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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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LEFT BEHIND (PG-13) If I go to hell for this lukewarm review, the road will be paved with the fundamentalist filmmakers' good intentions. Based on a novel that projects the prophecies of Revelation onto modern times on the assumption they've begun to come true, it wastes too much time making a mystery of what every viewer knows: the millions who suddenly disappeared went to Heaven in the Rapture. In a less predictable plot line, two men try to take over the world by ending war and hunger. With the prophecies carved in stone and the wheels set in motion, resistance should be futile. -- SW

MALENA (R) Cinema Paradiso's Giuseppe Tornatore offers another nostalgic glimpse of an Italian childhood, focusing here on adolescent Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) and his obsession with a shapely war widow (Monica Belucci) during World War II. The film treats Belucci as a sex object, but that's part of the point, as the rest of Renato's village judges her character based on her appearance. The moments of broad comedy and gorgeous photography make up for its uncharitable view toward the Italian people. -- CH

MISS CONGENIALITY (PG-13) 1/2 Despite plot holes you could sail the Titanic through, so-so comedy and borderline-pathetic action scenes, this is a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock and she carries it off triumphantly as an FBI agent whose feminine side emerges when she goes undercover as a contestant to save a beauty pageant from a mad bomber. Benjamin Bratt makes a good foil as the fellow agent she'll wind up with once they resolve their character flaws. While the script could have used a lot more polishing, director Donald Petrie salvages it by focusing on the characters and letting his actors save the day. -- SW

O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (PG-13) 1/2 George Clooney plays an escaped convict dragging his buddies across the Depression-era Deep South in search of hidden treasure and also trying to stop his wife's remarriage in this uneven but brilliantly bizarre screwball send-up of '30s folk history and Homer's ancient epic, The Odyssey. The film features a number of Coen Brothers alums, including John Goodman (standing in for the Cyclops) and John Turturro (who almost gets turned into a frog). The title comes from Sullivan's Travels, which you should also see, dammit. -- EM

102 DALMATIANS (G) 1/2 Second verse, same as the first -- with a little less energy. Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close, more subdued this time) steals another hundred or so puppies and is the catalyst for another couple of dog-lovers (Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans) to fall in love with each other. Gerard Depardieu does the heavy camping as Le Pelt, a coat-urier who joins fur-ces with Cruella as history repeats itself. Had I seen 102 Dalmatians before 101 I'd probably like it better, but seeing them in the correct sequence there's too much "Been there, done that" to appreciate the sequel fully. -- SW

THE PLEDGE (R) Less than the sum of its parts, which include odd, beautifully photographed locations and small appearances by big actors, this serious version of Fargo, adapted from a Friedrich Durrenmatt novel, was directed somberly by Sean Penn as an American art film. Jack Nicholson plays Jerry Black, a Reno police detective whose retirement party is interrupted by the rape/murder of an 8-year-old girl. Jerry obsessively structures his life around solving this and related crimes, with ironic results. The Euro-pacing rules out mainstream audiences; others may be mildly disappointed, but Pledge is no lemon. -- SW

PROOF OF LIFE (R) 1/2 Knowing about Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe's off-screen romance adds fuel to the tepid fire onscreen in Taylor Hackford's Casablanca-style action-romance that doesn't have enough of either. Instead of Bogie's mystique, Crowe might as well wear a neon "hero" sign as the hostage negotiator who falls in love with Ryan while trying to free her husband (David Morse, taking acting honors) from banana-republic rebels. The script is needlessly complex in some areas while totally neglecting others, but the movie looks good and moves fast so you may not notice. -- SW

RUGRATS IN PARIS: THE MOVIE (G) 1/2 A child's first lesson in international awareness (through largely stereotypical French and Japanese characters), the sequel has celebrity voices and references to R-rated movies for baby-sitters. Coco La Bouche (Susan Sarandon), a milder, French-accented Cruella De Vil, brings the gang over so Stu Pickles can do Reptar repair at EuroReptarland. Coco needs to marry for a promotion and widowed Chas Finster wants a new mommy for Chuckie, so Coco goes to work. Adult issues are seen mostly from the children's point of view, and there's still plenty of time for jokes about the Rugrats' real concern: body functions. -- SW

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