STEAMBOY

Reviews by David Chute, Stacy Davies, Scott Foundas, Ernest Hardy, Erin Aubry Kaplan, Kim Morgan, Ron Stringer, Ella Taylor and Chuck Wilson.

With its geriatric story-framing device, gooey dime-store romanticism and tawdry pop ballads about unrequited yearning, watching Joel Schumacher's long-awaited (by some) film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical feels akin to dying and waking up in your parents' easy-listening-radio hell. That the film has been heralded as a faithful translation of the show may confirm the worst suspicions of those who heretofore managed to evade Webber's behemoth—in short, that there's no underestimating the public's appetite for cheap spectacle. (SF) (EdwardsBreaStadiumEast)

At nearly three hours long, this lavish spectacle about the life of Howard Hughes is crammed with spectacular set pieces and gives great airplane and Hollywood revelry. As a character study the movie is, if not exactly chipper, then maddenly circumspect about a man who lived the dark side of American success, treated others and himself horribly, and ended his life naked, filthy and barking mad. Leonardo DiCaprio makes a downright dainty Hughes, portraying this compulsively unfaithful huckster as no more than a naughty boy in his relationship with Katharine Hepburn, played by a merely imitative Cate Blanchett. (ET) (Countywide)

Not even the wonderful Jeff Daniels can lift Wayne Wang's flaccid adaptation, with screenwriter Joan Singleton, of Kate DiCamillo's award-winning children's novel about a grieving itinerant preacher caring for his tomboy daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) and her cuddly mutt in a glum Florida backwater. For all Wang's efforts to generate arresting images, the movie has no visual style to speak of, nor any vital sense of pacing. Notwithstanding Daniels' quiet nuance and understated comedy, there's no redeeming this slavishly folksy betrayal of what can be dimly discerned as an absorbing tale of pain overcome. (ET) (Countywide)

Despite John Travolta's long-standing claim to ontological cool, not even Chili Palmer, novelist Elmore Leonard's silky-smooth alpha-male loan shark turned entertainment entrepreneur, makes it all the way through this tired sequel to Get Shorty with his poise intact. And if the movie has no underlying tension, it's because the supporting players that director F. Gary "Italian Job" Gray recruited to accompany Chili's glide from the movie industry into the music business are never even vaguely menacing. They are just clowns with guns. The Rock gets a Good Sport award, however, for his preening turn as a gay bodyguard. (DC) (Countywide)

The endlessly commercial Jane Austen franchise gets a cheap and cheerful new twist in Gurinder Chadha's frolicky Bollywood musical about love and colonial snobbery. Bride and Prejudice commutes from Amritsar, India, to tourist London and on to tasteless Los Angeles in order to mate the reluctant Darcy (a droopy, lifeless Martin Henderson) with his Indian singleton, played by the wildly sultry Indian screen goddess Aishwarya Rai. Though the Indian dance numbers put one more in mind of Village People than village people, it's hard not to warm to this slaphappy, Technicolored lummox of a movie. (ET) (Countywide)

In this puckish provocation based on the Hellblazer comics, about moral ambiguity and very bad skin, Keanu Reeves plays a reluctant exorcist condemned to maintain the earthly balance between heaven and hell—also known as downtown Los Angeles and populated by inhospitable shape-shifters with empty sockets for eyes. Notwithstanding a dispiritingly banal script credited to Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello, director Francis Lawrence (out of music videos, natch) has created a viscerally imaginative if overstuffed attempt to chart the boundaries of American spiritual life that pits apocalyptic Catholic determinism against bleak existentialism, leavened with vigilante antics. (ET) (Countywide)

A pleasant, unremarkable kitchen-sink weepie marred by shameless button-pushing, Shona Auerbach's first feature stars Emily Mortimer— a beautiful and talented fawn in some danger of being trapped in Audrey Hepburn–land playing hapless gamines—as Lizzie, a Scottish single mother who's in the habit of writing warm letters to her deaf son from a fictitious sailor father. Auerbach paints an unusually graceful, even lyrical Glasgow, but the movie's glib trafficking in illness, death and pinched little faces (screenwriter Andrea Gibb was inspired by the equally likable, equally pandering Czech film Kolya) lost me at hello. (ET) (EdwardsUniversity,Irvine)

Chitlin-circuit writer-producer Tyler Perry's broad-as-the-side-of-a-barn first filmed play tells the story of Helen (Kimberly Elise), who starts out a Stepford wife, then, rejected by her successful lawyer husband, becomes a penniless pilgrim in search of all those meaningful things—the ones money can't buy—she thought she'd had all along but didn't. As I sat listening to Helen's earnest "Dear Diary" voice-overs, it occurred to me once again that real racial equality, at least in the realm of popular entertainment, may, after all, lie less with opportunities to be great than with opportunities to be mediocre. (EAK) (Countywide)

Based in part on the testimony of Hitler's secretary, this plodding docudrama about the last days in the Berlin bunker, clocking in at 155 slavishly detailed minutes, features a performance from Bruno Ganz so over the top that the mind flies inescapably to Monty Python. The movie is marginally more interesting as a study in the fanatical loyalty the Führer inspired in the ghastly Goebbels family, but it's hard to imagine even German audiences emerging from this movie gasping, "Those Nazis, what bastards, who knew?" Downfall gives us the known facts, then tiptoes quietly away. (ET) (RegencyLido,NewportBeach)

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