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MARCH 15, 1999: 

The Rage: Carrie 2

In Halloween: H20, Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the scene of the horror 20 years later as a school headmistress. In The Rage: Carrie 2, Amy Irving does the same. Any significance to that? Only that both movies suck, the difference being that the former tries to be funny and isn't, the latter doesn't and is.

In keeping with the mini-trend of having dorky teenage girls strike back (She's All That, Jawbreaker), The Rage features young Rachel Lang (newcomer Emily Bergl, shining despite the material) as a trailer-park toughie with a mother in an insane asylum who counters high-school ostracism by wearing goth duds and making nihilist remarks in English class. She achieves vindication not through a makeover, however, but through telekinesis. When her best friend jumps off a building after being dumped by a gross football player, she seethes with the rage of the title despite falling for one of the jocks, until the inevitable shitstorm descends, complete with spearguns.

Director Katt Shea does some tricks with the camera, but the film's fun comes mostly at the expense of Irving, whose portentous flashbacks to the Brian De Palma original are howlers; her fate gives new meaning to the expression tête-à-tête. Stupid but not boring, Carrie 2 demonstrates that some concepts are best left buried.

-- Peter Keough


The Deep End of the Ocean

With the baneful movie cliché of the endangered child as its starting point, The Deep End of the Ocean has nowhere else to go but up. And so it does, thanks to Ulu Grossbard's restrained direction, Stephen Schiff's inspired adaptation of the bestseller (hey, he must have thought, I've tackled Nabokov in Lolita, why not turn Jacquelyn Mitchard into Proust?), but mostly thanks to Michelle Pfeiffer, who's unnervingly convincing in the role of Beth, a frowzy, beleaguered housewife.

She's the one to blame when three-year-old son Ben gets lost in a crowded Chicago hotel lobby, and despite the efforts of a multicultural task force embodied by Whoopi Goldberg (whose detective character is black, female, gay, and mercifully absent for most of the movie) he's not found. Years pass and Beth takes the loss poorly, retreating into pills and 24-hour naps while other son Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) grows sullen and sports an earring, daughter Kerry grows cute, and husband Pat (Treat Williams) opens an Italian restaurant. Then Ben shows up at their door and things get complicated.

For the most part, the film unfolds these complications -- exultation, disorientation, guilt, sibling rivalry -- with poignant obliqueness. A gesture, look, or detail does the job handled in most tearjerkers by a harangue, and at times Deep End approaches the submarine frontiers of memory and identity. At other times it seems like a bloodless family-counseling session. "You're just a concept," Vincent accuses Ben, and often it's true. Despite its genuine emotional power, Deep End never goes in over its head.

-- Peter Keough


Tango

The latest dance drama from Spanish writer/director Carlos Saura (Flamenco, Blood Wedding) turns the tango, the terpsichorean equivalent of sex standing up, into one belabored and boring slow dance. A Best Foreign Language Film nominee, this plodding meditation on art and artifice follows a filmmaker named Mario (Miguel Ángel Solá) as he strives to create the ultimate movie about . . . the tango. Yet the wink-wink self-reflexivity backfires when Saura, just like Mario, struggles to find a compelling narrative to justify all the heel hammering. Indeed, though the dance sequences seethe with feral sensuality, the plot's as slim as a cigarillo. In between rehearsals, mopy Mario pines for his ex-wife/star (Cecilia Narova), then, predictably, sidles up to a young dancer (Mia Maestro), an Audrey Hepburn-esque muchacha with Mafia ties.

As if to offset the dearth of intrigue, the dialogue balloons with risible pomposity. Take, for example, this morsel of pillow talk: "Imagination is a guard rail that keeps you from falling into the pit of horror." With missteps like that, this is one Tango you'd be wise to sit out.

-- Alicia Potter


Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

The term Tarantino-esque has faded a bit in American Independent filmmaking, as have the fortunes of its namesake. To judge by the debut film of British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, that style of moviemaking hasn't died but has found greener pastures overseas. This is an audacious, frenetic, ultimately pointless exercise in scams, double-crosses, whimsical violence, and arty human folly.

