State
Super Troopers
Supernova
Superstar
Sweet and Lowdown
Sweet Home Alabama
Sweet November
Sweetest Thing, the
Swept Away
Swimfan
Swordfish

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Archived Video Reviews (St - Sz)
 

STAR TREK: NEMESIS - C
Starring:
Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Tom Hardy, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden
Directed by: Stuart Baird
Action, 117 min (PG) (Paramount, 2002)


After 36 years, 10 feature films, five television series and countless books, video games and conventions, it's time for the Star Trek franchise to be infused with new blood. Whereas previous Trek successes introduced new elements to the sci-fi mix - II had a thrilling villain, IV had comedy, VI had mystery and Star Trek: First Contact (number eight) had rousing time-travel adventure - Star Trek: Nemesis (that would be film #10) all too often plays like a bland, second-rate episode of the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. Though director Stuart Baird (1998's US Marshals) and screenwriter John Logan (2000's Gladiator) are new to the franchise, they simply don't have a distinct enough vision to pull Nemesis out of a stuffy, encapsulated rut. This time around, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew go into battle with a Romulus-raised Jean-Luc clone (Tom Hardy) obsessed with destroying Earth, but the whole facing-your-dark side theme was already put to better use in the Enterprise's encounters with the Borg, Data (Brent Spiner) is overused for comic relief, the other characters are pushed to the sidelines, and there never seems to be anything at stake here besides low-grade effects and a series that has sadly lost its spark. (top) (back)

STAR WARS : EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE - B-
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by:
George Lucas
Action, 133 min
(PG) (20th Century Fox, 1999)

After galaxy-size hype, countless merchandise tie-ins and almost two decades in waiting, the first Star Wars film since 1983's Return of the Jedi turns out to be, well, a movie. To be sure, it's a moderately diverting, visually impressive movie, but it is still just a movie all the same. Set approximately 45 years before Star Wars, The Phantom Menace centers on the evil Darth Vader back when he was a preteen named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) was a Jedi-in-training, and the woman who would become Anakin's wife (Natalie Portman) was a teenage queen. George Lucas, who hasn't directed a film since 1977's Star Wars, takes the reigns once again for The Phantom Menace and he love for spectacular, eye-popping effects is easily the best thing about the picture. It's on the story level that the picture fizzles out, offering heavy-handed dialogue, wooden actors, and too many kid-friendly cutesy touches (that's you Jar Jar Binks). May the force be with Episodes II and III. (top) (back)

STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES - B-
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits
Directed by:
George Lucas
Action, 142 min (PG) (20th Century Fox, 2002)


First, the good news: Gone is the childish storytelling of the disappointing Phantom Menace, digital atrocity Jar Jar Binks has been pushed to the sidelines (not that he is any less annoying in small doses) and Attack of the Clones is as visually opulent as one would hope. Because of this, it's a shame to report that Clones, more so than any Star Wars film before it, seems cold and detached, hermitically sealed off and unable to transport viewers into its own world like, say, the original trilogy or The Lord of the Rings films. All foreshadow with little payoff, Clones chronicles the period of time before Anakin Skywalker (Life As a House's Hayden Christensen) turned to the dark side to become Darth Vader. Here he's just a hotheaded teenager rebelling against his teacher Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and romancing senator Amidala (Natalie Portman). Still placing far more emphasis on digital wonders than storytelling zip, George Lucas constricts talented actors like McGregor, Portman and Samuel L. Jackson with X-Wing-stiff dialogue and the only real joy from the proceedings comes from a crowd-pleasing, all-too-brief moment in which tiny Yoda switches his cane for a lightsaber and kicks the Force into high gear. (top) (back)

STATE AND MAIN
- B
Starring:
William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pigeon, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Stiles, Charles Durning
Directed by:
David Mamet
Comedy, 106 min (14A) (Fine Line, 2000)


