Film Clips

THE AVENGERS. I was only 7 years old the last time I saw The Avengers TV series, but I don't remember it sucking in quite this fashion. The most striking thing about this super-spy story is that there's nothing striking about it--it has absolutely no salient characteristics. From the initial meeting of secret agents John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Mrs. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman, in a double role), through their encounters with super-villian Sean Connery, through Connery's attempts to control the world by controlling the weather, up to the final confrontation, every moment has exactly the same sense of force. It's like listening to a metronome while watching special effects: There's no more excitement or suspense in the explosions than in the expository dialogue. I can't say whether this movie was bad or good; it was so consistently the same, and so full of distracting if unorginal visuals, and slack but not painful dialogue, that seeing it was like having no experience whatsoever. After its mercifully brief 90 minutes were over, I almost completely forgot what it was about. --DiGiovanna

Film Clips EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY. Here's a welcome revision: a Cinderella that kicks butt. Sure, Drew Barrymore's character is neglected and mistreated, but she's no helpless little waif: In a pinch, she won't hesitate to deck her wicked stepsister (Megan Dodds) or throw the prince (Dougray Scott) over her shoulders and carry him away from danger. These sorts of touches, smartly handled by director Andy Tennant, make Ever After a delight--even for those of us who never thought we could thoroughly enjoy a Cinderella movie. I'm not sure how Tennant got it out of her, but Barrymore's performance is winningly effective, and surprisingly well-rounded. A political idealist with passion to spare, she earns the prince's respect until he realizes he needs to earn hers in return. Better still is Anjelica Huston, who plays the bitchy stepmother with a trace of complexity--you get the sense she's evil because it hurts to be nice, and you keep watching her face for signs of pain. Everything else about the movie turns out a shade more entertainingly than you'd expect, from the fate of the chubby stepsister (played by Heavenly Creatures' Kate Lansbury) to the whimsical way Leonardo Da Vinci is integrated into the story. Rock on, Cinderella. --Woodruff

HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK. Stella (Angela Bassett) may have gotten her groove back, but in the process she took mine away. After two hours and 20 minutes of ridiculous dialogue and clichéd situations, the only boogying I wanted to do was out to my car and far, far away from Whoopi Goldberg commenting on the Jamaican surf by saying "God is here," and six-figure Stella moaning about her mortgage amidst numerous Tommy Hilfiger product placements. This is a made-for-TV movie on the big screen, with the choppy editing and poor lighting to prove it. The semi-autobiographical story by Terry McMillan (Waiting to Exhale) is about 40-year-old Stella, who goes to Jamaica and enlists 20-year-old Winston (Taye Diggs) to pull her out of a sexual, emotional and creative dry spell. The majority of the film attempts to convince us that the two are in love, but Stella is so neurotic and Winston so accommodating that the requisite coupling at the end elicits screams rather than tears. --Higgins

THE MASK OF ZORRO. An action-adventure movie in the classic mold, The Mask of Zorro aims for the kind of grand, sweeping cinematics that lead to elaborate sword fights, robust dance scenes and 100-percent computer-enhancement-free stuntwork. It's meant to be an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, and it succeeds in a generic, unchallenging way. If you're looking for nuance or extra bite, sorry, wrong movie. Antonio Banderas, a man so sexy that even Southern Baptist truck drivers with extra Y chromosomes admit to considering him "hot," plays an eager Zorro-in-training; while Anthony Hopkins, an actor so well-respected that people fall over themselves with praise even when he turns in hackwork (as he does here), plays a vengeful, veteran Zorro. Hopkins teaches Banderas the ropes--or the whips, actually--while Catherine Zeta-Jones pretties up the screen with her Spanish cat eyes and huge Cheshire cat grin. Meow. For summer entertainment that's mindless without being mind-numbing, you could do a lot worse.

THE NEGOTIATOR. Less gunplay! More wordplay! At least, that's the intention behind this talkative action picture starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Jackson plays a hostage negotiator who, framed after his buddy discovers a police embezzlement ring, takes his own hostages in hopes they'll buy him time to prove his innocence. Spacey plays a negotiator from another district, chosen by Jackson because he's unlikely to be corrupt. Needless to say, there's a lot of negotiating going on, and at times the theme is pushed so hard that the film feels strained; the uncleverly clever climax, in particular, begs for a rewrite. The law-enforcement clichés pile up, too, and director F. Gary Gray doles them out with no sense of irony--we're even subjected to close-ups of Jackson's badge. But Jackson and Spacey can brighten up the dimmest of screenplays, and they're well-supported by some of the bit players--especially a comic-relieving criminal played by Paul Giamatti, who looks like Rob Schneider after a holiday eating binge. The late J.T. Walsh supplies his trademark sad-eyed villainy, which leads to some very uncomfortable moments when art imitates death. --Woodruff

