BROTHER BEAR Oh, brother, what a bore... Brother Bear has been plugged as the last gasp of the traditional animated film, the movie that may help Disney decide whether to invest anymore in old-fashioned toons or simply concentrate on the computer-generated fare that's been putting the bread on the table these past few years (Finding Nemo, Toy Story, etc.). This marketing strategy seems a tad premature -- at the screening I attended, there was a trailer for another upcoming film drawn "old-school" style, meaning this isn't quite the end of the road -- but more to the point, I'd hate to think the future of anything depended on something as mediocre as Brother Bear. This soggy tale finds the studio raiding its own tombs for material, cobbling together pieces of The Lion King, Pocahontas and other hits to create a yawn-inducing yarn about an Eskimo warrior who's transformed into a bear. The human characters are dull, the bear cub is cloying, the comic relief (doltish moose voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) is annoying, and the songs by Phil Collins -- how do I delicately put this? -- suck. The lovely Pocahontas tune "Colors of the Wind" included the line, "You think the only people who are people / Are the people who look and think like you / But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger / You'll learn things you never knew you never knew." There! It took five seconds of reading to discover the message that this movie spends 80 minutes trying to spit out. 1/2
LEVITY After serving his entire adult life in prison, a repentant killer (Billy Bob Thornton) is given an early release and decides to make amends for his past sins; his journey brings him into contact with a no-nonsense preacher (Morgan Freeman), a spoiled party girl (Kirsten Dunst) and the sister (Holly Hunter) of the boy he killed two decades earlier. This meandering movie rises and falls depending on each individual storyline: Thornton's scenes with Hunter are easily the strongest; his sequences with Dunst are interesting but rarely believable; and his moments with Freeman too often bring the film to a thudding halt. The other titles included in the Charlotte Film Society's Bonus Week are the documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, the Russian wartime saga The Cuckoo and the Thai import The Legend of Suriyothal. For details, call 704-414-2355 or go online to http://charlottefilmsociety.com. 1/2
LOVE ACTUALLY Many of the most enduring movie romances make us willingly suspend our disbelief, but the colossal disappointment Love Actually asks viewers to go to such extremes to disengage from reality that we're actually open to seeing just about anything unimaginable take place in this film, even the sight of a T-rex attacking Gastonia, Darth Vader cutting loose at a disco, or Jennifer Lopez delivering an interesting performance. Writer-director Richard Curtis, the sharp screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, has assembled a great cast for this multi-story piece in which various folks find love in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Unfortunately, there are absolutely no surprises in any of the increasingly choppy vignettes, and one segment (involving a lonely young Brit's belief that he could get laid in a heartbeat if he lived in the US) is so preposterous I was certain it would be revealed as a dream sequence (nope). None of the performances by the name players can be faulted -- Hugh Grant as the British prime minister, Emma Thompson as his sensible sister, Liam Neeson as a sensitive widower, Billy Bob Thornton in a cameo as the randy US president (given Tony Blair's recent role as Bush's lapdog, I expect the scene where Grant tells off Thornton will lead to standing ovations over in UK theaters). But it's little-known Bill Nighy who fares best, portraying a has-been rocker hoping his Christmas ditty will catapult him back to the top of the charts.
BEYOND BORDERS It's been a while since we've had an all-consuming romantic epic set against an international backdrop, and while Beyond Borders doesn't come within even 100 kilometers of attaining the power of, say, Reds, it's a solid, second-tier effort. Angelina Jolie plays a pampered rich girl whose dormant humanitarian spirit gets a rude awakening once a compassionate doctor (magnetic Clive Owen) involved with relief efforts forces her to open her eyes to international atrocities. The story's globe-hopping seems almost too calculated -- our heroes journey from Ethiopia to Cambodia to Chechnya, threatening to turn this into a Berlitz Travel Guide of the World's Hot Spots -- but the movie's refusal to compromise is admirable.
IN THE CUT Meg Ryan delivers an appropriately dour turn in this psychosexual drama about a lonely New Yorker who falls for a roughneck detective (Mark Ruffalo) cryptic enough to make her suspect he might also be the serial killer who's been hacking up women. On the most commercial level of a murder-mystery, this is a complete washout, jammed with gaping plotholes and a laughably obvious culprit. As a stylized study of the uneasy symmetry between the ache of sexual longing and the risk of violent retribution, the film occasionally threatens to spring to life, yet all potential is repeatedly forced to take a backseat not only to those tired thriller elements but also to director Jane Campion's misplaced sense of artful abstraction.