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The Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page WE46

ICE PRINCESS (G, 92 minutes)

Strong performances at the center of this ultra-sanitized family film will keep kids (mostly girls) 8 and older interested in "Ice Princess," even though its alleged high school juniors and seniors seem more like middle schoolers and its setting feels more like 1965 than 2005, laptop computers and digital cameras notwithstanding. This is really a teen saga for grade schoolers to enjoy. The film contains no strong language or crude humor. There's barely a hint of sexual innuendo in the story, a little flirting and a chaste kiss. The only elements in the film that could give very young children or their parents pause are unethical behaviors. The skaters in the film say destructive things or slam into one another before competitions. And some of their parents are scary -- ambitious stage moms crossed with haranguing Little League dads. Yikes!

"Ice Princess" recounts how physics whiz Casey Carlyle (likable Michelle Trachtenberg) finds her true calling. Her single mom (Joan Cusack), a college teacher and devout feminist, longs for her daughter to get a Harvard education. (Let's stop here to congratulate Disney and the great Cusack. The progressive mom is not, for once, a buffoon. Yes, the film makes fun of her frumpy clothes and distaste for white flour, but she also proves to be the one with the strongest ideals and most selfless love.)

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Casey needs a physics project to present at her Harvard interview. She decides to study the aerodynamics of figure skating and becomes involved with the regional team of female competitors in her New England town, coached by a very demanding ex-Olympian (Kim Cattrall). The coach's in-crowd daughter (Hayden Panettiere), who is snarky to Casey at first, turns out to be human. She would love to quit competitive skating and just be a teenager, which her mother cannot accept. Casey would love to drop the idea of Harvard and take up skating, which her mother cannot accept. High drama of a sort ensues. It helps that the coach's other kid is a cute, nice guy (Trevor Blumas) who drives the Zamboni.

THE RING TWO (PG-13, 111 minutes)

Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), have left Seattle after their experiences with the death-dealing videotape in "The Ring" (PG-13, 2002). Now they're living in a quiet Oregon town, and Rachel, once a hotshot reporter, works at the tiny local paper. But the unexplained death of a teenager convinces her that the lethal tape is back in circulation. She destroys the copy, but the malevolent spirit of the long-ago murdered child Samara (Kelly Stables) escapes to taunt Rachel and Aidan in this meandering sequel. Like its predecessor, "The Ring Two" opts for dark foreboding and nightmarish dreamscapes instead of gore, but it feels like a rehash and its thrills are few. Even director Hideo Nakata, who did the hit Japanese films that inspired these U.S. versions, couldn't give this one the zing it needed.

Still, there are disturbing sequences that show young Aidan possessed by Samara and nearly drowned. Dead victims of the lethal tape have that horrific gaze on their faces as in the first film. Samara may still freak out the fainthearted with her ghastly visage, sopping hair and spiderlike movements. Other elements include muted suicide and child abuse themes, a nightmarish scene down a well, a herd of moose attacking a car and rare profanity.

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