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Film Openings

Week of June 26, 2002

The Believer. Henry Bean. Opens June 28 at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.

Hey Arnold! The Movie. Tuck Tucker. An evil industrialist (voice of Paul Sorvino) intends to knock down the neighborhood in which Arnold (Spencer Klein), the kid with the football-shaped head, and his friends happily reside. Needless to say, Arnold must fight the clock to thwart this catastrophe. In the '80s, animator Craig Bartlett introduced Arnold in some independent Claymation-styled shorts. "Arnold Escapes from Church" was brilliant, "Arnold Rides a Chair" almost as good. Eventually Arnold got picked up as a series on Nickelodeon, and it's still running after six years. The series format mandated a joke pace much less dense than the rapid-fire shorts and the first Arnold feature (from a script by Bartlett and Steve Viksten) dilutes the richness even more. There are mildly amusing parodies of Disney films, Speed and Mission Impossible, and one or two jokes directed toward adults, but for the most part Hey Arnold! The Movie is just barely diverting, even at under 80 minutes -- a TV episode inflated past its natural length. Opens June 28 at multiple locations. (AK)

Late Marriage. Dover Koshashvili. Sold as a romantic comedy about a 31-year-old grad student unable to find (or unwilling to choose) a bride, Koshashvili's second feature is hardly madcap or even touching. Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is no Bachelor being chased down the street by a mob of would-be brides. He's merely torn -- between his parents, who finance his existence and demand he choose a young virgin, and Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a 34-year-old divorcée with a daughter named Madonna. Zaza's deeply in love with Judith, but both know theirs is a relationship doomed by tradition, embodied by parents who will do anything (even threaten death) to keep their son from taking up with damaged goods. Koshashvili clearly abhors the custom of arranged marriage but doesn't render its practitioners villains, merely victims of the old ways. Zaza and Judith suffer in silence, and the actors play them perfectly, always with that contented little smile they know will soon enough disappear once Zaza's parents come knocking. A remarkable movie with an unsatisfying ending, which is just the point. Opens June 28 at the Screening Room at the Ritz-Carlton. (RW)

Mr. Deeds. Steve Brill. Talk about trading down: Adam Sandler now stands in for Gary Cooper, Winona Ryder for Jean Arthur, screenwriter Tim Herlihy (The Waterboy, Billy Madison) for Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night, Meet John Doe) and director Brill (Little Nicky) for the immortal Frank Capra. The mind reels at the possibilities hinted at by Mr. Deeds, a torturous, mawkish, ill-conceived remake of Capra's 1936 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. What's next? David Spade as Citizen Kane? This redo, still about a small-town guy who inherits a fortune he doesn't want to keep, has not even the cheap thrills of watching a prankster desecrate a masterpiece. Herlihy and Brill, in their attempt to update the original and its theme of working-class-versus-ruling-class, have made only a sloppy, dispirited carbon. Its jokes contain no resonance, and its actors display no spark. Ryder is astonishingly awful playing the cynical and manipulative TV reporter who betrays Deeds, only to fall in love with him; she didn't look this ashamed in court. Opens June 28 at multiple locations. (RW)

Mystic Masseur. Ismail Merchant. Merchant-Ivory productions are famous for their almost tactile sense of time and place, and this comedy of manners, set amid Trinidad's large Indian population, is no exception. Directed by the team's customary producer, Merchant, the film concerns an aspiring writer who returns to his family's small village after his father's death. His books don't sell until he starts moonlighting as a faith healer. The film, adapted from a novel by Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, has a gentle, mocking tone that pokes fun at the characters without maligning their dignity or inherent decentness. This is especially true of the protagonist, who, despite endless pompous pronouncements and a woefully inflated self-image, has a winsome naïveté about himself and a contagious exuberance for life. The actors are wonderful, but the film's leisurely pace eventually runs out of steam. Opens June 28 at the Plaza Frontenac. (JO)

Promises. Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolando. It's a hideous cliché to suggest that children hold the wisdom to solve complex crises, but they certainly make good mouthpieces for their elders' conflicting sentiments. This documentary, shot mostly in 1997 and '98 by Shapiro, Goldberg and Bolado, explores the hearts and minds of a few Arabic and Jewish preteens in Israel and the Palestinian territories, sorting out their hopes for peace -- and revenge -- while immersed in arrogance, resentment and rage. Precocious Torah scholars (Shlomo, Moishe) are juxtaposed with passionate Palestinian lads (Faraj, Mahmoud), and we get a strong sense that the constant battle for the Holy Land has had rather unholy consequences for their young spirits. It's the secular Israeli kids (Yarko and Daniel) and especially a graceful young Palestinian refugee (Sanabel) who offer the most hope. The latter shines most brilliantly, a young interpretive dancer whose journalist father has been locked up for two years without trial for being "dangerous." This is particularly ironic given the machine gun we see casually toted to a volleyball game in Jerusalem. Despite its lively tone and brisk editing, the project's sad epilogue -- shot two years later -- suggests that Abraham and Mohammed will be duking it out on the world's dime for some time to come. Plays at 8 p.m. June 28-30 at Webster University. (GW)

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