BAD COMPANY Taking an explosive comic actor like Chris Rock and corralling his talents by sticking him in a dull action film is like buying an expensive sports car and solely using it to drive to the grocery store down the block. Yet that's the story that unfolds with this blob of studio-generated claptrap that's so generic, nobody could even bother to come up with a more original title (there have been approximately a dozen movies over the years with the same moniker). Anthony Hopkins, whose appearances in subpar films are so frequent that one suspects he's planning to purchase a small nation with his blood money, plays veteran CIA agent Gaylord Oakes, whose partner (Chris Rock) gets killed while they're both on a mission involving the appropriation of (what else?) a nuclear weapon. Needing a stand-in or the whole caper goes bust, Oakes recruits his late partner's twin brother, a street-smart small-timer (also Rock), to pose as his slain sibling. What could have been a savvy mix of laughs and thrills (think Beverly Hills Cop) is instead transformed by director Joel Schumacher and a quartet of writers into a strained comedy that quickly jettisons all opportunities for Rock to make his mark by serving up the usual chaotic nonsense. Needlessly overlong at 112 minutes (there are at least two points where you think the movie's wrapping up, but nooo), this is also the sort of sloppy cinema in which a character gets shot point-blank in the back yet reappears a few scenes later with only his arm in a sling. 1/2
THE BOURNE IDENTITY With real-life best buddy Ben Affleck off trying to save the world in the current The Sum of All Fears, it's only fitting that Matt Damon would be involved in his own spy game in The Bourne Identity. In an attempt to make the dog-eared espionage genre more palatable to younger audiences, Universal Pictures elected to go with a young director (Doug Liman of Swingers fame) and a youthful star (Damon's Jason Bourne is at least a decade younger than the book's Bourne, who was previously played at a more appropriate age by Richard Chamberlain in a 1988 TV-movie adaptation). Damon's a better actor than Affleck, yet it was easier to accept Affleck as a greenhorn CIA analyst learning the ropes than it is to believe Damon as a seasoned CIA assassin. Nevertheless, Damon brings the proper conviction to his role as an amnesiac who slowly uncovers clues to his identity even as he's being pursued across Europe by various killers working for a slippery government suit (Chris Cooper). With so-so action sequences that often elicit as many giggles as gasps and an impressive supporting cast that largely goes to waste (Clive Owen, the exciting new talent from Croupier and Gosford Park, is criminally underused as one of Bourne's pursuers), The Bourne Identity stands no chance of ranking with the classic espionage epics of yesteryear. At the same time, Damon enjoys a strong rapport with co-star Franka Potente (the Run Lola Run actress plays an innocent passerby who ends up aiding Bourne in his quest), and the constant locale switches (a prerequisite in all thrillers of this nature) help ensure that the movie's breathless pace never flags. 1/2
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD Because it largely takes place in Louisiana (though filming was done in Wilmington), it's appropriate to tag this adaptation of two novels by Rebecca Wells as a big pot of gumbo, with varied ingredients all swimming together in a sea of saucy girl power. Yet while many of these ingredients may stick to the heart, they don't necessarily stick to the head: Divine Secrets is sloppy in a number of fundamental ways, with the chronology making little sense (the story whiplashes between at least three different time periods), entire themes getting discarded within a matter of seconds, and important characters given too little screen time. And yet, for all its random chaos, this works because of the power of its convictions -- and its cast. Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan and Shirley Knight play the title lifelong friends in their advanced years, with three of them coming to the rescue to prevent the fourth (Burstyn) from severing all ties with her angry young daughter (Sandra Bullock), who doesn't know the dark secrets that have haunted her mother over the years (Ashley Judd plays the young Burstyn in the flashback sequences). The tough-love approach taken by writer-director Callie Khouri (still best known for her Oscar-winning script for Thelma & Louise) makes this a curious yet ultimately satisfying melodrama.
ENOUGH A sleazy exploitation flick disguised as a serious message movie about a nutcase who beats his wife, this ultimately has as much to do with spousal abuse as The Wizard of Oz does with agriculture in Kansas. Jennifer Lopez plays a savvy waitress who ends up meeting and marrying the "perfect man" (Billy Campbell). But in about the time it takes to clip one half of one fingernail, Hubby turns into a complete monster, an ogre who has affairs with seemingly every woman on the continent, beats his wife to a bloody pulp and even gets rough with their helpless daughter (Tessa Allen, cast not so much for her acting ability as for the fact that she draws a collective "aww" from the audience every time the camera zooms in on her tear-streaked little face). The fact that he excuses his beastly behavior by declaring that he's simply doing what a man's gotta do is offensive enough, but don't think this wanna-be feminist empowerment fantasy goes easy on the women, either: Thousands of wives in this country feel trapped in abusive marriages because they don't have the funds to escape or fight back, but hey, that's no problem in this movie, not when Lopez manages to track down her estranged father (Fred Ward), a boisterous lout who's so rich he can personally bankroll his long-lost daughter's entire revenge plot. It would take too much space and effort to list the countless plot holes littering the movie, but rest assured there are enough of them to draw comparisons to the Grand Canyon.
