Picks and Pans Main: Screen

updated 09/02/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Serving Sara

Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley, Bruce Campbell, Amy Adams, Vincent Pastore

One can learn so much from movies. For example, if you find yourself stranded penniless in rural Texas and need a room at a fleabag hotel, try flashing your ample chest at a lustful desk clerk. It works for Hurley's character in Serving Sara.

But that's about all that works in this pathetically limp comedy, a film that practically has "Loser" stamped on its forehead from the first scenes. That would include the one in which Perry, playing a process server, quarrels with an obnoxious coworker (Pastore), who instructs Perry to kiss his posterior. Perry replies, "My mouth isn't that big." These are the jokes.

The uninspired plot has Perry first chasing after and then teaming up with Hurley to serve divorce papers on her cheating hubby (Campbell), a cattle baron. Perry smirks and mugs throughout while Hurley just seems massively bored, practically yawning even while hoisting her shirt for the hotel clerk. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Embarrassingly bad

Simone
Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Rachel Roberts, Winona Ryder, Jay Mohr
Featured attraction

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Director-writer Andrew Niccol (Gattaca and the screenplay for The Truman Show) isn't content merely to bite the hand that feeds him. In Simone, a splenetic satire that excoriates Hollywood, he chomps away with almost unseemly relish. The resulting movie is amusing and has a sharp point of view, but Niccol's targets are easy ones and his screed peters out partway through.

Viktor Taransky (Pacino) is an arty Hollywood movie director whose career hits the skids after the nitwit star of his next picture (Ryder, a hoot in a cameo) quits in a fit of pique. Using a computer, he covertly creates Simone (Roberts), a virtual star, and inserts her image in Ryder's place in the footage he has already shot. Both Taransky's movie, which is pretentious hogwash, and Simone become huge hits. The studio, press and public clamor for more Simone, unaware that she exists only in a pixelated state. "Our ability to manufacture fraud now exceeds our ability to detect it," Taransky marvels.

Though the jokes are almost all at Hollywood's expense—nothing wrong with that—the point of Simone is that our culture is so celebrity mad, and so eager to pay homage to hype-created creatures, that even when they are nothing more than digital projections, we still oooh and ahhh. Not exactly an insight to stop the presses.

Pacino, in a rare foray into comedy, works hard for his laughs. He nails Taransky's bitter desperation, but his character must carry the film, an increasingly burdensome task. The always watchable Keener adds snap as a snippy studio boss who's also Taransky's ex-wife, and newcomer Roberts is appealingly plastic as Simone. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: A flawed satire chips away amusingly at Hollywood

Undisputed
Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames

Snipes and Rhames, both powerhouse actors, duke it out in Undisputed and each scores a personal victory even if this minor, punch-weary boxing drama grows fatigued before its finish.

The two play convicts who face off in a boxing ring inside a maximum security facility in California's Mojave Desert. Snipes's character, the prison champ, is in for murder. He keeps to himself, building toothpick models in his cell. Rhames plays a menacing newcomer, the world heavyweight titleholder who ends up behind bars for a rape (sound familiar?). He tells Snipes there's room for only one undisputed champ in the prison.

Director-cowriter Walter Hill (Last Man Standing) gives the movie a dose of hip-hop grit, shooting parts of it like a music video, but the characters and story are dime thin. Undisputed lands its best licks in the acting duel: Snipes's intense grace versus Rhames's brawling bravado. Call it a draw, (R)

Bottom Line: Heavyweight performances

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