Osmosis Jones – By Sean O’Connell

In “”Osmosis Jones,”” a witty live-action/animation hybrid from the left side of the brain Bobby and Peter Farrelly share, a mayoral candidate (voiced by Ron Howard) with hopes of running a city found inside a human body delivers a campaign speech from the center of some nauseatingly stench-infested bowels. His platform, of course, is one of cleansing, and he calls for “”a healthier diet”” and more to achieve his goals. Named Tom Colonic, he’s knowingly described as a “”regular guy,”” and it’s gentle bathroom humor like this, laced throughout the film’s animated escapes, that highlight the finer sections of this originalfilm.

The body in question belongs to Frank (Bill Murray), a vile, unkempt zoo keeper and single father whose personal hygiene habits are borrowed from the animals he caters to. Lucky for Frank, he isn’t fighting the good fight against such nasties as cholesterol and heart failure alone.””Jones,”” as written by Marc Hyman, imagines Frank’s body as a fully functioning city, a high voltage metropolis of veins, arteries, organs and bodily fluids. Frank’s stomach resembles an airport where foreign (and domestic) objects arrive at pre-determined gates. His brain serves as city hall, home to a superficial mayor (voiced by William Shatner) who is under the public’s microscope for allowing Frank to treat his body the way he does. And a police force of white blood cells, unofficially represented by gung-ho renegade Osmosis Jones (voice of Chris Rock), keep Frank safe from harm.On a routine inspection of the mouth, triggered by Frank’s ingestion of soiled egg parts, Jones encounters what he believes to be a serious infection. In fact, a deadly virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne provides his devious voice) has infiltrated Frank’s body with alterior motives. Thrax hopes to kill Frank off in 48 hours, a record time that would guarantee the virus a place in the medical journals. Eager to save Frank from this hostile takeover, Jones teams up with Drix (enthusiastically voiced by David Hyde Pierce), a robotic multi-tasker sprung from a cold pill Frank swallows. Pop star Brandy lends her voice to Jones’ blood cell love interest, Leah. Kid Rock and the deceased Joe C. even make a cameo as “”Kidney Rock.”” Pay special attention to the various backgrounds, as they’re often littered with inside jokes and puns. As clever and inventive as “”Jones””‘s animated tours through Frank’s body are, though, the live-action shots with Murray are just as flat. The lowest, most revolting examples of the Farrelly’s trademark bathroom humor are employed so Murray’s Frank can scratch his crotch, sniff his sweaty armpits, ingest enough fat to stop a rhino’s heart and vomit on his daughter’s teacher (Molly Shannon). This unfortunate character later has a zit explode on her. It’s “”hilarious.”” How one script alternates so easily between these repulsive scenes and the quick-witted animated sequences is beyond me. By the time Chris Eliott rears his talentless head as Frank’s best friend, you’ll be wishing the entire film had been hand drawn. Then we’re back in Frank’s body, and the film is resuscitated. Rock and Pierce, a fine duo, wring stimulating jokes out of the obviously cliched buddy cop scenario. Rock even spins a fresh take on his well-known “”We were so poor, we grew up surrounded by crack”” routine. Despite its live-action foibles, “”Jones”” could be the cure for what ails audiences this summer season. FINAL GRADE: B+

American Pie 2 – By Sean O’Connell

Since the audience patiently awaiting the release of “”American Pie 2″” probably refuses to read lengthy tomes on the merits of the cinema, let me get right to the point: if you enjoyed the first “”Pie,”” you’re guaranteed to gobble up its superior sequel with a spoon. Those who care to find out why may continue.

