A Man Apart. F. Gary Gray. Vin Diesel tries to do Dirty Harry this time around and mostly gets it wrong. As a DEA agent busting a vicious kingpin, Sean Vetter (Diesel) wears a piss-poor mask and is easily tracked down by bad guys afterward, who get revenge by killing Vetter's wife -- now it's personal! Sean mourns his wife by smoking and drinking from tiny liquor bottles. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure known only as Diablo (the film's original title, until the makers of the unrelated video game of the same name got wind of it) is going around carving his initials in junkies' backs and starting up a brand-new cocaine cartel. Diablo apparently killed Sean's wife and the family of the kingpin Sean busted, so the cop must go visit the crook for more information, like a big, dumb, bald Clarice Starling. Standard revenge shenanigans ensue, with more boo-hoo numbers from Vin, who ain't up to it -- he hasn't been this lame since, uh, ever. Director Gray (Friday) seems hopelessly lost. Opens Friday, April 4, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Bend It Like Beckham. Gurinder Chadha. Opens Friday, April 4, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Shinichiro Watanabe. Cowboy Bebop takes the opposite tack from the overplotted Escaflowne movie, but it's almost too opposite -- a story that might work well as two 25-minute episodes gets padded out into two hours. Director Shinichiro Watanabe is right to be proud of the film's excellent animation but wrong to linger on it for longer than serves the plot (fans of the faster-paced TV show may want to buy the large Coke). That said, when the action sequences work, they work well; the climax cribs heavily from 1989's Batman but improves on Tim Burton's finale. Set in a future full of space travel and mercenaries, the film focuses on the crew of the starship Bebop: bounty hunters Spike and Fay, cyborg Jet and babbling hacker Ed, all of whom must foil a deadly nanoprobe outbreak and save the world. The film's being released dubbed and subtitled, and many fans love the show's regular dub cast, but a word to the wise: There's a fake Cockney accent in the English version that induces pain. Opens Friday, April 4, at the Tivoli. (Luke Y. Thompson)
DysFunktional Family. George Gallo. What are the sources of an artist's art? How does a performer dare to stand before the prying eye of a camera, an empty canvas or a roomful of strangers who've all paid 30 bucks to get into the joint? We don't get the complete answer from George Gallo's concert film/documentary. But we do glimpse the dynamic interplay between rising comedian Eddie Griffin's hilarious obsessions and the loving, screwed-up people who made him what he is -- his Moms, who once tried to run him down with the car; his heroin-addicted Uncle Bucky; Uncle Curtis, whose hobby is homemade pornography. Cutting between a slick Griffin concert performance in Chicago and a family reunion in Kansas City, Gallo shows us the raw material that's turned into Griffin's act -- and his defense against the old demons. Opens Friday, April 4, at multiple locations.
The Guys. Jim Simpson. A simple movie about an overwhelming thing: grief suffered in the shadow of 9/11. Anthony LaPaglia plays Nick, a fire captain who must speak at eight memorial services for men who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center; Sigourney Weaver, wife of director Jim Simpson, is Joan, a freelance journalist who volunteers to help write his eulogies. The movie, based on a play journalist Anne Nelson wrote hours after the terror attacks, features Nick and Joan sitting around a breakfast table for the better part of 90 minutes -- Nick reminiscing about fallen colleagues, Joan scribbling notes she will type into tributes. If that sounds like a huge downer, it is; still, The Guys mourns the dead and celebrates the living. It's a movie about the crafting and writing of eulogies that functions as one itself, and you almost want to hug The Guys for even existing, for saying something about 9/11 without feeling the need to shout or preach but whisper just loud enough so we can hear. Opens Friday, April 4, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Robert Wilonsky)
Nowhere in Africa. Caroline Link. Although beautifully shot and acted, this Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film is hampered by an unsympathetic lead character whose transformation from pampered, selfish bitch to strong, caring woman does not ring true. Adapted from an autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, the film concerns the true story of a Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany for Kenya. Whereas the book unfolds from the perspective of the author (called Regina in the movie), a child of five when her family left Europe, writer/director Link shifts the film's focus to Jettel, Regina's mother, and to the parents' disintegrating marriage. Link seems to want this to be a movie about the force of love and the mother's own emotional development. Because we don't see what brings about Jettel's change of heart, however, the transformation feels false. The film boasts good acting across the board, with special praise for the two girls who play Regina at different ages, a lovely score and nice camera work, as well as the austere beauty of Kenya. Opens Friday, April 4, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Jean Oppenheimer)
Phone Booth. Joel Schumacher. Kiefer Sutherland's got a sniper rifle, Colin Farrell's trapped in a phone booth for the better part of 80 minutes, Forest Whitaker shows up, people get picked off and, just maybe, our protagonist will learn what it means to be a better person. Think of Phone Booth as a radical remake of Regarding Henry: It takes a bad thing to make a callous man good and whole and pure, which is what passes for therapy in the movies. Phone Booth really plays more like a sick joke, the director's revenge on publicists. PR man Farrell, barely concealing his Irish brogue beneath a New Yawk blurt, walks fast, dresses flash, talks loud and treats underlings like something stuck to his shoe; he's got a wife and a would-be mistress but is really in love with himself, which is why Sutherland wants to off him -- and that's as compelling a premise as dialing the wrong number. A gimmick hung up on itself, in other words, not a movie. Opens Friday, April 4, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)
Spider. David Cronenberg. Opens Friday, April 4, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue. (Bill Gallo)
What a Girl Wants. Dennie Gordon. Dipstick teen Daphne (Amanda Bynes) flees her boho American mother (Kelly Preston) to harass her long-estranged father (Colin Firth), who happens to be an esteemed British lord. With her dad beset by foul political manipulation by his scheming fiancée (Anna Chancellor) and dastardly future father-in-law (Jonathan Pryce), what's a young American chick to do? Why, dance around in trashy clothes to vapid pop music (title song curiously absent) to show those uptight limeys what's what, that's what! Very sketchily based on The Reluctant Debutante (minus the charm, plot and characterization), this stunt could have worked, but alleged screenwriters Jenny Bicks (Dawson's Creek) and Elizabeth Chandler (Someone Like You) and alleged director Gordon (The Adventures of Joe Dirt) seem to think prolonged nonsensical slop is funny. Most offensive are Firth and Pryce as top-honor graduates of the Dan Aykroyd School of Never Saying No. Those Yankee dollars must be pretty damned tempting. God save the queen. No, really. Opens Friday, April 4, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)