ARCHIVED REVIEWS (W)
Waking Life
Waking the Dead
Walk to Remember, a
Watcher, the
Way of the Gun, the
waydowntown
We Were Soldiers
Wedding Planner, the
Welcome to Collinwood
Wes Craven... Dracula 2000
Wes Craven Presents: They
Wet Hot American Summer
What a Girl Wants
What Lies Beneath
What Planet Are You From?
What Women Want
Whatever It Takes
What's the Worst That...
Where the Heart Is
Where the Money Is
Whipped
White Oleander
Whole Nine Yards, the

Windtalkers
Winslow Boy, the
Wit
With a Friend Like Harry...
Woman on Top
Wonder Boys

Wood, the
World Is Not Enough, the
World Traveler

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WAKING LIFE - B
Starring:
Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Lorelei Linklater, Timothy Levitch, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Steven Soderbergh
Directed by:
Richard Linklater
Drama, 100 min (14A) (Fox Searchlight, 2001)


It's not often that a film practically invites audiences to mute out the sound or make good use of the pause button simply to take in images, but that is clearly the case with Waking Life, a dazzlingly animated and often meandering meditation on life, dreams and movies. Director Richard Linklater, who also saw the release of his stunning Tape this year, actually filmed Waking Life as a live-action feature using hand-held cameras and a many of the actors from his earlier films (lead Wiley Wiggins was in Dazed and Confused, Adam Goldberg had his start in Suburbia, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy show up in their Before Sunrise personas). Linklater then handed the footage over to animators and they proceeded to pain over the frames and use dream-like images to tell the story. Not that there is a real story to Waking Life, limited as it is to one scene after another in which Wiggins tries to determine if he dreaming while listening to one academic/philosopher/monologist ramble on after another. Oftentimes, it can get awfully tiresome - it's a little like sitting in on a group of grad students discussing their dissertations without being able to add anything yourself - but it is worth tuning out the yakking in order to take in the film's dreamy visuals. (top) (back)

WAKING THE DEAD
- C-
Starring:
Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Hal Holbrook, Janet McTeer, Molly Parker, Paul Hipp, Sandra Oh, Lawrence Dane, Tony Calabretta
Directed by: Keith Gordon

Drama, 106 min (14A) (USA Films, 2000)


With a title like Waking the Dead, the least you would expect from this film would be for it to sustain your interest through one means or another, be it spot-on performances, flashy camera work or even good reliable sex. In this case, however, that would be asking for too much because Waking the Dead, based on a novel by Scott Spencer and directed as a slow-moving muddle by Keith Gordon, is far more likely to put you to sleep than wake the deceased (or even, for that matter, the slightly tired). Billy Crudup plays Fielding Pierce, a young politician in the early 1980s whose run for Senator keeps getting sidetracked by his ghostly visions of an ex-love (Jennifer Connelly) who died eight years earlier in a car bomb attack. The film often switches abruptly from 1982 to 1972, fragmenting the story into pieces, and former Inventing the Abbotts costars Crudup and Connelly get jerked around in the process, saddled with more "big themes" than realistic dialogue and never convincing viewers that theirs is a story worth telling. (top) (back)

A WALK TO REMEMBER - C
Starring: Mandy Moore, Shane West, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Clayne Crawford, Paz de la Heurta, Lauren German, Matt Lutz
Directed by:
Adam Shankman
Drama, 99 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2002)


Add a little Pretty in Pink to Here on Earth and coat it with maple syrup and you will have a good idea of what to expect from this cut-and-paste teen drama, a film that will no doubt leave its intended audience in tears, if only because it pushes so many manipulative buttons. Pop singer Mandy Moore plays Jamie, an outcast minister's daughter and devout Christian who reforms the rebellious streak of the school hunk (Whatever It Takes' Shane West) when he falls for her despite their differences in social status. Watching these two get together is woefully familiar and Moore, though effective as an attention-demanding popular girl in The Princess Diaries, is bland and homogenized here (thankfully, West brings a believable wild-boy edge to his cookie-cutter role). Director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner), working from a screenplay based on Nicholas Sparks' 1999 novel, has a nice handle on teenage boy relationships, but he brings an unfortunate lack of humour to the proceedings and the film really starts firing off the overused clichés when a "surprise revelation" (think Love Story) is introduced late in the game. Because of this, A Walk to Remember is, title-notwithstanding, an awfully easy film to forget. (top) (back)

THE WATCHER - C-
Starring:
James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Robert Cicchini, Chris Ellis, Ernie Hudson, Jenny McShane
Directed by:
Joe Charbandic
Suspense, 97
min (14A) (Universal, 2000)