INSOMNIA With its bleak atmosphere, internally driven performances and unsettling ending, the 1997 Norwegian character study Insomnia seemed like just the type of movie whose pedigree would be tainted by a needless American remake. Instead, the new Insomnia is a surprisingly faithful remake of its chilly predecessor, and when it does elect to head off in its own direction, it employs changes that fit it well -- that still work within the context of the storyline -- rather than ones that were imposed for the sake of commercial sensibilities. While nothing in this production quite matches the ferocious intensity provided by Stellen Skarsgard's excellent performance in the first picture, it compensates by featuring two often ill-used Hollywood stars -- Al Pacino and Robin Williams -- doing some of their best work in years. Pacino drops the ham to play Will Dormer, an exhausted LA detective who journeys to Alaska to help investigate the murder of a high school student. Plagued by bad luck that doggedly clings to him like clothes static in a dryer and wracked by guilt over an unfortunate turn of events, Dormer begins to allow his fatigue to dictate his actions, even to the point where he enters into an unorthodox partnership of sorts with the case's primary suspect (Williams). Insomnia is directed by Christopher Nolan (the man responsible for last year's best picture, Memento), and he and scripter Hillary Seitz manage to turn it into a slow yet satisfying morality play.
KILIMANJARO: TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA It's hard to say who will reap the most benefits from the latest IMAX feature to be presented in Discovery Place's Omnimax Theater: the patrons who elect to check this out on the big(gest) screen or the travel agencies that might potentially find themselves swamped by tourists hoping to see the majestic mountain for themselves. David Breashears, whose 1998 smash Everest still ranks as the ne plus ultra of IMAX efforts, has produced what basically amounts to Everest Lite: another film about an imposing mountain structure, yet one which lacks the dramatic tension and narrative smoothness of its predecessor. Kilimanjaro instead centers on the journey taken by a handful of trekkers as they venture to the top of the mountain that's located in Tanzania next to the Kenyan border. The breakdown of the group members seems so calculated that the movie could easily pass itself off as Jurassic Park IV -- there's the middle-aged British scientist, the vivacious 12-year-old American girl, the thoughtful 13-year-old African boy, the gorgeous Danish model, etc. -- yet the focus of the picture thankfully isn't its players as much as its setting. Dropping bread crumbs of scientific info to add subtext to its absolutely stunning imagery, Kilimanjaro offers education that's easy on the eyes and ears.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING A repertory theater would have an ideal marquee match-up pairing this with the recent arthouse hit Monsoon Wedding. Yet while Greek isn't nearly as accomplished as Monsoon, it's still a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, this centers on the plight of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos), a 30-year-old single woman who's constantly being pressured by her family, most notably the Greek-and-proud-of-it patriarch (Michael Constantine), to get married to a nice Greek boy and start producing plenty of babies. Toula finally meets the man of her dreams, but much to the dismay of everyone around her, he most decidedly isn't Greek -- not with the name Ian Miller (smoothly played by John Corbett). The usual culture clashes come to the forefront in this disarming tale that occasionally overplays the eccentricities (Dad goes around spraying Windex on everything, believing there's nothing it can't cure) but on balance remains lovably recognizable in its presentation of the strengths required -- and struggles revealed -- in the battle for family unity and cultural preservation. As Toula, the frump who blossoms into a flower, Vardalos delivers a lovely performance.