After savagely biting into the world of politics with his screenplay for Wag the Dog, writer-director David Mamet turns to the world of moviemaking with this Hollywood satire that may not be as stinging as Wag the Dog, but still leaves its mark on everyone in the vicinity. William H. Macy, deliciously clever and ruthless, heads up the ensemble cast as Walt Price, a celebrated director who has to deal with a shark-like producer (David Paymer), a movie star with a penchant for teenage girls (Alec Baldwin) and a leading lady who refuses to doff her top (Sarah Jessica Parker), among others, while filming on location in a picturesque Vermont town. To no one's surprise, the L.A. folk all come across as deliriously shallow and sleazy, but Mamet wisely takes just as many jabs at the "innocent" locals, many of whom are just as greedy as the filmmakers. As in some of his previous directorial efforts, Mamet's rapid-fire dialogue occasionally grows tiresome, but his film moves quickly and gets in enough jabs to be worth the effort. (top) (back)

STEALING HARVARD -
D
Starring: Tom Green, Jason Lee, Leslie Mann, Megan Mullally, Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins, Chris Penn, John C. McGinley
Directed by:
Bruce McCulloch

Comedy, 82 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


Tom Green sunk to the bottom of the septic tank with Freddy Got Fingered and he barely bubbles to the top of the manure with Stealing Harvard, a dreadful comedy manufactured with all the joy of a funeral. Green actually has a supporting role here, letting Jason Lee (Almost Famous) essentially destroy his indie cred as Harvard's protagonist, John Plummer, a salesman who needs $30,000 to fulfill a promise to his niece (Tammy Blanchard) to pay for her higher education, but who also needs the money for the house that his fiancée (Leslie Mann) has always dreamed of. Enter Green as John's high-school buddy Duff, a weirdo who gets John involved in a variety of hopeless get-quick-rich schemes that lead nowhere both financially (for John) or as entertainment (for the audience). Kids in the Hall's Bruce McCulloch directs Stealing Harvard as though the camera had lead weights, resulting in more of a comic flatline than rhythm and leaving established comedic support like Dennis Farina, Megan Mullally and John C. McGinley to essentially just stand around making faces. Meanwhile, Lee tries to coast on his charm and skids out almost instantly and, as usual, Green seems to be enjoying himself far more than anyone else is enjoying him. (top) (back)

STIGMATA - B-
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Enrico Colantoni, Portia de Rossi, Patrick Muldoon, Rade Sherbedgia
Directed by:
Rupert Wainwright
Suspense, 105 min
(14A) (MGM, 1999)

The Exorcist goes MTV with this violent, blunt and repetitive horror film, a picture with such muddled religious convictions that it tries to condemn the Catholic church at the same time it reinforces one's belief in God. Patricia Arquette, never the most exciting actress, plays Frankie, an atheist hairdesser who suddenly begins experiencing Stigmata, an unexplained phenomena involving bleeding wounds to the head, hands and feet that mirror the wounds of Christ on the cross. Enter Gabriel Byrne as Father Andrew, a man of science who investigates so-called miracles, and a high-ranking Vatican official (Jonathan Pryce) who wants to find the fraud in Frankie's spells. As directed by Rupert Wainwright (Blank Check), Stigmata has some gripping scenes, but it all too often exchanges style for substance and Wainwright's lack of innovation grows tiresome. Almost every scene seems to feature dripping water and candles and, by the end, even the possession scenes go stale, each one looking as familiar as the last. (top) (back)

STIR OF ECHOES - C+
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Dunn, Liza Weill, Conor O'Farrell, Jennifer Morrison, Zachary David Cope
Directed by:
David Koepp
Suspense, 94 min (14A) (Artisan, 1999)


