Film Clips THE BIG HIT. Hong Kong director Che-Kirk Wong directed this slam-bang action/comedy/parody slush, providing yet another reason for ending our love affair with tongue-in-cheek violence. Mark Wahlberg plays that new breed of comic hero, the Funny Hit-Man. Hopelessly insecure and yet super-competent when it comes to killing, Wahlberg's character is about as funny as a whimpering Doberman that occasionally mauls babies. One minute he's cute and soft-spoken, the next minute he's chopping off somebody's leg. Taken as an irreverent joke for the hipster teenage set, The Big Hit does have some amusing ideas (the climax revolves around Wahlberg's efforts to return an overdue video while evading assassins), but the empty-headed screenplay can't keep up with them. This movie's idea of witty dialogue is when somebody says "Do you want the truth?" and somebody else shouts, "You can't handle the truth!" That's not parody; that's parroty.

BULWORTH. In the final scene of Godzilla, after the monster and all his offspring have been killed, the camera zooms into the secret nest where one Godzilla egg remains alive, threatening to hatch into a sequel as the credits start to roll. There, now that I've ruined the ending of that pathetic non-film, you have no excuse for going to see it rather than Bulworth, Warren Beatty's hilarious and intelligent new film that successfully resurrects the political comedy. The fast-moving plot follows Senator Jay Bulworth through the final weekend of his campaign to win the democratic primary for California. Having hired someone to kill him so that his daughter can collect a large life insurance policy, Bulworth is suddenly liberated from his need to win and begins saying what's on his mind. The script is full of extremely funny and politically astute commentary by the increasingly demented Bulworth, and it doesn't lose steam throughout its 107 minutes. Everything about this movie seems to run contrary to the current style of filmmaking: There's a plot which unfolds and deepens throughout; the hip-hop soundtrack is fresh and adds mood, rather than emphasizing what is already obvious; there's a rhythm to the pacing that keeps things moving without pandering to an imaginary attention-deficit disordered audience; the comedy is cerebral and profanity is used only in service of the larger theme. And instead of giant reptiles, the villains are insurance companies. Just like in real life. --DiGiovanna

CITY OF ANGELS. Meg Ryan plays a doctor who operates on human hearts, but is--oh so ironically--unsure of the nature of her own. Nicolas Cage plays Seth, a creepy angel of God who falls in love with her. Though reportedly inspired by Wim Wenders' wonderful Wings of Desire, City of Angels has none of the intelligence or charm of its predecessor. Instead, Cage follows Ryan around Los Angeles in a late-eighties trench coat, striking poses as though in an Aramis commercial. Who wants a guardian angel if all he does is stare at you, and touch you all the time? The rest of the time he hangs out with the other angels, who are as thick as flies at the public library, where they "live." Living, in this case, consists of shuttling from one side of the library to the other with zombie-like detachment. I don't think anyone in the audience would have been surprised if the angels started feasting on human flesh like actual zombies, their salient characteristic being that they are not human (as opposed to, say, spiritual). Seth perks up a little when he becomes Ryan's boyfriend, but overall this movie falls tantalizing close to the so-bad-it's-good-category, without actually making it over the hump. Not surprisingly, annoying drone/chant music is featured throughout. --Richter

DEEP IMPACT. With a massive comet coming to destroy the Earth, everyone tries to mend their childhood traumas by producing the most maudlin speeches ever heard. What happened to the good old days when the end of the world meant marauding gangs of leather-clad bikers and violence in the street? In Deep Impact it seems like everyone is too bored to go out looting and rioting, so they just hang out watching the skies and waiting for the special effects. After 90 minutes of watching these whiny losers you'll be rooting for the comet.

GODZILLA. In the original pictures, Godzilla was like an overgrown child throwing a tantrum, and I don't know about you, but that's why I loved him. In the new Godzilla, he exists on a purely biological level, motivated only to eat and to breed. With neither political themes nor anthropomorphism to sustain him, the sole reason to root for Godzilla is to see him destroy things while protecting his territory. Even then, this over-marketed, under-scripted special-effects vehicle doesn't deliver enough; in fact, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin eliminate the big lizard from the movie's entire second act! Instead, we're introduced to Godzilla's spawn, several dozen man-sized babies who move, cast shadows, and produce visual puns exactly, and I do mean exactly, like Steven Spielberg's velociraptors. Yes, this is the Jurassic Park 3 you didn't know was coming. Sure, Godzilla turns up again, but his revival can't save the movie any more than that last-minute blue, singing alien could save The Fifth Element. As for the actors, Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo star in a wimpy love story that has no business being in a Godzilla picture. Fortunately, Jean Reno was thrown in to liven up the mix. He's the movie's one saving grace: a sleepy-eyed action hero who cusses in French. --Woodruff