As well-used as he was in The Matrix, Speed and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves is an actor with skills that lie within a very narrow range. This is painfully obvious all throughout this hollow cat-and-mouse thriller, in which Reeves plays a serial killer who doesn't seem dangerous or terrifying so much as bored and, like, bummed out man. Reeves' character in The Watcher is one of those only-in-the-movies loony bins, a man with no apparent job or home who spends all of his time killing young girls and tormenting the addled FBI agent (James Spader) trying to catch him. As directed by first-timer Joe Charbandic, The Watcher tries to find an interesting take on the ying-yang relationship between a cop and his prey (or a killer and his prey), but everything is muddled up with flashy camera work in search of a style and Charbandic doesn't realize that one needs characters to be involved. Oh, and some advice for Marisa Tomei: playing a helpless victim in a film like this is no way to jump-start a career. (top) (back)

THE WAY OF THE GUN - B-
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, James Caan, Taye Diggs, Juliette Lewis, Nicky Katt, Scott Wilson, Dylan Kussman
Directed by:
Christopher McQuarrie
Action, 119
min (18A) (Artisan, 2000)

Had it been released about five years earlier, this neo-noir shoot-'em-up would have been more on target. Coming after countless Tarantino imitators, however, the film's impact is seriously reduced, weighed down by an overfamiliarity that only highlights its shortcomings. That's not to say, however, that The Way of the Gun completely shoots itself in the foot. Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, making his directorial debut, shows strong promise as a filmmaker, taking aim at Blood Simple with the tale of two criminals (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) who kidnap the surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) of a rich man's baby. The film's flabby midsection is overwritten and the climax goes on for too long, but McQuarrie has a gritty flair with the camera and, with the exception of a mumbly Phillippe, he draws generally strong performances from his cast (particularly a vulnerable Lewis and James Caan, laidback and ice-smooth as a bagman). (top) (back)

WAYDOWNTOWN
-
B
Starring:
Fabrizio Filipp, Don McKellar, Marya Dulver, Godon Curry, Jennifer Clement, Tobias Godson
Directed by:
Gary Burns
Comedy, 90 min (PG) (Odeon Films, 2000)


Deep in the core of downtown Calgary lays a group of office buildings, each one intricately connected to the next through a series of second-story walkways. In theory, these links would allow someone to spend the entire day without taking a step outside and that is exactly what the characters are trying to do in this quirky and claustrophobic comedy from Calgarian director Gary Burns. The film takes place on Day 24 of a contest between four office workers that involves one month's salary to see who can stay in their office cocoon the longest. Unfortunately, everyone is falling apart and this simple bet is beginning to resemble a new installment of Survivor. Choosing offbeat visuals and eccentric characters over the regular Joes that populated his previous films (Kitchen Party, The Suburbanators), Burns shows considerable growth as a filmmaker here, stuffing a minimal story with terrific performances and a breakneck pace, effectively resulting in the movie that Office Space should have been. (top) (back)


WE WERE SOLDIERS - B-
Starring: Mel Gibson, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliot, Chris Klein, Madeline Stowe, Keri Russell, Clark Gregg, Don Duong
Directed by:
Randall Wallace
Drama, 138 min (14A) (Paramount, 2002)


If you took Pearl Harbor and lopped off the silly romantic triangle and overwrought final hour, the result would likely be similar to We Were Soldiers, a war drama that, after a dialogue-challenged opening hour, immerses viewers directly into the heart of battle. Written and directed by Randall Wallace (who also penned Pearl Harbor and 1995's Braveheart), We Were Soldiers chronicles the four-day Battle of Ia Drang, the first major confrontation between American and Vietnamese troops in 1965, during which 400 U.S. soldiers were surrounded by 2,000 members of the North Vietnam army. Working from a memoir by Lieut. Col. Hal Moore (played here by Mel Gibson) and journalist Joseph Galloway (Barry Pepper), Wallace too often makes the mistake of substituting flatfooted homilies for dialogue and he obviously never met a war cliché he didn't like. Ultimately, however, there is a harrowing punch to the battle sequences (even if they aren't as well-constructed as those in Black Hawk Down) and the picture does a commendable job of playing tribute to the men and women involved in the battle, moving beyond the American leaders to the opposition and the women at home (Madeline Stowe plays Moore's wife). (top) (back)

THE WEDDING PLANNER - C+
Starring:
Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Judy Greer, Justin Chambers, Alex Rocco, Kathy Najimy
Directed by:
Adam Schankman
Comedy, 104
min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)

