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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

American Beauty (H1/2)

An extremely annoying movie: this deadpan black tragicomedy is a laughable failure as a work of art, being pretentious, simplistic, and self-important. Excepting a truly remarkable performance by Kevin Spacey (whose part is disappointingly small), there’s nothing to this movie beyond tortured metaphors, caricatures instead of characters, and a messy pile-up of red herrings instead of a plot. --Vladimir V. Zelevinsky

The Beach (HH1/2)

The quest for the perfect world drives some people to madness, some to obsession, and some to The Beach. In this utopian odyssey chronicling one young, macho American’s quest for adventure, elements of postmodern fantasy, horror, and love collide into a final sobering conclusion: that the closest thing to a perfect world may very well be our own. Its gratuitous relationships and its force-feeding of the themes also cripple the plot. -- Jacob Beniflah and Amy Meadows

Beautiful People (HHH)

A hilarious independent British black comedy that is slow to warm up, but grows on the viewer as it progresses. Beautiful People focuses on a number of Londoners and their unique stories, and how their lives intertwine over the course of a day. It should be noted, however, that only people who appreciate dark comedies and British independent films will truly enjoy this film. -- Karen Feigenbaum

Being John Malkovich (HHH1/2)

A film so different, so whacked-out, so original, and totally unlike anything else out there -- like Monty Python at their most deadpan hilarious. An unconventional mixture of comedy, satire, and frighteningly deep ruminations on the nature of personality. -- VZ

Boiler Room (HH1/2)

A fairly clever, decent movie about the shady dealings of the employees of a small brokerage firm. Witty dialogue and good acting make the film hard to forget, but Boiler Room turns out not to be as thrilling as it claims to be. -- Jumaane Jeffries

The Cider House Rules (HHH)

Despite the fact that the protagonists’ name is Homer, this film ends up feeling less like a Homeric epic and more like a Norman Rockwell painting: hardly great art or even art at all, but something with instantly recognizable humanity and an overall impact that can hardly be ignored. Credit this mostly to luminous acting and the screenplay’s understated emotional complexity. -- VZ

Cradle Will Rock (HHH1/2)

A rich, visually inventive, amazingly-acted, and consistently hilarious tapestry of art set in the 1930’s, weaving together characters from John Cusack’s Nelson Rockefeller to Emily Watson’s homeless street performer. A perfect opening sequence, a perfect closing shot. -- VZ

Dolphins (HHH)

Like most OmniMax movies, Dolphins is strong on visuals, filling the screen with eye-popping images, but falls somewhat short on story and characters. The film is stunning as it follows dolphins as they play and hunt, but is less successful when it attempts to say something about humans. -- VZ

Erin Brockovich (HHH1/2)

A great film that successfully combines many genres: courtroom drama, mystery, relationship and character study, satire, and wish-fulfillment fable. Erin Brockovich makes use of actress Julia Roberts’ and director Steven Soderbergh’s strong points and uses them to complement each other, creating a movie where story and characters matter and where the visuals are handsome and stylized at the same time. -- VZ

Galaxy Quest (HH1/2)

Not quite the Star Trek parody that it starts out like; more of a Star Trek rip-off, with the same stupid computer graphics, fake sets, plot holes (all of the above rather irritating), and general air of amiable nonsense (very enjoyable). It’s also neat to see a bunch of good actors having fun. Rather stupid, really; at the same time, rather cute. -- VZ

Girl, Interrupted (HH1/2)

Exploring the struggles of a teenage girl in a mental hospital, Winona Ryder manages the lows but not highs of her character effectively, creating a somewhat skewed view of the movie. However, Angelina Jolie and Brittany Murphy are excellent supporting actresses and serve to balance the movie, while the rest of the acting is lukewarm. Additionally, the dramatic details, such as the lighting, create moods and scenes that are compelling, but that do not make up for the lack of plot. -- AM

Magnolia (HH1/2)

A sprawling incoherent mess of a movie, with a story and characters that manage to be both jaw-droppingly obvious and make no sense whatsoever. On the other hand, the annoying narrative bombast is compensated by great visual verve, and the climactic sequence is simply the most wildly creative bit of filmmaking of 1999, even though it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. -- VZ

Mission to Mars (H)

This latest Brian De Palma movie borrows so much from such space films as Contact, Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey that the result is not only poor -- it’s laughably poor. Mission to Mars relies heavily on computer graphics and insults its audience with bad writing. The final product would do better as a piece for Mystery Science Theatre 3000. -- VZ

The Next Best Thing (HH)

Madonna and Rupert Everett star as best friends who accidentally have a baby together. While Madonna and Everett are convincing in their roles, the premise of a gay man getting drunk and having sex with his female best friend is too far-fetched to swallow. Furthermore, the complicated custody battle that takes up the final third of the movie destroys the flow created by the first part of the film. -- Fred Choi

The Talented Mr. Ripley (HHH)

A lot to recommend: a complex plot, accomplished acting (Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett especially), and gorgeous visuals; especially impressive is the degree to which the audience gets to understand and identify with the film’s immoral protagonist. A bit too slowly-paced, though. -- VZ

The Tigger Movie (HH1/2)

Pooh, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, and of course, Tigger return to the big screen in the newest Disney animated adventure. This story of Tigger’s quest to find other tiggers benefits from top-notch animation, but feels too childish to be enjoyable. -- EB

Topsy-Turvy (HHH)

Following the trials and triumphs of Gilbert and Sullivan as they create their masterpiece The Mikado, Topsy-Turvy holds and keeps the audience’s attention. But it’s the breathtaking final five minutes that make the film worth seeing. -- VZ

Toy Story 2 (HHH1/2)

An instant classic, one of the most creative and fun movies of the year, this completely computer-generated sequel about the adventures of a bunch of toys is clever, funny, complex, and, most surprisingly, deeply emotional. -- VZ

The Whole Nine Yards (1/2)

There are films that are bad, and there are films that are so bad they are good, and then there is The Whole Nine Yards, which is so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good, and there’s no point about writing anything about this stillborn, humorless, sexist, violent piece of garbage, not even worth deciding if the word “sucks” or “stinks” applies better, and since I already killed an hour and a half of my life watching this abomination, I’m not going to write more than a single sentence about it, so there. -- VZ

Wonder Boys (HHH)

Wonder Boys, director Curtis Hanson’s first film since L.A. Confidential, is an endearingly offbeat comedy that takes its sweet time developing, though most of that time it is a delight. Michael Douglas stars as the unshaven, over-the-hill writer and professor Grady Tripp. Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes play Tripp’s students, with Maguire stealing the spotlight as a darkly enchanting would-be Poe. Also enjoyable are Robert Downey Jr. as Tripp’s loony editor, and Frances McDormand. Though overlong and overstuffed, the plot is always amiable and amusing, and the cast makes this one worth watching. -- Roy Rodenstein