These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.
(PG-13, 1999, 113 minutes, Twentieth Century Fox)
Too old to play a romantic lead? Sean Connery? Never! There are guilty pleasures galore in this wonderfully implausible, high-class romantic thriller starring Connery as a gentleman art burglar and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the insurance investigator who sets out to ensnare him. During this action-packed affair, whose debt to James Bond and such romantic thrillers as "The Thomas Crown Affair" is clear, Connery and Zeta-Jones play the subtextual mating game to the hilt. This is about passion between the grand old lion and the feisty young cougar, and the exhilarating implications between a grizzled 007 and the Girl From "The Mask of Zorro." Go for it. Contains sexual situations and major innuendo.
-- Desson Howe
THE IRON GIANT
(PG, 1999, 87 minutes, Warner Brothers)
Riotously enough, the most striking characteristic of Brad Bird's animated feature is its heavyhandedness. The clunky parable was loosely -- very loosely -- based on the 1968 children's book of the same name by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. When a local fisherman recounts seeing an iron man fall from the sky, nobody believes him except 9-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal). Young Hogarth meets and befriends the childlike giant, and the pair find an unexpected ally in local beatnik Dean McCoppen (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.). But it's not long before the boy's strange behavior arouses the suspicions of his peppy single mom (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) and of Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald), an agent investigating the case for the Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena. Bird sets Hughes's story in America at the height of the Cold War and recasts it as a sermon on pacifism. To wit: The hapless giant discovers that he has both the ability to destroy and the capacity to choose not to. This is heavy metal indeed. But not to worry. Young audiences are notoriously impervious to moralizing, so the filmmakers throw in plenty of potty jokes, too. Contains a graphic hunting scene.
-- Nicole Arthur
(R, 1999, 127 minutes, Columbia TriStar)
In writer/director John Sayles's potboiler of an art film, Alaska is a place where damaged or unresolved souls come to find new direction. The action centers on fisherman Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn), who needs a new start to his emotionally tortured past, and Donnie De Angelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a wandering bar singer who goes from man to man, leaving her troubled teenage daughter, Renzi (Vanessa Martinez), seething with resentment. Also figuring in this is maverick bush pilot Smilin' Jack Johannson (Kris Kristofferson), who becomes significant toward the end. The movie suddenly veers into melodrama when Joe, Donnie and Renzi take a boat trip which turns disastrous. Caught between poetic metaphor and suspense, the movie falls into the chasm between. Contains strong language and sexual situations.
-- Desson Howe
THE LOVE LETTER
(PG-13, 1999, 88 minutes, Dreamworks)
When Helen MacFarquhar (Kate Capshaw), a single woman in a sleepy New England town, discovers an anonymous love letter, she wonders who wrote this unsigned declaration of love. Was it longtime friend, George (Tom Selleck), who seems to be sweet on her? Or is it Johnny (Tom Everett Scott), a college student who always seems to be hanging around? But Helen's not the only one to pick up the letter and assume she's the object of someone's secret affection. Unfortunately, the movie never achieves that "Midsummer Night's Dream" effect it's going for. By the time we learn the true identity of the author, the great mystery of the movie has dissipated to a loveless zero. Contains discreet sexual scenes, out of focus nudity and a few choice words.
-- Desson Howe
SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT
(R, 1999, 81 minutes, Paramount)
If Washington critics, myself included, have been unusually kind to this animated musical comedy based on the Comedy Central cartoon show, it's likely due to the fact that D.C. doesn't get the station on cable (meaning we haven't had a chance to get sick of the profane and crudely-drawn toddlers yet.) Truth be told, "Bigger, Longer and Uncut" is rather funny, if you have a high tolerance for obscenity, flatulence jokes and scenes of Satan in bed with Saddam Hussein. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's satirical edge in this send-up of movie censorship is fairly blunt, though, but it's still satisfying to see them bludgeon Hollywood's Baldwin and Arquette dynasties, Brooke Shields, Bill Gates, Barbra Streisand, and George Burns along with media hypocrisy. Contains a flood of creative obscenity, a smattering of profanity, plus animated vomit, flatulence, surgery, warfare and nudity.
-- Michael O'Sullivan