Timing is everything and, upon its initial release, Stir of Echoes had the grave misfortune of opening only one month after The Sixth Sense. Both films try to capitalize on young boys that see dead people, but despite a stripped down performance by Kevin Bacon and the fact that it is based on a 1958 novel by Richard Matheson, Stir of Echoes suffers in comparison. Bacon plays Tom Witzky, a Chicago maintenance man who, after being hypnotized at a party, unwillingly gains a spiritual link to a dead woman (one who also likes talking to Tom's young son) and horrible visions of the past that leave him paranoid and restless. Directed by David Koepp (screenwriter of Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible), Stir of Echoes is similar to the director's The Trigger Effect (1996) in that it sounds more intriguing than it plays, handicapped as it is by a lack of early development and set pieces that feel disjointed and slack when they should be squeezing together like a vice grip. If you really want surprises, stick to Sixth Sense. (top) (back)

THE STORY OF US - C
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Bruce Willis, Rita Wilson, Julie Hagerty, Paul Reiser, Tim Matheson, Colleen Rennison, Red Buttons, Betty White
Directed by:
Rob Reiner
Comedy, 98 min
(14A) (Universal, 1999)

What would happen if, after Harry met Sally, they settled down, got married, had kids and then found themselves on the brink of a divorce? That's the idea behind The Story of Us, a repetitive and dour "comedy" directed by When Harry Met Sally's Rob Reiner. Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis (the best thing about the movie) play Katie and Ben Jordan, a couple who, after 15 years of marriage, have reached the stage where they barely get along, let alone talk to each other. Told with an awkward flash-forward, flash-backward structure, The Story of Us attempts to chart how Ben and Katie's relationship got to this state and the toll it is taking on them at present, but the rapid montages only toss the couple's relationship into a jumble, never allowing one to easily tract the characters' emotional states. As well, Reiner proves to be all too efficient in capturing the sourness that can befall a long relationship, thus draining the film of charm and allowing only the same themes to be hammered out again and again. (top) (back)

THE STRAIGHT STORY - B+
Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Everett McGill, Harry Dean Stanton, Jane Heitz, Jennifer Edwards-Hughes
Directed by:
David Lynch
Drama, 112 min
(G) (Walt Disney, 1999)

The Straight Story tells the true tale of a stubborn old coot who travels over 300 miles across Midwestern America in a lawn mower. Before you start thinking this picture would make a good cure for insomnia, let me point out that it is directed by David Lynch. Yes, David Lynch, the man behind such bizarre and chilling pieces of work as Lost Highway, Blue Velvet and TV's Twin Peaks has entered G-rated territory. Even more amazingly, he has done it with a story that could have easily been hokey or deadly dull, but is instead as sweet and heartwarming as a cup of hot chocolate. In the film, 79-year-old ex-stuntman Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a grizzled senior citizen who learns that his estranged brother is sick, hops on a lawn mower (he doesn't have his driver's license) and heads across state lines for a reunion. Lynch tells this quiet and understated story with heaping doses of compassion, much of it due to Farnsworth's hauntingly eloquent and sincere performance. (top) (back)

STUART LITTLE - B
Starring: Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, the voices of Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn
Directed by:
Rob Minkoff
Family, 85 min
(PG) (Columbia Tristar, 1999)

When it comes to this commercialized version of the classic E.B. White tale about a family whose adoptive new son happens to be a small white mouse named Stuart, there are little disappointments and large pleasures. Among the flaws are a cloying performance from the once-charming Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire) as Stuart's new brother and a vision of a tiny world that pales in comparison to, say, the mini-universe found in The Borrowers. Stuart Little does, however, earn big, big points for its first-rate vocal cast - Michael J. Fox has endless nice-guy appeal as Stuart, Nathan Lane steals the show as the family cat (and, hence, Stuart's pet) - and a parent-friendly screenplay with both a lot of heart and a lot of laughs. The special effects are flawless, not only effortlessly incorporating Stuart and friends into the human world, but also capturing every little hair, shadow and detail on the characters themselves. (top) (back)


