Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Andre Braugher, Elizabeth Mitchell

Father's Day comes early this year for those wise enough to seek out Frequency, a rewardingly tricky supernatural drama in which an adult son is able to yak to his long-dead father via an old ham radio.

The film begins in 1969 with Quaid as a New York City firefighter who adores his job, his wife (Mitchell) and their 6-year-old son. After he almost loses his life during a particularly daring rescue, his wife lovingly chides, "There's nothing wrong with old age, Frank, as long as you get there." Days later, he dies in a warehouse fire. Or does he?

Frequency cleverly keeps reconfiguring its plot, repeatedly changing the course of its characters' lives. This happens after Quaid's now grown son (Caviezel), a cop who still lives in the house in which he grew up, absentmindedly turns on Dad's old ham radio in 1999 and finds himself talking to his still-alive father in the days just before the deadly fire. He warns Quaid to turn left rather than right inside the warehouse, thus enabling Quaid to save himself and dramatically altering both men's destinies. Soon the two, still communicating on the radio, are collaborating on thwarting a serial killer whose string of murders back in 1969 remains in Caviezel's unsolved case file in 1999.

It all gets excessively complicated and requires a big suspension of disbelief, but Frequency, directed with verve by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear), boasts an ingenious script and plenty of heart, and Quaid and Caviezel come through with solid, affecting performances. The latest entrant in the Field of Dreams school of father-son bonding films, Frequency is likely to trigger surreptitious sniffles among grown men in darkened theaters. It's okay, guys; real men are allowed to tear up when remembering Pop. And if he is still alive, they are even allowed to phone home just to say they love him, which is what plenty of viewers are apt to do after watching this movie. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Liked father, liked son

Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi

Early on in U-571—a stouthearted but soggy submarine drama set during World War II—an ambitious Navy lieutenant (McConaughey) despairs on learning that he has been assigned yet again as second fiddle on a vessel. He confronts his superior officer (Paxton), who tells him, "Andy, you're just not ready to take on a command of your own." Ready or not, circumstances will soon force McConaughey to take charge of a daring secret mission in which an American submarine crew attempts to recover a German code-encryption machine from aboard a disabled Nazi sub stranded in the Atlantic.

U-571 is rugged, fast-paced and tells a nifty story, but its main characters never come across as more than types (McConaughey is stolidly heroic, Paxton is honorable, Keitel is an old salt) and its crew members barely register. Furthermore, the movie is often confusing because several supporting characters look a lot alike, making it difficult to distinguish in the briny dark just who has been shot or drowned. U-571 was directed by Jonathan Mostow, whose 1997 debut, Breakdown, was a terse, tough thriller. Here he's treading water. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Seeworthy, but not must-seeworthy

Omar Epps, Sanaa Lathan, Alfre Woodard, Debbi Morgan

Featured attraction

Swish! That's the sound of director-writer Gina Prince-Bythewood scoring with her spirited debut film celebrating—you guessed it—love and basketball. In tracking the athletic and romantic progress of both its ball-playing heroine (Lathan) and the cute boy next door (Epps), Love & Basketball briskly and with humor covers much ground about sports and competitiveness, mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons.

The romantic drama starts out with its two primary hoop dreamers as gangly 11-year-olds living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in L.A. and longing to play professionally. Soon they are longing for each other as well. By the time they reach college and in the years that follow, Lathan and Epps each must decide just which means more, romance or round ball. Lathan (The Best Man) and Epps (The Wood) perform winningly both on the court and off, and Love benefits greatly from a sterling supporting cast. (Note to parents: A couple of frisky sex scenes may put the movie out of bounds for aspiring athletes under 13.) (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Close to a slam dunk

Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner

In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter Sofia, an untested actress, as young Mary Corleone in The Godfather, Part III. The reviews of her tentative performance were cruel, although her gawkishness was actually rather touching. Now 28, she returns to direct her first feature, a strange but alluring ode to the adolescent feminine mystique.

The five Lisbon girls, daughters of a twitty high school teacher and a brooding, repressive housewife, are beautifully listless and sexually charged. They drape themselves across the furniture with expressions of dazed bliss. When their mere existence begins to overexcite the local boys, the mother decrees they can no longer leave the house, and they commit suicide. None of this is supposed to be realistic. Dreamy, a bit silly, the movie is like a ballet for mermaids: Despairing of ever getting ashore to meet a prince, they sink to the ocean floor and expire. (R)

Bottom Line: Another talented Coppola

>Croupier Low-budget, crafty crime drama follows a blocked writer (the reptilian Clive Owen) who signs on to work as a dealer for a shady London casino. Worth seeking out. (Not rated)

Erin Brockovich Even if you don't normally like Julia Roberts's movies, go see this true-life drama about a file clerk who takes on a power company. It's both inspirational and entertaining. (R)

Gossip Vile trifle about chic college kids who let a rumor get way out of control. James Marsden and Lena Headey star. (R)

Keeping the Faith Pleasant but slack romantic comedy about best buddies, a priest (Edward Norton, who also directed) and a rabbi (Ben Stiller), who both fall in love with the same woman (Jenna Elfman). (PG-13)

The Last September It's 1920 and the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in Ireland fails to grasp how profoundly independence will change their world. Despite a strong cast (Dame Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Fiona Shaw), this period drama seems slight. (R)

Return to Me Cheery romance is far more appealing than its hokey plot deserves. Minnie Driver and David Duchovny star. (PG)

28 Days Here's looking at you, Sandra Bullock. Sharp, often funny take on going through rehab. (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.