It took them two years, but the team behind “”American Pie”” finally figured it out. As successful as the first foray into the heart of the teenage hormone was – it went on to gross over $100 million during it’s U.S. theatrical run – it spread itself far too thin by juggling no less than 13 main characters. I always believed the original bogged itself down in superficial characters we never had time to care about. In theory, the film should have belonged solely to the four friends at the center of the film, but the unfocused farce lost sight of the guys in a sea of semen. While “”Pie 2″” delivers much more of the same sex-soaked “”hilarity,”” it also focuses its lens back on the guys who started it all: long-faced Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), dreamy jock Oz (Chris Klein), eccentric Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and hapless Jim (Jason Biggs). The script, penned by David H. Steinberg and “”Pie”” scribe Adam Herz, accomplishes this by shuttling the female characters from the first film out of the spotlight. They’re not quite afterthoughts, but they’re nowhere near as important as they were in the first jumbled film. At the end of their first year at college, Heather (Mena Suvari) kisses Oz goodbye and embarks on a summer jaunt through Europe, Kevin’s Vicky (Tara Reid) has moved on to another guy (or three), Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) is spending her vacation at band camp (where else?), and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is in Manhattan, though she assures Jim she’ll visit him by summer’s end.This leaves the guys, along with frustrated friend Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott), on their own, so they opt to rent a cabin on nearby Lake Michigan and make the most of their first summer as college men. The script, however, doesn’t give them much to do. Oz practices overseas phone sex with his absent mate. Kevin characteristically moans and sighs over his blown chances with Vicky. And Finch, preparing for his anticipated reunion with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge), discovers the art of tantric sex. Of all of them, it’s Jim who grows up. His quest to sexually satisfy Nadia steers him right into the arms of another, but not before he’s forced to jump through the requisite series of embarrassing scenarios that involve everything from porno tapes and quick-drying glue to a trombone and a retarded summer camper. What more did you expect from a kid who humped pastry?””Pie 2″” starts off with an unsettling sense of deja vu, and you can feel a formula being molded. Eugene Levy appears as Jim’s dad, whose purpose is to create yet another awkward situation for the ill-fated teen. And then the boys are at Stifler’s house for a blowout party, where the memorable semen-in-a-cup-of-beer scene from the first “”Pie”” is unnecessarily outdone. But it tiptoes out of that mold once the guys shed the confines built in the first film and hit the lake. The new scenery allows the reasonably talented male stars the chance to further shape their personalities from traits scarcely established in the original. Or two of them manage to, at least. Oz’s long-distance relationship and Kevin’s pining for his lost love admittedly are the two situations the majority of teens in the audience will identify with. That also makes them, unfortunately, the two most generic, uninspiring situations in the film.Since Stifler lacks the intelligence or drive to mature, that leaves Finch and Jim. One can even argue that with “”Pie 2,”” Biggs’ Jim finally rises to the challenge of being the main character the first film desperately needed him to be. “”Pie 2″” belongs to him and, in turn, the woman he pursues. And the role of Jim remains the one perfectly tailored to Biggs’ naturally sheepish personality, which he failed to duplicate in bombs like “”Loser”” and “”Saving Silverman.”” Who knows? With the next “”Pie”” film – and there’s bound to be another – screenwriter Herz may turn his attention to Finch, a goldmine of idiosyncrasies just begging to be analyzed. Or maybe Kevin will be given a reason to exist, as he lacks one now. Time will tell. Until then, it’s the ability of the four guys to rise above the barrage of bodily fluids required to make a comedy fly in today’s desensitized marketplace that will continue to lure us back. I certainly wouldn’t mind checking back with this crew every other summer to see how far they’ve come.FINAL GRADE: B

American Pie 2 Pie for the Course– Reviewed by Ken Rosenberg

With its palatable blend of hormonal teens, bawdy gags and screwball antics, 1998’s “”American Pie”” went down easily enough; a surprise hit, it finished north of the $100 million mark and earned bucketloads of cash for its makers. So a sequel was inevitable. To the surprise of no one, “”American Pie 2″” reheats the same combination of ingredients, ratcheting up the raunch factor a notch with a non-stop barrage of outrageous hijinks reminiscent of “”Road Trip.””

The entire likable, enthusiastic ensemble cast from the original “”Pie”” returns here, shaking and baking under the helm of head pastry chef J.B. Rogers, the former Farrelly Brothers assistant director whose over-the-top first feature, “”Say It Isn’t So,”” flopped earlier this year. While this confection is in no danger of being mistaken for a main course, it packs just enough empty calories to add up to a guilty pleasure.