OUT OF SIGHT. In the hierarchy of adaptations based on Elmore Leonard books, this one ranks up there with Get Shorty. The direction (by Steven Soderbergh, of Sex, Lies and Videotape fame) expresses the Leonard style perfectly, nudging humor out of naturalistic dialogue and displaying a whimsically carefree attitude about matters of life and death without letting all the steam out of the story. George Clooney, as a bank robber, and Jennifer Lopez, as his police pursuer, make an extremely good-looking couple; and their two verbal tennis matches (one in a car's trunk, the other in a hotel) are the film's sexual-spark-filled highlights. The smoothly developing romantic mood begins in sunny Miami and ends in snowy nighttime Detroit, so even if you see Out of Sight during the middle of the day you might walk out expecting a cool, dark sky. A standout supporting cast includes Albert Brooks, Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Get Shorty alumnus Dennis Farina, and a couple of uncredited surprises. --Woodruff

THE PARENT TRAP. This summer, the high-profile kids' movies are putting the high-profile adults' movies to shame. First we get a Cinderella who could beat the crap out of Godzilla; now we get a set of twins so cute they could blow up the meteors in both Deep Impact and Armageddon just by curtseying at them. This remake of the 1961 Disney movie stars the freckle-faced Lindsay Lohan as both twins, and the technology of this screen trick has officially reached a point where you can't tell there's any trick at all. The twins, one from London and the other from Napa Valley, meet at summer camp and realize their parents (Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid, both exactly as attractive and pleasant as they need to be) divorced and split them up long ago. They conspire to switch places and become Cupids, identical Cupids, so their parents--who also happen to be filthy rich--will get back together. Forget about thinking toys and talking animals; this is a child's fantasy. Other than the clunky opening scenes, which explain the premise in about 14 different ways, The Parent Trap is handled with impeccable wit, timing and sweetness by director Nancy Meyers. --Woodruff

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Don't let the earnest, tony previews fool you: This is a terrifying and brutally violent movie. Most horror movies don't have a fraction of the gore, and anyone who takes children needs to have his head examined. Naturally, since this is Steven Spielberg in Oscar mode, it's gore with a higher purpose: to render the you-are-there reality of World War II, a historical turning point that most of us do indeed take for granted. That it does. The plot follows the reluctant efforts of a captain (Tom Hanks, doing a respectable job although I still have a hard time taking him seriously) and his small crew (played by a who's-who list of indy-film actors) to find a young soldier for P.R. purposes. It's an unlikely premise, but it allows for a tour through several common locations and situations during the 1944 campaign to liberate France. The opening scene, which depicts the troublesome Omaha Beach landing during the invasion of Normandy, is a stunner: sharp editing, swift hand-held shots, and gruesome attention to detail make it one of the most arresting war scenes ever filmed. Over and over, Spielberg dumps the shock and fear of death in your lap. The movie's furious "war is hell" action lets up for occasional character development and ambiguous incidents, which only make the returns to mayhem that much rougher. Saving Private Ryan's primary fault is that it's so much more jarring than it is moving; the film comes considerably closer to experience than to dramatic art. For some, this imbalance will probably be too much. If you have no desire to understand how it might actually feel to be in combat, you're advised to skip it. --Woodruff

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. The brothers Farrelly, known for their gross but weirdly compelling comedies (Dumb and Dumber; Kingpin) have tried to show a little taste in their latest romantic comedy. The result is cute and evokes the occasional giggle, but this movie just isn't as funny as their previous ventures. Cameron Diaz plays Mary, an all-around nice girl who somehow attracts more than her fair share of psychos. Ben Stiller plays Ted, the modest nice guy who's been in love with her since high school, when he once walked her home. Matt Dillon, Lee Evans, and Chris Elliott are among her numerous lovers/tormentors. Adorable musical interludes from Jonathan Richman help give this movie pep, but how funny is it really to watch a woman being stalked? --Richter

SNAKE EYES. How is it that a director so masterful at the techniques of manipulation can be so obtuse about connecting to his audience? At the start, Brian DePalma's use of moving camera is brilliant--he sets up an elaborate assassination plot in what seems like only one or two rapidly tracking shots through a boxing arena. Then, as protagonist Nicolas Cage (in a wild but well-focused performance) unravels the case, DePalma shifts into Rashomon mode, depicting the same scenes repeatedly from a variety of perspectives--including those of several video surveillance cameras. It's wonderful, but DePalma and screenwriter David Koepp reveal the mystery midway through, giving way to a poorly established character study; a limp series of cat-and-mouse scenes involving a beautiful and hopelessly nearsighted witness; and a brutal, stupid finale. What were they thinking? The whole movie could have been just mystery-thickening tracking shots and it would have been great. Snake Eyes is still a visual feast, but you might want to throw it up afterwards. --Woodruff

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