Film Capsules

Capsule reviews by Desson Howe unless noted. A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

Openings

DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13) -- See review on Page 41.

THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG) -- See review on Page 41.

FRIDAY AFTER NEXT (R) -- See review on Page 42.

INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN (Unrated) -- See review on Page 42.

First Runs & Revivals {sstar}ALIAS BETTY (Unrated, 101 minutes) -- When Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain), a successful novelist and single mother, loses her 4-year-old son, her eccentric mother, Margot (Nicole Garcia), solves the problem. She simply kidnaps someone else's child. Little by little, Betty likes this new 4-year-old (Alexis Chatrian) staying right where he is. Claude Miller's French-language film is a chessboard of a thing. It's about the movements of the pawns, not the pawns themselves. And it's also about the relativity of "bad": everyone seems to be involved in some sort of deception, scam, thievery, almost as a matter of course. If this movie leaves you cool, it also leaves you intriguingly contemplative. Contains obscenity, nudity, sexual situations and some violence. In French with subtitles. Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

{sstar}APOLLO 13: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (PG, 116 minutes) -- This 1995 Academy Award-winning movie is perfectly suited for that in-your-face IMAX experience. Ron Howard's movie, with an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise, is about Apollo 13's ill-fated voyage in 1970. It's an entertaining movie, and the effects, boosted to the size of a downtown hotel, will all but take you to outer space. Contains emotional intensity and some bad language. Screens at 5 Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through Feb. 28, at the Smithsonian's Lockheed Martin IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum. Admission $7.50.

{sstar}AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- If the 1999 "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" was a string of inventive gags, puns and crudity, the third Austin Powers comedy is a couple of ropes worth. Mike Myers is quadruply funny as Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard (filthiest and fattest Scotsman ever to burst a kilt) and Mr. Goldmember himself, a nefarious Dutchman whose genitalia glow as a result of a smelting accident. And the movie topples over with visual gags (cheap, of course), witty lines, groanable puns, downright childish obscenity and a plot that's certainly no worse than the James Bond scenarios it lovingly parodies. Priceless stuff, baby. Contains sexual innuendo, crude humor and obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

THE BANGER SISTERS (R, 94 minutes) -- If you want to understand the importance of a good script, compare Susan Sarandon's performance in this film, a virtually laugh-free comedy about middle-aged former rock groupies, to her turn in "Igby Goes Down," a smart, dark satire of upper-class family dysfunction. It's not that the actress and her co-star Goldie Hawn (playing the "sisters" of the suggestively titled film) are that bad. It's just that they have so little to work with, outside of a few shopworn culture-clash jokes when free-spirited Suzette (Hawn) tries to reconnect with old pal Lavinia (Sarandon), a once wild but now tightly wrapped suburban matron. Contains obscenity, drug use and lots of sexual content. Countryside Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BARBERSHOP (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- This ensemble comedy revolves around Calvin (actor-rapper Ice Cube), the proprietor of a barbershop beset by financial woes that threaten to shut down what is clearly a cornerstone of the community. The shop is crowded with an oddball aggregation of haircutters, including Cedric the Entertainer as an elder barber with endless barbs, Sean Patrick Thomas as an ambitious but self-righteous college student and Michael Ealy as a reformed con trying desperately to avoid a third-strike call. Buzzing with cuts both literal and verbal, the film underscores notions of blue-collar camaraderie with humor and pathos. While Ice Cube manages likable warmth, "Barbershop" just misses being lovable. Contains obscene language, sexual content and brief drug references. Laurel Cinema.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar}BLOODY SUNDAY (R, 107 minutes) -- A date and movie to remember: On Sunday, Jan. 30, 1972, in Derry, northern Ireland, 20,000 mostly Catholic demonstrators intended to march peacefully for civil rights. They were met by British paramilitary who killed 14. Writer-director Paul Greengrass has made an extraordinary film, not only based on eyewitness accounts in the book ("Eyewitness Bloody Sunday") but featuring Derry residents and relatives of the slain. It's impossible to dismiss or leave ummoved. James Nesbitt is terrific as Ivan Cooper, leader of the Northern Irish Civil Rights Association, whose ideals crumble as the bloodshed begins. Contains obscenity and disturbing violence. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

