Clockstoppers. Jonathan Frakes. This film is loosely based, without credit, on H.G. Wells' short story "The New Accelerator," in which a scientist figures out a way to slow time down to such an extent that everything else moves in super slo-mo; in essence, he's moving so fast that to the rest of the world he's invisible. Perhaps you've seen the trailer for Clockstoppers and thought its variation on the now-ubiquitous bullet-time effect seemed neat. But that's all there is of it in the film. To save some cash, certain scenes in the film were done with actors trying to remain perfectly still; they didn't realize their normal-speed respiration was apparent, and the result is laughable. "Teenager" Zak (Jesse Bradford) is the one who discovers a watch with the aforementioned bullet-time properties. Initially using it to impress his new girlfriend (Paula Garcés), he soon finds himself pursued by a mad scientist (French Stewart) and a nefarious government loose cannon (Michael Biehn). Will Zak use the watch to outwit his ostensibly smarter opponents? Sorta. Because the budget isn't that big, the watch breaks after the first major chase scene and doesn't get fixed again until the climax. That leaves us with filler -- banal asides of Zak trying to woo his girl or hanging out with his token black friend. It's all inoffensive enough, just not very interesting. Opens March 29 at multiple locations. (LYT)
Death to Smoochy. Danny DeVito. It's readily apparent that DeVito's latest concerns a thoroughly debauched children's television host (Robin Williams, back in prime form) who plots, amid much dark zaniness, to destroy his squeaky-clean successor (Edward Norton). It's also quite easy to proclaim it the greatest movie ever made ... about a singing vegan in a fuchsia rhino suit. Smoochy trades heavily on the concept that everyone in the entertainment industry is a monster (screenwriter Adam Resnick cut his teeth writing for Late Night With David Letterman), but, fortunately, it doesn't stop at traditional backstabbing and gluttony. It's in the nitty-gritty of the network power struggles that the movie really cooks, and this cast is up to the task. Catherine Keener (as a surly programming exec) and DeVito (as a dubious agent) are both spot-on, and although Norton is a bit pallid at first (he literally looks exhausted), he soon enough earns the rhino's horns and songs. Smoochy engages the kids with a rendition of "My Stepdad's Not Mean (He's Just Adjusting)," which Norton co-wrote with Resnick; Trey Parker had better watch out. Opens March 29 at multiple locations. (GW)
Kissing Jessica Stein. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Now playing at the Tivoli and the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.
Panic Room. David Fincher. Opens March 29 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
The Rookie. John Lee Hancock. Hancock's season-opening baseball movie is a paint-by-numbers job of the worst sort, starring Dennis Quaid as West Texas high-school teacher Jim Morris, who finally gets a shot at pitching in the big leagues in his late 30s. You've got the disapproving father (Brian Cox), the loyal wife (Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths) and the adoring son (Angus T. Jones). Mostly you've got the aging vet with a 98-mph heater and hope, trying to make a comeback. In other words, the eternal beauty and constant surprise of baseball are once more sabotaged by Hollywood's urge to reduce the grand old game to a set of clichés as tedious as spring-training drills. Opens March 29 at multiple locations. (BG)