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APRIL 5, 1999: 

The Out-Of-Towners

Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin are such likable performers that it's not much fun to bash their projects. But Sam Weisman's remake of Arthur Hiller's 1970 Jack Lemmon/Sandy Dennis adaptation of the Neil Simon play offers some groan-inducing high jinks. Martin and Hawn play an Ohio couple, Henry and Nancy Clark, with marital troubles that erupt when their youngest child (Hawn's real-life son, Oliver Hudson) leaves for college. When Henry gets a job interview in New York (he's been fired from his old firm, but he hasn't told Nancy), everything goes wrong. Once in the big city, after considerable travel trauma, the kooky couple are chased by a dog, mugged, kicked out of a hotel, and arrested. Most of the shtick -- like Henry yelling into the baggage-claim flap and Nancy constantly fluttering around in high heels -- comes off as forced zaniness. A few items score, as when a mugger posing as Andrew Lloyd Webber meets the couple on the city streets and Nancy gets misty thinking about Cats. "We lost a cat that year," Henry explains. Hawn and Martin have fun together, but it's not enough to save a drippy storyline and corny slapstick. This version of The Out-of-Towners should stick to the boonies.

-- Rachel O'Malley

The Mod Squad

Add another to the scrap heap of hip '60s and '70s TV shows reduced to cinematic rubble by the inspiration-starved minds in Hollywood. Aaron Spelling's tele-series tapped into the rebellious anxiety, far-out lingo, and anti-establishment garb of the time. Here, the filmmakers seem content to regurgitate the scene, leaving the ripe, potentially retro cop drama disjointed and grating. Not the least of the film's offenses is the way the trio of punks rehabilitated into an undercover police unit are surrealistically saddled with '70s speak in a '90s world, or the way they cruise the streets of LA in classic, gas-guzzling boats while everyone else drives a Japanese compact. Still worse is the characters' postured malaise, the inane dialogue, and a muddled plot that has something to do with dirty cops, a cache of drugs, and a frame-up.

Of the title trio, the electric Giovanni Ribisi and Omar Epps -- in the one of the more cynically funny scenes, he dances cheek-to-cheek with Michael Lerner's gaudy mobster -- get their moments to shine. But the adorable and talented Claire Danes -- her punky caricature is a clone of Bridget Fonda's in Point of No Return -- is left to intone "fuck" and strut around in hip-hugging outfits that don't suit her. Miss Danes's future is not as a sex symbol, and The Mod Squad is way too "freaky" of a mess to be mod.

-- Tom Meek

The Matrix

Like Dark City, David Cronenberg's upcoming eXistenZ, and even Sean Connery's freaky '70s flick Zardoz, The Matrix is a feverish sci-fi thriller that combusts on the idea that man's perceived reality is in truth a virtual veil controlled by a higher, undetected dark force. Keanu Reeves, who always looks good on screen but seems to be from the Al Gore school of drama when it comes to dialogue and emoting, finally lands in another action role (since Point Break and Speed) that works with him. Here he plays a computer nerd who goes by the alias of Neo. After an all-night hack session, he's sought out in the flesh by a fellow on-liner named Trinity (an angular and bondage-clad Carrie-Anne Moss). She warns that "they" are watching and "they" are coming. Neo is engaged by the notion of something bigger and diabolical but nevertheless drones on in his mundane corporate hell until a trio of Men in Black assassins show up and things erupt into a spectacular FX extravaganza.

The "they" in question are agents of the new order, a world run by computers and machines, where mankind believes it exists in the prosperous 1990s when it is really enslaved as a sheepish energy source on a barren Earth nearly a century later. It's through a creepy, digital caesarean that Neo is birthed into the resistance by Laurence Fishburne's charismatic Morpheus, who believes the über-hack is "the one" (shades of Little Buddha?) to master "the matrix" and free man's mind. The performances by Fishburne, Moss, and Hugo Weaving as a relentless agent are noteworthy, but the real stars of The Matrix are the Wachowski brothers (the team who made Bound) and their slick, gothic future world, where hip black garb is paramount, cyber combat is a death-defying thrill ride (heightened by the mesmerizing use of "dead time" FX), and an individual can become an instant martial-arts expert simply by downloading a program to his or her cerebral cortex.

-- Tom Meek

A Walk on the Moon

It's that oh-so-seminal summer of '69, and Pearl Kantrowitz (Diane Lane), a comely young housewife, is spending it shvitzing in the Catskills with her straight-arrow husband (Liev Schreiber), her menschy mother-in-law (Tovah Feldshuh), and her precocious kids (Anna Paquin and Bobby Boriello). She's realizing her life's as flat as a mah jong tile when a hippie blouse salesman (Viggo Mortensen) pulls into the campground peddling his wares -- and the chance for Pearl to indulge in a little peace, love, and happiness.

Indeed, there hasn't been such a steamy unbuckling of the Borscht Belt since Dirty Dancing. In his directorial debut, actor Tony Goldwyn (Kiss the Girls) culls fine performances from all, especially Lane, who's an understated, sensual presence as the repressed Pearl. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to think of Mortensen as the essence of sun-cracked virility when people keep referring to him as the Blouse Man (i.e., "Are you shtupping the Blouse Man?"). Such snickering moments, as well as a tendency to oversteep the nostalgia, ultimately ground this Walk on the Moon.

-- Alicia Potter

10 Things I Hate About You

Call it "Shakespeare in Convulsions," this latest film in Hollywood's current trend of teenager-izing the classics for the big screen. What's the studios' motive in all this -- to educate, slyly, our nation's youth, or to stop critics from savaging the storylines? Loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You is a good-hearted movie filled with cute actors, a superficial love for Shakespeare, and a Saved by the Bell-type high school. Vapid pretty girl Bianca can't date until older sister Kat, the independent-thinking "shrew," goes out, something it turns out only the school's biggest scumbag (on the outside) can get her to do. Okay, I won't complain about the plot, but the dialogue is painfully witless, and there are more supposedly dramatic moments when a girl slams a door than should be legal in a 90-minute film. Then there's all the "risky" crass moments -- oooh, did that teacher really say a bad word? -- that have become mandatory in stupid comedies. I'd have been hard-pressed to stay in my seat for this one had it not been for the Letters from Cleo tunes. God, that Kay Hanley is hot; I bet she was in the popular crowd.

-- Mark Bazer

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