Film Openings

Week of April 7, 2004

Apr 7, 2004 at 4:00 am
The Alamo John Lee Hancock. (PG-13) Opens Friday, April 9, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

Ella Enchanted Tommy O'Haver. (PG) Fairy tales have become fodder for "re-envisioning," which increasingly means "mucking up with excessive cheekiness." Ella Enchanted falls into this category, but it also offers considerable charm and an obvious desire to please. Our princess here is Ella of Frell (hyper-earnest Anne Hathaway, The Princess Diaries), a Cinderella type caught under a spell of complete obedience, who escapes her bitchy stepmother (Joanna Lumley, chewing up the scenery, bless her) to quest for autonomy. Along the way, she befriends a nebbishy elf (Aidan McArdle) and falls for the socially conscious pin-up prince (Hugh Dancy) as they struggle against the abusive "acting king" (Cary Elwes, still pretty despite hideous beard) and a CG snake (voiced by the wonderful Steve Coogan). Unfortunately, Vivica Fox, Parminder K. Nagra and Eric Idle are all marginalized, but director Tommy O'Haver (Get Over It) has a ball dancing his characters through the fantastic designs of Norman Garwood (Time Bandits, Brazil). Indeed, O'Haver's earnest delivery of Gail Carson Levine's revisionist fairy tale actually ends up telling us about ourselves. Opens Friday, April 9, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

The Girl Next Door Luke Greenfield. (R) Opens Friday, April 9, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

Intermission John Crowley. (R) Opens Friday, April 9, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.

Johnson Family Vacation Christopher Erskin. (PG-13) Here's where film criticism starts to feel like work, because the only way you'd get me to see this inept rip-off of National Lampoon's Vacation and its subsequent sequels is to pay me; unfortunately, this paper doesn't pay me enough to think about it for more than fifteen seconds, or the time it took to knock out this paragraph about how, among other things, Cedric the Entertainer's name is clearly intended as an exercise in irony. Cedric plays a pops leading his family, including wife Vanessa Williams and son Bow Wow, cross-country to a family reunion; wacky hijinks ensue, including the tossing of a cup of urine in the face of a highway patrolman and a few scenes Native Americans might think a bit, oh, wrong. The entire enterprise was directed by first-timer Christopher Erskin like a would-be Max Bialystock; one can only assume it's supposed to be this bad, because nobody sucks this hard on accident. Opens today at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

The Return Andrei Zvyagintsev. (unrated) When the father whom two young boys have never known suddenly shows up and takes them away on a fishing trip, many questions arise. Where has he been all these years? What right does he have to demand their respect, when he's a virtual stranger? And, most important, does he have an ulterior motive for the alleged holiday they're taking? Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev makes an accomplished feature debut here, answering the viewer's questions either slowly or not at all, dispassionately observing the deterioration of a father-sons bond that wasn't that strong to begin with. The notion that much about the father remains a mystery can be frustrating, but by giving us no more information than the boys have, Zvyagintsev neatly places us in their shoes. The film's only major false note is that it ends with a montage of what are supposed to be amateur snapshots but are way too artfully composed to have been taken by anyone less than a skilled photographer. Opens Friday, April 9, at the Tivoli. (Luke Y. Thompson)

The United States of Leland Matthew Ryan Hoge. (R) Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle) is a juvenile-hall teacher who's not at all inspired until Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling) appears in his classroom. Leland is a white, apparently mild-mannered kid who hails from middle-class suburbia, yet somehow, for some reason, he knifed a retarded boy to death. Nobody can figure it out, least of all the shattered families of both the victim and the perpetrator, and Pearl (who is an aspiring novelist and wants to co-opt the story for a book) is determined to play sleuth. The most notable thing about The United States of Leland, from first-time writer-director Matthew Ryan Hoge, is its earnestness. This film wants desperately to be good. It wants to mean something, it wants to move you, and it wants to ask (if not answer) some pressing moral questions. And that's the big, nagging problem with this pedantic movie: It's flapping its wings so desperately in pursuit of artistic heights that it nosedives directly into the ground. The relentless exertion makes the film a chore to watch. Opens Friday, April 9, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Melissa Levine)

The Whole Ten Yards Howard Deutch. (PG-13) Picking up where the first film -- the surprisingly enjoyable The Whole Nine Yards -- left off, this sequel boasts the same characters, same actors and same general setup, but no laughs. Professional hit man Jimmy (Bruce Willis) has retired and moved to Mexico, where his new interest in baking and housecleaning is driving his wife Jill (Amanda Peet) crazy. A would-be assassin herself -- she has yet to complete a successful hit, though not from lack of trying -- she fumes, "I thought I married a contract killer, not Martha Stewart!" Jimmy reluctantly returns to action when Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge), wife of his good friend Oz (Matthew Perry), is kidnapped by mobster Lazlo (Kevin Pollak, as the father of the man he played in the first film). Peet is still adorable, and a couple of twists enliven the plot, but the jokes are lame, the timing is off, the physical pratfalls are too broad, and there's still no chemistry between Perry and Henstridge. Opens Friday, April 9, at multiple locations. (Jean Oppenheimer)