{sstar}THE BOURNE IDENTITY (PG-13, 118 minutes) -- An unidentified man (Matt Damon) found floating in the Mediterranean by an Italian fishing boat is barely alive. He has bullets in his back, an electronic device implanted in his hip and absolutely no recall. He's also a linguistic and martial arts genius. Who is he and why is everyone trying to kill him? Doug ("Go") Liman's movie fuses together two elements that often elude supposedly bigger and better filmmakers: cracking action and smart direction. Franka Potente is just fine as a German woman who helps our hero (later identified as Jason Bourne) in his quest. She actually makes Damon's Jason seem terribly sexy. Contains some intense fighting violence and obscene language. Sterling Cinema Draft and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R, 125 minutes) -- In this stream-of-consciousness riff, documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore takes us from disturbing footage of the Columbine massacre to the attacks on the World Trade Center, stopping off at the home of NRA President Charlton Heston, James Nichols's farm (brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols) and several Canadian homes (to "prove" Canadians aren't paranoid). The movie raises many good points and observations. But Moore provides a rather rambling discourse of causality, which includes racism, white flight and Africanized bees, among many things. And he takes predictable aim (with not especially enlightening solutions or answers) at the NRA, the media and a right-wing conspiracy of racists, gun nuts and corporate profitmakers. Contains scenes of disturbing gun violence and some obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}BROWN SUGAR (PG-13, 109 minutes) -- As the star-crossed friends (and inevitable lovers) Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan (as well as a healthy round of comely co-stars, including Nicole Ari Parker) provide the allure in this savvy, African-American buppie romance. He's record company executive Dre; she's Sidney, a music journalist. They grew up in thesame neighborhood, grooving on the same hip-hop songs and, without realizing it, each other. So when Dre tells Sidney he's engaged to Reese (Parker), that oughtto be fine. But it isn't, of course. This is a fashion runway of a movie, a catwalk flick in which the secret ingredients are good genes and designers. Contains obscenity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

{sstar}COMEDIAN (R, 82 minutes) -- This watchable, digital documentary made by Christian Charles and Gary Streiner, follows Jerry Seinfeld as he attempts to return to his roots making people laugh in comedy nightclubs. It also follows Orny Adams, a hard-working funnyman, almost 30, who has spent most of his adult life trying to become famous. They are two comedians on either side of success, both working hard. It's an interesting dynamic. But Seinfeld's far more interesting, funny and likable than the self-absorbed Adams. And yet, this movie's enjoyable only as far as it goes. Despite amazing access to Seinfeld backstage, we don't get more than glimpses of the real man. Nor do we see more than bits and pieces of his act. Isn't that half the reason we're watching? Contains obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle, Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark Bethesda Row.

{sstar}8 MILE (R, 118 minutes) -- Eminem's debut role is about the rise of a pop star, plain and simple. In Curtis Hanson's film, he's a down-and-out Detroit rapper, nicknamed Rabbit, who dreams of making it. Simple story, yes. But Eminem's a screen presence, shrouded in his hood. The real deal -- and the movie's greatest fun -- is in the rap contests at clubs. They are extraordinary displays of verbal agility, with frenzied applause for poetics. And there's no question, by these hip-hop standards, Eminem has the mustard. He raps with the best of them. Contains obscenity, violence and druguse. Area theaters.

{sstar}8 WOMEN (R, 113 minutes) -- Cross the theatrical mystery of "Ten Little Indians" with the psychodrama of "The Women," add campy musical numbers and ironic self-awareness out the wazoo, then put it in French and you might have something approximating the giddy, caustic bite of "8 Women." Set in a snowed-in country house in the 1950s, the postmodern whodunit by Francois Ozon opens with the discovery of a dead (male) body and a houseful of eight female suspects. Quick! Nobody leave the room. Trust me: With stars like Catherine Denueve, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert and Virginie Ledoyen acting guilty as sin, no audience member is going to want to sneak out early. Contains frank sexual dialogue and slapstick violence. In French with subtitles. Annapolis Harbour.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- In Todd Haynes's tribute to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) and her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), seem like the perfect couple. But when Frank confesses to doubts about his sexual orientation, Cathy's life becomes an overwhelming crisis. And when she reaches out for emotional support to Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), her African American gardener, she incurs problems with her tightknit Connecticut community. Moore's performance is terrific as Cathy, a normal woman caught unwittingly at the forefront of a dawning social consciousness. Contains mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

FEMME FATALE (R, 114 minutes) -- In Brian De Palma's thriller-mystery-weirdunit, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is Laure Ashe, an elegant scam artist. Antonio Banderas is tabloid photographer Nicolas Bardo, who makes the mistake of getting involved. She pulls him into a convoluted scenario of love, deception and revenge. De Palma is a big fan of theclassic noir films "Obsession" and "Double Indemnity." And it shows all over the place. And his movie rivals David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" for identity shifting, thematic dualities of all kinds, destiny alteration, double crossing and, that old standby, arthouse incomprehensibility. Contains sexual scenes, nudity, violence and obscenity. In English and French with subtitles. Area theaters.

