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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13) The final chapter of director Peter Jackson's sprawling adaptation of Tolkein's trilogy feels less like a self-contained film than the crescendo of a single, nine-hour fantasy epic. By alternating between the spectacular battle scenes of a war film and the terrifying suspense of a horror movie, King's intensity builds to a nearly unbearable pitch, while its close attention to character earns its profound feelings of release and closure. Admittedly exhausting, the three films join the company of The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and other classics of imaginative cinema.--CH

MIRACLE (PG) The story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team and their victory over the Soviets will make audiences stand up and cheer -- and will probably be co-opted by a presidential candidate as his "vision for America." With too many subplots and too little time, it's not the Seabiscuit of hockey, but at least it feeds the national pride of its target audience. Kurt Russell has one of his best roles as the late Herb Brooks, the team's driven coach.--SW

MONSTER (R) Like Boys Don't Cry, this biopic of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos will be remembered less for its script that its unforgettable central performance. Charlize Theron not only submerges her considerable beauty beneath sun-ravaged make-up, she gets beneath Wuornos' skin to find the self-loathing that erupts in violence towards men. As former hooker Wuornos murders her johns to support her manipulative girlfriend (Christina Ricci, back in form), she sees herself as akin to the heroine of a exploitation revenge movie. Theron and Ricci's acting keep Monster from sinking to that level.--CH

MYSTIC RIVER (R) A continuation of the fixations with masculine strength, vengeance and the violent extremes that have defined Clint Eastwood's directorial and acting career. Sean Penn, a vast improvement on Eastwood's typically wooden action heroes, is a grieving father determined to punish whoever murdered his 19-year-old daughter. Eastwood's emotionally fraught film is hardly the masterpiece it's been made out to be, often weighed down by a ponderous, conventional police investigation plot and a tendency to spell out his aims in canned dialogue and elementary exposition.--FF

MY BABY'S DADDY (PG-13) If Three Men and a Baby was funny, three men and three babies should be three times as funny, right? Maybe it should be, but it isn't. On one magic night, Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson and Michael Imperioli, friends since infancy, all get women pregnant, which means they'll eventually have to grow up. After The Watermelon Woman director Cheryl Dunye plunges into the mainstream, but shows she's not ready for prime time. The film trivializes serious issues and plays as broadly as a Friday movie but with surprisingly few laughs.--SW

THE PERFECT SCORE (PG-13) MTV takes a break from reality-based idiocy to dive into the fictional world of teensploitation melodrama. When low SAT scores separate six high schoolers from their dreams, they band together to steal the answers to the test. The dumb caper comedy elements don't play nearly as poorly as the script's anti-drug, anti-conformity, anti-lax parenting public service announcements. Sure, it has Scarlett Johansson. But so did Home Alone 3.--Karen Kalb

PETER PAN (PG) The sexiest children's movie ever, P.J. Hogan's take on J.M. Barrie's classic may push young viewers into puberty ahead of schedule. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) uses feminine wiles to manipulate Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) in a scene that sizzles as much as two 12-year-olds can make it. Director Hogan gives the otherwise familiar story a distinctive look -- slightly surreal, wholly artificial yet believable within its fantasy context. The film's eroticism will please some adults, upset others and probably go over children's heads, at least on a conscious level.--SW

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (PG-13) Cast to type, Jack Nicholson plays a celebrity bachelor who only dates women under 30, but falls for the fiftysomething mother (Diane Keaton) of his latest conquest-to-be (Amanda Peet). When Jack and Diane put aside the script's opposites-attract contrivances, they're irresistibly charming. With its appreciation of older women, the film's heart is in the right place, but as the plot meanders for more than two hours, the thing that's gotta give is our patience.--CH

TORQUE (PG-13) This new school action movie zooms past The Fast and the Furious in kinetic visuals but lags behind it in plot and characterization. Ford (Martin Henderson) is a biker with two buddies and a babe (Monet Mazur), who's caught between two drug-dealing biker gangs and the FBI. The actors, the machines, even the scenery strike more poses than Madonna in the process of telling the story, which appears to have been put together by a computer.--SW

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