HE GOT GAME. Spike Lee can't help himself--he's always taking on the grand themes, with varying levels of success. Here, he takes on The Game, i.e. Life, i.e. Basketball--and he scores! We Got Game is a long, ambitious movie about the country's best high-school basketball player negotiating the difficult terrain of success. Everyone wants a piece of Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), a focused, talented, and personable kid--including his father Jake (Denzel Washington), a murderer who's been let out of prison briefly to try to persuade Jesus to sign up with a university referred to only by the Kafkaesque moniker, "Big State." The plot is so contrived that it actually turns a corner and becomes believable again. (Who could make this up?) Somehow Lee pulls it all off with aplomb. His filmmaking style is as fresh and wonderfully visual as ever, and the story has some of the heart-stabbing tension of Hoop Dreams. The score is by Aaron Copeland and Public Enemy--which gives some indication of Lee's territorial range. --Richter

THE HORSE WHISPERER. In spite of the fact that you'd expect us to lambaste this film as Robert Redford's Mirror With Two Faces; and even though anyone vaguely sentient would peg The Horse Whisperer as the quintessential chick flick (the principal characteristics being horses, mother-daughter relationships, and an English Patient-esque love story involving Robert Redford, Kristen Scott Thomas and Sam Neill); and even taking into account the extremely long running time and sentimental cinematography...this is an unabashedly sincere film with some terrific performances, particularly by young Scarlett Johannsen and her equine co-star. The story? After a tragic accident, a troubled upstate New York career mom packs her damaged daughter and her damaged horse into a trailer, leaving behind her faltering marriage to drive the Range Rover to God-forsaken Montana where a mystical cowboy fixes everything with a piece of string and very few lines. Sounds simple, but you'd better bring a box of Kleenex. You'll need it...Unless you have real estate in Montana or quarter horse stock, in which case you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. --Wadsworth

LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. Distinguished British actor John Hurt teams up with not-so-distinguished pretty boy Jason Priestly in this at first quirkily comic, then sublimely haunting film. Hurt plays a reclusive old novelist who accidentally catches a Porky's-like teen movie called Hotpants College II and finds himself obsessed with its star, who, in an amusing case of art imitating life, is a none-too-talented heartthrob played by Priestly. Because Hurt's character is so nervously out of touch, you're never quite sure whether his is an uncovered Lolita complex with a homosexual spin, or simply high culture falling (hard) for pop culture--and that makes the film funny. Cute gives way to disturbing, though, during the second half, when Hurt journeys to Long Island to actually meet Priestley. Fantasy and reality aren't supposed to butt heads, especially for someone as desperate as Hurt's character. But the conclusion, while inevitable, is both surprising and touching. Director Richard Kwietniowski owes most of the film's success to Hurt's richly great acting, but he also uses Priestly very well here, gently mocking his position in the acting world and getting the most out of his looks. The expression on Priestley's face at the end will stay with you long after the dialogue has faded away. --Woodruff

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION. This film has been deceptively marketed and shot as a fuzzy-wuzzy romantic comedy. Actually, it's a difficult and long-winded melodrama. Jennifer Aniston plays a pouty Brooklynite who dumps her boyfriend because she's smitten with her gay male roommate; Paul Rudd is the sweet-faced love object who reluctantly agrees to help the pregnant Aniston raise her child. Their intimate but sexually frustrating relationship would be plenty compelling if the movie could focus on it for more than two seconds. Instead, peripheral characters are repeatedly introduced and developed while the leads become disturbingly remote. The more the plot shifts in emphasis (with Rudd flaking out on the increasingly whiny Aniston to pursue a male lover), the more the two come across as outsiders in their own story. Not much rings true here: For all the script's insights about unrequited love and the meaning of "family," the picture is too leaden to be effective. One plus: Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George) almost saves the show as a gay theatre critic who struggles to maintain dignity in the face of romantic humiliation. --Woodruff

PAULIE. SKG Dreamworks finally got something right--a kids' movie about a parrot. This is easily the finest talking-animal story since Babe, with a tone just as sweet and effects just as seamless. I tried my damnedest to locate the scenes where animatronics or computer-generated effects replaced the real feathered thing, only to fail miserably. The forgivably flimsy story follows "Paulie" on a quest to reunite with a little girl he once helped overcome stuttering. He flies and insults his way from episode to episode, briefly teaming up with such thoroughly watchable character actors as Gena Rowlands, Cheech Marin, Tony Shaloub and Jay Mohr (who also provides the parrot's nasal-but-nice voice). You know somebody's doing something right when even a Buddy Hackett cameo is enjoyable. Okay, I might as well admit it: This is the best parrot movie I have ever seen. --Woodruff

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