LOVE STINKS (R, 95 minutes)
For a change, it's the woman who acts the jerk in this cynical, shallow, who-cares comedy about a monumental mismatch laced with monstrous greed. From the tacky Sunset Strip quality of the women's wardrobes to the pointlessly profane dialogue and slapstick-graphic sex scenes, "Love Stinks" plays like an R-rated network sitcom. Television-bred teens 15 or 16 and up may tune right into its wavelength and, alas, to its brittle emotional void.
Seth (French Stewart), a successful sitcom writer (how appropriate), falls madly for his best friend's (Bill Bellamy) wife's (Tyra Banks) best friend, Chelsea (Bridgette Wilson). What he doesn't grasp at first is the depth of gorgeous Chelsea's need for a 4-carat (it's set in L.A., after all) diamond engagement ring and a wedding. His failure to pop the question eventually leads to a venomous, career-threatening palimony suit and -- in the only bit that halfway redeems this crass movie -- a nifty revenge.
STIGMATA (R, 102 minutes)
A trendy young woman who professes no religious faith suddenly finds herself afflicted with stigmata -- painful, bleeding wounds that match those received by Jesus on the cross -- in this flip side of "The Exorcist" (R, 1973). High-schoolers (and some middle school kids) interested in religion or more exotic forms of spirituality may find the movie visually arresting, and its premise -- that God is trying to reveal a lost Gospel, while the Vatican tries to suppress it -- mighty intriguing. (It's sure to generate controversy with the Roman Catholic Church and many believers.) The R rating reflects the gory wounds and the disturbing sight of the character in pain intercut with hallucinatory re-creations of Jesus being nailed to the cross. Occasional profanity, a mild sexual chemistry between the heroine and the priest and cigarette smoking are the other more mature elements.
Patricia Arquette plays Frankie, a hip hairdresser in Pittsburgh. Despite the stigmata, she refuses to believe God is using her as a messenger, until a priest-scientist (Gabriel Byrne) from the Vatican decides she's for real and tries to shield her from the church hierarchy. "Stigmata" offers a few goose-bumpy thriller moments and maintains a fairly constant level of interest, but it's far too slick, and it pushes special effects and symbolism to the point of silliness.
STIR OF ECHOES (R, 99 minutes)
A blue-collar family man on Chicago's South Side discovers that he and his young son have the uncanny ability to commune with ghosts in this disturbing, neatly spun yarn. "Stir of Echoes" (based on Richard Matheson's 1958 book) may be less nuanced than "The Sixth Sense" (PG-13), but it features equally strong acting and electric intensity. It's appropriate for most high-schoolers, except those who find ghostly crime stories too nightmarish. The film contains a non-explicit but strong implication of sexual assault, blood-soaked hallucinations, brief nudity, an explicit marital sexual situation, a joke about marijuana, occasional profanity and drinking.
Tom (Kevin Bacon), a phone company lineman, weekend rock musician and good husband and daddy, is hypnotized by his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) as a party trick. Afterward, he's beset by frightening, violent visions and voices. He realizes that his son (Zachary David Cope) has always had a much more refined version of that extra sense. Tom becomes obsessed with finding out what the visions and voices are telling him and learns that his neighborhood isn't as idyllic as he thought.
Okay for 6 and Up
"Dudley Do-Right" (PG). Brendan Fraser as the dim Canadian Mountie in painfully arch live-action comedy based on popular TV 'toons; slapstick may please tots. Final battle unnecessarily violent; some crude language.
8 and Older
"A Dog of Flanders" (PG). Boy in 19th-century Belgium strives to be an artist in well-told, spiritual tale with happier ending than 1872 novella it's based on. Mother, grandfather dying; dog briefly abused; mild sexual innuendo; mild profanity.
"The Dinner Game." Clever French farce about arrogant rich man who attends weekly party where he and pals invite men they consider "idiots" just to sneer at them. Subtle jabs at snobbery. Some profanity. Subtitles.
"The Muse." Albert Brooks as washed-up screenwriter inspired by Sharon Stone as Muse descended from Greek gods, in smart spoof that sags in middle; perhaps too subtle for teens. Rare profanity.
"The Sixth Sense." Bruce Willis as psychologist helps boy tormented by ghosts in subtle, sometimes slow thriller that builds to fab ending. Off-camera suicide; ghosts show wounds from violent deaths; rare crude language; drinking.
R's and Art Films
"Cabaret Balkan." Relentless, urgent, tragicomic account of characters in today's Belgrade, reduced to crime, fear and betrayal after years of war, despotism. Anarchic violence, sexuality; strong profanity. Subtitles. Mature high-schoolers.
"The Astronaut's Wife." Johnny Depp in thoughtful adult thriller as astronaut back after space "incident," his wife sure he's co-opted by aliens. Sexual situations; profanity; suicide; violence; wife ponders inducing miscarriage. Oldest teens.
"Better Than Chocolate" (Unrated, 103 minutes). Lesbian college dropout falls in love, can't tell her naive, chocoholic mom in good-hearted, sometimes clumsy Canadian comedy. Explicit sexual situations, language, paraphernalia; nudity; profanity; marijuana, liquor. Oldest high-schoolers.
"In Too Deep." Omar Epps as undercover cop, LL Cool J as drug lord in excellent drama. Torture, mistreatment of women, gun violence, sexual situations, drug use, profanity. Older high-schoolers.