STUART LITTLE 2 -
B
Starring: Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, the voices of Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Melanie Griffith, James Woods, Steve Zahn
Directed by:
Rob Minkoff

Comedy, 72 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


When the original live-action adaptation of E.B. White's Stuart Little books was released in 1999, the film was overly - and often unfairly - criticized for using special effects to turn the simple tale of an orphan mouse into crowd-pleasing entertainment. The irony of Stuart Little 2 is that here the effects are even more complex and extensive, but they succeed in bringing the characters even closer to their roots than before. Delightfully brought to life with a stellar cast and seamless CGI work, Stuart Little 2 comes as close to a live action children's book as one could hope for, complete with touching emotions, a zippy story and colorful images so appealing you almost want to reach out and touch the screen. Michael J. Fox returns as the voice of Stuart, the sweet white rodent adopted by a human family led by Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis. Though his mom tends to be on the overprotective side, Stuart becomes involved in an adventure with the arrival of a troubled parakeet (Melanie Griffith) when she falls out of the sky and into Stuart's little car. With Fox bringing heart to Stuart, Griffith doing her most endearing work since Working Girl and Nathan Lane returning as the family cat, this is one Little movie with large appeal. (top) (back)

SUGAR & SPICE - B-
Starring:
Marley Shelton, James Marsden, Mena Suvari, Rachel Blanchard, Marla Sokoloff, Melissa George, Sarah Marshall
Directed by:
Francine McDougall
Comedy, 81 min (14A) (New Line, 2001)


Not everything in Sugar & Spice is nice, but a lot of it sure is fun, with first-time feature director Francine McDougall shaping the Set It Off-meets-Bring It On story into a fairly amusing, pop-culture-soaked trifle. Set just to the side of reality, the film focuses on a bubble-headed group of cheerleaders who decide to rob a bank after their team captain (Marley Shelton) gets impregnated by the school's football star (X-Men's James Marsden) and becomes strapped for cash. Thankfully, one of the girls (American Beauty cheerleader Mena Suvari) has a mother in prison (Sean Young) and they use her as a resource to become some of the most innocent, unassuming and huggable bank robbers ever. In telling this ludicrous story, McDougall occasionally lets the humour fizzle away and the satire isn't sharp enough, but her colorful sense of style, likeable young cast and inspired little touches (like the cheerleader with a mad crush on gawky talk show host Conan O'Brien) are enough to make your pompoms shake. (top) (back)

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS -
B
Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Ciaran Hinds, Bruce McGill
Directed by: Phil Alden Robinson
Suspense, 124 min (14A) (Paramount, 2002)


It would be a bit much to argue that Ben Affleck plays Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan with as much character strength and action star oomph as previous Ryans Alec Baldwin (1990's The Hunt for Red October) and Harrison Ford (1992's Patriot Games and 1994's Clear and Present Danger). Watching The Sum of All Fears, however, it is clear that reverting the CIA character back to his younger, less macho days was just the refreshment that the franchise needed. Set in the present despite Ryan's return to his youth, The Sum of All Fears sees Ryan get pulled away from his desk job and into the sticky world of politics by CIA director Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman) when an Austrian neo-Nazi (Alan Bates) sets off to ignite a nuclear war between the US and Russia. Part of this plan involves detonating a nuclear bomb in Baltimore and, with one quick explosion, The Sum of All Fears becomes all the more timely and unsettling than it would have pre-Sept. 11 (Clancy's book was published in 1991). Thankfully, director Phil Alden Robinson (1992's Sneakers) doesn't play the action for Armageddon-style wows, instead adding up the thrills with Thirteen Days-style intrigue and yet another welcome and classy performance from Freeman. (top) (back)

SUMMER CATCH - D+
Starring:
Freddie Prinze Jr., Jessica Biel, Brittany Murphy, Matthew Lillard, Brian Dennehy, Fred Ward, Bruce Davison, Wilmer Valderrama
Directed by:
Mike Tollin
Comedy, 104 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2001)