Win Free Movie Tickets

THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED Be the first to see the hot new Lions Gate Films’ “”O””, starring Julia Stiles, Josh Harnett, and Mekhi Phifer. The screening will be held in Washington, DC Tuesday August 28, 2001. To qualify to win simply read the story below and register to receive our newsletter. We will notify winners at random, Monday, August 27, 2001. The film is rated R and no one under 17 will be admitted without a guardian. “”O”” opens on Friday, August 31, 2001.

A contemporary retelling of Othello, Shakespeare

Rush Hour 2 – By Sean O’Connell

After the $141 million nationwide gross of its predecessor, “”Rush Hour 2″” was as inevitable as death and taxes. In New Line’s mind, a franchise was born out of the marriage of motor-mouth Chris Tucker and fleet-footed Jackie Chan. Why, then, did it take them three years to crank out a sequel, allowing the once fresh premise of this far-fetched pairing to go stale and the stars’ unique chemistry to cool?

As a result, “”Rush Hour 2″” is a lukewarm serving of similar material, microwaved long enough for audience consumption, but one that will leave you unfulfilled and hungry for something else. And don’t think the door hasn’t been flung wide open for “”Rush Hour 3,”” but more on that later.After a hurried intro, the sequel catches up with Detective Inspector Lee (Chan) and Detective James Carter (Tucker) as they attempt to vacation in Hong Kong. The problem is Lee, who’s incessant desire to work keeps interrupting Carter’s R&R. After a bomb delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong takes out two undercover customs agents, Lee and Carter reluctantly get involved.The duo’s suspect is Ricky Tan (John Lone), the wicked leader of the criminal Triads. Conveniently, Tan happens to be the ex-cop partner, and probable executioner, of Lee’s deceased father. And Tan’s not alone. He’s employed a silent, bloodthirsty female strong-arm named Hu Li (“”Crouching Tiger”” star Zhang Ziyi) who’s as quick with a kick as Carter is with a quip.Through no feats of exceptional detecting, Carter and Lee uncover Tan’s true motivations involving counterfeit plates issued by the United States Treasury department to the Shah of Iran that create undetectable “”super bills.”” An undercover Secret Service agent, coolly played by Roselyn Sanchez, even tags along for the fun, though her primary role seems to be feeding these dull-witted detectives somewhat obvious clues. It’s all just a tremendous excuse to jet Carter and Lee from Hong Kong to L.A. and, eventually, to Vegas, where the inexhaustible Carter can blend in with the tawdry scenery and ceaseless noise.Since Tucker hasn’t worked on another film since the first “”Rush Hour,”” it’s easy to see how or why he would bring nothing new to his predominantly one-dimensional character. It’s hard to tell if this is Tucker’s vision of Carter, or just his acting style. Tucker’s delivery resembles a blindfolded man in a closet full of chairs; sooner or later he’s bound to hit something. So for every minute of screentime director Brent Ratner allows him, Tucker fires away. Mathematically, he’s bound to say something funny in time, and he does manage to hit a few zingers, all at the expense of some race or ethnicity. You sift through a lot of jibber before you hit the jabber, and the payoff isn’t always rewarding.Even Chan looks tired next to Tucker, and it’s not because if his grueling action scenes. While the nimble karate expert no doubt performed his own stunts in this film, as he’s wont to do, his well-choreographed scenes in “”Rush Hour 2″” are decidedly shorter than we’re used to in a Chan film. No sooner does the elfin fighter build up steam aboard a cruise ship or in the back room of a casino then he’s felled by a well-placed kick, usually delivered by Ziyi. Waiting for a knuckle-cracking face-off between the two martial artists? Keep waiting. Ziyi must fight, and lose to, Tucker at the film’s climax, while Chan has to resolve his conflict with a gun, which definitely isn’t his style.While the plot of “”Rush Hour 2″” does improve over the simplistic kidnapping elements of the first installment, there’s still not a lot to work with here. Hoping not to alienate its core audience, the film takes few chances, borrowing set-ups and jokes line-for-line from the original. Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (“”Speed 2: Cruise Control””) leave plenty of room for improvisation, which Tucker just can’t fill with his scathing racial observations.The highlight of the film comes in the outtakes that run during the credits. At some point, we need to see a feature-length film of just Chan outtakes, as they always prove to be so entertaining. The much-lauded chemistry between Tucker and Chan finally shows when the two loose-lipped stars aren’t tied to a tongue-tripping script and they can just be themselves. And it’s here, buried in these clever clips, that Tucker shrewdly mentions the inevitable sequel, “”Rush Hour 3.”” At least we should have until 2004 to prepare.GRADE: C