SCOOBY-DOO To simply blast the film version of Scooby-Doo because it's cheesy and redundant would be like criticizing a red pepper because it's hot and spicy. For better or worse, a movie that purports to recapture the spirit of the original cartoon would by necessity have to include all manner of elements sure to draw groans and cringes, and on that count, Scooby-Doo works. Yet while that may hardly sound like a ringing endorsement, it's the film's very awareness of its own kitsch quotient that allows it to qualify as a likable lark. Indeed, there's a certain intelligence at work in the way the movie subtly connects to the cartoon show in which four meddling kids -- Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy -- and their dog spend each episode solving a spooky mystery. Director Raja Gosnell (Big Momma's House) possesses the right sensibility to bring to life the slapdash drive of the cartoon, while the script includes funny toss-offs regarding everything from Velma's sweater to Shaggy's rumored pothead status to that infernal pup Scrappy-Doo. Three spectacularly bad actors -- Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar and Matthew Lillard -- are respectively cast as Fred, Daphne and Shaggy (Velma, long presented as one of the homeliest characters in comicdom, is played by the cute-as-a-button Linda Cardellini), yet while Prinze and Gellar never come to life, Lillard steals the show with his dead-on Shaggy impersonation. Still, a tone that was tolerable in 30-minute chunks on TV grows oppressive within the framework of an 80-minute movie, and the filmmakers' efforts to update the action for modern sensibilities (for starters, there's an interminable sequence in which Shaggy and Scooby engage in a flatulence face-off) will invariably make the movie seem even more dated than the animated series. 1/2
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS It's been eight years since Clear and Present Danger, the last film to feature Tom Clancy's character of CIA hotshot Jack Ryan, but this late-blooming entry shows that none of the luster has worn off the series; in fact, as far as spy games go, the Jack Ryan line has largely proven to be immensely more enjoyable than the recent 007 adventures with Pierce Brosnan. In the role previously essayed by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck takes over as a younger, more naive Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who's ordered by the company director (Morgan Freeman) to lend his expertise to a matter in which American-Russian tensions could possibly lead to World War III. Ryan figures out that the real villains in the matter at hand belong to a third party (neo-Nazis, to be exact), yet he has his hands full trying to convince his superiors of this fact before events turn explosive. Working from a script by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne, director Phil Alden Robinson has crafted an intelligent thriller that patiently lays out the necessary expository groundwork in the first half so that matters can come to an exciting head in the second part. The film could have used a little more grit and a little less slick, but overall, it's a welcome throwback to 60s era Cold War dramas that invariably starred the likes of Michael Caine or Richard Burton.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER Can you dig it? In the words of Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid does in this highly amusing dum-dum comedy that not only takes a swipe at that Tom Hanks blockbuster but also manages to include jabs at everything from "Ebony and Ivory" to Dennis Rodman to the continual Oscar shafting of Spike Lee (director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike's cousin, so the dig is expected -- and earned). Beating the Austin Powers films at their own game, this blaxploitation spoof downplays the raunch in favor of gags that rely on the strength of their own cleverness as opposed to the extent of their outrageousness. Granted, this hit-and-miss mode results in a lot of groaners, but when you have something as doltish as Bad Company in theaters pretending to be a comedy, this film's cheeky attitude is even more appreciated. Eddie Griffin plays the title character, described as "a Soul Train reject with a Robin Hood complex." He joins up with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to take on The Man, the secretive white male who's always conspiring to keep African-Americans down. At first, UB is successful in his efforts to thwart the villains, but eventually he finds himself succumbing to "the black man's Kryptonite": a Caucasian beauty known as White She Devil (Denise Richards). Even at a mere 88 minutes, this slight film tempts fate, but the big laughs are tumultuous enough to barrel right over the slow patches (usually, the scenes involving Chris Kattan as a Man servant).
WINDTALKERS On the heels of the art-house effort Enigma comes another movie about the wartime practice of speaking in codes. Yet whereas that previous picture smoothly integrated its World War II history into an absorbing "cloak and dagger" yarn, this latest endeavor brings up a fascinating footnote in US history then largely ignores it in favor of spinning an overly familiar action pic that won't impress anyone who's caught, say, The Sands of Iwo Jima or The Naked and the Dead on late-night Turner. Nicolas Cage, who hasn't delivered a particularly memorable performance since his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas seven years ago, is all brooding boredom as Joe Enders, a psychologically tortured Marine (all the men under his command were killed during a recent Pacific battle) whose latest mission pairs him with Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a Navajo whose language has been adopted by the US military as the foundation for a code that the Japanese have proven unable to crack. Enders' mission is to protect the code, not the man, meaning that Yahzee's life is expendable should it appear that he's about to fall into enemy hands. There's a terrific movie buried somewhere in Windtalkers, but director John Woo (Mission: Impossible 2) and his scripters downplay it in favor of spitting out yet another stale "war is hell" bombardment of the senses, with redundant action sequences and character types that have largely worn out their welcome (most notably the "woman left behind," played by Frances O'Connor in an embarrassingly unwieldy role).