Like the typical wedding cake, The Wedding Planner is fluffy, nice to look at, not entirely unappetizing, and completely devoid of nutritional value. After all, lovely pastel images, photogenic actors and "cute" situations can only get a picture so far, at which point charm and wit are supposed to step in. Unfortunately, both are missing from The Wedding Planner, despite the presence of likeable actress/music star Jennifer Lopez. In the film, Lopez plays Mary, a respected wedding planner from San Francisco who gets into a sticky situation when she learns the doctor she has fallen for (an ever-smiling Matthew McConaughey) is also the fiancé of her latest client (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras). Predictably, Mary and the doctor then spend the rest of the movie trying to keep a lid on their attraction, but first-time director Adam Schankman doesn't make the inevitable seem exciting, unfortunately treating everyone else in the story (particularly Wilson-Sampras' bride) as though they are frivolous plot points instead of real people. (top) (back)

WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD -
C+
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, Patricia Clarkson, William H. Macy, Luis Guzman, Andrew Davoli, Isaiah Washington, Gabrielle Union
Directed by: Joseph Russo, Anthony Russo
Comedy, 86 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2002)


The names George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh may be associated with Welcome to Collinwood (both produced it and Clooney has a small role as a grumpy wheelchair-bound safecracker), but don't expect this exceedingly minor crime caper to be another Ocean's Eleven. A remake of the 1958 Italian film Big Deal on Madonna Street (now set in the working-class Cleveland neighborhood of Collinwood), Welcome stars Sam Rockwell (Charlie's Angels), Michael Jeter (The Green Mile), William H. Macy and others as dim would-be burglars with a plan to empty the contents of a pawn shop safe but barely an entire brain among them. As their scheme goes jutting off course in various directions, a bunch of unnecessary subplots needlessly draw out the thin storyline (Did we really need the romances featuring Gabrielle Union or Jennifer Esposito?), the screenplay struggles to keep balance and the hip charm of the cast dissipates, leaving only clueless characters and empty pratfalls. All things considered, Welcome to Collinwood isn't entirely uninviting and it makes for an adequate diversion for a slow day, but codirectors and brothers Joseph and Anthony Russo failed to understand that even dumb comedy sometimes requires real smarts. (top) (back)

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: DRACULA 2000 -
D+
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Wadell, Jennifer Esposito, Christopher Plummer, Omar Epps, Gerard Butler, Colleen Fitzpatrick
Directed by: Peter Lussier
Horror, 99
min (14A) (Dimension, 2000)

The world of Dracula and vampires has taken countless forms over the years (the most recent being the Hollywood bloodsucker thriller Shadow of the Vampire), but not since 1995's Dracula: Dead and Loving It has there been a version as toothless and dull as Dracula 2000. Produced by Wes Craven, but directed by Scream editor Patrick Lussier, Dracula 2000 follows the Prince of Darkness as he is released from his London coffin by some clueless thieves (led by Omar Epps) and travels to New Orleans to track down his only living offspring (the irritatingly naïve Justine Wadell). As played by the lifeless Gerard Butler, however, Drac seems about as threatening as a European fashion model, leaving Lussier to helplessly try and create tension with oh-so-scary smoke machines and all the typical Dracula clichés (red eyes, sexy female bloodsuckers, beheadings, wooden stakes…). It is all terribly familiar, overly pretentious and very poorly executed, leaving this so-called "update" with the foul taste of mold. (top) (back)

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: THEY - F
Starring: Laura Regan, Marc Blucas, Dagmara Dominczyk, Ethan Embry, Jon Abrahams, Nicole Wiesner, Christopher Rose
Directed by: Robert Harmon
Horror, 90 min (14A) (Dimension, 2002)


It takes a special kind of horror film to make the inept Darkness Falls actually seem watchable and Wes Craven Presents: They, unfortunately, is such a movie. Not written, directed or produced by Craven, They tells the ridiculously overwrought story of a bunch of monsters haunting a bland grad student (Laura Regan). Turns out that all of the victims, including a slumming Ethan Embry (Sweet Home Alabama) experienced "night terrors" as children and that whatever frightened them back then has now come back to finish their plan. Utterly devoid of thrills, surprises or a point, They has the visual appeal of sewer water and complete disregard for pace, lurching uncomfortably from one belaboured attack to another like Frankenstein with cement shoes. Director Robert Harmon, whose resume is littered with such trash as the 1993 Jean-Claude Van Damme opus Nowhere to Run, is incapable of building any sense of horror here - the group of Silly Putty monsters are about as believable and frightening as an animated character in a cereal commercial - and one gets the feeling that the completely non-descript title is due to the fact that there's nothing here worth watching, let alone remembering or even naming. (top) (back)

WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER
- C+
Starring:
Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni
Directed by: David Wain
Comedy, 97 min (14A) (USA Films, 2001)


