LANTANA In last issue's "Alternate Awards" piece, I wrote that this was the best 2001 release yet to reach Charlotte. The good news: It's finally here. The bad news: Not only did Lions Gate not bother to let the local press know of its arrival (it opened last Friday, meaning it may be winding down its run by the time this review appears), but it relegated it to one theater that isn't even within the city limits -- criminal treatment for a gem that placed on several "10 Best" lists and swept Australia's version of the Oscars. An adult drama that could have been called Husbands and Wives or Scenes from a Marriage had Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman not already co-opted those titles, Lantana only looks like it's a murder-mystery; in truth, it's a galvanizing study of the complexities and crises that threaten to derail any given marriage. Anthony LaPaglia, a reliable character actor who emerges as a full-blown leading man here, is superb as an Aussie detective whose strained relationship with his sexy, sensible wife (Kerry Armstrong) leads him into a reluctant affair with an emotionally unstable woman (Rachael Blake). On top of this, the cop also has to contend with a baffling case that involves yet another troubled couple: a psychiatrist (Barbara Hershey) and academic (Geoffrey Rush) coping with the death of their daughter. The events that bind all these characters might seem like a gimmick in a lesser film, but here they're merely necessary stepping stones in a powerful drama about remorse, reparation and redemption. 1/2
MONSOON WEDDING Seeing the moldy expression "feel-good" in relation to a motion picture generally gives me heartburn, but how else to describe this joyous work from Mira Nair, the director of Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala? A picture as full of emotion as the traditional ceremony it celebrates, Monsoon Wedding uses the title event as the backdrop for a work that, among other things, delineates the struggle between "old" and "new" India, examines the compromises that individuals must perform for the sake of family sanctity, and, in the tradition of Father of the Bride, takes a gently comic look at the headaches brought on by pulling the whole thing together. Naseeruddin Shah is cast in the equivalent of the Spencer Tracy role, as the family patriarch who must contend with all sorts of old-fashioned strife in new-fangled Delhi as he coordinates the union of his thoroughly modern daughter (Vasundhara Das) to a handsome man (Parvin Dabas) flying in from Houston to take part in this arranged marriage. Characters come and go, tense situations alternately explode or dissipate, and secrets are uncovered -- yet through it all, most of these ingratiating folks invariably manage to do what's best for themselves and for the family unit. Vijay Raaz steals the film as a wedding planner whose obnoxiousness gets vaporized by true love, and there's an infectious soundtrack that may warrant an immediate trip to your local music store. 1/2
RESIDENT EVIL Here we go again: yet another screen adaptation of a popular video game, and one that makes last summer's doltish Lara Croft: Tomb Raider seem almost Kubrickian by comparison. Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, doubtless hoping that financiers will confuse him with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (of Boogie Nights fame), has made a career out of helming noisy sci-fi spectacles like Soldier and Mortal Kombat, and here he returns to the same dry well, concocting a shoddy product that tries to beef up its pinball-simple narrative by borrowing liberally from The Andromeda Strain, Aliens and George Romero's Dead trilogy. After an opening half-hour that ranks as the most excruciatingly dull 30 minutes I've sat through in at least two years (basically, expository scenes of a military task force trying to find out what went wrong at an underground genetic research facility), things get moving once our heroes get attacked by hordes of shuffling zombies, a pack of fleshless Dobermans, and a laughable mutant billed as "The Licker" (boy, there's a terrifying moniker). Except for one imaginative (albeit gruesome) sequence involving slice-and-dice laser beams, this isn't even fun on a trash level.
SHOWTIME While the dreadful trailer and the opportunity to catch overexposed Robert De Niro in his 238th film appearance of the new decade combined to make Showtime seem as appealing as a case of the clap, this is actually one entry in Hollywood's ceaseless string of "buddy-cop comedies" that has enough fun with its own premise to make it a passable timekiller. De Niro plays the team's straight man, a humorless detective who's forced to co-star in a reality-TV series with a preening cop (Eddie Murphy) who's always been more interested in pursuing an acting career. Much to the delight of the show's producer (Rene Russo), the friction between the partners helps turn the program into a ratings bonanza, but these mismatched cops eventually find common ground once they both set their sights on bringing down a suave arms dealer (Pedro Damian, doing a poor job of aping Alan Rickman's classic Die Hard villain). Aside from hearing William Shatner (playing himself) refer to De Niro's character as "the worst actor I've ever seen," there's nothing new under the sun in this one, but De Niro's frequent slow burns are consistently amusing, while Murphy's attempt to tackle the sort of role that made him a star in the first place is appreciated. 1/2