FRIDA (R, 118 minutes) -- The real Frida Kahlo remains a truly fascinating artist,self-empowerment icon and feminist leading light, despite the attempts of "Frida" the movie to reduce her rich, tragic and courageous life into biopic banality. In the title role, Salma Hayek remains as dedicated to her role and this movie as she is ordinary. She's a pint-size talent riding a legend, a mouse with one eyebrow atop a woolly mammoth. Director Julie Taymor's often-inspired touches -- stop motion, color tinting, black-and-white sequences and even skeletons -- suggest an intelligent desperation. She's doing her attention-getting best to save the movie from conventional doom. As Frida's tempestuous husband, Diego Rivera, Alfred Molina steals the movie. Contains nudity, obscenity, violence and emotionally intense material. Area theaters.

GHOST SHIP (R, 85 minutes) -- The first five minutes of this haunted horror flick is one of the grimmest, goriest setups in ages. But sophomore director Steve Beck ("13 Ghosts") never quite matches it in this what-dunit set on the Antonia Graza, a majestically decayed luxury liner that vanished 40 years before being rediscovered by a salvage crew headed by Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies. The plot's almost as creaky as the big tub it's set in (think haunted houseboat or spooky spaceship). You can pretty much handicap the sequence of victims falling to gruesome demises, the believe-it-or-not Ripley-like transformation of Margulies's feisty heroine and the emergence of . . . we won't tell. As a fresh setting for terror shenanigans, this "Ghost Ship" is somewhere between B minus and the High Cs. Contains strong violence, gore, language and sexuality. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar}THE GOOD GIRL (R, 93 minutes) -- Jennifer Aniston shines as the title character in this black comedy from Mike White and Miguel Arteta, the writer-director team known for their work on the twisted dramedy, "Chuck and Buck." Like that earlier film, "The Good Girl" explores the nature of obsession and the experience of being an outsider -- in this case a disaffected small-town wife (Aniston) who falls for a morbid aspiring writer (Jake Gyllenhaal) with whom she works at the local discount store. Aniston's un-Rachel-like performance is a gem. Never pushing her Texas accent, she beautifully captures the anomie of a woman caught between the comfort of mediocrity and the peril -- and thrill -- of intense passion. Contains obscenity, drug use, nudity and sex. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HALF PAST DEAD (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- In this far-fetched prison action flick, Steven Seagal is do-ragged inmate Sascha Petrosevitch, the FBI's last, best hope when a psychotic inmate Donny (Morris Chestnut) takes a Supreme Court justice (Linda Thorson) hostage at an execution. Seagal is so beefy and lethargic, there's hardly room for anyone else on the screen, let alone spotlight-hogging rappers Ja Rule and Kurupt (as fellow prisoners) and dance-pop flop Nia Peeples as Donny's vinyl-clad, midriff-baring right-hand woman. Common sense flies out the window, along with the hail of bullets, none of which ever seem to hit Sascha. Contains pervasive martial arts and gun violence and some crude language. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG, 161 minutes) -- Something evil's lurking in the bowels of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) attends. And in this second installment in the Potter series, the young wizard and pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) try to find it. This movie, which marks the late Richard Harris's last appearance as headmaster Dumbledore, isn't as charming as the original. It's darker and narratively more longwinded. And the special effects seem to be competing with the Lord of the Rings movies. Also, many of the movie's memorable elements and characters (including Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and Julie Walters) are rendered into near-cameo players. But nothing from J.K. Rowling's book is left to wither away. And that should please the vast reading audience that'll watch the movie. Contains some emotionally intense moments. Area theaters.

{sstar}HEAVEN (R) -- German director Tom Tykwer, working from a script from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz (who made "Blue," "White" and "Red," as well as "The Decalogue") has made a poetic, touching film about the partnership between Philippa (Cate Blanchett), an Englishwoman who kills a group of civilians with a planted bomb, and Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), a young policeman and translator who falls in love with her. Tywker drapes the latter part of the film in abstraction. It's an extremely dramatic turnaround. Up until that point, we've been watching an action movie -- or close to -- full of hidden bombs, ticking clocks, a prison escape and two fugitives from justice. The effect is unusual, unexpected and strangely refreshing. Contains a scene of sexuality and emotionally disturbing material at the beginning. In English and Italian with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

