AFTER THE SUNSET As a celebration of the beauty of Salma Hayek, After the Sunset ranks as a four-star affair, lovingly photographing this earthbound Aphrodite as she sashays around the film's tropical setting in any number of bikinis and low-cut gowns. Oglers of Pierce Brosnan should also find this a thumbs-up affair: While the retiring James Bond has apparently made the switch from martinis to milkshakes, he's still dashing enough to provide the necessary yang to Hayek's sensual yin. But beyond the eye candy represented by the stars and their sun-soaked surroundings, there's little else that's memorable about this disposable tissue of a movie in which an FBI agent (an overripe Woody Harrelson) tries to trip up a pair of jewel thieves living it up in the Bahamas.
ALEXANDER Suddenly, Caligula is starting to look good. Alexander is unremittingly dull, visually unappealing, narratively muddled, inadvertently campy, indifferently acted -- and that's just for starters. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of director Oliver Stone's expectations in tackling the role of the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher's age. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition -- lots and lots of exposition -- and, as Alexander's parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she's channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. As for the murky battle sequences, they seem to have been shot by a camera while it was tumbling around inside a dryer.
BEING JULIA It's not entirely true that Annette Bening is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show, but let's just say that without her presence, the curtain would fall a lot faster on this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's book Theatre. She's awfully fun to watch as she whirlwinds her way through this backstage yarn (set in 1938 London) about an aging actress whose young lover (Shaun Evans) might be using her. The film's greatest strength rests in its intricate character dynamics (aided by such luminaries as Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon); its biggest flaw comes from the miscasting of the bland Evans, whose flat performance makes it impossible to believe the dynamic Julia would fall so strongly for such a drip.
BLADE: TRINITY Blade II was that rare sequel that managed to trump the original, but the franchise ascension ends there. Blade: Trinity is easily the least of three, an overlong action yarn that has nothing fresh to say on the subject of vampires nor on the curious holding pattern of Wesley Snipes' career. Snipes again plays the taciturn Blade, the half-man, half-vampire whose mission to wipe out all bloodsuckers leads him to Dracula (dull Dominic Purcell), recently resurrected to help his demonic descendants take over the world. Or something like that. Except for the amusing inclusion of a vampire Pomeranian, writer-director David S. Goyer's thudding screenplay lacks a sense of the fantastic -- who wants to see endless car crashes in this context, or a foot chase between Dracula and Blade? 1/2
BUGS! / ROAR: LIONS OF THE KALAHARI The renovations that recently took place at Discovery Place's IMAX Dome Theatre (formerly the OMNIMAX Theatre) are nice enough, but the big news is that, following these upgrades, the venue has elected to premiere two of its best offerings in ages. Both Bugs! and Roar weave Hollywood-style narratives through their nonfiction settings -- the former focuses on the intertwined fates of a praying mantis and a caterpillar, while the latter centers on a real-life lion king and the events that transpire when a younger male threatens his supremacy. Boosted by stupendous cinematography as well as fascinating peeks at the structures of the insect and animal kingdoms, Bugs! and Roar allow the IMAX Dome Theatre to trumpet its return in grand fashion. Both movies: 1/2
CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS Not since Jingle All the Way has there been a Yuletide film as fascistic -- or as odious -- as this dreck about a couple (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) whose decision to skip Christmas draws revulsion from those around them. Simply on a comedic level, this is wretched, but dig deeper and you'll find a repugnant yarn whose idea of morality wouldn't be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies. The Kranks aren't allowed to think or act for themselves lest they upset the suburban status quo, and the intrusive, overbearing, conformist neighbors are depicted as heroes for converting the pair to their narrow-minded way of thinking. This is sure to become a holiday staple around the Bush-Cheney White House for the next four years, but thoughtful citizens who believe in freedom of choice without persecution will see right through this turkey and reject its unsettling -- and decidedly un-American -- overtures.