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Film Openings

Week of December 19, 2001

Ali. Michael Mann. Ali features Will Smith in the starring role of this biopic about heavyweight boxer and American icon Muhammed Ali. Opens Dec. 25 at multiple locations; reviewed in the Dec. 26 issue. NR

The American Astronaut. Cory McAbee. A thematically inventive but woefully crude science-fiction jaunt that's less engaging entertainment for us than perverse psychotherapy for writer/director/star McAbee, this is basically a degraded Flash Gordon. Rendered in grainy black-and-white and often oppressively creepy, the jumbled story starts off on the asteroid of Ceres, where an interplanetary smuggler named Samuel Curtis (McAbee) accepts a gig to transfer a morale-boosting youngster known as the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast (Greg Russell Cook) from the all-male mining colonies of Jupiter to the all-female planet of Venus, where Southern belles can reproduce without men but require a single stud for new blood, lest they become "high-bred, too snippy even for their own good." Unfortunately, such dry wit is sparse, so McAbee loads on the lo-fi sci-fi as the plot boils down to pining for paternal role models and sturdy male friends out in the vast void. Be warned that this is also something of a musical, featuring things sort of like songs provided by McAbee's alleged band, the Billy Nayer Show, whose discordant slop makes one wish the guitar had never been invented. Plays at 7 p.m. Dec. 19-21 at Webster University. (GW)

A Beautiful Mind. Ron Howard. John Forbes Nash Jr. constructed theories that have influenced global trade negotiations, labor relations and evolutionary biology. As he was making these breakthroughs, however, he was gradually descending into schizophrenia. A Beautiful Mind, based on the acclaimed biography of the same name, tells his story. Opens Dec. 25 at multiple locations; reviewed in the Dec. 26 issue. NR

The Devil's Backbone. Guillermo del Toro. Opens Dec. 21 at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.

Dinner Rush. Bob Giraldi. Giraldi, director of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video and co-director (with Henry Jaglom) of 1981's National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, launches into a promising second phase of his career with this ensemble piece set in a restaurant over the course of one busy night. A restaurateur himself, Giraldi is in his element telling the story of Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello), a bookmaker and former chef trying to go straight while feuding with prima donna son Udo (Edoardo Ballerini) and two thugs named Black (Alex Corrado) and Blue (Mike McGlone) trying to muscle in on the business and rub out the sous-chef (Kirk Acevedo) with a gambling compulsion. Other storylines converge and diverge during the course of the evening, with fine supporting performances from Vivian Wu, Sandra Bernhard, John Corbett, Jamie Harris and Mike Margolis. They're all so natural you'd think the film might have been improvised, but no, it's more coherent than that. Like the best cooks, Giraldi manages to make a film that appears deceptively simple even as it contains many different ingredients to savor. Opens Dec. 19 at the Plaza Frontenac. (LYT)

How High. Jesse Dylan. Apparently not high enough. Just when it looked as if Not Another Teen Movie might claim the crap crown comes this stoner's tale in which Method Man and Redman smoke their way into Harvard and loosen up the uptight whites (Hector Elizondo, who'll do anything) with spliff and splatter (so noted for the rappers' digging up of John Quincy Adams to smoke his bones, literally). The duo insist they were stoned throughout, and no shit; the entirety of this project, directed by Bob Dylan's son Jesse as though he's trying to get written out of the will, comes blanketed in a toked-up haze through which no one seems able to read their cue cards. Most notable for Spalding Gray's whored-out appearance as the guilt-ridden black-history prof ("Lynch me for what I've done to your people," he bellows, and it's not clear whether he's talking to the bruthas or the audience), this Up in Smoke wannabe goes down the shitter faster than Cypress Hill can reduce a blunt to a roach. Written by Dustin Abraham (now there's a hip-hop moniker, eh, Rabbi?) and Brad Kaaya, who penned this year's O, as in, "Oh God, no." Opens Dec. 21 at multiple locations. (RW)

In the Bedroom. Todd Field. Based on the Andre Dubus short story "Killings," In the Bedroom features Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Marisa Tomei. Opens Dec. 25 at the Plaza Frontenac; reviewed in the Dec. 26 issue. NR

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. John A. Davis. If you can get past the fact that the central characters of this Nickelodeon computer-animated feature -- the precocious, Chris Isaak-coiffed hero of the title (voiced by Debi Derryberry), his square suburban parents (Mark DeCarlo and Megan Cavanagh) and token demographic-spanning friends -- look like the kind of generic Mexican-made bootleg action figures you can buy at the 99-cent store and feature the same degree of facial expressiveness and range of movement, there's a lot left to like about the film. Fortunately, most of the set pieces feature substantially better animation; the insides of one carnivorous beast's mouth look almost photo-real. The film's mostly a series of fast-paced rocket chases as Jimmy and friends journey to an alien world on converted amusement-park rides to save their parents from the alien King Goobot (Patrick Stewart, out-Shatnering his Star Trek predecessor) and sidekick Ooblar (Martin Short), who look like bronzed vending-machine plastic eggs filled with slime. Though conceived as part of a cynical merchandising juggernaut, Jimmy Neutron is a zippy, pleasing diversion for kids. Just grip that wallet tightly when all the spin-offs start to hit. Opens Dec. 19 at multiple locations. (LYT)

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