Amélie. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The heroine of Jeunet's bold and bracing new comedy is a doe-eyed crusader who secretly resolves to emancipate all of Paris -- or at least every traumatized Parisian who crosses her path. Thanks to a luminous performance by 24-year-old newcomer Audrey Tautou, it's a beguiling quest. Like Jane Austen's greatest creation, Emma, Amélie is a tireless social meddler, but one with the imagination of an artist and the touch of an angel. Not everyone takes to Jeunet's hectic, self-advertising style (his first cult hit was 1991's surreal Delicatessen), but if you're in the mood for a little sensory overload, some spirited intellectual gymnastics and an introduction to the most intriguing new actress Europe has produced in years, get in line with the rest of the thrill-seekers. Opens Nov. 9 at the Plaza Frontenac. (BG)
Heist. David Mamet. With a movie like this, there's no risk of spoiling the ending, because the entire plot is merely a formality trudging toward a foregone conclusion. The viewer's biggest challenge is to survive fits of yawning so violent that they could disrupt ornithic migratory patterns. Gene Hackman plays a sharp-witted thief named Joe Moore who decides to quit the game and sail his handmade boat to paradise with his cunning young wife, Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon). Naturally this upsets Moore's chums in crime, the smooth Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and the rumpled Don "Pinky" Pincus (Ricky Jay). Even more disturbed is Moore's fence, Bergman (Danny DeVito), who refuses to distribute the spoils unless Moore agrees -- oh, God, is it really ... yes, it is -- to do one last job before retiring. Mamet's dialogue is so stilted and inorganic that his characters seem to be wearing earplugs and reading from faded bumper stickers, and his noir direction reveals a numbing lack of intrigue. Sorting out his master plan, Moore explains, "I try to imagine a fella smarter than myself, and then I try to think, 'What would he do?''' Well, for starters, he'd pick a script that didn't suck. Opens Nov. 9 at multiple locations. (GW)
The Man Who Wasn't There. Ethan Cohen. Opens Nov. 9 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.
Shallow Hal. Bobby and Peter Farrelly. As if to repent for their usual routine of mocking anybody different from the norm, Farrelly brothers present an apologia of sorts in this tale of an otherwise saintly gent (Jack Black) who just happens to have ridiculously high standards when it comes to the women he dates. Trapped in an elevator one day with terrifying self-help guru Tony Robbins, he is hypnotized into seeing only a person's inner beauty, a device wherein the fat and ugly appear to him as supermodels. It's a concept that doesn't entirely hold up logically: Though the notion that Hal can't feel the extra poundage on his lady friend is explained away with the line "The brain sees what the heart wants it to feel," the execution of it is flawed. If Hal is, as Robbins says, truly deprogrammed from conventional standards of beauty, how is it that when he looks at "nonbeauties" he sees them as women who look conventionally beautiful? So that Gwyneth Paltrow can be cast as a love interest, of course. Black seems to be improvising most of the movie: It doesn't take a master director to keep the camera on him when he's on fire. Opens Nov. 9 at multiple locations. (LYT)
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