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The Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page WE42

THE PACIFIER (PG, 94 minutes)

Its contrived plot creaks and star Vin Diesel isn't very light on his feet, comedically speaking, yet "The Pacifier" has a few amusing moments, though it does rather cutesy-fy all things military. Kids 8 and older may get a charge out of watching a tough Navy SEAL try to guard five obstreperous kids. The children are grieving and angry because their dad, a government scientist at work on a secret military project, has been murdered, and they could be targets, too. They are not interested in wearing tracking devices or living under military discipline, but when their mother (Faith Ford) is called away, the kids -- two teens (Brittany Snow and Max Thieriot), a grade schooler (Morgan York), plus a toddler and an infant -- are stuck with the muscled Shane (Diesel). The nanny (Carol Kane) quits, the kids' macho vice principal (Brad Garrett) hates him and the principal (Lauren Graham) flirts with him, but Shane doesn't crack. He changes smelly diapers, helps troubled teens and gets in touch with his nurturing side while watching for killer spies. Aside from diaper humor, the film includes "boob" jokes, mild profanity, school bullies and a Nazi armband whose meaning (someone is in a production of "The Sound of Music") is never explained at a kid's level. Action sequences with bloodless gunplay, martial arts fighting and explosions briefly put kids in jeopardy.

BE COOL (PG-13, 112 minutes)

"Be Cool" is a pretty terrific caper comedy -- often hilarious and rich in vivid characters who nudge the twisty plot to its conclusion. A few cheap jokes get by, but most of the film's jabs at pop culture and Hollywood hype are on the money. It is also the most profane and implicitly violent film the Family Filmgoer recalls viewing under a PG-13 rating. A sequel to the R-rated "Get Shorty," "Be Cool" tamps down the cuss words, violence and sexuality just enough to squeeze into the more profitable -- and flexible -- PG-13. It is okay fare for many high schoolers, who will savor its hipness, but not for middle schoolers.


8 and Older

"Because of Winn-Dixie" (PG). Sweet, well-acted, leisurely told, bittersweet tale with spiritual dimension (based on Kate DiCamillo's book) about lonely girl (AnnaSophia Robb) living in a trailer park with her preacher dad (Jeff Daniels); her life changes when she adopts a stray pooch; the mutt tugs her into life-altering friendships with a librarian (Eva Marie Saint), a recluse (Cicely Tyson), a shy pet store manager (musician Dave Matthews); she learns why her mother left the family, about grown-ups with problems. One swear word; doggy-poop humor; gross, kid-type insults; upsetting scenes when officers try to grab Winn-Dixie, when he gets afraid of thunderstorms, when a surly man remarks he once shot a dog.

9 and Older

"Son of the Mask" (PG). Special effects trump story in unfunny, poorly conceived sequel to 1994 Jim Carrey flick, "The Mask," that could scare some under-9s with mix of live-action and three-dimensional computer-animated, cartoon-style violence; with Jamie Kennedy as Tim, a would-be animator whose dog finds the mask, a powerful source of mayhem belonging to Norse god of mischief, Loki (Alan Cumming), who comes looking for it; Tim's wife (Traylor Howard) later gives birth to a Loki-esque baby boy who can morph into a destructive dynamo, limbs extended, face distorted; dog morphs into cartoon critter who tries to blow up the baby; kick-in-the-crotch gags; undiapered baby urinates torrentially in dad's face; mild sexual innuendo; rare profanity.


"Cursed." Christina Ricci as young career woman fighting a werewolf curse in smart, witty, relatively non-gory (for the genre) tale directed by horror maven Wes Craven; with her teen brother (Jesse Eisenberg), she develops a weird physical power and a taste for blood after they crash into a wolflike creature on the road and see another woman torn apart by it (mostly off-camera); story becomes a droll metaphor for Hollywood. Glimpses of wolflike monster stalking, attacking prey, some bloody aftermath shown; photos of torn-up victims; humans, a pet morphing into werewolf; profanity, verbal sexual innuendo; homophobic slurs; drug references. A strong PG-13, not so much for middle schoolers.

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman." Wildly corny but entertaining tale veers between melodrama, low comedy and religious fervor in story of woman (Kimberly Elise), tossed out of their mansion by her unfaithful lawyer husband (Steve Harris); she seeks comfort with her pot-smoking, gun-toting, outspoken grandmother (Tyler Perry, in bosomy drag, who adapted the script from his play) and meets a great new guy (Shemar Moore), but first must make peace with her yen for revenge. Subtly implied portrayals of drug addiction, infidelity; marijuana use; reference to miscarriages; guns fired; disabled character nearly drowns; mild sexual innuendo; toilet humor; rare profanity. More for high schoolers.

"Hitch." Slick, glib, irresistible, perfectly cast romantic comedy with Will Smith as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a "date doctor" who teaches shy New Yorkers like Albert the accountant (Kevin James) how to woo women; then Alex meets a smart, gorgeous gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) who makes him forget he vowed never to fall in love himself. A relatively chaste PG-13, but with much verbal sexual innuendo, some of it crude and misogynistic; a man is kicked in the crotch and slammed against an anatomically correct bronze bull; fairly strong profanity; character gets high on antihistamines. Teens.

The violence involves a fatal beating, shootings and much brandishing of guns, but the mayhem is filmed so obliquely that little graphic material gets on-screen. Alongside the profanity there are homophobic slurs and thinly disguised sexual references. Scantily clad women dance suggestively in clubs, and some characters drink and smoke.

In "Be Cool," the suave ex-mobster of the first film, Chili Palmer (John Travolta, in top form) segues from producing movies into the music business. He discovers a singer-songwriter (Christina Milian) and partners with the lovely Edie (Uma Thurman), widow of a murdered record producer (James Woods), to make the girl a star. But the singer's idiotic, jive-talking-white-guy manager (Vince Vaughn) and his bodyguard (The Rock) want Chili dead. So does a hip-hop mogul (Cedric the Entertainer) and his posse (led by Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 of OutKast).

MAN OF THE HOUSE (PG-13, 97 minutes)

A no-nonsense Texas Ranger (a state police officer, not a baseball player) guards a bevy of vapid, bare-bellied college cheerleaders because they witnessed a mob murder in this painfully contrived, lowbrow comedy. Star Tommy Lee Jones, a real actor, adds an emotional heft that seems incongruous in such a mindless enterprise. He orders pizza; the girls nix the carbs. He enforces a curfew; the girls sneak out. Such hilarity. The cheerleaders (Christina Milian, Paula Garces, Monica Keena, Vanessa Ferlito, Kelli Garner) help the divorced ranger find love (with Anne Archer as a professor) and reconcile with his daughter (Shannon Marie Woodward). Cedric the Entertainer brings a few laughs as a preacher with a past. In this mid-range PG-13, Jones retrieves a cell phone from a cow's behind. There are bloodless shootings, explosions, a bus hijacking, fights, profanity, sexual innuendo and jokes about drugs and feminine products.

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