It was a given that the long-awaited Spider-Man movie, released in 2002 after a 39-year gestation period on the comic book page, would make millions even if its hero had been played by John Travolta sporting his Battlefield Earth dreadlocks. But director Sam Raimis surefooted adaptation turned out to be a phenomenal success with both audiences and critics, thereby raising the bar for its guaranteed sequel to a stratospheric level. Spider-Man 2 isnt as accomplished or even as enjoyable a movie as its predecessor, but its a more ambitious one, and some ill-advised decisions dont come close to overshadowing the overall sense that were watching a film franchise grow up right before our eyes. 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 (the theater showing her play looks pretty dingy). Peters growing desire to give up the whole web-swinging shtick arrives at an inopportune moment. 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 (as it inevitably must), he transforms into Doctor Octopus, a madman whos controlled by the four imposing metallic arms that are now permanently grafted onto his body. All too often, 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 into the proceedings.
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK **
Foregoing the fast-paced thrills of the 2000 sleeper hit Pitch Black, director David Twohy has elected to spin a fantasy yarn in the dour Dune/Stargate mold, as the marble-mouthed anti-hero (again played by Vin Diesel) finds himself waging a personal war against a race of conquerors known as Necromongers. Deadly dull at the outset, the picture improves as it progresses, though not enough to warrant two hours of invested time. Diesels Riddick is part of the problem: An intriguing character when kept in the shadows for much of Pitch Black, hes become infinitely less interesting as an out-and-out action hero, losing all sense of mystery and reduced to cracking one-liners along with cracking heads. But give Twohy credit for creating a convincing galaxy from scratch: The movies art direction, costume designs and visual effects all earn top marks.
THE STEPFORD WIVES *1/2
The second screen version of Ira Levins popular novel stars Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick as harried big-city dwellers who elect to move to a quiet Connecticut suburb where everyone appears to lead happy, stress-free lives. But while he immediately takes to their new surroundings, she and two other newcomers, a blowsy author (Bette Midler) and a gay pal (Roger Bart), immediately become suspicious of the fact that the town is almost exclusively comprised of nerds married to beautiful women who will do anything they request, from baking trays of cookies to fetching their slippers to having wild, passionate sex in the middle of the afternoon. The Stepford Wives may well end up being the most ill-conceived movie of the summer. Director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick, the pair behind the amiable In & Out, are satisfied to turn this chilling cautionary tale into a swishy camp outing, with more emphasis on snap-finger witticisms and immaculate decor than on anything of substance.
FAHRENHEIT 9/11 ***1/2
Lets be honest here: For better or worse, Fahrenheit 9/11 will be viewed as a propaganda tool first and a motion picture second, and those with strongly held political views wont be swayed one way or the other by Michael Moores filmic diatribe against the Bush family (its the undecideds who see the film who theoretically might end up handing the election to Kerry). The movie has already received an impressive amount of media exposure, but that doesnt answer the central question: Is this worth seeing? Certainly. And not even so much because of its politics, but because of its compassion. As agitprop, this film has few equals, and as a humanist drama, it conveys the convictions of its creator, a man who clearly loves his country and hates to see it so thoroughly destroyed from within. Starting with the 2000 presidential election, Fahrenheit 9/11 then proceeds to document the dismantling of a government. As is often the case with Moore, the movie works best when he removes himself from the equation and lets his subjects hang themselves through existing news footage. Still, for all its political pelting, this is at its most gripping when it simply focuses on the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed either by the heinous terrorists or by the abhorrent policies of this administration. (Editors Note: Fahrenheit 9/11 is not currently showing in Savannah theatres; we feature the review for your own information.)
By trying to be all things to all people, Saved! is doomed to become the sort of movie that ends up not really satisfying anybody. Hard-line Christians will think it goes too far; open-minded Christians will think it doesnt go far enough; and non-Christians will think it doesnt go anywhere at all. The odd thing is that theres probably some measure of truth in all these viewpoints. Set at American Eagle Christian High School, the film casts Donnie Darkos Jena Malone as Mary, a kind-hearted teenager whose act of religious charity ends up leaving her pregnant. Now ostracized by her best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the most popular girl in school as well as the most vocal in her adoration of God, Mary finds herself hanging around with the outcasts, including Hilary Fayes paraplegic brother (Macaulay Culkin) and a rebellious Jewish girl (Eva Amurri). The cast couldnt have been better chosen, and the movie clearly has its heart in the right place with its message that the best Christians indeed, the best people are those who are able to accept the imperfections in their fellow sinners. Yet all too often, writer-director Brian Dannelly and writer Michael Urban dont bother to make it clear for the literal-minded that their rough draft of a script is attacking sanctioned hypocrisy rather than religious devotion. As for the comedy quotient, it runs hot-and-cold: In fact, the funniest thing in the picture isnt a line of dialogue but a bumper sticker that reads, Jesus Loves You; Everyone Else Thinks Youre An Asshole.
THE TERMINAL **1/2
Hard to believe, but its possible to have too much plot and The Terminal proves it. Steven Spielbergs latest picture is loosely based on the true story of a man who, because of twisting ribbons of red tape, had to live for an unimaginable length of time in an airport after being denied access back to his homeland as well as entry into the country he was visiting. Here, Tom Hanks plays the accidental tourist Viktor Navorski, and as we watch him settle into his new home by establishing daily routines around JFK and making friends with airport employees, were delighted by the rich vein of humor and moved by Hanks compassionate performance. But sensing (wrongly, Im sure) that audiences might get bored with this lack of dramatic conflict, Spielberg and his three writers shamelessly gum up the works by adding extraneous characters and schmaltzy situations. Stanley Tucci plays the paper villain of the piece, a rabid airport official who inexplicably tracks and torments Viktor as if he were Inspector Javert on the hunt for Jean Valjean; meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones gets unconvincingly shoehorned into the storyline as Viktors potential love interest, a nitwit flight attendant with man problems. Everything eventually leads to a finale thats curiously stagnant and unmoving.
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW **1/2
Global warming is the culprit here, with mans disregard for his surroundings leading to abrupt climate changes that within a matter of days leads to a new ice age that conveniently only covers half the globe. The films science is, to put it mildly, suspect; still, this sort of goofiness is in line with 70s disaster flicks, as is the high caliber of the special effects. But the dialogue? Granted, its pretty awful in spots (Roland Emmerichs direction is better than his script), but its noticeably lacking in howlers worthy of Hall of Shame inclusion. And the cast (Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm) is too respectable where are the has-been movie stars, the marginal celebrities, the wooden athletes?