I SPY (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, playing an arrogant boxer and a slightly inept spy looking for a shadowy arms dealer (Malcolm McDowell), can't compete with the effortless chemistry shared by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in the original TV show. The Betty Thomas-directed action film moves at a glacial pace, despite a comic chase scene souped up with all manner of gizmos and gadgets. Murphy and Wilson may be funny from time to time but, for the most part, the movie's every mixed-race odd-couple movie ever made in the last 15 years, from "Lethal Weapon" to "Shanghai Noon." Contains violence, sexual content and a smattering of bad language. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}IGBY GOES DOWN (R, 98 minutes) -- Wickedly funny, jarringly transgressive, obdurately unpigeonholeable and startlingly moving, "Igby Goes Down" lodges itself in your brain like a sticktight seed. You may not like its tale of adolescent anomie -- snotty teenagers are not, after all, everyone's cup of tea -- but you'll find the lingering aftereffects of its strange, tragicomic tale and the indelible antihero (Kieran Culkin) it introduces you to hard to shake. Little is more shocking -- or more funny -- than watching Igby Slocumb, a Holden Caulfield-esque 17-year-old recidivist high-school dropout, defy his uptight, old-money mother (Susan Sarandon), while conducting a self-destructive, but ultimately hopeful, search for happiness. Contains obscenity, sex with minors, adultery, battery, drug use and all manner of irresponsible behavior. Landmark Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}JACKASS THE MOVIE (R, 90 minutes) -- Sophomoric doesn't even begin to describe the stunts imagined by Johnny Knoxville and his reprobate crew of stunt men-frat boy delinquents; most of them are too vile, violent or just plain dangerous for MTV, the home of "Jackass." The movie begins and ends with a warning not to try any of these stunts at home, but only the stupidest fan will disregard the genuine pain and suffering captured on camera, albeit with endlessly gleeful guffaws. In a non-stop parade of bits that range from 10 seconds to several long minutes, this wrecking crew visits damage to themselves (too-close encounters with alligators, sharks, electric shockers) and to innocent property (down for the count: a rental car rigged for a crash derby, a miniature golf course, several small grocery and variety stores and the home of mad skateboarder Bam Margera, who mercilessly tortures parents who are far too understanding). Scatological pranks abound, and our relationship with Japan may never be the same after the boys visit briefly, and in the case of Chris "Party Boy" Pontius, as nakedly as possible. There are fat bits, old folks bits, two one-sided boxing matches with Butterbean (he sends Knoxville to the hospital) and a tougher-than-nails female kick boxer (who whacks Ryan Dunn until he's Undunn). There are also lots of out-of-control vehicles, from skateboards and snow boards to a giant-sized shopping cart and runaway golf carts. It's stupid, anarchic and, I hate to admit, terribly funny, though you're likely to blow your lunch almost as often as folks do on screen. Contains dangerous, sometimes extremely rude stunts, language and nudity.

-- Richard Harrington

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (G, 85 minutes) -- Based on the animated TV series, this movie features talking vegetables who tell Bible stories to impart lessons to youngsters in the 3-8 age range. And you don't have to be a fan of vegetables to find this batch pretty cute. You'll hear about Jonah and the whale through a mixture of narration, dialogue and kid-friendly musical numbers. There are entertaining little anachronisms, amusing lines and enough wacky frenzy to please the young ones. The movie clearly comes from a Christian perspective, but without being overly preachy. And the movie's lesson about compassion and mercy is one that youngsters (and grown-ups too for that matter) would do well to learn. Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.

-- Curt Fields

{sstar}LILO & STITCH (PG, 85 minutes) -- In this animated feature, a sweet Hawaiian girl named Lilo (voice of Daveigh Chase) picks up a strange-looking creature at the dog pound, thinking it's her new pooch-to-be. Little does she know this pet, whom she names Stitch, is one mean little critter from another planet. Lilo learns eventually to get through to Stitch, the world's most unlovable visitor, with a message of love and family togetherness -- known in Hawaiian as ohana. The animation, rendered in good old-fashioned watercolors, is appealing. It's easy, rather than flashy, on the eyes. But the best thing about the movie is the humor. As Lilo, 10-year-old Chase is, well, a stitch. She's full of cheekiness and bluster. Contains some science fiction intensity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}MOSTLY MARTHA (PG, 107 minutes) -- Sweet without being saccharine, and funny without being forced, this charming romantic comedy pairs a tightly wrapped German chef with her freewheeling Italian assistant. When a tragic accident forces three-star cook Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) to take in her 8-year-old niece (Maxime Foerste), her well-ordered life begins to unravel, made worse by the appearance of a lovable but sloppy sous-chef (Sergio Castellitto) in her spotless kitchen. What elevates "Martha" above the familiar opposites-attract and singleton-with-child formulas are the nuanced performances writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck coaxes from her trio of actors and the simple yet persuasive message that food, no matter how delicious, is no substitute for love. Contains material related to the death of a parent and an untranslated German vulgarity. In German with subtitles. Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG, 95 minutes) -- Clearly, comedian-filmmaker Nia Vardalos (full name: Antonia Eugenia Vardalos) not only grew up Greek, she took notes. In this amusing comedy, she celebrates and has fun with the Greek culture. She's Toula Portokalos, an unmarried woman forced (by her parents) to find a man. But when she does meet Mr. Right (John Corbett), well, he's not Greek. Imagine the calamity. The movie draws much material from Vardalos's one-woman show and has a little bit of everything: savvy narration, laugh-out-loud sight gags and such wry observations as this one, from Toula's mother, "The man is the head [of the household], but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head anywhere she wants." Contains some obscenity and a mild sexual situation. Area theaters.