A get-rich-quick heist, as usual, is the cause of everything. Eddie (Nick Moran), Bacon (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Tom (Jason Statham), a hunky quartet of wanna-be high-rollers, plot to win big in a poker game with Hatchett Harry (P.H. Moriarty), a London mobster. The game is fixed, however, and the aspiring punks find themselves with a few days to repay a gambling debt of half a million pounds. Their solution is to rob their neighbors, a ruthless band of drug dealers. Their neighbors also have plans, however, as do Harry and an assortment of other crusty ne'er-do-wells; and each scheme collides with the others with the giddy logic of a nuclear chain reaction.

Ritchie orchestrates the plots and anti-plots with the delight of a sadistic child whose artistic palette brims with cinematic pyrotechnics and movie allusions. Sometimes his showoff style seems gratuitous. But the performances -- especially by fierce footballer Vinnie Jones and the late, real-life tough guy Lenny McLean as two of Hatchett Harry's henchmen -- give the frivolity the needed flesh and blood. By the end of Lock, Stock, Ritchie's career shows signs of smoking.

-- Peter Keough


God Said, "Ha!"

Written and directed by former Saturday Night Live cast member Julia Sweeney, with Quentin Tarantino as executive producer, God Said, "Ha!" offers no sexually ambiguous Pat, no hit men in suits, only Julia Sweeney alone on stage telling the story of how her brother was diagnosed with cancer and how both he and her off-kilter parents moved into her brand new bachelorette bungalow in LA. Although her shtick is sometimes stagy, Sweeney paints her quirky family members with warmth and humor. Her father, who wears a walkman at all hours (even in bed) so he can be up to date with NPR news, tells her of an earthquake in Japan. "Oh my God," she gasps, "when did it happen?" He answers, "About 30 seconds ago." When Sweeney too is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo a hysterectomy, she starts wondering about cancer of the fat. Would emergency liposuction be so bad? And at her doctor's suggestion that she find a sperm donor (as many as six) in case she wants to have children of her own someday, she does the natural thing: she gets out her address book.

-- Rachel O'Malley


20 Dates

Myles Berkowitz's shoestring mockumentary about dating in Los Angeles is a tongue-in-cheek charmer whose uproarious, Candid Camera-style moments elevate it above its meager origins. As a frustrated, recently divorced filmmaker, Berkowitz plays an unbridled parody of himself. To jump-start his career and his love life, the would-be auteur decides to make a documentary chronicling his next 20 dates -- and for the concept, he receives $60,000 from a financier of dubious motives.

Most of the date-cam scenarios unfold in all-too-perfunctory fashion. The film is most barbed and effective when Berkowitz is conversing with his crass-mouthed producer, who wants a T&A picture, or when he's out prowling the supermarket or an AA meeting, desperately trying to fill his date quota. Along the way, the romantic klutz falls for one of his candidates and develops a conflict between his emotions and his desire to complete the project. It's also at this juncture that the film surrenders its witty edge and falls into to a preachy eddy of maudlin melodrama. If only Myles had stayed single longer, he might have completed what promised to be a piquant treat.

-- Tom Meek


Baby Geniuses

According to Tibetan myth, babies know all the universe's secrets. Unfortunately, they can't communicate this wisdom to adults. But what if we learned to decipher baby talk? So goes the premise of Baby Geniuses, a film that plays like a cereal ad (the aren't-precocious-kids-cute kind). Kathleen Turner is Dr. Elena Kinder, an evil scientist who heads up an operation that kidnaps babies for research. Her plan goes awry when one particularly gifted two-year-old escapes from her lab and is switched with his twin, who lives in the nurturing (and excruciatingly normal) home of Kinder's niece and nephew. Madcap adventures ensue. Turner, pouring on a double dose of her trademark haughty breathlessness, slinks through the movie like a lizard looking for shade.

The target audience of Baby Geniuses is a mystery: the film is too inane for adults, too advanced for kids. And though the latter may enjoy the occasional nose picking and crotch kicking, they'll be clueless when the babies start talking about disposable income and Pavlov's dog. It all amounts to pabulum.

-- Sarah Curtis



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