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ON THE SCREEN

The following movies are playing this weekend at local theaters. The Tech suggests using http://www.boston.com for a complete listing of times and locations.

HHHH Excellent

HHH Good

HH Fair

H Poor

Analyze This (HH)

A sorry sit-comish excuse for a comedy, with Billy Crystal engaging in so much tiresome shtick as a burned-out shrink analyzing an overstressed mafia boss played by Robert De Niro. Not enough humor, not enough story, and more than enough gratuitous violence. However, De Niro, in a rare comedic appearance, almost makes this movie worth watching. --Vladimir Zelevinsky

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (HHH)

Hardly a sequel but rather two hours of completely indulgent Austin Powers fun. This film succeeds because it’s well aware of what a farce it is and it doesn’t try to be anything more than purely entertaining. It seems to be too much of the same, with very little new material, but there’s enough pure slapstick, absurd comedy, and gross humor to satisfy the fans. -- Teresa Huang

Big Daddy (HH1/2)

Adam Sandler attempts to grow up as an actor playing a complete loser who gets transformed into a more respectable and lovable loser when he adopts a five-year old kid. The film starts out strong with great humor and some genuine acting from Adam Sandler, but eventually spills over the top with sappiness. -- TH

Cookies Fortune (HHH1/2)

Cookies Fortune finds director Robert Altman self-assured, relaxed and having fun, and his customary great ensemble in similar spirits. Catfish enchiladas, Wild Turkey, and gun-cleaning are the bonds between Willis (Charles S. Dutton), an innocent man suspected of murdering Cookie (Patricia Neal), and the sleepy town of Holly Springs, Mississippi. Glenn Close is the mastermind behind the madness, with Julianne Moore, Ned Beatty, Liv Tyler, and Chris O’Donnell holding nothing back in this nutty southern lullaby of a thriller. The little depth here seems forced, but for sheer homey fun, look to Cookie. -- Roy Rodenstein

Desert Blue (HH1/2)

A cross between Outbreak and Waiting for Godot, this movie is also about The American Dream, about the possibility of making something out of nothing - or at least this is what it is supposed to be about. In reality, the plot starts off quite engagingly (a spill of toxic cola ingredient quarantines the entire population of Baxter, CA, population 87), but the unending scenes of prescribed character development hamper what could have been a great story of triumph over adversity. -- Heather Anderson, VZ

The Dreamlife of Angels (HHH)

In his feature film debut, director Erick Zonca’s unadorned direction serves him well. A film about the intersection between selflessness and selfishness, and the real boundaries found even in intimate relationships, Dreamlife rises above typical 90’s apathy. Isa (Elodie Bouchez), a young woman bouncing between odd jobs, befriends Marie (Natacha Regnier) and shares the house she is sitting for a mysterious girl in a coma. Decisions about jobs, boyfriends and truth to oneself are usual fodder, but complex characters and fresh performances all around, particularly from leads Bouchez and Regnier, enliven this fiery slice of life. -- RR

Election (HHH)

A hilarious, penetrating, visually exciting black comedy, dealing its satirical blows as an equal-opportunity offender, and sparing no one. A hotly-contested high school election results in political machinations, lies, intrigues, backbiting, blackmail, and even dirtier tricks, with Reese Witherspoon playing that ambitious, socially active, Voted Most Likely To Succeed person we all have known in high school, and Matthew Broderick as a student adviser plotting her downfall. -- VZ

An Ideal Husband (HH)

An Ideal Husband is an example of how not to direct a movie. With such superlative resources at his disposal -- star-studded cast (Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver), great source play, lush production design -- all that director/writer Oliver Parker manages to create is a particularly joyless, visually bland, narratively pedestrian, weird mixture of light comedy and somber drama, with these two halves desperately fighting each other. -- VZ

Island of the Sharks (HHH)

Island of the Sharks is a remarkable achievement on the visual front, providing some sequences which feel hyper-real, out of this world, and literally larger than life. This solid Omnimax documentary puts the viewer right in the middle of shark-infested waters, without even a danger of getting one’s feet wet. It succeeds as a travelogue, showing the sights that most of us would never get a chance of seeing otherwise. If you aren’t satisfied with just looking, but also want to learn something, I suggest looking elsewhere, however. -- VZ

Limbo (HHH)

A small fishing town is the nondescript setting for John Sayles’ latest film, the tale of a traveling singer, her grizzled jack-of-all-trades companion, and her troubled teenage daughter. Friend, foe, self, and nature all have their chance to cause havoc in this cautionary tale. Though on the surface the film is blatantly scripted, the plot’s twists and revelations coalesce into a clear picture of everyday life. Can small events really result in lives being placed in limbo? That question is the focus of Sayles’s attention.--RR

