Dude, Where’s My Car – By Sean O’Connell

You can’t fault 20th Century Fox for trying to slip yet another stoner comedy on an unsuspecting public. Ridiculously paced, sloppy comedies with a marijuana kick have performed well with their target teenaged audiences for years, from the recent “”Dazed and Confused”” to the ancient but relevant “”Cheech & Chong”” series.

So where on that perennial pie chart of pot does “”Dude, Where’s My Car?,”” which if you haven’t figured out by the title involves two stoners who embark on a journey to find a missing vehicle, fit in? Somewhere between “”Half Baked”” and “”PCU.””Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann William Scott) can’t remember a thing. They forgot their anniversary with the twins (Jennifer Garner, Marla Sokoloff). They forgot what they did the night before. And, more importantly, they forgot where they parked their car. The two set out to find the lost vehicle, and instead uncover break dancing strippers, a dog that smokes weed, five supermodels from outer space, a family of ostriches and Andy Dick. In lieu of a plot, “”Dude”” features a continuous parade of freaks that Jesse and Chester interact with — though the reasoning behind these encounters (something about a stolen intergalactic gadget) is wafer thin. Predictable jokes can be funny, but “”Dude”” has a bizarre habit of repeating jokes over an over until the humor has been bled dry. And though his intentions are unclear, director Danny Leiner, in reality, has created the most mainstream gay comedy since “”The Birdcage.””Traditionally, these lowbrow comedies perform much better on home video, when frat brothers and skate punks can comb over each flat joke in the comfort of their own basements. And the “”Dude”” disc gives them plenty more to enjoy. Fox has added 7 extended scenes, a short “”Making Of”” featurette, a Grand Theft Auto music video for the song “”Stoopid Ass,”” and a running commentary by Leiner, Kutcher and William Scott. Now if only the studio could legally include some chemical substances to inhale before the show, “”Dude”” might begin to make sense.Final Grade: D

You Can Count On Me – By Sean O’Connell

You know Mark Ruffalo. He’s the guy who works the counter of the local convenience store who recognizes you enough to say, “”Hey”” as you run out the door. He’s that old friend from high school who hung around after class smoking cigarettes with you and cracking adolescent jokes.

He’s also that cousin you have who lives somewhere on the West Coast and pops up at random family functions only to get a disapproving glance from your uptight aunt. And it’s Ruffalo’s ability to wear all of these familiar personalities at any given time that makes “”You Can Count On Me,”” the new film by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, so comfortable, warm, and memorable.The film revolves around Sammy (Laura Linney), a put-upon bank manager in a small New York town who fate has deemed must wear far too many hats. A single mom, Sammy juggles her eight-year-old son who is wise beyond his years (Rory Culkin), a serious boyfriend who’s itching for commitment, and a new boss (Matthew Broderick) with a decent heart that’s filled with clouded intentions. Sammy’s already chaotic world grinds to a halt when her brother Terry (Ruffalo) returns to their hometown for a visit, though his intentions, as well, are unclear. Sammy knows Terry has spent years in and out of trouble, and she instinctively reaches out to her brother. But what he truthfully needs, Sammy might not be able to give him.Lonergan’s script, a gentle probing of atypical family relationships, feels like a patchwork quilt of memories and sentiments conveyed through the actions of Linney and Ruffalo. The accomplished performers develop a bond that’s rarely seen on film but is so essential for a quiet study like this to work. And that’s to say nothing of supporting players Culkin and Broderick, both excellent for the mere reason that they’re able to steal your attention away from Linney and Ruffalo, if only for a minute or two. In true indie film fashion, the pace of “”Count”” creeps along, substituting emotion for action. But you’re immediately swept up because the characters appear so familiar to you. It’s mostly a treat, but it makes watching some of Terry’s misguided decisions play out, especially those made to impress his nephew, that much more painful and heartbreaking. Paramount has released “”Count”” on DVD, and has included the film’s trailer, exclusive interviews with the entire cast and crew, and a touching commentary by Lonergan. Aside from the requisite Kleenex box, I also recommend keeping you phone nearby while watching, as I’m sure the spectacular, gut-wrenching performances by Linney and Ruffalo will inspire you to call that cousin, high school friend or counter person, just to let them know you’re still there. Final Grade: A-

UNBREAKABLE: So Much More Than Meets The Eye, by Sean O’connell

Before he even started shooting it, M. Night Shyamalan’s “”Unbreakable”” was destined to fail. Tagged as the follow-up project to the director’s enormously engrossing, and equally successful, thriller “”The Sixth Sense,”” Shyamalan’s project faced insurmountable expectations and a boatload of hype.

