Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Bob Balaban

Featured attraction
STARS "1"

In their first screen pairing, whopping big stars Roberts and Pitt barely spend enough time together to order a meal. And forget about passion; these two sex symbols are never given a chance to get all hot and steamy. The Mexican isn't that kind of movie. So what kind is it? A determinedly quirky romantic comedy with plenty of gunplay and intrigue that, while entertainingly directed by Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt), adds up to no more than a tasty snack.

Roberts plays Samantha, a woman who insists that her live-in honey, Jerry (Pitt), quit his job as an errand boy for an L.A. crime boss and head with her to Las Vegas. He can't, he tells her, until he finishes one last job: fetching an antique pistol known as The Mexican from south of the border. In a huff, she heads to Vegas solo in her green VW Beetle but is taken hostage en route by Leroy (Gandolfini, of HBO's Sopranos), a hit man who is also after the gun. Samantha and Leroy soon become the best of buddies. "You're a very sensitive person for a cold-blooded killer," she tells him admiringly. Jerry, meanwhile, is miles away in Mexico, running into nasty troubles of his own.

Both Roberts and Pitt are having a hoot here—she spouting endless psychobabble ("Jerry's a taker and I'm a giver") and he goofing on Jerry's not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. The film's most rewarding performance, though, is by Gandolfini, who in Leroy creates a character of depth and surprises. (R)

Bottom Line: Borderline fun

Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Ann Magnuson, Aunjanue Ellis, Tamara Tunie

Romulus Ledbetter (Jackson) is one of the city's walking wounded. His hair and beard dirty and matted, he travels Manhattan's streets ranting to himself and at strangers. He hears threatening voices coming from the Chrysler Building. It wasn't always this way. A Juilliard-trained musician, he once shared a home with a wife and child. Now he is a diagnosed (though untreated) paranoid schizophrenic who dwells in a cave in a park. One winter morning he discovers a man's corpse frozen in a tree. The police rule the death an accident, but Ledbetter suspects murder and turns detective.

That's the intriguing setup of this above-average thriller directed with flair by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), though much of its early promise is ultimately squandered by standard-whodunit plot mechanics. The real attraction here is the full-throttle performance by Jackson, who brings his heart and soul to Valentine. He embraces the complexities of Ledbetter, showing how even at his most debilitated, the character remains a man to be reckoned with. (R)

Bottom Line: A belated Valentine's Day gift

Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda

It's easy to understand why this phantasmagoric comedy must have sounded cool when the script came in and the wildly imaginative, Daliesque sets and costumes were designed. The resulting film, though, is a hyperactive mess. Combining live action and animation, Monkey-bone follows a cartoonist (Fraser) whose animated alter ego, a lascivious monkey, comes to life and torments Fraser when he lands in purgatory after a car crash. Director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) brings a darkly comic vision to his latest bad dream but fails to make the reality and fantasy elements mesh. Fraser and Fonda (who plays Fraser's girlfriend), likable actors both, are stranded amid the wearying wackiness. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Slips on its own banana peel

David Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Paul Sorvino

Warner Bros, (a part of AOL Time Warner, as is PEOPLE), which released this crude family film, showed it to critics at a Saturday-morning screening full of children—presumably so that the grown-ups could see for themselves just how hilarious kids found a seemingly endless scene in which the movie's hero (Arquette) accidentally steps in, and then rolls around in, doggy doo. Is it news that potty humor rules among 6-year-olds?

The filmmakers may indeed have been pandering to the schoolyard set with the scatological jokes, but at whom exactly are they aiming the running gag about a mobster (Sorvino) who gets his privates chewed off by an FBI-trained, crime-fighting canine?

Arquette, fast developing a film career only Pauly Shore might envy, plays a bachelor mailman who is babysitting a young boy. When a bullmastiff jumps into Arquette's mail truck, the pair adopt it—unaware of the dog's FBI pedigree or of the hit men who are trying to whack it at the behest of a revenge-seeking Sorvino. Much broad humor, including gags about human and canine flatulence, follows. (PG)

Bottom Line: Out, damned Spot

Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald

The timing couldn't be better for this mercilessly dead-on satire. Taking reality TV to a brutal extreme, Series 7 is Survivor if it were a collaboration of action director John Woo and 1984 author George Orwell.

There are six lottery-chosen contestants on The Contenders, a program produced (read "enforced") by the government, a present-day totalitarian apparatus with an army of videocam operators. The latest contestants, including a middle-aged nurse and an artist dying of cancer, are armed (and required) to kill each other wherever they can—driveway, mall, field. The player left standing goes on to a new round of murderous game-playing in pursuit of an elusive prize defined merely as "freedom."

Series 7, which presents itself as a Contenders marathon, does a brilliant job aping the visual style of reality shows, and the entire cast-especially Brooke Smith as the pregnant reigning champ-manages to convey both knotted-stomach panic and tongue-in-cheek humor. (R)

Bottom Line: High-caliber fare

>Melina Kanakaredes

These days it's chic to be Greek, as Melina Kanakaredes has discovered. Not only was her character in the upcoming film 15 Minutes changed to reflect her own Hellenic heritage, but the actress ended up teaching costar Robert De Niro some Greek terms of endearment to use in a scene. "What a bizarre feeling to have Robert De Niro look at me and go, 'So?' and I'd go, 'Yeah, good, good.' "

But new roles were just what Kanakaredes, 33, wanted from her 1999 summer break from NBC's hit series Providence, in which she plays plastic surgeon Sydney Hansen. In Minutes she's an ambitious TV news reporter. But a post-wrap romantic weekend with her husband of eight years, Peter, 34, a chef, led to a bigger role: mom. "I bring her to work every day," Kanakaredes says of daughter Zoe, now 9 months old. For someone who works 16-hour days five days a week on the Providence set, having Zoe on hand "makes a huge difference," she says, "and I feel I'm better at everything I do."

Despite the workload, the Akron-bred Kanakaredes (the youngest of three children born to Harry, an insurance salesman, and Connie, a homemaker) somehow finds time to fly to Ohio for family gatherings. "There's nothing like a Greek party," she says. Julie Jordan

>Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon This heady mix of martial arts and romance is pure movie magic. (PG-13)

Hannibal Not quite a dinner-and-a-movie movie. FBI agent Clarice Starling (now Julianne Moore) hunts down a still-famished Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in a gruesome Silence of the Lambs sequel. (R)

The Taste of Others Flavorful French romantic comedy about why some love affairs take off and others can't get started. (Not rated)

3000 Miles to Graceland Hunka hunka burnin' garbage. Violent heist picture in which Elvis lookalikes rob a casino and then turn on each other. Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner star. (R)

Traffic Superior ensemble drama about the war on drugs. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.