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By Ellen Fox, Bill Stamets

NOVEMBER 16, 1998: 

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

Neve Campbell's unwittingly more skanky counterpart, Jennifer Love Hewitt, returns to the big screen in this adequately suspenseful and sometimes surprising sequel to well... you know. When she and college pal Brandy win tickets to a Caribbean resort, it's time for a Holiday from Hell with the requisite shady hotel staff, impending hurricane, thwarted lovemaking, false alarms and delayed discovery. But although there are some bits of inventiveness (scenes incorporating karaoke and tanning beds capitalize on Hewitt's college-bim persona), the conceit of the wink-wink, splatter-free horror film is already tedious and un-scary. Most of the suspense is shallow, and the two stars, already famous in their own right, often look as though they're having lotsa fun, doing the trendy horror film thing. (It always lent the horror films of the seventies and eighties a bit of extra menace: knowing that the leads, hot kids with big dreams all, were most likely to wind up like the very characters they played--given the axe and never heard from again.) It's almost as if, fed up with all our rants about its gratuitous sex and violence, Hollywood's sanitized scary movies and handed us a far more disturbing variety of horror in recent indie depictions of middle class life, i.e. "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "Happiness." Now, I'm just about ready again for the pleasantly irrelevant experience of watching someone's head being ripped from his spinal cord. Perhaps in its next sequel "I Know What You Did Last Summer" will return with some earnestly-wrought gore, seeing as how a few mysteries remain unsolved--the least of which being why our heroine feels compelled to sleep in a bra. (Ellen Fox)

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Tiger Beat centerfold Jonathan Taylor Thomas is Jake, a So-Cal college con artist who scraps two tickets to Cabo San Lucas when Dad calls up and promises Son the Porsche if he can make it home to New York by Christmas Eve. Problem is, he's been left in the desert--clad in only a Santa suit and beard--by thugs disgruntled with his latest failed scam: helping them cheat on an exam. Thus ensues an episodic journey in which Jake panders to strangers' Christmas spirit (usually by fabricating a medical emergency), only to find every scam turned into an opportunity to do right. While rife with hamburger humor, curled-upper-lip grins and the familiar shorthand irony of scoring sour moments (like riding through the desert in a car full of old ladies) with zany music (like "What's Up, Pussycat?"), the premise of the reluctant Santa is always a charmer. But it's hard to root for a college kid whose designs on a fancy car vie with those of retaining his elusive, mixed up girlfriend, played by "Seventh Heaven"'s Jessica Biel. I also never had the sense that Jake was growing any wiser, just getting away with it all, so that, when the moment of self-understanding arrives, it's as slipshod as slapping a moral on the end of the jubilantly self-indulgent "Ferris Bueller." You might say that, like that film, "I'll Be Home" and its hero finish unscathed inside the bubble of their cushy, middle-class materialism, where being broke and stranded is merely a cloying cinematic conceit. But, after all, what would the holidays be without a little self-delusion? (Ellen Fox)

Meet Joe Black

The regal Anthony Hopkins plays William Parrish, an Olympian news industrialist whose imminent heart attack is signaled in "Meet Joe Black" by the cardiac equivalent of car bombs booming in his ears. Before this magnate's clock stops, though, Death indulges Its curiosity about life—the phenomenon, not the publication. Death incarnates Itself in the body of a blonde newcomer freshly felled in New York City traffic just after hitting on Parrish's daughter Susan. That young Man is Brad Pitt. As Death, he goes by Joe Black in this mordant riff on mortality. The widower Parrish and Susan, a sylph of a physician played by Claire Forlani ("Basquiat"'s girlfriend) become Joe's tutors. Pitt's performance as a buff abstraction is just one of the rewards of this lovingly crafted three-hour drama as he echoes Peter Seller's turn as a naif in "Being There" when unmannered Joe Black learns truisms about death and taxes and about money. He also tastes peanut butter for the first time and loses his virginity in an achingly chaste love scene that catches fire in inspired close-ups of eyes. Martin Brest produced and directed this fable that was "suggested by the play 'Death Takes a Holiday,'" as a closing credit states. The unusually smooth screenplay--coming from four screenwriters whose various credits include "Working Girl," "Scent of a Woman" and the television series "Moonlighting"--peddles a tony take on the Puritan ethos. (Bill Stamets)

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