A LOT LIKE LOVE A Lot Like Love is a lot like When Harry Met Sally crossed with Serendipity, as two people wonder whether they're better off remaining friends or whether the stars have something more intimate in mind for them. After spotting each other at the Los Angeles airport and then wordlessly boffing in an airplane lavatory, Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) wants to immediately know all about his new lady friend while Emily (Amanda Peet) becomes distant and aloof (When Hurry Met Dally?). Over the next few years, they keep bumping into each other, sometimes by accident (in New York City and Los Angeles, which, according to this movie, must each have a population that tops out at 250), sometimes by design. But rather than commit to each other and in effect get us out of the theater after a blessedly short half-hour, the pair keep bumping up against labored plot developments that drive them apart and insure at least one more trip to the concession stand. A Lot Like Love is one of those romantic comedies that wants us to believe so bad in its central love story, we'll willingly be led by the nose through all sorts of nonsensical contrivances. But while painless to sit through, the film never convinces us that these two need to be together. Part of the problem is the lack of chemistry between Kutcher and Peet, while the rest of the blame falls on scripter Colin Patrick Lynch, who creates two likable protagonists who could doubtless find happiness in the arms of countless other kids with a shared interest in junk food, Jon Bon Jovi and afternoon quickies.
PAPER CLIPS Whitwell, Tennessee, would be just about the last place one would associate with the Holocaust, but this poignant documentary reveals the connection. In 1998, under the guidance of the principal and two teachers, a group of students at Whitwell Middle School decided to grasp the magnitude of the Holocaust by collecting as many paper clips as there were Jews who perished during World War II. The project began slowly, but through a mix of national exposure, celebrity endorsements and the participation of two German journalists, the activity far exceeded all expectations. Aiming to collect 6 million paper clips, the kids ended up with over 26 million, many of which they decided to house in a permanent, one-of-a-kind memorial: a train car that once transported Holocaust victims to the concentration camps. While this 84-minute movie admittedly might have been even more powerful as a 60-minute segment on PBS, there's no denying the iron grip of the movie's message: If the hick-white town of Whitwell, Tennessee, not far from the sites of the Scopes monkey trial and various Klan activities, can look past its own closed borders and realize there's a living, breathing world out there that can always benefit from basic human compassion and understanding, then there's hope for just about anyone (select Republican administrators excepted).
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR Jay Anson's 1977 novel The Amityville Horror was such a worthless piece of literature that the only way it could have moved any copies was for its author and its limelight-soaking subjects to declare it was all based on a true story. That did the trick: The book, about a couple who insisted their house was haunted, became a best-selling phenomenon, though it was soon discredited as pure hokum. A clunky 1979 movie version followed, and now we get the remake, which manages to be even worse than its screen antecedent. Leads Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George try their best, but as a creep show, this slicked-up version is painfully inadequate, preferring to traffic in quick shots of blood-dripping ghouls than establishing any real sense of dread. I've seen episodes of Sesame Street that were more frightening than this generic junk.
CHRYSTAL If it weren't for Billy Bob Thornton heading the cast and other notable pros on both sides of the camera, Chrystal could easily pass as a prime example of low-budget regional filmmaking; even in its present state, it's not far off the mark. Writer-director-actor Ray McKinnon has made an affecting melodrama that's deep-fried in Southern heritage right down to its ribs - this is the sort of film in which the story often feels incidental to its makers' ability to capture a specific landscape and its people. Thornton, as a tortured soul who returns to his home in the Ozarks after a lengthy prison stint, is effective in his own understated way, even though he's essentially repeating his characterizations from Levity and Monster's Ball; more interesting to watch is Lisa Blount, whose work as his emotionally damaged wife provides the film with a haunting stillness that permeates every scene.