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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER (R) Jackie Chan does some of his best fighting, though fewer crazy stunts, in this magnificent mess from 1994 that vaults from broad comedy (Anita Mui doing "I Love Lucy Liu") to intense melodrama, shows off the comic "drunken boxing" style, and bashes the Brits of a century ago for plundering Chinese land and antiquities. It's dubbed in English so you can focus on the action. Sexagenarian director Lau Ka Leung has some fight scenes too, suggesting Chan's career doesn't have to end anytime soon. -- SW

THE LITTLE VAMPIRE (PG) 1/2 In an E.T.-like tale of friendship overcoming fear and prejudice, a lonely, 9-year-old American in Scotland (Jonathan Lipnicki) finds a playmate (Rollo Weeks) from a family of vampires and protects them from a vampire hunter while helping them recover a magic amulet that can restore their mortality. The movie tries to give kids a good scare without it turning into a bad scare, but the chief compromise--the vampires suck cows' blood rather than humans'--won't endear it to vegetarians. -- SW

LOST SOULS (R) It's Win vs. Sin as Winona Ryder takes charge when an exorcist can't stop the devil from possessing the body of Ben Chaplin, a grown-up version of Rosemary's Baby. Played straight, even somberly, without arousing much concern in the viewer, the plot is familiar -- especially when Stigmata, End of Days, Bless the Child and the original Exorcist have opened since its scheduled release date -- but until it turns sillier than necessary near the end it isn't as bad as its year on the shelf would indicate. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski directs with more emphasis on fancy camerawork than special effects. -- SW

LOVING JEZEBEL (R) 1/2 It's hard to tell if Theodorous Melville (Hill Harper, who's like Spike Lee, only boring) is bragging or complaining when he tells us, "I've spent a lifetime loving other men's women." It's harder to care as he reviews his sexual history from his first-grade crush to his current affair with a woman whose husband is trying to kill him. Debuting writer/director Kwyn Bader has turned out a good-looking film on a budget. It's refreshingly color-blind with race a non-issue, but the script is neither as funny nor as moving as it's obviously intended to be. -- SW

LUCKY NUMBERS (R) 1/2 In a bittersweet comedy about undeserving people fighting over a fortune, John Travolta both uses and spoofs his smarmy charm as a Harrisburg celebrity who turns to strip club owner (Tim Roth) for financial counseling when his house and Jaguar are repossessed. He's advised to rig the state lottery for the $6.4-million prize, and does so with the help of "Lottoball Girl" (Lisa Kudrow), a foulmouthed slut. The film ambles instead of galloping, but Adam Resnick's screenplay has an appealing sense of place and low-key, throwaway gags that upset the rhythm but are the best thing about the movie. -- SW

MEET THE PARENTS (PG-13) 1/2 This movie is banal, moronic, plodding and predictable. Starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, the film is intended to appeal to those enamored of director Jay Roach's previous Austin Powers flicks and no doubt it will. For those fortunate enough to have missed the latter, ask yourself whether a family being splashed with the muck from an overflowing septic tank is your kind of humor? -- RJ

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (PG) Even if it failed to ring my Christmas bells or break through to my inner child in 1993, for generations of children, this could be their first cult film while it also rewards adults who approach fantasy films with a childlike sense of wonder. Technically, Tim Burton's film delights with its visual detail (with nods to Addams and Gorey) and the fluidity of its stop-motion animation. The story of Jack Skellington's multicultural experiment, combining the worlds of Christmas and Halloween, is brightened by Danny Elfman's score, but as for his unmelodic and unmemorable songs -- bah, humbug! -- SW

NURSE BETTY (R) 1/2 In the Company of Men's Neil LaBute swaps his trademark nihilism for an improbably sentimental comedy, with mixed results. A trauma convinces a Kansas waitress (Renee Zellweger) that her favorite soap opera is real, leading to amusing misunderstandings worthy of Being There, but also too much of David Lynch's small-town condescension and Tarantino style ironic violence. Morgan Freeman's scary but quixotic hitman stands out among an appealing ensemble. -- CH

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