Freddie Prinze Jr. is amazing. I write this statement not because of any previous cinematic performances, but because somehow he keeps getting paid to make vapid romances that really aren't any good. Summer Catch, a foul-ball Bull Durham-wannabe, is the latest addition to the list that includes Down to You, Boys and Girls and Head Over Heels, telling the story of a lawn mower/aspiring baseball pitcher (Prinze) who falls for the local rich girl (Jessica Biel). Unfortunately, Mike Tollin's blunt direction and the formulaic storyline don't offer much room for romantic sparks and the tepid screenplay is amazingly hollow, never once providing any insight into the anger and disappointment that is supposedly thwarting Prinze's talent (of course, it may have helped if Prinze didn't just look like a hurt puppy whenever he is supposed to be filled with rage). Aside from frequent Prinze costar Matthew Lillard (She's All That, Wing Commander), the supporting cast is rounded out with all of the typical teen and baseball movie stereotypes, with Bruce Davison even Xeroxing his crazy/beautiful role as Biel's wealthy father. Summer Catch doesn't aspire to be anything more than a minor-league comedy, but even at that level, the film strikes out. (top) (back)

SUMMER OF SAM - B-
Starring:
John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Badalucco, Bebe Neuwirth, Patti Lupone
Directed by:
Spike Lee
Drama, 136 min (18A) (Touchstone, 1999)


In the summer of 1977, the serial killer known as the Son of Sam stalked New York City and this engaging - if overstuffed - epic drama drives right to the heart of the sweaty and paranoid atmosphere of the time, at times recalling writer-director Spike Lee's early success, 1989's Do the Right Thing. Adrien Brody (The Thin Red Line) gives a vibrant performance as an outcast punk who gets unwillingly victimized as part of the fervor and other performances in the film are similarly top-notch, but Lee's screenplay has several narrative shortcomings, most obviously a dead-end subplot about a cheating husband (John Leguizamo) and his suffering wife (Mira Sorvino) and lackluster stereotypes like the local mob boss (Ben Gazzara), the detective (Anthony LaPaglia) and the slut (Jennifer Esposito). Thankfully, Lee's flashy camera work acts as compensation, drawing its engaging thrust from striking montages and an expert use of '70s tunes ranging from ABBA's "Dancing Queen" to The Who's "Baba O'Riley." (top) (back)


SUNSHINE STATE -
B-
Starring: Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniels, Mary Steenburgen, Ralph Waite, Bill Cobbs, Gordon Clapp
Directed by: John Sayles
Drama, 141 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


No American filmmaker working today gets to the core of the socioeconomics of specific places quite like John Sayles. After having already inspected the landscapes of Alaska (1999's Limbo), Latin America (1998's Men With Guns), Texas (1996's Lone Star) and West Virginia (1987's Matewan), among others, Sayles turns his incisive vision to Florida with the ensemble drama Sunshine State and, even if the final effort is decidedly more uneven than many of Sayles' earlier pictures, the sense of location and community are just as strong as ever. Leading the cast of characters, most of who live in adjacent beachside Florida towns that are being swamped by real estate developers, are Marly (The Sopranos' Edie Falco), a worn-down manager of a motel owned by her blind father (Ralph Waite), and Desiree (Angela Bassett), an infomercial actress who left as a pregnant teenager and has returned to visit her aging mother (Mary Alice). Bassett and Falco are only two of the many vivid character actors on hand, all of whom are more than welcome considering the fact that, all too often, Sayles' screenplay falls on the overwritten side of the fence (with his direction on the other) thanks to a significant lack of plot or a satisfying third act. (top) (back)

SUPER TROOPERS
- B-
Starring:
Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhansk, Kevin Heffernan, Brian Cox, Marisa Coughlan, Daniel Von Bargen
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar

Comedy, 100 min (14A) (Fox Searchlight, 2002)