{sstar}NAQOYQATSI (PG, 89 minutes) -- Against the backdrop of composer Philip Glass's chanting, swirling, droning, pounding score, "Naqoyqatsi's" digitally manipulated stock footage of ruined buildings, straining athletes, soldiers on maneuver, stock traders, a mushroom cloud, cloned sheep, babies, wax celebrities and old ads (to name but a few of the myriad images collected here) work on the eye and eardrum like deep tissue-massage. At times painful in its unrelenting assault on the retina, Godfrey Reggio's artsy music-vid follow-up to the similarly wordless "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi" hopes ultimately to affect the brain as well -- although its message about the violence that technology does to human relationships is not meant to be digested literally. It is best appreciated in the way the bombardment of subtly distorted but disturbingly familiar icons underscore the theme of high tech as a post-millennial headache. Contains shots of naked babies and images of violence and destruction. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (R, 95 minutes) -- Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who made the inspired "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," makes another gem. It's a movie of extraordinary subtlety, power and even hokey romanticism. And Adam Sandler proves he can act in grown-up films. Barry Egan (Sandler) is a loner with emotional problems. He had a traumatic past with taunting sisters. And he's just plain odd. But his soul is unequivocally pure. When he meets fellow-oddbird Lena (Emily Watson), it's obvious he's met his soul-mate. But he has to get rid of his demons, and a gang of bad guys who are targeting his bank account. Is Barry ready for romantic prime time? Thanks to Anderson's assured picture, a symphony of cinematic textures, that disarmingly simple question becomes incredibly compelling. Contains sexual situations, violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- It may be one of the oldest stories ever told: American immigrants trying to keep their children steeped in old-country tradition. But it feels like one of the freshest, thanks to America Ferrera, who makes one cheeky, tough and adorable daughter. She's Ana Garcia, an 18-year-old Mexican American whose desire to attend college clashes with the plans of her old-school mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), who wants Ana to help in the family's dress-making sweatshop. The movie, which George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez adapted from Lopez's play, is a dyed-in-the-womb female empowerment movie. But the performers are so deeply authentic, the movie's cliches and obvious agenda attain a certain recycled glow. Contains obscenity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

RED DRAGON (R, 120 MINUTES) -- This prequel to It All (I mean "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal"), directed by Brett Ratner, makes a hollow encore. Anthony Hopkins is in fine form as that silver-tongued, human-eating prince of darkness, Hannibal the Cannibal. So is Edward Norton, who plays Will Graham, a dogged, highly intelligent FBI investigator on the track of a brutal serial killer, and who needs Hannibal's help. But although the movie follows much of the novel, there's something hackneyed about the whole thing. Screenwriter Ted Tally replays the classical elements of "Silence of the Lambs" and that's the trouble. In the end, what we respond to in "Red Dragon" is merely the distant echoes of what we liked about "Lambs." As for the sudden appearance of Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes about halfway through the story, the less said the better. And I don't just mean because it'll give things away. Contains disturbing violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality. Sterling Cinema Draft and University Mall Theatres.

THE RING (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- Although writer-director Gore Verbinski exercises smart restraint (in terms of depicting blatant horror and gore), this supernatural movie (based on the Japanese flick "Ringu") trades on a tiresomely familiar conceit: death by videotape. Seattle reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) discovers that a number of people (including her niece) have died after watching a videotape. After anyone watches the spooky content -- featuring a scary woman in black and white -- a phone call tells the victim he or she is dead in a week. Rachel, who watches the video and gets the phone call, traces the source of this evil to the usual deserted locales. The finale, involving a well, has its creepy moments, but also its cliches. Contains adult themes, disturbing images and some obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}ROGER DODGER (R, 105 minutes) -- In writer-director Dylan Kidd's provocative satire, self-styled ladies man Roger (Campbell Scott) agrees to help his virginal, 16-year-old nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) pick up a woman. That night. Kidd, a first-time writer and director, has created a sophisticated but intriguingly toxic comedy of manners. As Nick, Eisenberg makes a perfect, pimply greenhorn. But Scott owns the movie. Without him, Roger would be a dark, twisted character, someone barely worth our time. But Scott infuses him with so much likable urgency, it's impossible to dismiss him easily. Contains sexual situations, drunkenness and obscenity. Landmark Bethesda Row.

THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 (G, 98 minutes) -- In this sequel to 1994's charming "The Santa Clause," Scott Calvin/Santa (Tim Allen) needs a wife or he'll lose his blessed status (that's the clause in this title). Can he get a wife, save Christmas, and also help his son (Eric Lloyd) who just turned up on Santa's Naughty List? From the amazingly unappealing child actors (including Spencer Breslin and David Krumholtz) who play Santa's little helpers, to the absurd plot about a cloned, substitute Santa who turns evil, the story has all the charm of coal in a stocking. Contains dating scenes between adults, which is, of course, totally gross. And that fake Santa may be too scary for some children. Area theaters.

SECRETARY (R, 104 minutes) -- This self-serious and pedestrian satire is about the edgy relationship between highly repressed, domination-minded boss E. Edward Grey (James Spader) and his more-than-willing new secretary, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Turns out, Lee doesn't mind a little spanking. Seems these two were made for each other. One slipper on the bum can lead you all the way to the pearly gates of self-affirmation. Now there's a take-home message. The movie seems torn between giggling over this S&M match made in Heaven, and exploring the vulnerability of both characters. It settles for both and, yet, neither. Contains spanking, obscenity and sexual situations. Foxchase.

{sstar}SIGNS (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- M. Night Shyamalan's third film is a compelling idea: an alien invasion movie told as a small movie; a daytime nightmare that's limned in spare but cumulative details. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former minister who dumped his faith after losing his wife, grows corn in rural Pennsylvania. When he finds mysterious crop circles in his cornfields, he gradually realizes this is part of an alien invasion. So he, his two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) and brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), barricade themselves in the house. Shyamalan, the maker of "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable," tells his own kind of campfire story, and it's a thrill to sit in the flickering darkness with him. Contains overall intensity. Laurel Cinema and University Mall Theatres.

SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS (PG, 107 minutes) -- Like the original movie about a pair of underage spies, "The Island of Lost Dreams" is chockablock with gadgets, despite a plot that sends our heroes (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) to a remote island that renders most of their high-tech equipment inoperable. In an overly complicated setup that doesn't bear repeating, the brother-and-sister duo wind up there in pursuit of a doomsday device called the transmooker, but their mission gets sidetracked when they -- and rival spies Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O'Leary and Emily Osment, Haley Joel's little sister) -- stumble upon a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) and his menagerie of mutant animals. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who performed every job on this movie except gaffer, tries to stuff every childhood fantasy he ever had into this movie, but it ends up with a lot of bells and whistles and absolutely no soul. Contains cartoonish violence, a bit of vulgar language, jokes about vomit and dung and scenes of children in jeopardy. University Mall Theatres and Sterling Cinema Draft.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (PG, 106 minutes) -- About the greatest hit machine in the history of pop: Hitsville USA, the music factory of Tamla Motown. Director Paul Justman and writer Alan Slutsky pay tribute to the musicians behind the curtain: the session players, such as Uriel Jones, Eddie Willis, James Jamerson and Robert White, whose job it was to make these songs work. These so-called Funk Brothers were the beat and the groove. "Shadows" gives us the proof of the pudding: 12 great Motown hits, which many of these aging musicians perform live in Detroit, 41 years after their heyday began. And contemporary guest vocalists, including Chaka Khan, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper and Me'Shell NdegeOcello, provide their interpretations of these well-known standards. In these performances, you can appreciate the building blocks of greatness. Contains nothing particularly objectionable. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Theatres Bethesda Row.

STAR WARS: EPISODE II -- ATTACK OF THE CLONES (PG, 142 minutes) -- Ten years after the events of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) from assassins. Obi-Wan uncovers a bigger picture that includes a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who's assembling a clone army, and the rogue Jedi, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who's amassing a coalition of separatists against the Republic. In the tortured syntax of Yoda: Great movie not is "Attack of the Clones." And as the budding Darth Vader, Christensen is resoundingly disappointing. George Lucas's prequel is surprisingly dismal. And the romance between Anakin and Padme is a frigid zero. And when you've seen one scene of mass-generated clones marching in symmetrical fashion, you've seen them all. Contains sustained sci-fi action and violence. Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (PG-13, 109 minutes) -- Is apple-pie-cheeked Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) really headed for marriage with rich heartthrob Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the JFK-like son of the New York mayor, or will our aspiring fashion designer come to her senses when she revisits her hometown in 'Bama? She'll have to patch up differences with her folks (Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place) and finally clear things up with estranged husband Jake (Josh Lucas). But that shouldn't be too difficult. Down home is, after all, the real deal in any romantic comedy like this, where predictability grows like kudzu. But Witherspoon is a charming candidate for America's Sweetheart. Contains some obscenity and heavy drinking. Area theaters.