It's never easy to successfully parody something that is funny in the first place (for evidence, look no further than Scary Movie or Not Another Teen Movie) and targets don't get much more goofy than late '70s/early '80s teen flicks like Meatballs and Porky's. Nonetheless, Michael Showalter and David Wain take aim at just this genre with Wet Hot American Summer, a comedy that succeeds in capturing all of the hilarious details of the time (tube socks, Dungeons & Dragons geeks, white afros), but ultimately remains a hit-and-miss affair. Set on the last day of summer camp in 1981, Wet Hot's cast of loons includes two clueless dorks in love (Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce) who need to somehow stop a satellite from falling during the night's talent show, a hunky counselor (Paul Rudd) too busy making out to care that the kids are drowning, a war-scarred vet-turned-cook (Christopher Meloni) who starts talking to cans of vegetables, an earnest girly man (Showalter) with the hots for his babe friend (Marguerite Moreau), and so on. Throughout, Wain and Showalter get all of the exaggerated stereotypes right, but in trying to make light of what is already airborne, they all too often think absurdity can substitute for humour. (top) (back)

WHAT A GIRL WANTS - B
Starring: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Pryce, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Atkins, Tom Harper, Erik von Detton
Directed by: Dennie Gordon
Comedy, 100 min (PG) (Warner, 2003)


So what does a girl want? Well, if you are Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants, you want to find your father and not so subtly rip off 2001's The Princess Diaries (itself a rip-off, though a charming one, of Pretty Woman). Bynes, the chipmunk-cheeked costar of Big Fat Liar (2002), is adequately likeable here as Daphne, a recent high-school graduate who travels to London to try and track down the father she never knew (Bridget Jones's Diary's Colin Firth). Conveniently, he turns out to be a rich British lord who welcomes his long-lost daughter into his home, takes her shopping and goes about converting her into the idyllic daughter that a rising political figure requires. Along the way, the story jams in an unconvincing subplot about a cute Brit that seemingly falls instantly in love with Daphne (Oliver James), but What a Girl Wants is really about two things: a go-girl story aimed at preteens everywhere and the opportunity to once again see a fun-loving American loosen the collars of stuffy Brits. Unfortunately, neither of these qualities is particularly refreshing here, with director Dennie Gordon (2001's Joe Dirt) relying more on forced slapstick (you can almost predict Bynes' pratfalls to the second) than even a whiff of innovation. (top) (back)

WHAT LIES BENEATH - B
Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Remar, Diana Scarwid, Amber Valletta, Wendy Crewson, Katharine Towne
Directed by:
Robert Zemeckis
Suspense, 130
min (14A) (Dreamworks, 2000)

One person's rip-off is another's homage and, with this taut supernatural thriller, director Robert Zemeckis is undoubtedly paying tribute to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Part Psycho, part Dial M for Murder and part Rear Window (with sections of Poltergeist, Double Jeopardy and Gaslight thrown in for good measure), What Lies Beneath tells the quietly spooky tale of a scientist's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who begins being haunted by things that go bump in the night. First, it's doors that mysteriously open. Then, it's ghostly visions in the bathtub. Given such well-trodden territory, What Lies Beneath doesn't do much to advance ghostly thrillers, but it does work wonderfully within the genre, with Zemeckis making great use of psychological scares, scary movie conventions and his actors. Pfeiffer, tightly wound and terrifically paranoid, falls apart beautifully and she is well matched by Harrison Ford, whose low-key acting style is perfect for portraying Pfeiffer's often absent husband. (top) (back)

WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? - D+
Starring:
Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, Greg Kinnear, John Goodman, Linda Fiorentino, Ben Kingsley, Camryn Manheim  
Directed by:
Mike Nichols
Comedy, 107
min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

This sci-fi sex comedy wants to mock the dating ritual and man-woman relationships. It wants to establish Garry Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show) as a big-screen comedic talent. It wants to make you think that there is nothing funnier than a fake penis that hums. To say that the film fails on all accounts, however, would be an understatement. A one-joke concept stretched out to a full-length movie without a shred of the wit one usually associates with director Mike Nichols (Primary Colors), the film casts Shandling as an alien who travels to Earth in order to impregnate a woman in a bid to take over the universe. What follows is a lot of clueless sex jokes, many shots of good actors struggling with lame material (the supporting cast includes such talents as Annette Bening, John Goodman, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino and Greg Kinnear) and exactly one Shandling expression – one of constant pain. Given the material, who can blame him? (top) (back)

WHAT WOMEN WANT - B
Starring: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Ashley Johnson, Mark Feuerstein, Judy Greer, Lauren Holly, Loretta Devine
Directed by:
Nancy Meyers
Comedy, 126
min (PG) (Paramount, 2000)