It may center on a group of goofy law enforcement officers, but before Super Troopers starts giving you nightmare flashbacks to a certain cop series from the '80s, it is worth pointing out two things: 1) Steve Guttenberg is nowhere to be found and 2) Super Troopers has more laughs in its 100 minutes than there were in Police Academy 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 combined. Written, starring and directed by members of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard, Super Troopers has a lot of the same problems as other comedy team debuts like Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996) and The State's Wet Hot American Summer (2001), namely lazy camera work and a distinctly hit-and-miss screenplay. Super Troopers earns a merit badge, however, for avoiding the other films' episodic one-skit-after-another structure, for their brilliance in casting esteemed character actor Brian Cox (L.I.E.) as a police chief and for matching the raunchy picture's slapdash qualities with some real yucks. Not that it really matters, but what plot there is consists of a group of five Vermont state troopers more inclined to mess with the minds of pot-head teenagers than to ticket them, their feud with evil local cops and a bizarre drug crime that seems linked to "Afghanistanimation." (top) (back)

SUPERNOVA - D
Starring: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Peter Facinelli, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz
Directed by: Thomas Lee
Thriller, 91 min
(14A) (MGM, 2000)

How bad is Supernova? Let's just say that director Walter Hill - the man behind such non-classics as Trespass, Another 48 HRS and Last Man Standing - refused to have his name on the final film, instead replacing it with the pseudonym Thomas Lee (I guess Alan Smithee would have been too obvious). This sci-fi disaster - reportedly reedited by Jack Sholder (The Hidden) and Francis Ford Coppola after Hill dropped out - casts Angela Bassett and a surprisingly buff James Spader as members of a spaceship crew that receives a mysterious distress call and soon falls victim to the psycho scavenger (Peter Facinelli) they picked up. At least, that's what I think the movie is about. Considering the film's incoherent plot, poorly overdubbed dialogue, cheap special effects and chintzy musical score, it would practically take a miracle worker to fully understand what's going on here. (top) (back)

SUPERSTAR - D
Starring: Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Elaine Hendrix, Harland Williams, Mark McKinney, Glynis Johns
Directed by: Bruce McCulloch
Comedy, 82 min
(PG) (Paramount, 1999)

If there's one thing worse than a film based on a thin Saturday Night Live character, it's a film based on an annoying Saturday Night Live character. Following in the grand tradition of irritating SNL flicks like A Night at the Roxbury, It's Pat and Stuart Saves His Family comes Superstar, the feature debut of Molly Shannon's klutzy Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher. On TV, Mary gets laughs by doing exactly two things - pressing her hands into her armpits and smelling them whenever she gets nervous and crashing into rows of chairs, tables or whatever else happens to be nearby. She does both of these relatively quickly in Superstar, leaving Shannon and her character stranded with a ridiculously awful screenplay and leaden direction from former Kid of the Hall Bruce McCullough. For what it's worth, Superstar tracks Mary as she works her way towards leaving loserdom and winning her dream guy (Will Ferrell). She may find love, but her film remains a first-class zero. (top) (back)

SWEET AND LOWDOWN - B-
Starring: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, Brian Markinson, Anthony LaPaglia, Gretchen Mol, John Waters
Directed by: Woody Allen
Comedy, 95 min
(PG) (Sony Pictures Classics, 1999)

The marquee names may be Sean Penn and Uma Thurman, but the real actor to watch in this faux documentary is British actress Samantha Morton (TV's Emma). Like Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway) and others before her, Morton takes a supporting role in a Woody Allen movie and runs with it, leaving an impression that will last in your memory long beyond the rest of the film. In Sweet and Lowdown, Morton plays a mute laundress who falls into a romance with a selfish, cruel and extremely talented jazz musician (a weasel-like Penn), and she gives an astonishing silent movie performance, finding countless ways to express something as simple as "I love you" without a single word. The rest of the film - a kind of 1930s Behind the Music episode about Penn's self-destructive character - is entertaining and charming, but also rather lightweight and thinly drawn. This is Morton's picture all the way. (top) (back)

