About the only purpose this DC Comics adaptation serves is to answer that age-old question: What would an Ed Wood movie look like had the hack auteur ever been handed a sizable studio budget? The answer is that he probably would have spent all the money and yet still produced something as cheap-looking -- and as unintentionally funny -- as Catwoman. Only time will tell if this dud will become a camp classic on the order of Myra Breckinridge or Showgirls or Woods own Plan 9 From Outer Space, but for now, it will have to content itself with being the best bad movie of the summer. Halle Berry stars as mousy Patience Phillips, whos murdered after she discovers that a new facial cream about to hit the streets is actually hazardous to ones health. But she soon finds herself resurrected as Catwoman, a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix who looks like the star attraction on an S&M website. Once Berry suits up, the movie enters MST3K territory and never looks back. In any event, cat lovers will be horrified by this film -- does PETA handle defamation suits?
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY **1/2
Even more than 2002s The Bourne Identity, this second installment (based on the Robert Ludlum bestseller) slips into a worn groove as familiar as the repetitive template for, say, the Friday the 13th series (slice, dice, wince, repeat). So by the umpteenth time I watched Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) evade his pursuers by stealing a car or climbing onto a rooftop or rigging some makeshift electronic device, I felt like the needle had gotten permanently stuck in that groove. Thats not to say I didnt enjoy many parts of the film, but it doesnt strike me as being much more than an adequate piece of workmanship; its the same reaction I had to its predecessor, a movie that admittedly everyone else liked more than me. Here, Damons ex-CIA assassin is even more tight-lipped than before; without girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente, former co-star reduced to cameo player) to bounce off, hes a rather one-dimensional figure, going through the motions as he tries to find out whos framing him for murder and theft. The movie culminates with a sloppily edited car chase that goes on for so long that I had to be reminded: Was Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne or Sheriff Buford T. Justice?
LITTLE BLACK BOOK **
Is it possible for an actress to out-twinkle Meg Ryan? In movie after movie, Ryan too often falls back on those mannerisms that once endeared her to Middle America: that lopsided grin, that crinkling of the nose, that squinting of the eyes. Brittany Murphy has apparently not only learned from the champ but has also supplanted her: This rising actress trots out so many adorable tics during the course of this film that she ends up making Ryan in Sleepless In Seattle seem as dour as Anne Ramsey in Throw Momma From the Train. Shes a cutie for sure, but 90 minutes of watching her declare her fabulousness is ultimately as exhausting as jogging to Nashville and back. Its better to focus on the excellent performances by Holly Hunter and Julianne Nicholson, the primary reasons that this mean-spirited comedy can be tolerated at all.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE ***
The sooner some realities regarding this remake are accepted by fans of the 1962 version, the sooner they can settle down and enjoy the film. This isnt a masterpiece like the 62 edition, which still reigns as one of the finest thrillers ever made. Meryl Streep, while quite good, cant touch Angela Lansburys bone-chilling portrayal of evil disguised as matronly concern; likewise, solid Liev Schreiber doesnt quite match Lawrence Harveys multilayered performance as her tortured son. And a newly added plot twist will have audience members choking on their popcorn, but it leads to a disappointing conclusion that doesnt make sense no matter how its dissected. But in most other respects, this new Candidate is that rare remake that paves its own way without exploiting or cheapening its predecessor.
THE VILLAGE **
M. Night Shyamalan, whos absurdly been compared to Alfred Hitchcock more than once, would do well to learn from The Master. As a director, Shyamalan has a distinct visual style, and there are scenes in The Village that shimmer with an eerie beauty. But as a writer, hes becoming a parody of himself: Eager to top the climactic twist of The Sixth Sense, he has masterminded three subsequent movies in which (unlike Sense) the "gotcha!" endings seem to be the only reason for their existence. The Village isnt really much worse than Unbreakable or the silly Signs, but Shyamalans carny act already feels like its decades old -- its a shame, because some good ideas are squandered in a muddled thriller that ends up duping itself. William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and promising newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (Rons daughter) are among those playing the residents of a 19th century burg thats surrounded by woods containing fearsome monsters. As long as the townspeople stay put, theres no danger, but one inquisitive citizen (Joaquin Phoenix) toys with the idea of overstepping the boundaries.
THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR ***
Based on a sizable chunk of John Irvings A Widow for One Year, this outwardly melancholy but inwardly hopeful movie reunites Nadine stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as Ted and Marion Cole, silently suffering parents who, years later, are still unable to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons. Ted, the author of popular but eerie childrens books, suggests a trial separation that involves both parents shuffling back and forth between two properties to each spend time with their young daughter (Elle Fanning); this decision coincides with the arrival of Eddie (Jon Foster), a young man whos been hired for the summer to apprentice under Ted but who ends up spending more time in the sack with Marion. The Door In the Floor is one of those movies that screws up the small details while tapping into the larger issues, yet were affected by the varying measures of cruelty and compassion that Ted and Marion fling at each other in their futile efforts to make their own pain go down a little easier.
HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE **1/2
Harold and Maude Go to White Castle might have been a better bet, but this is nevertheless a gross-out comedy with a difference it tosses some sharp social satire into the usual mix of horny guys, amiable dopeheads, repulsive rednecks and homosexual bit players. And instead of making its lead characters typical morons like Bill and Ted or the Dude, Wheres My Car? pair, this one gives us two smart kids in Korean-American Harold (John Cho), a mild-mannered employee at an investment firm, and Indian-American Kumar (Kal Penn), a more rebellious type who isnt quite ready to become a medical grad student like his dad desires. The plot is lifted from the Cheech and Chong playbook, as Harold and Kumar spend a Friday night getting high and then deciding that their munchies can only be satisfied by the burgers and fries at White Castle. So theyre off on an all-night road trip, one which finds them coming into contact with a Bible-thumping hillbilly named Freakshow and Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug-addled party animal.
I, ROBOT ***
I, Robot finds Will Smith shoehorned into a high-tech yarn inspired by Isaac Asimovs collection of loosely related stories. Faithfulness to the source material isnt a strong point and that makes it different from other Hollywood adaptations exactly how? The important thing is that on its own terms, this delivers the goods as a zippy piece of sci-fi pulp. Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, a detective in 2035 Chicago whos convinced that a scientist has been murdered by one of his own robot creations. Only thing is, robots are programmed not to harm humans ever and Spooners suspicions are dismissed as prejudice and paranoia.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY *1/2
As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Will Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Keaton comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly.
SPIDERMAN 2 ***
Set two years after the first film, we rejoin Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in a particularly difficult time of his life. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the woman he loves, has gone on to become a model of national renown and an actress of, uh, no renown. Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist with a genuine wish to serve mankind, has just made a breakthrough in the area of fusion, yet after his experiment goes awry, he transforms into Doctor Octopus, a madman whos controlled by four metallic arms permanently grafted onto his body. Maguire seems to be playing Superman rather than Spider-Man, and the exaggerated nature of both his swinging abilities (a couple more feet and he could probably touch an orbiting satellite) and his strength (his attempts to stop a runaway train are simply absurd) all too often takes us out of the story and reminds us that, yes, were merely watching a movie. But somehow, the human element always pulls us back in.
As is often the case with historical sagas, the picture relegates lots of fascinating material into a few blocks of text at the end, giving short shrift to the subsequent accomplishments of two people who refused to be defined merely by their physical appearances.
Keanu Reeves is again suitably taciturn as the former assassin who, just when he thought he was out, gets pulled back in, and the criminal world created for the first picture — a landscape in which there exists neutral-zone hotels in which no blood may be spilled – retains its unique appeal.
The major liabilities of the first picture have been neatly carried over into this latest endeavor, beginning with the fact that the general prudishness permeating throughout American society makes it impossible for Hollywood to produce an honest, provocative or explicit film about S-E-X and have it receive an R rating.