{sstar}THE TRANSPORTER (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- Jason Stathom is the thinking man's Vin Diesel. Suave where Diesel is simply hulking, the former world-class British diver brings a hipster aplomb, James Bond-like charisma, leonine grace and lightning-quick athleticism to the role of a freelance courier who ends up tangling with an underworld client (Matt Schulze) when he falls in love with one of his "packages." That would be Lai (Shu Qi) a beauty who has gone against her crime lord father and is now dispensable. Directed by chop-socky jack-of-all-trades Cory Yuen, "The Transporter" breaks several of the laws of logic and law enforcement (and most of the laws of physics), even as it obeys the first law of action movie-making: It quickens the heart and dazzles the eye. Contains mild obscenity, gunplay, extensive martial arts action, automotive mayhem and brief sensuality. Laurel Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER (Unrated, 80 minutes) -- Eugene Jarecki's documentary takes a hard-line look at the moral doings of Henry Kissinger during his years in political power. The film casts (or exposes, depending on your political choice of language) him as power player, kingmaker, agent of collusion, Zen manipulator (and Nobel Peace Prize winner, to boot) behind many significant events of the 20th century, including the Vietnam War peace talks, the bombing of Cambodia and the military coup of Salvador Allende in Chile. There's more than enough evidence here to justify, at the very least, revisionist scrutiny. It's unfortunate Kissinger can only be found in archival footage. Contains footage of war atrocities. Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- This very loose remake of Stanley Donen's 1963 "Charade," is both heavily flawed and wildly liberating. It clearly indicates director Jonathan Demme's desire to get back to the spirit of his earlier, zanier work, such as "Something Wild." But there's not much else to it, except a sweet performance by Thandie Newton. She's a Parisian named Regina who finds out strange things about her husband after his untimely death. Those things include an apparent fortune he left behind. She meets a good-looking, buff young man (Mark Wahlberg) who claims he's in love with her and wants to protect her from all those people suddenly interested in her. They include a French detective (Christine Boisson) and an apparent CIA man (Tim Robbins). The movie's hampered by Wahlberg, whose gym-toned physique has an inverse ratio to his credibility as a romantic leading man. Contains some violence, nudity and sexual content. Annapolis Harbour.

THE TUXEDO (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- This comedy, featuring Jackie Chan as an over-impulsive cab driver, is the Chinese performers's worst in recent memory. Working as the driver for a veddy English multimillionaire (Jason Isaacs), he discovers a suit with extraordinary powers: to make him act like . . . Jackie Chan. Why he needs the jacket, Lord knows. Dressed in this mystical coat, he becomes a sort of superman, finally capable of talking to the girl, dancing, performing gymnastic tricks, everything. And yet, the movie never quite delivers the promise of a Chan display. And in the worst of cliches, he's teamed with a rookie agent named Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Never was chemistry so non-existent. Even the end credits, in which the film shows "crazy" outtakes of the Chan stunts, will put you to sleep. Contains action violence, sexual content and obscenities. Entirely humor-free. Laurel Cinema, University Mall Theatres and Sterling Cinema Draft.

RepertoryAIR AND SPACE MUSEUM -- At the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater: "Space Station 3D," daily at 11:05, 1:05 and 3:05 and Mondays-Thursdays at 5:45. . "To Fly!," daily at 10:25 and Mondays-Thursdays at 5:05 . "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 12:10, 2:10 and 4:10. "Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience," Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 5. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5; "The Stars Tonight," daily at noon. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "Monkey Business," Saturday at noon. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD. 410-727-3456.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "The Shock" and "Sand," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street SE. 202-547-6839.

FILMS ABOUT FILM -- "Irma Vep," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, Towson University, 7800 York Road, Towson. 410-704-2787.

FREER GALLERY -- "Butterfly Smile," Friday at 7. "Mysterious Object at Noon," Sunday at 2. 12th and Jefferson SW. 202-357-2700.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Merrill's Marauders," Friday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- "Space Station (3D)," daily at 12 and 3:25, Thursday-Saturday at 7:50, Saturday-Sunday at 5:40, and Sunday at 1:10. "Bears," Thursday-Sunday at 6:50 and Saturday-Sunday at 11. "The Human Body," daily at 2:20 and 4:35. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 9. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- "Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West," daily at 11:10, 2, and 3:50; "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 12:05, 1:05, 2:55, and 4:45; "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 7:45; "Galapagos (3D)," daily at 10:20; "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," Friday-Saturday at 6 and 8:15. Samuel C. Johnson Theater, Tenth and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "Archival Film: Native Americans," Friday at noon. Room 105, National Archives Building, Pennsylvania Ave. NW between 7th St. and 9th St. Free. "Archival Film: Native Americans," Monday at noon. 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD. Free. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "New York School," Friday-Saturday at 12:30; "Those Who Wear Glasses," Saturday at 3; "Moscow Square" and "Sticky Business," Sunday at 4. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Groovier Happening," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

VISIONS CINEMA BISTRO LOUNGE -- "Animal House," Friday-Saturday at midnight. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "Ninotchka," Tuesday at 7:30. 20 West Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on VideoThese movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

JUWANNA MANN

(PG-13, 2002, 91 MINUTES, WARNER BROS.)

