Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen

What is it with Leonardo DiCaprio and water? You'd think the guy would yearn for some terra firma now and then. But in his first movie since the iceberg doomed him in Titanic, he's back in the drink, this time splashing around in the warm, azure waters off a remote island near Thailand. There may not be any icebergs in sight, but that doesn't keep The Beach from sinking under the weight of its own pretensions.

DiCaprio plays a footloose American (that's all we know about him; the movie is annoyingly stingy on characters' personal histories) who travels to Bangkok looking for new experiences. At his fleabag hotel the drug-addled fellow (Robert Carlyle) in the next room starts jabbering about a secret island paradise, then thoughtfully tacks a map onto DiCaprio's door before slitting his own wrists. Undaunted and with map in hand, DiCaprio and his new best friends, an attractive French couple (Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet), set off for their tropical Eden. Find it they do, discovering that it is occupied by a motley international crew of dropouts who have created a self-sufficient community. "I settled in," DiCaprio says in a voice-over, "and found my vocation: the pursuit of pleasure."

Paradise, he soon discovers, can be a real drag. Even in this ostensible idyll, there are rules and hierarchies, and lies can still catch up to you. Not that any of it matters much. The Beach, directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) with visual flair but no feel whatever for creating characters, fails because it never establishes an identity of its own. Inevitably it becomes a series of comparative scenes: the bit that's like The Blue Lagoon, the echoes of jaws, the similarities to Lord of the Flies. DiCaprio works himself into a lather, emoting mightily, but since his character is little more than a cipher, there's no emotional payoff in the end. (R)

Bottom Line: Glub, glub, glub

Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges

There are two fine performances in this adaptation of Sam Shepard's 1994 play. One is by a stunt horse who appears briefly in the title role, a champion steed up for sale. In a climactic scene this graceful animal collapses with the languid heaviness of a Victorian heroine swooning onto a sofa. The other is by Catherine Keener, so wickedly funny as the schemer in Being John Malkovich. Here she's a nice, dim grocery clerk caught up in a tawdry game of revenge. Somehow she emerges from this moral quagmire sweeter than before, radiant as Audrey Hepburn.

Simpatico is otherwise an empty feedbag. Some 20 years in the past, three young racetrack grifters frame a commissioner who's onto their scam of subbing a slow horse for a fast one and placing their bets accordingly. They grow up to become the checkout girl's boyfriend (Nolte, looking as usual like a castaway), the stallion's owner (Bridges) and his frayed, alcoholic wife (Stone, giving her all, which is way too much). Nolte, deciding it's time to air this dirty laundry, seeks out the commissioner to confess to the framing, and Bridges becomes a panicked mess. To quote the film's equine star: Pbrrrrh! (R)

Bottom Line: Horsefeathers

Romantic Goodies

Why go out on Valentine's Day when you and yours can snuggle at home watching one of the following classic love stories?

Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon
This 1988 baseball movie scores. Costner is charming as an aging catcher who decides it's time to hang up his mitt at Sarandon's place. Best scene: His "I-believe-in..." speech.

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Been there? Go again. Otherwise it's time to see why this 1942 film is the romantic movie of all time. Best scene: The final one.

Gary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Alfred Hitchcock's passionate 1946 thriller stars Grant as an American agent who recruits party girl Bergman as a spy but falls for her himself. Best scene: In the wine cellar.

James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan
The 1940 original was remade in 1998 as You've Got Mail. Stewart is at his gawky best, and Sullavan, who had a voice like a cello, will melt your heart. Best scene: His visit to her sickbed.

Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
These two stars belong together onscreen, never more so than in. this 1993 cross-country romance. Best scene: She and her pals watch An Affair to Remember.

Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman
No problem staying awake for this 1995 comedy as Bullock, at her most adorable, and Pullman gradually realize they're made for each other. Best scene: Her confession.

>Down to You Freddie Prinze Jr., soulful-eyed and earnest, stars with Julia Stiles in a poky, routine tale of first love at college. It's so high school. (PG-13)

The End of the Affair Love means having to say you're sorry in this sophisticated romantic drama. A radiant Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes star. (R)

Eye of the Beholder Femme fatale Ashley Judd stabs her a victim and sobs, "Merry Christmas, Daddy!" She's a mess. So is this thriller. Ewan McGregor is the lovesick lawman on her trail. (R)

Galaxy Quest Great silly fun as washed-up stars (Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen) of a Star Trek-like TV show encounter real aliens. Go, already. (PG)

The Green Mile Tom Hanks is fine, but this prison drama's three-hour-plus running time is just plain self-indulgent. (R)

The Hurricane As a wrongly imprisoned boxer, Denzel Washington gives the performance of his career. (R)

My Dog Skip

A family film that the whole family will enjoy—really. (PG)

The Talented Mr. Ripley Elegantly twisted thriller about a murderous American abroad allows Matt Damon to demonstrate he's got range. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.