There are exactly two versions of Mel Gibson. There's the firm, vengeful warrior of films like Braveheart and The Patriot, and then there's the smirking, take-nothing-seriously lady-killer of Bird on a Wire, the Lethal Weapon sequels, Conspiracy Theory and so forth (not that the hero of Braveheart didn't kill hearts of his own). It's the second version of Gibson that's on display in What Women Want and the actor's established film persona, not to mention his rakish and natural charm, is ideally suited for this role. Gibson plays Nick, a suave, womanizing ad exec who, following a freak accident, is able to hear the inner thoughts of every woman around him, whether it's his new superior at work (Helen Hunt), a lonely coffee shop worker (Marisa Tomei) or his own daughter (Ashley Johnson). As written, What Women Want is overlong and a bit too polished for its own good, but director Nancy Meyers nonetheless establishes a sporting verbal zing and finds genuine chemistry in the scenes between Gibson and Hunt. (top) (back)

WHATEVER IT TAKES - C
Starring:
Shane West, Marla Sokoloff, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, James Franco, Christine Lakin, Aaron Paul, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster  
Directed by:
David Raynr
Comedy, 94
min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

Considering how we've already had high school versions of Shakespeare (10 Things I Hate About You), Jane Austen (Clueless) and Dangerous Liaisons (Cruel Intentions), it was only a matter of time before there was a teenage Cyrano de Bergerac. In this mildly pleasant if utterly disposable romantic comedy, an accordion-playing nobody (Once and Again's Shane West) makes a deal with a popular jock (James Franco) in order to win the affections of the most desired girl in school (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, from Nash Bridges). All West's character has to do in return is set up the jock with the beautiful neighbor (The Practice's Marla Sokoloff) he has never noticed as more than a friend. What happens next should surprise absolutely no one since the film follows the exact same dramatic arc as almost every teen picture of recent years. In fact, anyone who saw She's All That can safely assume they've seen this film as well. (top) (back)

WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? - C-
Starring:
Martin Lawrence, Danny DeVito, John Leguizamo, Carmen Ejogo, Glenne Headly, William Fichtner, Bernie Mac, Larry Miller
Directed by:
Sam Weisman
Comedy, 98
min (14A) (MGM, 2001)

What's the worst that could happen? Well, that would be renting this scattershot comedy with high expectations, only to be let down by a lazy film so half-baked that the distasteful filler overwhelms any interesting flavour. Martin Lawrence - awkward and miscast when called upon to be a romantic lead, relying on empty routines the rest of the time - plays Kevin, a Boston-based professional thief that specializes in stealing from big-game players like ruthless billionaire Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito). But when Max catches Kevin red-handed, he decides to turn the tables, stealing the ring Kevin received from his girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo) and igniting a power struggle between the two crooks. In films like Heist and Ruthless People, DeVito has more than demonstrated his ability to milk power hunger for all it is worth, but Sam Weisman's plodding direction never lets him and Lawrence connect on a comical level. Worse, Weisman (George of the Jungle) wastes the talented supporting cast, overcrowded with the likes of John Leguizamo as Kevin's partner, William Fichtner (The Perfect Storm) as a preening detective, Bernie Mac as Kevin's fence, Glenne Headly as Max's assistant, and Larry Miller as a security expert. They are all here with nothing to do. (top) (back)

WHERE THE HEART IS - C-
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, James Frain, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack, Sally Field
Directed by: Matt Williams
Drama, 135
min (PG) (Twentieth Century Fox, 2000)

The characters’ names in Where the Heart Is – names like Americus Nation, Sister Husband, Praline, Brownie, Willy Jack, and Forney – are a quick indication of what tone the picture is aiming for – one of eccentric, down-home Southern charm. Unfortunately, all of this so-called quirkiness only comes across as irritating in this aimless, tired melodrama based on Billie Letts’ novel. Elegant Natalie Portman is miscast as Novalee, a pregnant baby doll whose loser boyfriend ditches her at a Wal-Mart, where Novalee takes up temporary residence and eventually gives birth. Throughout the film, Novalee runs into one caricatured Southerner after the next, always in search of something to call a home, but her struggle never really comes into focus and the plot lurches from one strained catastrophe to the next. Worst of all, the film wastes Sally Field, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack by only giving them thin amounts of screen time and even thinner characters. (top) (back)

WHERE THE MONEY IS - C+
Starring:
Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney, Susan Barnes, Anna Pitoniak, Bruce MacVittie, Irma St. Paul, Michael Perron
Directed by:
Marek Kanieuska
Drama, 89 min (PG) (USA Films, 2000)

