When a boy drops his toy top on a busy street near Rio de Janeiro's main train terminal, his world spins out of control. As he darts after it, his mother is fatally hit by a bus. A cynical ex-teacher (Montenegro) who sits all day in the station writing letters for illiterates grudgingly takes the boy (Vinicius de Oliveira) under her wing, and the two set out for the hinterland to find his long absent father. It's a journey that will change both of them and take viewers to places in the heart rarely touched by most movies.
Central Station, poignantly directed by Brazil's Walter Salles, is an exceptionally fine film about opening up to hope at any age. Montenegro, a Brazilian stage actress with the doleful face of a basset hound, gives a performance of astonishing clarity and depth. Little de Oliveira (a 9-year-old shoeshine boy when Salles discovered him) is nearly her match. (R)
Bottom Line: A destination well worth visiting
James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski
Why is it that some of the funniest, smartest movies out right now are allegedly aimed at kids? We're not talking The Waterboy (though my 9-year-old niece rang specifically to berate me for panning it), but rather Antz and now Babe: Pig in the City, the often delightful sequel to 1995's hit about a kindly farmer (Cromwell) and his personable talking pig.
In the new movie, little oinker Babe and the farmer's wife (Szubanski) find themselves in big trouble in the big city. There, Babe befriends numerous other animals, including a family of chattering chimps who deserve a spinoff movie of their own.
Just as Tim Burton's second Batman movie was far gloomier than his first, so director and coscreen-writer George Miller goes over to the dark side in this new Babe. But it works. Children are likely to enjoy the movie for the visuals and the basic story (though there are plenty of scary parts), but it is grown-ups who will be laughing loudest at Pig's swell sight gags (a skyline that includes Sydney's Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Hollywood sign) and its verbal ones (a pit bull bemoaning his innately nasty nature with, "A murderous shadow lies hard across my soul"). And who, child or adult, can resist the three tiny singing mice, who return here to warble Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" and Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (PG)
Bottom Line: Delectable ham on wry
Dennis Quaid, Natasa Ninkovic
His face a begrimed mask of impassivity, an American mercenary (Quaid) fighting for the Serbs in Bosnia in 1993 trains his rifle at a youth and squeezes the trigger. As the kid's corpse falls into a stream with a sickening splash, the soldier merely flicks ash from his cigarette.
In Savior, an admirable, albeit violent, brutally hard-to-watch antiwar drama by Serbian director Peter Antonijevic, Quaid movingly plays a man in need of redemption after years spent trying, through senseless killing, to obliterate the pain of having seen his own wife (Nastassja Kinski) and son blown to bits in a terrorist bombing. He finally finds a path to salvation (not for nothing does he keep fingering the crucifix around his neck) when he takes it upon himself to save the lives of a young Serbian woman (Ninkovic) and her newborn baby.
The movie starts slowly but builds to a harrowing and affecting climax. Quaid, always a reliable actor when given decent material, is superb here as a man slowly reconnecting with life. (R)
Bottom Line: Great performance by Quaid in a tough film
, Luke Wilson
Barrymore, hair done up in soft coppery curls that make her look like Raggedy Ann as painted by Rubens, plays a fast-food waitress pregnant by a married man. He dies under very odd, slightly sinister circumstances—and in a strange posture, upright on a bench. His stepson (Wilson), who had a hand in this mischief, takes a job at the burger joint and tries to gauge how much Barrymore knows about the old man's demise. Soon he's escorting her to Lamaze classes and reciting hamburger recipes in his head.
Home Fries is like that, always mixing the suspenseful and the cute. You could call the movie "quirky," but for the sake of accuracy the correct word is "geeky." Barrymore trembles with her usual vulnerable sweetness while waddling about with a padded stomach. She's just plain adorable, which after a while gets to be just plain tiresome. Wilson (Barrymore's real-life boyfriend; see page 139) looks like a more chiseled David Arquette. Mostly he just squints confusedly. Everyone must have been out to lunch on this one. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce and send back the movie
Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz
The bride-to-be (Diaz) is none too happy that her fiancé (Swingers' Jon Favreau) is off to Las Vegas for a bachelor weekend just days before their wedding. "You and your little fun bunch," she says dismissively of the four buddies who will accompany him. Fun isn't what happens next. But it is funny, sort of, in a sick-humor kind of way.
Very Bad Things, the promising, in-your-face first film written and directed by actor Peter Berg (Copland and TV's Chicago Hope), follows the lads to Vegas, where a stripper they've hired winds up dead. While her death is accidental, the ones that follow aren't. How much one likes this movie will depend upon how easily one accepts the subsequent killings as cause for chortling. I had trouble going there.
The movie does make clear that Berg knows what he's doing behind a camera. Things has visual panache, and Berg has coaxed amusingly manic performances from his talented cast (which includes Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Jeremy Piven). And his final scene is a corker. (R)
Bottom Line: Sick, slick and more of a good thing than a bad one
There are no aliens in Will Smith's latest film, Enemy of the State. "There's not that eye-candy appeal of a special-effects film," says Smith, 30, who plays a lawyer pursued by the CIA. "It's like I'm saying, 'Come see me act.' It's scary."
Smith apparently scares easily. A self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist who jokes that "the Army tests the common cold in Manhattan subways," he had his fears confirmed when he toured CIA headquarters. "They have satellites that can read your wristwatch," he says. "I scare myself to sleep at night thinking about that stuff."
Luckily, he has his family to comfort him. Wife Jada Pinkett Smith, 27, "coaches me every step of the way," says Smith, who modeled his character on her uncle, a Boston lawyer. In July she gave birth to son Jaden, their first child. Son Trey, 6 (from Smith's previous marriage), visited the set of Dad's latest picture—but he wasn't particularly impressed. "On the Men in Black set," says Smith, "he got to touch aliens. This movie was boring for him—although he did get to touch Gene Hackman."
- Tom Gliatto,
- Craig Tomashoff.