Sweet November – By Sean O’Connell

“”Sweet November”” is the cinematic equivalent of a Hallmark greeting card. It looks pretty, has some insignificantly sappy lines dispersed throughout it, supports absolutely no plot or characterization, and fades from your memory immediately after you’ve put it down.

In this emotionless tear-stopper, Charlize Theron (who’s been in better) plays esoteric Sara Deever, a free-spirit who trips and falls into the path of far-too-career-driven ad executive Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves, who’s been in worse). How do we know he’s career-driven? Well, he never puts his cell phone down, his eyes are glued to television commercials that play on eight different screens in his bedroom, and his non-existent social life just collapsed when his fed-up girlfriend walked out the door.The smell of “”success”” must cloak Nelson, as Sara senses it a mile away. She approaches him with an offer: stay with her for one month, and she’ll make him a better person. It’s sort of what she does, though it’s never clarified what occupation she lists on her W-2 tax forms. After verbal hemming and hawing – and Nelson being conveniently fired from his day job – he inexplicably agrees to Sara’s proposition, and, beginning November 1, renounces his former materialistic life for a grungy (read: meaningful) existence in Sara’s San Francisco abode.If you’re believing any of this right now, “”November”” may indeed be the movie for you. But hang on, it gets better. Apparently the salvation of self-serving Nelson just wasn’t considered touching enough, so first-time screenwriter Kurt Voelker adds an element of mystery. At the film’s halfway mark, the convivial and carefree Sara turns testy. Then the bags start forming under her eyes. Finally she starts popping pills. It seems Sara has a secret she’s keeping from Nelson, the man she just met. Can you guess what it is? That’s right, it’s cancer. How ridiculous. It’s a complete reversal for this character, and it’s supposed to happen in a three week span? Who researched this script, Dr. Seuss?””Sweet November”” has absolutely no idea which direction it wants to head once out of the gates. It tries a number of storylines, remarkably hitting each and every cliched element found in the genre it chooses. But then it abandons what might have been interesting sidebars and tries something new, leaving characters like Liam Aiken’s orphan Abner or Greg Germann’s Vince dangling in the wind.Characters respond to situations as if they, too, had no idea where the movie might head. It has the feel of a film written and shot on the fly. Reeves himself never looked so bored with a character. For once in our lives, Keanu, we know exactly how you feel.GRADE: D-THE EXTRASWarner Bros. has included a short but sweet Behind-the-Scenes documentary entitled “”From the Heart”” on the “”Sweet November”” disc. It further explores the characters introduced in the films and gives Reeves and Theron the opportunity to gush how much they loved the characters and loved working together. It’s sickening. The featurette is offered in lieu of a director’s commentary, though, so you can imagine how Pat O’Connor (“”Circle of Friends””) feels about the finished product.There’s not much else here besides the trailer, cast & crew profiles, and interactive menus. The good news is it allows you to pop this disc out of your player shortly after plowing through the feature presentation.GRADE: DOVERALL EXPERIENCEThere’s no reason to own or rent “”Sweet November.”” It’s not good enough to enjoy, and not quite bad enough to ridicule. It’s just painful.For a better pairing of Reeves and Theron, rent “”The Devil’s Advocate.”” It features Reeves chewing scenery with the great Al Pacino, and shows what Theron can look like when she’s really sick … in the head.FINAL GRADE: D-

Ghost World — Reviewed by Ken Rosenberg

“”Ghost World”” — Growing PainsDirector Terry Zwigoff’s last movie was the off-kilter but fascinating 1994 documentary “”Crumb,”” a profile of the way-eccentric alt-comic auteur whose jaundiced worldview and ultraviolent, ultrasexualized fantasy scenarios fly way under the mainstream comic-book radar. Another cartoonist of the same ilk is Daniel Clowes, who along with Zwigoff adapted his graphic novel “”Ghost World”” for the screen here. What this coming-of-age/unconventional love story lacks in narrative propulsion it almost makes up for in whimsical, arty sensibilities and its sharply-etched, colorful protagonists.