Thanks to our memories of a younger Paul Newman (star of such classic con artist/hustler movies as The Sting and The Color of Money), there's a whiff of nostalgia hanging over Where the Money Is, a pleasant and modest (in other words, threadbare) criminal caper. Newman plays Harry Manning, a bank robber who faked a stroke in order to get out of jail, and Linda Fiorentino is Carol, a nursing home caregiver bored with her job, her husband (Dermot Mulroney) and her life. Once Carol learns the truth about Harry's condition, she convinces him to stage one last heist with her as a partner and her dim husband as the third wheel. Newman turns on the charm for a classic movie star performance and Fiorentino is all husky crackle, but Where the Money Is shortchanges its stars with a storyline so devoid of twists and surprises that it is robbed of any suspense or excitement. Where the Money Is is likeable enough, but when you've got Newman and Fiorentino, what you really want is sizzle. (top) (back)

WHIPPED - F
Starring:
Amanda Peet, Brian Van Holt, Zorie Barber, Jonathan Abrahams, Judah Domke, Callie Thorne
Directed by: Peter M. Cohen
Comedy, 84 min (18A) (Destination, 2000)


If there is one positive thing to say about Whipped, it would be that at least writer-director Peter M. Cohen picked an appropriate title. After all, sitting through this wretched "comedy" is about as painful as being strapped by a leather belt. Amanda Peet, so adorable in The Whole Nine Yards, is lifeless and flat here as Mia, a New York City single girl who becomes the object of affection for three horn-dog jerks (Brian Van Holt, Zorie Barber and Jonathan Abrahams), all of whom have their own ideas about relationships that don't seem to have been updated since the seventh grade. Cohen's worthless screenplay runs rampant with false misogyny and more idiotic sex talk than one could imagine, but it all plays out as though he thinks it is a revolutionary look at modern relationships (he must have been dreaming). Certainly not helping matters is the male cast, a bunch of talentless losers with virtually no credits worth mentioning who will - if there is any cinematic justice - remain unknown. (top) (back)

WHITE OLEANDER -
B-
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Alison Lohman, Renee Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Patrick Fugit, Noah Wyle, Billy Connolly, Cole Hauser
Directed by: Peter Kosminsky
Drama, 109 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2002)


White Oleander may be based on an Oprah-approved 1999 novel by Janet Fitch, but the original story nonetheless had a significant amount of abuse and sex that darkened the edges of the story. Unfortunately, most of the grit has been scrubbed out of the film adaptation of Fitch's work, resulting in a picture that comes across as an overly polished TV movie with better-than-it-deserves performances. 23-year-old newcomer Alison Lohman sparkles and does a beautiful job of aging eight years here as Astrid, an artistic teenager whose venomous and controlling mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) kills her lover after he dumps her. With Ingrid in prison, Astrid embarks on a journey through a variety of foster homes and juvenile institutions, living with a jealous stripper-turned-Christian (Robin Wright Penn) at one point and a lonely rich housewife (Renee Zellweger) at another. The story has an episodic structure that British TV director Peter Kosminsky is never able to overcome, but he gets the most out of his four lead actresses, with Wright Penn turning a possible cartoon into a believably furious force, Zellweger coming across as heartbreakingly kind and Pfeiffer igniting the magnetism in her selfish and cruel character. (top) (back)

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS - B-
Starring:
Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Rosanna Arquette, Kevin Pollak  
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Comedy, 99
min (14A) (
Warner Bros., 2000)

Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet and Michael Clarke Duncan are clearly having a lot of fun in this silly comedy about a suburban dentist (Perry) who gets involved in the not-so-organized world of organized crime after a hit man (Willis) moves in next door. Although the film takes a while to get going and places an annoying emphasis on bad accents (that's you, Rosanna Arquette), this is the type of picture in which everyone involved seems to be in such good spirits that one can’t help but get caught up in the amusement. Willis gives his trademark smirky performance, but Duncan gets to display a far lighter personality than he did in The Green Mile as Willis’ partner in crime, Peet is a joy as a dental assistant/aspiring hit man, and Perry has finally found a role that lets him break free of his Friends persona and display a gift for slapstick. This film may not make it the whole nine yards, but it hits the six-yard line at least. (top) (back)

WINDTALKERS -
C+
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Frances O'Connor, Mark Ruffalo, Roger Willie, Peter Stormare
Directed by: John Woo
Drama, 133 min (18A) (MGM, 2002)


Having demonstrated a mastery of bullets and mayhem in films like Face/Off (1997), Hard Boiled (1992) and Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), it seems only natural that director John Woo would eventually want to tackle a war film. Unfortunately, the project he chose was Windtalkers and this unfulfilling picture - more overly earnest drama than gripping actioner - simply doesn't play towards Woo's strengths, all too often resembling more of a star vehicle for Nicolas Cage than a stirring account of a little known story worth telling. That story is the one of 400 Navajo Indians who were recruited by the U.S. Marines during World War II to use their native language as a new military code, but though Smoke Signals' Adam Beach has an easygoing charm and earnestness as code-talker Ben Yahzee, Woo spends far too much time on the soggy mental anguish of Cage's character, a Marine sergeant wrought with guilt after seeing all of the men under his command die during an earlier battle. As a result, the story's unique angle gets pushed aside, providing little background to its Navajo characters and making the drama almost indistinguishable from more superior films like Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan. (top) (back)