Moviegoers demanded a surprise ending to rival “”Sense”” and the studios wanted an audience-grabber that would fill seats and set box office records. What they got instead was a gorgeous, muted and positively enthralling comic book drama with a tacked on twist that unanimously alienated its audience and never received the credit it deserved. “”Unbreakable”” starts with an irregular birth. Elijah, a baby born with a rare protein deficiency that makes his bones extremely fragile, breaks both arms and both legs in the delivery process. His childhood, we learn, is marked with similar situations, earning him the nickname “”Mr. Glass”” from his harsh peers. As a tool to get him out of the house, Elijah’s mother introduces her child to the world of comic books, a fantasy universe populated with characters that don’t seem so strange to this unique boy.In Elijah’s mind, the world of comic books merely represents an exaggerated form of reality, the way cave drawings in prehistoric times reflected actions of the cavemen. He believes real heroes walk the Earth, and by his logic, if a fragile being like he exists, then there has to be an indestructible being out there as well. His existence would define Elijah’s place in the world, which truly is the delicate man’s dream. Now a grown-up comic art collector, Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) has dedicated his life to finding his soul mate and believes he’s found it in David Dunn (Bruce Willis). Dunn works security at the local college. He’s desperately trying to hold up his end of a failed marriage, and his young son worships him a bit too much. When David becomes the sole survivor of a fatal train wreck, Elijah comes calling, but Dunn can’t seem to answer Elijah’s simple question, “”How many days of your life have you been sick?”” The answer, and the consequences that stem from it, winds up changing both men’s lives in a way we only see in comic books. Ignoring the flashy, wondrous paths taken by superhero movies of the past like Joel Schumacher’s “”Batman”” installments or Richard Donner’s “”Superman,”” “”Unbreakable”” patiently maps out both the birth of a true hero and the villain who creates him. Shyamalan bathes his film in moods and shadows. The majority of the action takes places either at dusk or in the dead of night, or at least it feels like it does. As he did in “”Sixth Sense,”” Willis delivers his lines in a series of hushed tones and barks, but his eyes give way to a man discovering the extent of his power and, in turn, his destiny. Jackson dials down for Elijah, as well, but it takes nothing away from his abilities as a convincing actor. It’s Elijah’s role to convey the comic lore not only to David but to the audience, a pivotal factor in “”Unbreakable’s”” success. Both men, who have worked together before and will hopefully work together again soon, deliver subtly moving work that accentuates the film’s positives. DVD FEATURES Disney is using the “”Unbreakable”” disc to launch their Vista Series, which will enhance titles in the studio’s library that they feel deserve more attention on DVD. Working closely with the director, Disney has released a fantastic 2-disc set, divided thematically, as the film was, into David’s side and Elijah’s side. The first disc presents the movie with enhanced digital imagery and an unmistakably haunting score by James Newton Howard (“”The Fugitive””). Fans of director commentaries will miss one by Shyamalan, however the director does give his opinion through a series of introductions to the deleted scenes over on disc two.Also on the second disc, all awash in purple to signify Elijah, we find a behind the scenes feature, a separate feature about comic book heroes that interviews several artists, a multi-angle look at the train station sequence where Willis’ Dunn chooses his target, some excerpts from Shyamalan’s early films, and a look at the director’s first fight sequence. The DVD package also comes with two pieces of art, specifically commissioned by the studio, from popular Marvel Comics artist Alex Ross. One depicts Elijah in all his purple glory, while the other shows David in his makeshift hero costume, a perfect addition to a fine disc.Final Grade: A-

A.I. – Steven Spielberg’s Wet Dream, Our Nightmare, by Michelle Alexandria

I normally try not to interject myself into my writer’s reviews, but this time I must. Ken is being way too kind with this movie. I won’t say that it sucks, but, no, actually, I will say it sucks. It blows chunks. I know every film critic in the world seems to have a hard on for Steven Spielberg, but really what was the last good movie he did, “”Saving Private Ryan””? The first half hour of that was good but the rest of it sucked. I still can’t sit through that entire movie. Luckily on DVD I can just skip ahead to the body parts exploding scenes.
Much like the director himself, A.I. is a pompous, waste of time. The movie tries so hard to make you care, but it is a empty shell. The visual effects that everyone keeps talking about? Where were they? The first 40 minutes consisted of nothing but a dark, dank apartment. Ooooohh. Ahhhhhh. Wow, I ain’t never seen anything like that before. The sets and lighting looked liked they were lifted straight from Aliens (good plot, horrible effects). And I don’t mean the ship or alien effects, I’m talking about the scene where they were just in their living quarters.

