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NEW RELEASES

BLADE II With arteries being punctured left and right and vampires disintegrating after getting blasted by silver bullets, it's clear that Blade II may be as disreputable a genre film as recent entries Queen of the Damned and Resident Evil -- but it's also a helluva lot more fun. It also manages to top its 1998 predecessor, thanks in no small part to the decision to hire a real director (Guillermo Del Toro of Mimic and The Devil's Backbone) as opposed to the usual MTV-weaned hack. In this outing, the taciturn Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-human, half-vampire renegade who's made it his mission to wipe out all bloodsuckers, finds himself reluctantly teaming up with his sworn enemies in an effort to take down an army of creatures (known as Reapers) who enjoy snacking on both humans and vampires. Snipes' Blade continues to rank as a rather dull superhero -- the character periodically takes serum injections to control his inner vampire, but he needs to consider switching to personality infusions -- but the action sequences have some bite, Kris Kristofferson adds some welcome sass as Blade's cantankerous mentor, and the Reapers (seemingly patterned after Reggie Nalder's grotesque vampire in the Salem's Lot mini-series) make formidable foes. 1/2

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL The 20th Anniversary re-issue of this Steven Spielberg masterpiece features never before seen footage (appreciated) and enhanced visual effects (not so appreciated), but ultimately, these additional bells and whistles neither elevate nor denigrate what was already a near-perfect study of friendship and fantasy as filtered through the eyes of a young boy desperately in need of a companion. Spielberg has made at least three films I would rate higher than E.T., but in terms of emotional investment, this one is peerless in his canon, invoking laughter, tears and everything in between as we follow little E.T.'s odyssey to return home (a popular kid flick motif also found in, among others, The Wizard of Oz and Lassie Come Home). Years later, there's still much to savor: the remarkable performance by Henry Thomas as the alien's human soulmate Elliott (it's no coincidence his name begins and ends with "ET"); the equally impressive turns by Robert McNaughton and 6-year-old Drew Barrymore as Elliott's siblings; the majestic sweeps of one of John Williams' best scores; Dee Wallace's achingly real performance as the kids' vulnerable single mom (why Wallace never became a bigger star remains a mystery); and isolated sequences (the classroom frogs, the flying bikes, etc.) that will continue to delight moviegoers for generations to come.

THE ROOKIE This G-rated Disney film comes with the tagline "Based On A True Story," but I'd much rather start seeing a tagline that reads, "Based On A True Story That Translates Wonderfully To Film." As it stands, the tale at the center of The Rookie was a great one when it first appeared on the pages of the dailies, but as a motion picture, it's an overly familiar formula film that won't move anyone who's already seen their share of motivational, follow-your-dream flicks. What little juice this gets comes courtesy of its actors, particularly Dennis Quaid in the leading role of Jim Morris, a high school chemistry teacher and baseball coach who, a decade after what was ostensibly his prime, takes one last shot at achieving his goal of pitching in the major leagues. With John Lee Hancock providing the sleepy direction and Mike Rich supplying a script that's almost as generic as the one he penned for Finding Forrester, there isn't much sense of joy surrounding The Rookie, as a leisurely running time of 129 minutes and too many golden shots of Texas skies and fields (John Schwartzman's camerawork is pretty but predictable) also result in the movie taking an unusually long time to tell its straightforward story. Indeed, for a motion picture meant to inspire us, the perspiration comes through more often than the inspiration.

CURRENT RELEASES

DRAGONFLY Say you're a studio head, and you have this sensitive, soulful, supernatural love story that, if nurtured properly, could turn out to be a commercial bonanza on the order of Ghost or The Sixth Sense. Would you then turn around and hand the project to the guy responsible for inconsequential, ham-fisted works like Patch Adams and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? That's the kamikaze approach taken here, as a potentially moving tale about a doctor (Kevin Costner) who believes his recently deceased wife may be trying to communicate with him is torpedoed by the oblivious efforts of director Tom Shadyac. That's not to say the script by David Seltzer, Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson is flawless -- for one thing, it's not too difficult to figure out the twist ending that the picture has in store for us. But for a movie that's supposed to be about airy, ethereal elements, Shadyac moves this along at a torpid pace and frequently undermines any notions of everlasting love by tossing in the sort of cheap scares more suitable to a horror yarn.

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