The Princess Diaries – By Sean O’Connell

Director Garry Marshall returns to his roots for “”The Princess Diaries.”” Call it “”Pretty Woman Redux,”” or “”Still Nothing in Common.”” He even goes so far as to cast Hector Elizondo, who at last count has starred in at least 10 of Marshall’s films since 1984’s “”The Flamingo Kid.”” Just don’t be so quick to dismiss “”Diaries”” based on the fact that the material is extremely worn, by this same director no less, because it certainly doesn’t make this heartwarming “”ugly duckling”” fable any less appealing.

After an indistinct turn in the Fox TV drama series “”Get Real,”” statuesque newcomer Anne Hathaway makes her big-screen debut as Emilia “”Mia”” Thermopolis, the frizzy-haired daughter of a San Francisco-based artist/single mom/divorcee. At school, Mia belongs to the “”invisible”” group, blending into the background whenever possible with her best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo). All that changes one day when Mia meets her absentee grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), who’s making an unexpected trip through San Francisco. Grandmothers never just “”pop by”” for visits in movies like this, though, and Clarisse is no exception. She has news for Mia that’s a little tough to swallow. It appears Mia’s recently-deceased father, Clarisse’s son, was the prince of the country of Genovia, which makes Clarisse a queen. It also makes the shy, awkward Mia a princess, and she has the opportunity to claim her crown and rule from her father’s throne. “”Diaries”” delivers its premise in what I like to call the “”hurry-up offense.”” Everyone involved knows the situation to be improbable, but no one slows down long enough to question anything. We’ve all come to see the hilarious consequences, and stopping to think would only delay the inevitable. Instead, Marshall simply digs up his proven plot maps and topographies to chart the film’s course straight toward its foregone conclusion. Comedian Larry Miller shows up as a caricature of a gay stylist who transforms Mia from class geek to tre chic. Elizondo plays Mia’s rigid chauffeur/guardian who never lacks for a pearl of wisdom to bestow on the empty slate of a young lady. And an endless supply of physical jokes erupt from Mia’s “”stranger in a strange world”” scenario over the film’s two hours. What’s most surprising, though, is the amount of fun “”Diaries”” still manages to concoct on the laborious path to its predetermined conclusion. For every groan-inducing physical mishap Mia must endure on her journey to the throne, there’s a well-penned line or dialogue exchange lobbed over the plate for the eager cast to smack over the fence. Years of experience in front of the cameras allow the dry as dust Elizondo and the dignified, stately Andrews to reign supreme over this court. Andrews’ performance is the spoon full of sugar that helps this medicine go down. But the new generation, represented by Matarazzo, Hathaway and MTV staple Mandy Moore – also making her feature film debut as Mia’s snobby school rival – are never completely overshadowed, which speaks volumes about their ability. Just don’t be charmed into submission: “”Princess Diaries”” never amounts to more than predictable family fluff churned from the same Disney factory that last year brought you Bruce Willis’ “”The Kid.”” “”Diaries”” doesn’t allow us to forget that excruciating bomb, but it gives us reason to forgive. FINAL GRADE: B By Sean O’Connell August 1, 2001

Hedwig and the Angry Inch — Reviewed by Ken Rosenberg

As far removed from mainstream movies as its protagonist is from society’s norms, “”Hedwig and the Angry Inch”” is the story of a flamboyant, visionary glam-rocker (the persona of writer, director and star John Cameron Mitchell) whose botched sex-change operation left him neither male nor female, with just an “”angry inch.”” Hedwig’s drag-queen appearance, in glittery, exaggerated makeup and platinum-blond Farrah Fawcett wig, is nothing short of bizarre–he’s a skinny Divine. Yet his talent as a performer and his unabashed, heart-on-the-sleeve humanity make this flick stick despite some slack passages.

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