THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (R, 88 minutes)
At the start of this cleverly creepy low-budget ghost story, we're told that three film students entered a Maryland wilderness in the fall of 1994 -- and disappeared. They'd intended to document a local legend of ghosts and murder. A year later, their film and video gear was found, and "The Blair Witch Project" (actually a total fiction) presents a "raw footage" chronicle of how they lost their way and were stalked by . . . something. Many kids already know the drill from the www.blairwitch.com Web site. Shot in real woods, with tired actors improvising panic, the film expertly conjures a nearly bloodless terror that should draw teens in. "Blair Witch" isn't for preteens. The R reflects profanity. Characters also smoke and drink.
EYES WIDE SHUT (R, 159 minutes)
Visually lavish and sexually explicit in a cool, stylized way, "Eyes Wide Shut" examines sexual obsession and thoughts of infidelity within a chic New York marriage. The R rating covers graphic sexual situations, female nudity, drug use, drinking, smoking, a toilet scene, profanity and sexual innuendo. It's not appropriate for kids under 17, which doesn't mean they won't try to see it. They may, however, be put off by the unevenness of Stanley Kubrick's last film, which veers between moments of ravishing intrigue and sheer ponderousness.
Adapted from a story by turn-of-the-century Austrian writer, Arthur Schnitzler, "Eyes" follows the briefly decadent adventures of a doctor (Tom Cruise) when his wife (Nicole Kidman) admits that she's occasionally fantasized about other men. His encounters with prostitutes and at orgies prove he's just too nice to be a cad.
THE WOOD (R, 106 minutes)
Three twentysomething pals (Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones) from the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood (The Wood to locals) reminisce about their teen years while trying to get the suddenly petrified groom among them (Diggs) sober enough to attend his wedding. "The Wood" is a good-hearted but sexually explicit (in the style of R-rated "American Pie") coming-of-age tale about kids from a segment of society rarely portrayed on screen -- the African American middle class. Though debuting filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa uses clumsily improvised scenes, the movie's good humor could charm older high-schoolers. The rating covers strong profanity, comic semi-nudity, graphic sexual situations and marijuana.
MUPPETS FROM SPACE (G, 88 minutes)
Gonzo makes contact with his space alien relatives in this sometimes delightful feature, which sags badly in the middle. The first half-hour offers classic Muppet hilarity, which sparkles almost enough to light up the rest of the film. As the tale opens, Gonzo dreams that Noah turns him away from the Ark because he's just one-of-a-kind. The next morning, his alphabet cereal sends him a message to "watch the sky" as his fellow creatures approach Earth. He lives with Piggy, Fozzie, Rizzo, and the extended Muppet family in a ramshackle house, overseen by the benevolent Kermit. The story grows tedious when UFO-obsessed humans interfere. A scene with a mean scientist and his sad, talking lab rats might upset tots.
For 6 and Older
"Tarzan" (G). Animated tale of boy raised by gorillas is exciting, lushly drawn, witty, sad -- and violent enough to warrant PG: Leopard kills Tarzan's human parents off-screen, stalks baby; baboons chase Jane; elephants stampede; gorilla shot, dies; villain shown hanged in vines. Special care with preschoolers.
8 and Up
"Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" (PG). First installment of prequel trilogy looks good, plays dull. Loud, fast, bloodless violence includes lightsaber impalement, endless pod race, battles; sad moment when young Anakin Skywalker leaves mother; tots may find aliens scary.
"Wild Wild West." Will Smith as Federal agent Jim West, Kevin Kline as inventor Artemus Gordon, save President Grant in over-produced, diverting update of 1960's TV show. Comic verbal, visual sexual innuendo; scantily-clad women; racial slurs; comic near-lynching; violence with guns, knives.
"Big Daddy." Adam Sandler in disappointing comedy about thirty-something slacker who adopts kid. Gags about bed-wetting, nasal extrusions, vomiting, women's breasts; jokes at expense of old, gay, homeless characters; occasional profanity; other sexual innuendo.
"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." Sequel about `60s-steeped British spy nearly droll as original, but cruder. Sexual innuendo; toilet gags; profanity; head-banging, crotch-biting fights; jokes about dwarfs, lesbians; semi-nudity. Worried parents preview.
"American Pie." Four high-school guys vow to lose virginity in intermittently droll, often trite, graphically over-the-top sex farce. Explicit sexual situations; outrageous masturbation gags; profanity; verbal sexual innuendo; gross toilet humor; drinking. Older high-schoolers.
"Arlington Road." Jeff Bridges as expert on domestic terrorism, sure his neighbors belong to violent anti-government group in slick, intense, but too-obvious thriller. Two children severely hurt; shoot-outs; fisticuffs; huge explosion; profanity. Older teens.
"Lake Placid." Giant crocodile in Maine lake munches on men, bears, cows, in gory, corny creature feature saved by snappy lines, likable cast. Violent attacks, gross severed heads, bloody half-torsos; live cows used to trap croc; profanity; sexual innuendo. Older teens.
"Summer of Sam." Overcooked Spike Lee-directed melodrama about Italian-Americans in 1977 Bronx while Son of Sam killer stalked. Bloody murder re-enactments; graphic sex scenes; semi-nudity; constant profanity; beatings; drugs, smoking, drinking; ethnic, homophobic slurs. Oldest high-schoolers.