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FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

BLUES BROTHERS 2000. Watching this plodding sequel to 1980's manic, over-the-top Blues Brothers, one can't help but sense the cynicism of director John Landis. Every uninspired gag and dull, lifeless scene seems to grumble, "To hell with trying. I'm just going to repeat the structure of the first film, adding tons of car crashes and music-world cameos, and that ought to be enough to make a lot of money." Reprising his role as Elwood Blues, Dan Aykroyd (who co-wrote with Landis) does what he can, occasionally goosing up his stiff, laconic shtick with outbursts of deadpan verbosity. The movie gets off to a grim start by explaining that Aykroyd's friends John Belushi, John Candy and Cab Calloway are dead; then Aykroyd spends what seems like two hours forming a new band that includes John Goodman, Joe Morton and a 10-year-old boy--none of whom ever comes close to matching the inspired zaniness of the film's predecessors. Why Landis waits until the film's last half-hour to cash in on his huge guest list of great old rock and blues performers is beyond comprehension. The musicians, who include B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Steve Winwood and ringleader Paul Shaffer, jam and sing and whoop it up as if they think they're in a much better movie. --Woodruff

BUTCH CAMP. Why would anyone want to make a gay version of the kind of teen-sex flicks that are so embarrassing that they can only be viewed on USA's Up All Night when you're coming down from a particularly debilitating PCP overdose? Has Ellen's coming-out on a sitcom removed all pretense of dignity from gay cinema? Is a homosexual twist on the sensibility of the sports-bar mooks who make ape-noises whenever they see a pair of breasts something to which we want to subject our precious resource of gay teens? Featuring amateurish lighting, sloppy and unimaginative camera work, and acting from the elbow-in-the-ribs school of over-the-top mugging, Butch Camp tells the story of _ O, never mind. Just stay home and rent a Jeff Stryker film. You're sure to see better filmmaking and more clever dialogue, and it's just the thing for Valentine's Day with a loved one (or ones). --DiGiovanna

DEEP RISING. I don't know how this movie got past the typical Hollywood dumbing down, but it's actually a half-way decent genre pic. Instead of just setting up a scenario where a group of heavily armed stereotypes blast their way through a swarm of bug eyed monsters, this film actually went to all the trouble of producing a fairly compelling story of intrigue, and even included a couple of sub-plots that were more than just window dressing. Even more odd, when someone does do a little killing, they don't feel obliged to make a stupid wisecrack. Of course, there are still all the standard elements of a thriller, and when things blow up they blow up real good, but there's also some very nuanced acting by Kevin J. O'Connor, and a decent job by the under-rated Treat Williams as the macho lead. While this is by no means Citizen Kane, it's certainly a lot better than the last couple of Alien films, to which it will no doubt be compared. --DiGiovanna

DESPERATE MEASURES. Things I learned from watching Desperate Measures: (1) If the sociopathic prisoner who was supposed to donate life-saving bone marrow to your son with leukemia escapes from the operating room and is running around killing people, don't try to prevent cops from shooting him. That's just selfish, and makes you look like a jerk. (2) If you've gotta have shoot-outs, hospitals are a nifty place for them because immediately after somebody gets popped, doctors can swarm around and perform on-the-spot emergency surgery. (3) If you're a tough, smart female surgeon played by Marcia Gay Harden, and you konk the killer unconscious with a large metal object, make no attempt to restrain him. Instead, just run off. That way the ridiculous plot can continue. (4) Even if hero Andy Garcia gets real intense and wild-eyed, villain Michael Keaton becomes 100 times more animated than he was in Batman, child actor Joseph Cross overcomes his precocious courage-in-the-face-of-death lines with an excellent performance, and Barbet Schroeder directs with his usual stylish competence, that still doesn't mean the movie's going to be any good. --Woodruff

GREAT EXPECTATIONS. If only Ethan Hawke could have been surgically removed from the universe, this film would have fallen just slightly short of excellence. As it is, it's still pretty decent. DeNiro has a cameo that shows he can still fill up the screen, and Gwyneth Paltrow is a surprisingly good actor for someone with no visible body fat. The real star of this film, though, is Director of Photography Emanuel Lubezki. In the last 20 years, cinematographers seem to have become universally technically competent, but they squander their skills on difficult-to-shoot explosions and special effects. Lubezki, on the other hand, uses his considerable talents in the service of this well-designed genre romance, and in the process produces one of the longest, and most complicated, unbroken tracking shots ever filmed: the camera follows artist Finnegan Bell (Hawke) through a revolving door, into a black tie party, around the room, weaving between guests, until he finds his beloved Estrella (Gwyneth Paltrow), who walks away from him, and, still without cutting, he chases her out the revolving doors, down the street, into a restaurant, where she is seated at the very back with her fiancee (Hank Azaria). Still without a cut (except perhaps a well-hidden one as Hawke walks past a column), Finnegan takes her hand, they dance, walk out of the restaurant, into the street, and the camera rises in a crane shot as they run down the sidewalk and out of the frame. Now if only Ethan Hawke could be convinced to give up acting, writing, and looking pouty. --DiGiovanna

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. Where executive producer John Woo's Hong Kong action films register triple-digit deaths with many thousands of bullets fired, this gringo homage, directed by Antoine Fuqua, manages a mere 32 fatalities, making Replacement Killers a marvel of understatement. It's all about family values: A hard-boiled cop (Michael Rooker) kills the sneering son of very bad guy Mr. Wei (Kenneth Tsang) in a bust gone sour. The mighty Chow Yun-Fat, the perennial hero of Woo's best films, is sent to dispatch the cop's kid as payback. But Yun-Fat's John Lee, a lean and mean assassin, suffers a fit of conscience--he's a devoted family man in his free time--and calls off the mayhem. Hounded by Mr. Wei's backup assassins, he falls in with a gun-toting forger with a heart of gold, a character nicely played by Mira Sorvino's expressive underwear. Jurgen Prochnow and Clifton Gonzalez vie for the role of evildoer with the worst complexion, while Yun-Fat looks mostly amused as he dances through mad acts of car-wash fu, fire-escape fu, and movie-within-a-movie fu. --McNamee

THE TANGO LESSON. Ginger isn't the only one doing it backwards and in high heels. Sally Potter, director of Orlando, plays an English film director named Sally who's learning the tango from a sexy Argentinean dancer named Pablo (played by sexy Argentinean dancer Pablo Veron). Relax; your head won't explode in a hall of mirrors of self-referentiality--The Tango Lesson is a light movie with great music and terrifically sexy dance numbers. The subplot about the difficult love between Sally and Pablo is pleasant mainly because it is so lovely to see a middle-aged woman living out her fantasies of dancing professionally with a hot young thing, instead of watching some old guy with a spear gun save a young girl, for once. The movie never really goes anywhere, but it's a pleasant journey nonetheless. --Richter

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