The Matrix (HHH1/2)

A wildly imaginative ride. The plot is nicely complex, the visuals and the special effects are out of this world. As the computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) dashes through a succession of interlocked dreams in the quest to find true reality, the film launches into a full-throttle mode of inventive action sequences. By combining cyberpunk ethos with anime style, The Matrix breathes new life into the genre of sci-fi action films. -- VZ

Notting Hill (HHH)

A rare case of an intelligent romantic comedy, this is a noteworthy--but not exceptional--tale of romance in adversity. Julia Roberts plays the world’s most famous movie star and Hugh Grant is the owner of a small and unprofitable bookstore. The pair’s meeting is followed by a series of wonderfully awkward encounters and the expected budding of a romance. Richard Curtis’s script only occasionally rises above formula, but when it does, the results are astounding and memorable.--Fred Choi and VZ

The Red Violin (HHH)

An enjoyable and intriguing history of a much coveted instrument. The visually lavish film spans five countries and includes a wide range of emotion. Ultimately, though, its weak frame causes the ending to be inevitably disappointing. -- FC

Run Lola Run (HHH)

Lola’s boyfriend needs $100,000 in twenty minutes, or else he’s dead. Lola’s motorbike was just stolen, so she has to run if she wants to be there on time. A minor plot detail: she doesn’t have the money. So she needs to run really fast. The result is a streamlined movie possessing an unstoppable sense of motion, and giving the visceral pleasure of seeing a tightly-wound plot unfold. -- VZ

Rushmore (HHH1/2)

A breath -- or, rather, make it blast -- of fresh air. This is an offbeat comedy, an offbeat buddy film, an offbeat romance, and an offbeat revenge story. Or none of these things. Mix up some wildly varying comic elements, combine them with some of most deliciously deadpan acting in recent memory, add highly imaginative and inventive usage of widescreen format -- and get Rushmore, which is just about the least conventional and yet solidly enjoyable movie to come out recently. --VZ

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (HHH1/2)

An R-rated animated musical comedy adventure satire, starting when four kids sneak into an R-rated movie, and steadily increasing in scope and barrage of satirical barbs. Don’t be deterred by the fact that this movie features copious amounts of profanity, full-frontal nudity, and giant glowing talking sex organs -- it’s probably the funniest movie in quite a while, and it’s definitely the best animated musical of the last several years. -- VZ

Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace (HHH)

This simplistic motion picture with lumpy storytelling, inane dialogue, wooden acting, and poor editing is one of the most exciting experiences to come in quite a while to the movies. By firmly adhering to the world-view created in Episodes 4 through 6, and by utilizing the best special effects and art direction money can buy, writer/director George Lucas succeeds, despite the film’s obvious shortcomings, to take us once again to that galaxy far, far away, and provide an adventure-filled playground for our imagination. -- VZ

Summer of Sam (HHH)

In the hundred-degree-plus heat of New York City in the summer of 1977, the club scene and social maneuvering coexist with the threat of the relentless serial killer, Son of Sam. Vinny (John Leguizamo), a hot-tempered playboy, is losing his sanity as he cheats on his wife (Mira Sorvino), thinks Sam may be out to get him, and ponders how to reconcile his brutish vigilante friends with the growing punk scene they fear. With refreshing frankness toward sex and violence, and more hits than misses among director Spike Lee’s bag of tricks, this slick film envelops you in its mood, a powerful reconstruction of a volatile time. --RR

Tarzan (HHH)

A good, solid, workmanlike movie from the Mouse House; just about as good as anything they made in the last few years, and not better. The overall story of the orphaned boy Tarzan who’s brought up by the African apes is so tired that it really doesn’t matter much. What lingers in the memory is the more than usually affecting love story and the amazing visuals. --VZ

Wild Wild West (HH)

WWW tries to be absolutely everything to absolutely everyone. It’s a western, a parody of James Bond movies, a sci-fi adventure, an action flick, a buddy film, a slapstick comedy, and a dark rumination on the American history. It ends up, of course, being none of the above -- just an extravagant way to spend its gargantuan budget. -- VZ

The Winslow Boy (HH1/2)

For all of its dramatic intensity and clarity, visual elegance and beautiful shot composition, intricate multi-personal conflicts, and stylized dialogue, this David Mamet film doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of its opening half hour. This is probably the fault of the source play, which didn’t age very well and which seems to be content to be merely engaging and entertaining in a low-key way than to go for either shattering drama or penetrating social critique. -- VZ