This tired, enervated comedy is about arrogant basketball player Jamal Jeffries (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), whose obnoxious behavior gets him fired from his team. He's treated as a pariah by every other team in the league, his opportunistic wife leaves him and he's bankrupt. Even his long-suffering agent (Kevin Pollak in yet another embarrassing role) says so long. So Jamal decides to disguise himself as a woman named Juwanna Mann and try out for the WNBA. In movie moments, he's a regular on a successful female team and he's falling in love with teammate Michelle (Vivica A. Fox). If this sounds like "Tootsie" with a ball, well, it is. Screenwriter Bradley Allenstein should be hauled up in writer's court for his shameless cribbing of that far superior comedy. Someone call a foul. Contains sexual content, obscenity and nothing original.

-- Desson Howe

{sstar}NOTORIOUS C.H.O.

(NR, 2002, 95 MINUTES, WELLSPRING MEDIA)

This filmed-live performance by Margaret Cho may shock newcomers to the stand-up comedian's repertoire, but it delivers an hour and a half of exactly what her fans have come to expect: raunch, self-deprecation, more raunch, jokes about her mom, heartfelt polemic and . . . just a little more raunch. It's open season on all manner of subjects, taboo and otherwise, as Cho delivers her jokes with slow, deliberate timing and adds lots of contorted facial expressions. Contains very strong language and graphic sexual references.

-- D.H.

REIGN OF FIRE

(PG-13, 2002, 101 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

Forget the blabby, bearded musclebound humans (particularly pumped-up Matthew McConaughey) and their overacting. And forget the hackneyed "Mad Max" retread of a story. But you can certainly enjoy the dragons. What magnificent, scary beasts of the air, as conceived in Rob Bowman's otherwise disappointing, apocalyptic saga in which dragons rule the Earth. The story, in which American militia leader Van Zan (McConaughey) and British allies Quinn (Christian Bale) and Creedy (Gerard Butler) fight the monsters to save humankind, could have been entertaining with a better script, actors and director. But all we have is the winged ones. Some sequences may be too intense for young children.

-- D.H.

{sstar}SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON

(G, 2002, 83 MINUTES, DREAMWORKS)

In this fast-moving animated feature set during the Wild West, a stallion named Spirit has the run of the country before the settlers come. But change is coming. A ruthless cavalry officer (voice of James Cromwell) takes a real shine to that proud stallion and is determined to break him. Even Little Creek (Daniel Studi), a Lakota Sioux who befriends Spirit, wants to make Spirit his. Both men have a lot to learn about this proud, independent Spirit. The interaction between 3-D and 2-D animation is wonderfully fluid, as horses thunder across the screen with realistic immediacy. And many of the action sequences, with literally cliff-hanging elements, seem to have been directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenwriter John Fusco's story works well enough on its own, tour-de-force effects or not. And musician Bryan Adams spurs the story with songs written for the movie. Contains some pretty heart-stopping action sequences.

-- D.H.

{sstar}SUNSHINE STATE

(PG-13, 2002, 141 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

John Sayles's movie examines the slow-burning fallout when golf developers attempt to make a pleasure ground out of Plantation Island, a fictional stretch of land off the coast of Florida. The two most significant characters are Marly Temple (Edie Falco) and Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett), both raised on Plantation Island but under vastly different circumstances. Sayles's familiar didacticism is kept to a minimum, which allows us to enjoy the movie as pure drama. The scenes unfold with unhurried delicacy, and the characters are very intriguing. As Francine Pinckney, a Chamber of Commerce denizen from Delrona, charged with running the Second Annual Buccaneer Days celebration, Mary Steenburgen all but steals the movie. Contains some obscenity and a sexual reference.

-- D.H.

{sstar}13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING

(R, 2001, 94 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

This domino-effect movie is about how one person's actions unwittingly affect the destiny of another. The pattern of destiny, causality or coincidence -- depending on what you believe -- includes Troy (Matthew McConaughey), a jubilant lawyer; sad-sack claims adjuster Gene (Alan Arkin); and two beatific souls who believe in the inherent goodness of human nature: a young woman named Beatrice (Clea DuVall), who cleans houses, and Wade (William Wise), a cheery claims adjuster who gets genuinely excited when a claim proves to be bona fide. Filmmakers (and sisters) Jill (co-writer and director) and Karen (co-writer) Sprecher, have made a piquant meditation on the things that prevent people from reaching happiness (the "One Thing" of the title). And in this movie, only one thing is certain: No one remains the same. Contains sexual situations and some obscene language.

-- D.H.