THE STORY OF US (R, 96 minutes)
Sentimental and obvious, yet amusing and touching at times, this story of the disintegration of a marriage aims straight at the mainstream and never goes near the jagged edge where "American Beauty" teeters. Many teens, particularly girls, will find much to weep and laugh at, though the film's main audience will likely be adults under 50. A fairly mild R, "The Story of Us" does contain a lot of profanity and language that's sexually explicit in a comical way. One or two marital sex scenes are a bit steamy, but more silly than graphic. Co-star Bruce Willis also graces us with his bare behind. Teens whose parents have split up, or who have fears about such an event, may find the movie too intense.
"The Story of Us" is first and foremost a star vehicle for Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ben and Katie, a couple who have grown apart after 15 years of marriage. As soon as they drop the kids at summer camp they begin a trial separation. As the summer wears on they recall, thanks to a variety of flashbacks, how her obsession with order and his lack of discipline began to make them perpetually angry at each other. Friends played by Rob Reiner (who also directed) and Rita Wilson awkwardly try to help. Some of Ben and Katie's remembered fights, especially one screamer in which the kids are upstairs, will ring uncomfortably true. Caution, partial plot giveaway: Parents who choose to bring younger children may have to assure them the ending will be happy.
FIGHT CLUB (R, 141 minutes)
"Fight Club" carries the subject of man's disaffection in today's sterile techno-world to a new extreme. The film is cynical, nihilistic, smart, funny and riveting. Its moral ambiguity will attract controversy -- and its violence will attract plenty of young action-flick fans. But "Fight Club" isn't for those under 15 or 16, nor is it for impressionable youth of any age who might mimic the characters' screen behavior. Some older high-schoolers will be interested in its take on modern life, while others will like it as an action thriller. Aside from the head-banging, "Fight Club" contains graphic sexual situations, drug use, a plane crash fantasy, a couple of attempted suicides, nudity, verbal sexual innuendo and a subplot about making soap that tastelessly (and perhaps inadvertently) recalls Nazi atrocities. In a particularly upsetting scene, hooligans terrorize an Asian American store clerk. Profanity, toilet humor, smoking and drinking also figure in.
Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, "Fight Club" recounts the Faustian misadventures of a friendless white-collar guy (Edward Norton). Narrating the tale, he explains how he grew so emotionally disconnected that he began joining support groups for diseases he didn't have. Flying back from a business trip, he encounters a radical eccentric (Brad Pitt) and is swayed by his anti-everything rants. Soon they're sharing a house, hanging out in a bar and fistfighting for fun. With other men, they form a cult that evolves into an army of urban terrorists. The psychodramatic surprise climax will fuel many debates.
Fine for Tots on Up
"The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland" (G). Cuddly "Sesame Street" monster Elmo chases his blanket down Oscar the Grouch's trash can into Grouchland in adorable variation on "Wizard of Oz," with only brief fidgety parts. Bert and Ernie reassure at scary moments.
"Superstar." "Saturday Night Live" star Molly Shannon's ditsy teen persona, Mary Katherine Gallagher, in sometimes droll, but paper-thin expansion of "SNL" skit. Crude sexual innuendo; kissing; bulimia jokes; profanity; jive-talking God; Catholic school spoofed.
"Happy, Texas." Escaped convicts (Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn) impersonate gay guys who coach little girls for beauty pageants in riotous comedy. Bawdy sexual innuendo; non-explicit, comic sexual situations; crude language; gun violence; adult offers cigarette to child.
"Drive Me Crazy." Dateless teen (Melissa Joan Hart) asks hippie neighbor to be pretend boyfriend in offbeat comedy. Kissing, verbal sexual innuendo; drinking, smoking, stashing marijuana; rare profanity; subplot about divorced, deceased parents. Not for preteens.
"Jakob the Liar." Robin Williams in touching, comic fable about man who makes up news stories to raise morale in Jewish ghetto. Dead bodies, deprivation, suicide; Nazis torture Jakob; characters smoke.
"Random Hearts." Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas in chic but endless soaper about strangers who learn their spouses had long affair before dying in plane crash. Mild sexual situations, one more explicit; profanity; dead body; fighting, gunplay; drinking. May upset kids who've lost loved one. High-schoolers.
"Three Kings." George Clooney leads renegade U.S. soldiers in Iraq after Gulf War in exciting, cynical, savvy action flick. Graphic violence; slow-motion gunplay; mother killed in front of child; torture; profanity. Older high-schoolers.
"Mystery, Alaska." Earthy, likable comedy about small Alaskan town turned upside down when its hockey team takes on New York Rangers. Explicit sexual situations, some adulterous; sexual innuendo; profanity; smoking, drinking, fighting. Older high-schoolers.
"Double Jeopardy." Ashley Judd as woman out to get spouse who framed her for murder, Tommy Lee Jones as her parole officer in slick, implausible thriller. Explicit sexual situation; gunplay; strong profanity; smoking, drinking. High-schoolers.
"American Beauty." Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening in exquisite, cynical-spiritual comic tale of suburban angst. Graphic sexual situations, innuendo; man's non-graphic sexual fantasies about teen girl; semi-nudity; marijuana; father beats son; shooting; profanity. Mature high-schoolers.
"The Limey." Cockney ex-con (Terence Stamp) hunts down sleazy L.A. music producer (Peter Fonda) he thinks caused his daughter's death in tense, witty, noirish crime tale. Gun violence; fights; sexual innuendo; profanity; smoking. High-schoolers.