BRIDE & PREJUDICE So that's what the most beautiful woman in the world looks like. Much ink has been spilled over Indian actress Aishwarya Rai, who won the 1994 Miss World title and who's routinely described as not only a woman of staggering loveliness but also a savvy entrepreneur whose business acumen has allowed her to emerge as one of the most popular performers in the world (according to IMDb, there are over 17,000 websites dedicated to her). Described by Roger Ebert as "not only the first but also the second most beautiful woman in the world" (easy, Rog), Rai is indeed lovely, yet what's noticeable about her performance in Bride & Prejudice - her first exposure to American audiences after starring in over two dozen Bollywood features - is her naturalness on screen, her generosity with other actors (she's hardly a camera hog), and her willingness to appear as goofy as the role demands. As she did with Bend It Like Beckham, writer-director Gurinder Chadha has tentatively mixed the worlds of Hollywood and Bollywood, fashioning a global tale out of Jane Austen's Brit-lit staple Pride and Prejudice. Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, one of four sisters whose pushy mom (Nadira Babbar) is perennially trying to find her children suitable Indian husbands. Mrs. Bakshi attempts to hook Lalita up with an Anglicized nerd (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), but the independent-minded woman instead finds herself torn between sly English charmer Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) and American businessman Will Darcy (dull Martin Henderson). Bride is far less polished than Beckham, but Rai makes an appealing heroine, and the movie's musical numbers are a treat to behold.
THE JACKET The psychological thriller The Jacket shouldn't be confused with the Jackie Chan dud The Tuxedo, though when it comes to sartorial splendor, it's hard to imagine moviegoers wanting to get fitted for either film. This new picture is eerily reminiscent of last year's The Butterfly Effect, the clumsy time travel yarn that asked audiences to empathize with a character played by Ashton Kutcher. The Jacket makes the task easier by casting amiable Oscar winner Adrien Brody in the lead role of Jack Starks, an amnesiac Gulf War vet who, after being wrongly convicted for killing a cop, gets shuttled away to an asylum for the criminally insane. There, he becomes experimental fodder for Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), a scientist who pumps Jack full of drugs, has him tightly bound in a straightjacket, and locks him in a morgue drawer with the purpose of curing him by... how exactly? That the movie never attempts to even offer an explanation of its weird science exemplifies the haphazardness that dominates the picture, from its smallest moments to its major set pieces. The film enters the realm of science fiction when it becomes apparent that Jack's drawer retreats enable him to journey 15 years into the future, where he meets up with an acquaintance from his past (Keira Knightley) and learns that he actually died during his stay at the asylum. Jennifer Jason Leigh is on hand as a conscientious doctor, but even she can't save this cinematic dog that narratively ends up chasing its own tail.
THE AVIATOR This sprawling biopic about Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the notorious billionaire-industrialist-producer-flyboy, employs all the cinematic razzle-dazzle we've come to expect from Martin Scorsese, yet there's an added layer of excitement as the eternal cineaste finally gets to step back in time via his meticulous recreations of the sights and sounds of Old Hollywood (look for Cate Blanchett in a show-stealing turn as Katharine Hepburn). Still, the behind-the-scenes movie material takes a back seat to other aspects of Hughes' life - namely, his adventures in the field of aviation and his lifelong battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. At its best, the film is a stirring tale about a man whose inner drive allowed him to climb ever higher and higher, grazing the heavens before his inner demons seized the controls and forced the inevitable, dreary descent. 1/2
BEING JULIA It's not entirely accurate to state 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 that the dynamic Julia would fall so strongly for such a drip.