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APRIL 24, 2000: 

Me Myself I

Australian Pip Karmel's conceptual comedy is a more trenchant version of Gwyneth Paltrow's unctuous, reactionary Sliding Doors. Rachel Griffiths is plucky, downtrodden, and sexy as Pamela, an award-winning journalist whose success is no balm to her loneliness. Should she have said yes when Robert popped the question back in high school? A chance fender-bender propels her into that "what-if?" scenario, and Pamela discovers that she is in fact Bob's wife, a mother of three grotesque children, a domestic slave with no career or respect. How to reconcile the two lives? Me's cutesy dialectic doesn't convince, but Griffiths's nebbishy charm and Karmel's occasional absurdist wit does. -- Peter Keough


East is East

Manchester in 1971 is the setting for Damien O'Donnell's dark, irreverent comedy starring Om Puri (My Son the Fanatic) as George Khan, the grizzly patriarch of a family beset by cultural dissonance. With six sons and one daughter, George and his English wife (the wonderful Linda Bassett) work long hours in their chip shop, and they journey weekly to the mosque in a Pakistani neighborhood. The film opens as eldest son Nazir runs out on his wedding. In Fiddler on the Roof fashion, each succeeding son flagrantly rejects tradition. Abdul tries to placate his father, but he too fears an arranged marriage. Tariq, who calls himself Tony, sneaks out to discos at night and sleeps with Stella, a bit of working-class crumpet. Saleem is an engineering student with artist pretensions. Maneer hides his half-breed shame in Muslim devotion. Salid is an awkward pre-teen; tomboy Meenah shocks merely by wearing her short-skirted school uniform. The local Manchester youth run around like extras from Velvet Goldmine, and George's horny sons are ripe for the plucking.

Despite an unfortunate sentimental dive in the final 10 minutes, East Is East is full of comic brilliance. Puri's George bounces between stereotype and subtlety. His use of the word "bastard," like the movie itself, is a guaranteed laugh. -- Peg Aloi


Croupier

British filmmaker Mike Hodges made an extraordinary debut in 1970 with Get Carter, a masterpiece of neo-noir with Michael Caine as a lean, mean cockney contract killer. Since then, who has heard from Hodges? For a time, it seems Croupier might be his 30-years-after belated comeback, as it plunges its faltering-writer protagonist, Jack Manfred (handsome and sullen Clive Owen), into the absorbing casino subculture. Although his novel barely bubbles on his computer, Jack comes heatedly to life employed as a croupier, a James Bond-like tuxedo'd dandy, his beautiful hands dancing poetically with blackjack cards and chips. There are inviolate rules to being a croupier, and one by one, self-destructively, Jack violates them all, mixing it up with a female employee and getting acquainted, intimately, with "punters" (gamblers) outside the workplace.

Unfortunately, Jack isn't the only bungler of opportunity. Director Hodges throws away his film with fatuous, preposterous plot twists. And the mannered, self-conscious, voiceover storytelling (the screenwriter is former film critic Paul Mayersberg) becomes more and more annoying as the story unravels and Croupier gets crappier and crappier. -- Gerald Peary


28 Days

What sounds like a meditation on menstruation is actually an absorbing yet cliché-riddled saga about the rigors of rehab. Think Girl, Intoxicated: in her most ambitious role to date, Sandra Bullock proves both charismatic and convincing as Gwen, a hard-partying writer (is there any other kind in cinema?) who lands in court-ordered detox after plowing a limo into a house. Defensive, cynical, and deep in denial, she attempts abstinence with the help of a sad-eyed counselor (Steve Buscemi) and an archetypal hodgepodge of 12-steppers, of whom Alan Tudyk steals the serenity-praying show as a bizarre, vaguely Teutonic gay guy.

No, booze isn't really a depressive in the hands of director Betty Thomas (Private Parts) and writer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) -- in fact, the film juxtaposes such unlikely elements as an uproarious soap-opera parody and a guitar-strumming troubadour à la There's Something About Mary. Self-righteous 28 Days isn't, but coupled with a six-pack of showy camera tricks, the levity feels like a distraction, an apology for the requisite -- and fleeting -- downer moments. For better and for worse, this is a movie about alcoholism that's not very sober. -- Alicia Potter


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