Picks and Pans Main: Screen

updated 08/18/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/2003 01:00AM

S.W.A.T.

Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, James Todd Smith, Olivier Martinez

No better than it has to be, but no worse either, S.W.A.T. is a police action thriller that gets by on stock characters and a mundane plot counterbalanced by plenty of chases, gun battles and explosions, all set to an ear-splitting soundtrack. You've seen it before, and done better, but it should sustain needy hardcore action fans until the next Jerry Bruckheimer opus—Bad Boys III)—comes along. Inspired by the undistinguished mid-'70s TV series (which starred Robert Urich) of the same name, S.W.A.T. follows as team commander Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Jackson) recruits and trains five top cops for a unit of the L.A.P.D.'s Special Weapons and Tactics division. The team is then assigned to transport a major international criminal (Martinez) who, though in custody, has promised $100 million to anyone who frees him. Jackson and Farrell, as a gung ho unit member, add zip where they can, but there's nothing memorable about these roles. Only Rodriguez, as the group's lone female, hints with a smoldering look or two that her character might actually have a life beyond the script. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: S.T.A.N.D.A.R.D.

Documentary

Step into Liquid

Critic's Choice

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You don't have to be a master of surfing to enjoy hanging ten. That's made clear in this joyous, stunningly photographed look at the current state of surfing around the globe by writer-director Dana Brown. (Brown is the son of Bruce Brown, who made the popular 1966 surfing documentary The Endless Summer and its 1994 sequel.) Though Step into Liquid shows many of the sport's top competitors (including Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow) mastering humongous waves, the folks here having the biggest blast just may be a group of middle-aged potbellied midwestern pals who've been testing their boards against the decidedly diminutive waves of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, Wis., for a quarter century. As Keala Kennelly, an elite surfer on the women's circuit, says, "The best surfer in the world is the one having the most fun." If you can't get up on a board yourself, watching Liquid is the next best thing. (Not rated)

BOTTOM LINE: Cowabunga!

Le Divorce

Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts

If only the rest of this comedy of manners were as buoyant as its witty final image, in which a red Hermès Kelly bag floats over Paris's rooftops, echoing the journey of the red balloon in the popular 1956 Academy Award-winning short of the same name.

Le Divorce traces the romantic education of Isabel Walker (Hudson), an American in Paris visiting her pregnant sister (Watts). Sis's feckless French husband has abandoned her and is seeking a divorce. This modern-day Isabel pointedly shares the same first name as Isabel Archer, the 19th-century heroine of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, and she too finds her Yankee ways conflicting with those of the Old World.

Based on the 1997 novel by Diane Johnson and directed by James Ivory (The Golden Bowl), Divorce is well crafted, pleasant enough to watch and offers let's-book-tickets-now views of Paris, but it never quite clicks. Hudson displays only the vaguest clue as to what her character is about, and other sawier stars (Glenn Close, Stockard Channing) show up too briefly to make a difference. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Lots of Paris, not enough sizzle

The Secret Lives of Dentists

Campbell Scott, Hope Davis

Once suburban dentist David Hurst (Scott) decides, on the scantiest of evidence, that his wife and fellow dentist Dana (Davis) may be having an affair with a member of her local theater group, he begins to work his obsession like someone probing a sore tooth with his tongue. Dentists takes a keen look at marriage, family life (the couple have three girls) and whether husbands and wives can ever really know each other. Directed by Alan Rudolph (Afterglow) and written by Craig Lucas, this comedy drama starts off superbly but then wanders off track pursuing David's fantasies. What never disappoints, though, are the deeply felt, nuanced performances by Scott and Davis, among the finest on film this year. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: A Secret worth sharing

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