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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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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

SAVE THE LAST DANCE (PG-13) **1/2 A teen film with a little more on its mind than most, this MTV production manages to address some hot-button topics, like interracial dating, while offering an appealing cast of actors as high school students who get down nightly at an after-hours hip-hop club. Julia Stiles is a tragedy-paralyzed ballerina whose mother's death sends her to live with her slacker dad in inner-city Chicago. The tragedy puts her dreams of Juilliard on hold until she hooks up with Sean Patrick Thomas, a Georgetown-bound boy from the hood who helps her put the bounce back in her step with after school hip-hop lessons in this harmless, at times even thoughtful, teen romance. -- FF

SAVING SILVERMAN (PG-13) ** Steve Zahn and Jack Black, who were on the fast track to success, take a detour in this moronic comedy that may have seemed funny on paper. They try to keep their pal Jason Biggs from marrying controlling bitch Amanda Peet by doing the only logical thing: kidnapping her, faking her death and hooking him up with Amanda Detmer, the girl he loved in high school who is about to take her final vows as a nun. All this and Neil Diamond, too! It would have taken far better direction than Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy) provides to save Saving Silverman. -- SW

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (R) **** A snarling, slavering, demonic Willem Dafoe delivers the ghoulish goods in this slightly stuffed but beautifully mounted historical-horror-comedy-biopic about the making of Nosferatu in 1922. John Malkovich plays a strong second fiddle as F.W. Murnau, a director so dedicated to making the ultimate vampire movie that he hires a real vampire to play the lead. -- EVM

SNATCH (R) *** As in his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie doesn't construct plots so much as geometry exercises, setting groups of heavily-armed cockney hoodlums and hitmen in motion and seeing how often they collide. Nominally concerned with fixed boxing matches and the scramble for a stolen diamond, Snatch offers more of the same, with better jokes, a broader canvas and Brad Pitt stealing the show as a gypsy boxer whose accent is hilariously impenetrable. -- CH

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