FAMILY/ADVENTURE

Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Isaacs, Olivia Williams

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, first flew across a stage in London 99 years ago. Now, in a dandy live-action film version jammed with dazzling, whiz-bang special effects that audiences in 1904 would never have even dreamed possible, Peter is still flying high.

This latest Peter Pan sticks closely to the original vision and language of author J.M. Barrie (which means skipping the songs familiar from the 1953 Disney cartoon version and the beloved 1954 Broadway musical starring Mary Martin). Peter (Sumpter), the eternal boy, still persuades Wendy Darling and her two younger brothers to ditch their London abode for his digs in Neverland (pre-Michael Jackson). And a snarling Captain Hook (Isaacs) still threatens Peter and his posse.

It's familiar stuff, but the high-tech special effects make zipping past planets, airborne duels and a snapping crocodile more vivid than ever before. What's new, and effective, is the decision by director-cowriter P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) to play up the sexual subtext—though kids will easily miss it—that has always lurked in Pan. Wendy (Hurd-Wood) and Peter are on the verge of puberty, and the film makes it clear that both are experiencing feelings new to them. As for the acting, Sumpter is a tad knowing as Peter, but Hurd-Wood is perfect as Wendy. Isaacs, who also plays Mr. Darling, makes a hiss-worthy Hook, and Williams couldn't be lovelier or more loving as Mrs. Darling. (PG)

COMEDY

Julie Walters, Helen Mirren

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Playboy pinups have nothing on 11 members of a local village chapter of a national women's home-making organization in England. These matrons, ranging in age from 45 to 66, were photographed buck naked, cheerfully futzing with flowers or putting up jam, for a fund-raising calendar published in 1999 that soon made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

Calendar Girls is a cheery, fictionalized take on their story, focusing on two pals (Mirren and Walters) who spearhead the effort. Their aim is to raise money for a local hospital that cared for one of their husbands when he was dying. The movie is enjoyable, though it feels padded in its latter scenes as the gals deal with the fallout from sudden fame. But the always watchable Mirren and Walters are obviously having a jolly good time here, and their enthusiasm is infectious. (PG-13)

FAMILY/COMEDY

Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt

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This tale of a household crammed with 12 children is adequate entertainment for kids, but it feels older than the nursery rhyme about the lady in the shoe. No wonder. It dates back to a bestselling 1948 memoir that was made into a film the following year. Moved to the present with Martin as a college football coach and Hunt as his wife, an aspiring writer, it's full of the sort of antics—a frog lands on the breakfast table and splatters eggs—that the ancients dubbed "shenanigans." Martin and Hunt (see story page 109) preside over the chaos with the requisite humor and strained dignity, but the only one to cut through the cutesy clutter is an unbilled Ashton Kutcher (the star of director Shawn Levy's last movie, the awful Just Married). As the oldest daughter's male-model boyfriend, he's vain, stupid and unexpectedly appealing in his absolute ignorance of family values. (PG)

SCI-FI THRILLER

Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman

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Affleck, hero of this piece of future schlock, wears his hair brilliantined, making him look like a store mannequin. And he's about as animated. Paycheck, which seems to have been little more than that for Affleck, director John Woo (Mission: Impossible 2) and everyone else involved, is about an engineer (Affleck) desperate to figure out why corporate baddies erased three years from his brain and are now trying to kill him. Chases and shootouts ensue. So does ennui. (PG-13)

Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo, 43, is a true-grit gal. Best known as a tough detective on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Streets (and for her bitter breakup with actor John Heard, father of her son Jack, 16), she's getting Oscar buzz for her raw turn as the wife of an ex-con (Benicio del Toro) in the drama 21 Grams.

ON LIVING THE PART Auditioning for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, she videotaped reminiscences of her struggles with Heard, who was arrested in 1991 for assaulting her. "Life had gotten so difficult," she says of that period. "What helped me get the role wasn't all that'd been done to me—but that I survived it."

ON LOSING 21+ GRAMS Toning up to look leaner for the film, "I started an exercise program—yoga with weight training and running. If you're unhappy with something, you can do something about it. That's the key."

ON WARMING UP WITH THE HEARTTHROB "Benicio is a gentleman. Every once in a while it was chilly, and he'd invite me to sit in his truck and we'd chat."

ON SAVORING THE ACCLAIM "I'm over the moon—I'm embarrassed. I just hoped I'd get another job."

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • K.C. Baker.