SWEET HOME ALABAMA -
C+
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Candice Bergen, Ethan Embry, Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place, Jean Smart
Directed by:
Andy Tennant

Comedy, 95 min (PG) (Touchstone, 2002)


As she proved with Legally Blonde, the genuine Reese Witherspoon has the ability to shine brightly in even the most shallow of pictures and Sweet Home Alabama, a hollow and stereotype-littered romantic comedy, stands as yet another example. Virtually undistinguishable in script and direction, Alabama always goes for the easy laugh, pandering to audience expectations, but Witherspoon sparkles, playing New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael, a transplant from small-town Alabama, as a winning combination of big-city sophistication and country spunk. Melanie is living the high-life in Manhattan until her boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) proposes, forcing her to return home to get her high-school husband (Josh Lucas) to grant her a divorce. While there, of course, Melanie begins to get caught up in her southern roots, but director Andy Tennant (1999's Anna and the King) juxtaposes Melanie's two lives with a condescension aimed at both parties, offering up such caricatures as Candice Bergin (in Miss Congeniality-mode) as Dempsey's heartless mom and Mary Kay Place as Melanie's kitchen-based mama. Throughout, Lucas and Dempsey are charming enough, but it is Witherspoon who never fails to glitter. (top) (back)

SWEET NOVEMBER - D
Starring:
Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Greg Germann, Jason Isaacs, Lauren Graham, Michael Rosenbaum, Liam Aiken
Directed by:
Pat O'Connor
Drama, 120 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2001)

If you thought Autumn in New York and Here on Earth were trite tearjerkers, wait until you get a look at this tepid entry in the dying-young sweepstakes, a charmless, clueless and utterly ridiculous remake of a 1968 romance of the same name. Keanu Reeves, so terrifying as a wife-beater in The Gift, here returns to his flat and monotonous ways as Nelson Moss, an advertising executive who, like Ben Affleck in Bounce and Mel Gibson in What Women Want, is in desperate need of the love of a woman to clue him into his shallow and cold-hearted ways. In Sweet November, said woman is Sara (Charlize Theron), a free spirit with a tragic secret (only Nelson is too dumb to figure it out) who swears to help the adman if he'll only move in with her for a month (he's only one "project" in a list of many). Theron tries mighty hard to bring weight to Sara, but the character is such an overly idealistic conceit that one never has any stake in the main relationship. Even worse, the direction by Pat O'Connor is unbearably saccharine. (top) (back)

THE SWEETEST THING -
C
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Thomas Jane, Jason Bateman, Parker Posey, Eddie McClintock
Directed by: Roger Kumble
Comedy, 90 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


So it turns out that girls can get just as dirty as boys. That's about the only thing that can be taken away from The Sweetest Thing, a sour estrogen-centric comedy in which all attempts at empowering women are rammed off course by generally tasteless toilet humour. Written by South Park's Nancy M. Pimental and directed by Roger Kumble (1999's Cruel Intentions), The Sweetest Thing stars Cameron Diaz as Christina, a single San Francisco gal who gets smitten with a stranger at a club (Thomas Jane) and, with a little pressure from her two best friends (Christina Applegate and Selma Blair) decides to crash his brother's wedding in a nearby small town. The plot is minimal at best, providing zilch in terms of character arcs and surprises, and many of the filmmakers' attempts at disguising this with lame set pieces (Anyone up for a song-and-dance number about the male organ?) don't fool anybody. As in There's Something About Mary and Charlie's Angels, Diaz has a goofy spirit that blissfully surpasses her material, but one feels sorry for Blair as she is subjected to one humiliation after another and Jane's character is so bland and nondescript that we never believe why Christina would want to pursue him in the first place. (top) (back)

