Crossroads. Tamra Davis. Britney Spears stars as blues master Robert Johnson, who, at those mythical crossroads, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for mean blues licks. Just kidding. The stakes are high for Britney Spears, who stars in this teen love-fest: If the film is well received and she doesn't totally blow the acting gig, Spears stands a chance of becoming more than simply a teen phenom whose days are numbered -- she could transform herself into a movie star. Doe she have what it takes? Or is she this decade's Debbie Gibson? Opens Feb. 15 at multiple locations. NR
Hart's War. Gregory Hoblit. Set in a POW camp during the final months of World War II, director Hoblit's picture sifts through the ripe remnants of its most obvious predecessors to salvage their meatiest and weightiest elements: the social-class commentary of La Grande Illusion, the POW-camp camaraderie of Stalag 17, the jailbreak thrills of The Great Escape. Everything about it feels borrowed and haggard, and it lurches along like Frankenstein's monster; worse, it's also a courtroom thriller, a John Grisham adaptation set behind enemy lines (the movie's based on John Katzenbach's 2000 novel). Commanding the troops in confinement is Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis), who plays McNamara as he does all his "serious" roles -- with the silent scowl, his face twisted into a knot that suggests only discomfort, not authority. McNamara has no use for Lt. Tom Hart (Colin Farrell), a coddled, Yale-educated senator's son captured while driving an officer to the front. Before long, two soldiers are killed, and McNamara calls for a court-martial. Ultimately, Hart's War can't decide what it is: treatise on racism, escape (and escapist) thriller or murder mystery. So it sits there, waiting for something to happen, a prisoner of its good, if ham-fisted, intentions. Opens Feb. 15 at multiple locations. (RW)
Iris. Richard Eyre. Opens Feb. 15 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.
John Q.. Nick Cassevetes. Opens Feb. 15 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Life and Debt. Stephanie Black. Black's blistering documentary about how global economics rendered Jamaica a destitute island that's paradise only to oblivious tourists, can render guilt-ridden anyone who's never even been to that country. It's dire and downer enough to keep you from ever going there, detailing the plight of farmers and families broken and made broke by the International Monetary Fund and other foreign lending organizations that demand that Jamaicans buy their produce and products from foreign countries in exchange for loans with outrageous interest fees, which further helps devaluate the Jamaican currency. The whole country's a mess, but not to the shiny white faces on their buses from Montego Bay who mistake roadside schools for outhouses and hand over their piles of worthless currency to the already rich handful and not the destitute millions. Jamaica Kincaid provides the narration, based on her 2000 nonfiction book A Small Place, and she and Black act as our anti-tour guides, pointing out all the horrors to which the outsider is blissfully unaware. Problem is, the director makes you feel like hell after a bit -- as though Jamaica's problems are your fault, not the IMF's or the United Nations' or even the U.S. government's, which they are. Hard to watch, harder still to ignore. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 15-17 at Webster University. (RW)
Return to Neverland. Robin Budd and Donovan Cook. A bombed-out London, fathers shipping off to the front, families left behind to tend to the smoldering rubble, children getting sent to the countryside for safekeeping -- sounds like John Boorman's Hope and Glory, the writer/director's bittersweet ode to a youth lost to the wreckage of World War II. No such luck: This Peter Pan sequel is little more than direct-to-vid nonsense offered by Disney at dollars on the penny to parents looking to waste time and money keeping kids occupied away from the TV screen. The story's a stale retread of the '53 original -- this time, Peter and Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys (annoyances all) pair with Wendy's war-weary daughter Jane to stick it to Captain Hook -- with dull, retro (and, on occasion, computer-generated) animation that looks as bland as it does blown up to fill the movie screen, where it doesn't belong. Haven't seen the original in years, but was Peter always such an unlikable twerp? He's as charming as Hook is, well, handy. At least Cinderella 2's going straight to video -- and hell, like this cynical and wholly unnecessary claptrap, penned by the same writer who brought you Little Mermaid II. Come back, Steven Spielberg, all is forgiven. Opens Feb. 15 at multiple locations. (RW)
Super Troopers. Jay Chandrasekhar. This film was written by, and stars, comedy troupe Broken Lizard -- Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. Never heard of them? There's a reason for that: Judging by what is seen here, only one of them (Heffernan) is actually funny. The premise appears to be that the quintet decided it would be simply uproarious to play cop for a while, so we get an entire movie about state troopers along the Vermont-Canada border who spend their time playing pranks on unsuspecting motorists and feuding with the local police over who's better. When the word comes down that budget cuts will force either the locals or the feds out of business, the rival squads must compete to solve a drug bust. Each cop nicely fits a simple stereotype, and there's the aging drunk captain, played by Brian Cox. Throw into the mix a hot young number from the local squad, and you sort of have a movie. From a technical standpoint, the film's proficient enough, and it might have been funny in better hands. But if a comedy can't actually make you laugh, there's no point. Opens Feb. 15 at multiple locations. (LYT)