THE WINSLOW BOY - B+
Starring:
Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Guy Edwards, Matthew Pidgeon, Colin Stinton 
Directed by: David Mamet
Drama, 104
min (G) (
Sony Pictures Classics, 1999)

Writer-director David Mamet, master of the tough-talking con artists, may seem to be a strange match for a British costume drama but, with this fascinating and insightful picture, the filmmaker not only stays true to the time, but to his own vision as well. After all, The Winslow Boy may be based on a 1946 Terence Rattigan play, but it has many of the same themes of uncertain trust and ambiguous motives that have marked Mamet's recent work (such as The Spanish Prisoner and House of Games). Set in 1912, the film tells the true story of Arthur Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne), a wealthy banker who nearly drove himself to ruin when he decided to sue the Royal Navy College after he believed his son was wrongfully kicked out. Wisely bypassing the theatrics of the story, Mamet is at his most restrained here, aiming all of his focus on complex family dynamics as they are buckled under pressure. The performers, especially Jeremy Northam as the leading conservative lawyer who takes the case, are flawless. (top) (back)

WIT - B+
Starring:
Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Atkins, Audra McDonald, Harold Pinter, John Woodward
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Drama, 99 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2001)


Her illustrious career has included stellar work in Primary Colors (1998), Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Remains of the Day (1993) and Dead Again (1991), but Emma Thompson gives what may be the best performance of her career in this HBO adaptation of Margaret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer-Prize winning play. Adapted by Thompson and her Primary Colors director Mike Nichols, the film casts Thompson as Dr. Vivian Bearing, a professor of poetry and literature that specializes in the works of John Donne and, at the age of 48, is diagnosed with stage-four metastatic cancer. A scholar to the bone, Dr. Bearing agrees to eight months of high-dose experimental chemotherapy treatments and the director and star never shy away from the pain, humiliation or graphic nature of the situation. Obviously, Wit isn't easy going and, truth be told, the film does have its share of slow spots. That said, Thompson's raw performance is flawless and wrenching, with the actress even pulling off the hoary device of having the character speak directly to the camera. Wit is a powerful and unflinching drama that may have laid its roots on television, but is far more affecting than big-screen tearjerkers like 1998's Stepmom or One True Thing. (top) (back)

WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY... - B+
Starring:
Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Laurie Caminata, Sophis Guillemin, Mathilde Seigner, Lorena Camineta, Michael Fau
Directed by:
Dominik Mol
Suspense (14A) (Miramax, 2001)

Ever had one of those friends who wanted nothing more than to help you out, even if every time they tried to do so they only made things worse? If not, consider yourself lucky. If so, the subtitled French drama With a Friend Like Harry… will be even more creepy and chilling. The winner of four Cesars (France's Oscar equivalent), including Best Actor for Sergi Lopez, With a Friend Like Harry… harks back to early Hitchcock (the title reference to The Trouble With Harry is no doubt intentional) with its story of Michel (Laurent Lucas) and Claire (Mathilde Seigner), a typical couple on vacation with their three daughters who lives get turned upside-down with the arrival - and overstayed welcome - of Harry (Lopez), the long-forgotten childhood friend of Michel's. Wealthy, though completely bland and average on the surface, Harry believes that Michel is being held back by unnecessary stress and he'll do anything - and I do mean anything - to unleash Michel's potential. Largely drawing from Lopez' unnerving obsession and crafting an unsettling atmosphere of everyday menace, director/co-writer Dominik Mol does a splendid job of ratcheting up the tension for a thriller almost frightening in its relation to the ordinary. (top) (back)

WOMAN ON TOP - D+
Starring:
Penelope Cruz, Mark Feuerstein, Murilo Benicio, Harold Perrineau Jr., John DeLancie
Directed by:
Fina Torres
Comedy (14A) (Fox Searchlight, 2000)

With its ethnic combination of romance and food, it's obvious Woman on Top wants to be another Like Water for Chocolate (1992). But if Like Water for Chocolate was a delicious soufflé, Woman on Top (like the similar Sarah Michelle Gellar bomb Simply Irresistible) is bitter, year-old fruitcake. All About My Mother's Penelope Cruz, in her first leading role in an English picture, is given few opportunities to sparkle here, playing a Brazilian chef who learns of her husband's infidelity, hightails it to San Francisco, and gets a job as host of a popular cooking show. Throughout the film, Cruz's character remains in a romantic funk trying to decide between an apparently reformed hubby (Murilo Benicio) and a nice TV producer (Mark Feuerstein), leaving Cruz to spend much of the movie with a sulking - and dull - pout. Directed by Fina Torres, Woman on Top looks hopelessly low budget (check out those cheesy special effects) and any attempts at quirky screwball humour are more irritating than charming. (top) (back)