SWEPT AWAY -
D+
Starring: Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Bruce Greenwood, Jeanne Tripplehorn, David Thornton, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Comedy, 89 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


For the most part, it is about as easy to witness Madonna "act" in a movie as it would be to see your parents film a sex video, but the surprise of Swept Away is that, for once, Madonna isn't completely unwatchable. If anything, this is her best performance since 1992's A League of Their Own. So does this mean that Swept Away, a remake of a 1974 Italian romantic comedy, doesn't deserve the critical drubbing it received upon release? Hardly. From start to finish, Swept Away is a soggy mess, an S&M-tinged Blue Lagoon-wannabe that proves Snatch director Guy Ritchie (Madonna's hubby) isn't ready to graduate beyond mumbling mobsters and cartoonish violence. The Material Girl plays Amber, a mean-spirited pharmaceutical heiress who, while on vacation, finds herself marooned on a deserted Mediterranean island with the rugged deckhand she previously took pleasure in abusing (Adriano Giannini, playing the same role his father, Giancarlo, had in the original). The tables get turned on the island - Amber actually needs Giannini's character in order to survive - and this supposedly leads to romance, but the screenplay is so laughless, the direction so ham-handed and the performances so thin that it never amounts to more than cinematic seaweed. (top) (back)

SWIMFAN -
C-
Starring: Erika Christensen, Jesse Bradford, Shiri Appleby, Dan Hedaya, Clayne Crawford, James Debello, Kate Burton, Kia Joy Goodwin
Directed by: John Polson
Suspense, 85 min (14A) (20th Century Fox, 2002)


The bulk of the target audience for this teen thriller likely wasn't even born when Fatal Attraction was released in 1987, but that still doesn't excuse Swimfan for its shamelessness in swiping from that Michael Douglas-Glenn Close effort, not to mention its futile attempts at generating surprises. Bring It On's Jesse Bradford plays Ben Cronin, a swimming stud with a loving girlfriend (Roswell's Shiri Appleby) and pending athletic scholarship who, in a moment of weakness, falls for the bad-girl-in-good-girl-clothes charms of new girl in town Madison (Erika Christensen). Problem is, Madison isn't about to let Ben go back to his old life after a wild time in the pool, even if it means boiling a bunny (okay, so Swimfan isn't quite that brazen). Props must go to director John Polson for casting the thoughtful Christensen as his psycho villainess rather than the typical blonde sex bomb, but he quickly loses any goodwill with the obviousness with which he films every scene featuring Madison, complete with ominous pauses and a musical score as blunt as a whack to the head with a baseball bat. About as shallow as a wading pool and as graceful as a cannonball dive, Swimfan does little more than jerk from thriller cliché to cliché. It's all wet. (top) (back)

SWORDFISH - C+
Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard, Camryn Grimes, Drea DeMatteo
Directed by:
Dominic Sena
Action, 99 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2001)


If the real world were anything like Swordfish, computer hackers would all be buff studs like Hugh Jackman, sleazeball crooks with an endless supply of cash would only be working to protect "the American way," gunmen would be able to stand up in a moving vehicle and not miss a single target on either side, and criminal plots would be so intricate they would involve flying buses, double-crosses after double-crosses and faked deaths. Some computer hackers may disagree, but the universe depicted in Swordfish is as far from reality as one can imagine, which is a good thing because nothing here can easily be broken down with any sort of logic or rationalization. Directed with a lot of flash by Gone in 60 Seconds' Dominic Sena, Swordfish is a ludicrous though occasionally entertaining piece of cinematic trash about a wealthy crime lord (John Travolta) who, with the aid of his glamourous girlfriend (Halle Berry), recruits our hacker hero (Jackman, Berry's X-Men costar) to help him rob a large government bank fund. Travolta and Jackman are both engaging actors but, when you get right down to it, Swordfish is really only about one thing: blowing stuff up. All things considered, the film does this quite well. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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