Critics are calling Haley Joel Osment the best young actor ever. Calling him that is a slap in the face to all the previous child stars who had more range than this kid has shown me. Anyone remember Drew Barrymore, Anthony Michael Hall, ok I can’t think of many people. But hell, even Jerry Mathers showed more range than Osment. Will someone please tell me why this kid is so popular? Is it because he’s the perfect little blond, blue eye boy that every white moviegoer can relate to? In the Sixth Sense he barely said anything in that movie, and every time he did speak it was in monosyllables, and again, because what he had to say was sooooo important, he spoke, reeeeeeaaaaaaalllly slow, in a very soft voice, because hey, he was traumatized. In A.I. he rehashes that same bland style and mannerisms, where we are supposed to care and go woo, woo, over him. The movie starts on a bland, boring note, and as far as I was concerned ended on one. Why did I walk out? Didn’t have the patience. I sincerely wanted to like this movie I stuck with it as long as I could. The only other movie I ever walked out on was Magnolia.The red flag started with the opening scene, William Hurt, standing in dark classroom explaining the problems of robotics and how humans don’t like them and mistreats them. His brilliant idea, “”let’s make a robot that can love. One that can love unconditionally with every fiber of his being.”” Blech. Of course someone asks, “”well can you make a robot that can love?”” My response – “”who gives a shit””.Hurt’s response – “”Making a robot that can love isn’t the problem, it’s whether humans can love a robot as though it was a real child. That’s the problem.”” And of course a debate ensues about the human’s responsibility to that robot, blah, blah, blah… I check my watch five minutes into this opening sequence it felt like 20 minutes.To get his preachifying across, Speilberg has all the actors speak reaaaaaallllly, slooooooow, and quiet. You know you are watching a serious film when everyone whispers and speaks slowly. Hey they did it in The Sixth Sense (another film I despised), and everyone went slap nuts silly over it, so why not do it here?Somehow they select these two bland people to be the recipients of the world’s first robot child that can love unconditionally. Why this couple and not some one else? What process did the scientist use to pick this unstable company for this important experiment? The movie never explains it, oh I’m sure somewhere deep inside the press kit the information is there, but in the film itself, no explanation. For most of the movie (again the 45 minutes that I saw) we are led to believe that their son died, or so I thought. The movie introduced David (Osment) into the household and I swear I think they spent 30 minutes just showing close ups of Osment. Osment watching the couple eat, watching the couple talk, etc. Ooooohhhhh, that was so exciting. Then for some unknown reason, the marketing tie-end I guess, they introduce a talking Teddy Bear named Joe, I guess he was supposed to be the comic relief. At that point I was ready to get the hell out of the theater, but I decided to stick with it a little while longer, and then the killer, they brought the couple’s child back, one minute he’s in a wheelchair. The very next he’s walking and being a complete little spoiled brat at that point I whispered to Ken, and told him I was getting the hell out of there.

A.I. = Imitation of Life, by Ken Rosenberg

It is an admittedly intriguing question whether, in the future, man will be able to instill human emotions in robots. A.I. is premised on just such a phenomenon; the soulful-eyed boy “”mecha”” (pronounced “”Mecca””) David (Haley Joel Osment) is created by Professor Hobby (John Hurt), and conveyed to a bereaved couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose only child (Jake Thomas) lies comatose. In the opening scenes, as the magisterial prof explains the breakthrough, one of his students throws out an ethical question that stumps him: what responsibility will humans have toward these creatures?

The rest of the movie–clocking in at a hefty 2 hours 25 minutes, and feeling every minute of it–is concerned, in one way or another, with answering that question. But while Steven Spielberg tries to recapture the otherworldly, humanist magic of

The Mummy Returns, He Should Have Stayed Dead

Watching Universal’s “”The Mummy Returns,”” the much-hyped sequel to the studio’s blockbuster hit, you will believe that a long-dead mummy actually could be resurrected from the dead. Unfortunately, that’s primarily because after having to swallow a number of illogical plot devices from jet-powered hot air balloons to pygmy mummy skeletons that prowl a lost oasis, the resurrection of the long-dead Imhotep becomes the most plausible event you’ll find in this ludicrous bomb.

Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and the majority of the original cast return for yet another adventure set ten years after the first film, though very little has changed in their lives. Rick (Fraser) and Evie (Weisz), now married, are the proud parents of young Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath), a headstrong, inquisitive boy who inherited his sense of adventure from nowhere strange. On a family dig, the O’Connells discover a bracelet that’s rumored to contain the spirit of a legendary warrior, The Scorpion King (Dwayne “”The Rock”” Johnson), who sold his soul in exchange for a crucial victory. They bring the bracelet back with them to their mansion in London, and it’s here that the couple is reunited with Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and the ominous Ardeth Bay (Oded Behr), the desert warrior sworn to protect the world from the resurrected Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Apparently the bracelet is the just beginning of the O’Connells’ trouble. Another group, led by the incarnated soul of Imhotep’s lover Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velazquez), plan to once again resurrect the all-powerful mummy. They hope Imhotep can defeat The Scorpion King, thereby controlling the army of Anubis, lethal dog-like soldiers that the King controlled in his prime. However, before the goons can get to the bracelet, young Alex tries it on and it locks to his wrist. A harrowing chase through the streets of London on a double-decker bus results in the forces of evil kidnapping the boy and his valuable accessory. Rick, Evie, Jonathan and Ardeth pursue, unsure whether they can defeat both Imhotep and a rejuvenated Scorpion King.While adequate at best, the original “”Mummy”” stands head and shoulders above this loose, unfocused mess that borrows liberally from various predecessors like “”The Lost World”” and even “”Titanic,”” but fails to tie them together in a cohesive manner. Decent action sequences like the aforementioned bus chase, while choppy and loud, still can’t distract from the nonsensical plot, which begs the audience to take some unexplained phenomenon for granted in order to shuffle the story along. In any other summer film, certain plot holes could be accepted, almost expected. We don’t attend the summer blockbusters for their depth or insight, but for their power and might. For the most part, the acting throughout “”Mummy Returns”” is fine. However, like the first “”Mummy,”” the sequel’s digital effects look rough, unfinished and fake. The incomplete Imhotep appears polished and ready for battle, but the Scorpion King, the film’s ace-in-the-hole villain, is hilariously horrific. Playstation games boast better graphics then the ones used to manifest this monster. Universal plans to release a Scorpion king movie next summer. One can only hope they learn how to create the character clearly before they build a feature around him.””Mummy Returns”” feels bloated and silly, and Stephen Sommers deserves most of the blame. A second-rate director, he buries his halfway decent material with an overabundance of shots that actually disrupt his timing. The best example happens in what could have been the film’s sharpest joke, seen properly in an early trailer. Evie, fleeing from mummy soldiers, drags a bench in front of a door. Rick reminds her that these guys don’t use doors, and on cue, the creatures bust through the wall. However, in the finished product, Sommers disrupts the timing on the joke, inserting shots of a stammering Jonathan and Alex between Rick’s line and subsequent shot of the mummies destroying the wall. The sequence, like the movie itself, needs a good edit to salvage the finer points from the clutter.

The Gift, Sean O’Connell

Two groups in particular will be very happy to know that “”The Gift”” is an outstanding film.The first group, consisting of film fans deflated by the director’s last Costner-laden effort, “”For Love of the Game,”” will be delighted to hear that their favorite director is back in top form. His direction is sharp, the chills are genuine, and his ensemble cast dances deftly through the complicated plot, all under Raimi’s watchful eye.

The second group, consisting of rabid comic fans who eagerly await Raimi’s next project – “”Spider-Man”” – will be delighted to hear that their much-anticipated project is indeed in the hands of a talented director, one who is capable of blending multiple genres while spinning an interesting tale (something that’s vital if you want a comic book movie to fly).””The Gift”” stars Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson, the widowed mother of three who earns extra cash by reading people’s fortunes. Annie possesses clairvoyant powers that allow her to see visions, which make her a bit of an outcast – and the target of abuse – in her skeptical Georgian town.””The Gift”” boasts an all-star cast, and Raimi wastes no time introducing his parade of stars. Oscar winner Hillary Swank plays Valerie, a regular at Blanchett’s table, who needs advice because her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves), beats her. Greg Kinnear pops up as Wayne Collins, the local school principal with a caring heart and a cheating fiancee named Jessica King, played by “”Dawson’s Creek”” star Katie Holmes.Problems arise when Jessica disappears after a night on the town. Wayne is terrified, and the police have exhausted all avenues. Against their better judgement, the authorities turn to Annie and ask her if she’s “”seen”” anything. Her gift leads the police to Donnie’s property, where they find Jessica buried in the swamp. But Donnie might not be responsible, and Annie starts to believe she fingered the wrong guy.Despite it’s supernatural undercurrent, Raimi’s “”Gift”” is really just a well-told murder mystery, much like the way his “”A Simple Plan”” was, at heart, a well-told caper. The film’s multiple twists and turns are anchored by Blanchett, who is wonderful as the gentle and hesitant Annie. Even Reeves stands out, and his burden is not light. His character is the villain we must cower from if the film is going to work, and Reeves makes us shudder.With precious few special effects, Raimi still conveys fear, and the mere suggestion of the presence of evil (mostly embodied by Reeves as the abusive Donnie) is enough to send shivers down your spine.Final Grade A-

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