WONDER BOYS - B+
Starring:
Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes, Rip Torn, Richard Thomas
Directed by:
Curtis Hanson
Comedy (14A) (Paramount, 2000)

Cast as a sympathetic character after spending far too many years as a sleaze, Michael Douglas gives one of the most warm and wonderful performances of his career in this spirited, finely textured picture. Douglas plays Grady Tripp, an English professor whose life is falling apart. His wife has just left him, his married mistress (Frances McDormand) is pregnant, his bisexual editor (Robert Downey Jr.) is breathing down his neck for his next novel, a pretty young student (Katie Holmes) is trying to seduce him and the most talented kid in his class (a never-better Tobey Maguire) is a moody spook and compulsive liar. As Wonder Boys progresses, Grady's life spins increasingly out of control, but director Curtis Hanson, in his first picture since L.A. Confidential, wisely lets events unspool quietly, naturally and without pretense. Nothing in the picture could be classed as extraneous, with all of the multilayered characters establishing a perfect rhythm and the actors hitting just the right notes. (top) (back)

THE WOOD - B-
Starring:
Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, Richard T. Jones, Trent Cameron, Sean Nelson, Malinda Williams, Sanaa Lathan, Lisa Raye
Directed by:
Rick Famuyima
Comedy, 104 min (14A) (Paramount, 1999)

This warm-hearted coming-of-age film mostly gets by on charm, following three best friends reminiscing about their youth in the outer-L.A. neighborhood of Inglewood and drawing considerable pleasures out of the delightful cast and comical-to-look-back-on style of black teens in the 1980s. Written and directed by Rick Famuyima, who clearly never saw a cliché he couldn't adopt as his own, The Wood stars Taye Diggs as a nervous groom who disappears hours before his wedding, only to be tracked down by his lifelong best friends (Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones) for a look back at their past that will hopefully assist with the future. The kids in the flashbacks - including Fresh's Sean Nelson as the young Epps - bare little resemblance to their older counterparts, but Famuyima's attention to detail helps ensure that the characters' early-age navigation into the world of women is so likeable (a scene of lost virginity is particularly well handled) that you almost forget much of it has been seen before. (top) (back)

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH - C+
Starring:
Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese 
Directed by: Michael Apted
Action
(PG) (
MGM, 1999)

Pierce Brosnan is as dapper as ever as 007, but this 19th James Bond adventure stands as a dull reminder that the Bond formula is in desperate need of some innovation. The changes that are installed here - a more vulnerable hero, an expanded role for Judi Dench's M - do nothing to mask some of the lamest double entendres of the franchise, 007 trademarks that are almost parodies of themselves (we know his name is "Bond, James Bond") and a generic plot about an international terrorist (Robert Carlyle) controlling the world's oil supply that may has well have been drawn from the blueprints from the last 18 films. Director Michael Apted, who is usually more at home with quiet flicks like Nell, does little to jazz up the action sequences and the two Bond babes effectively cancel each other out. Sophie Marceau makes a great femme fatale, oozing enough sexual charge to make James lose his head, but Denise Richards, with her limited acting ability and childish voice, is horribly miscast as a nuclear scientist. (top) (back)

WORLD TRAVELER -
C
Starring: Billy Crudup, Julianne Moore, David Keith, Mary McCormack, James LeGros, Karen Allen, Liane Balaban, Cleavant Derricksn
Directed by: Bart Freundlich
Drama, 106 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


Billy Crudup may have spent much of Almost Famous (2000) on the road, but the pleasures of a road trip are highly dependent on the choice of vehicle and, unfortunately, the wheels of World Traveler are far more flat and inclined to meander aimlessly than those that supported Famous. Here Crudup play Cal, a New York City architect who, on the day of his young son's birthday, suddenly ups and leaves his family for apparently no reason and travels across the country, meeting a deranged hitchhiker (Julianne Moore) and his estranged father (a too-young David Keith) along the way. Moore's off-kilter performance gooses World Traveler to life in her too-brief scenes, but writer-director Bart Freundlich (who worked with Moore on 1997's The Myth of Fingerprints and two real-life children) drags everything down with pretentious man-finding-himself hokum. The reasons behind Cal's split are far too simplistic and easy (Do you think his dad has something to do with it?) and since Freundlich has written Cal to be overly selfish and unsympathetic, the character is hardly a bundle of charisma, leaving Crudup to seem smug and uninviting - hardly the qualities you would want in a partner for such a journey. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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