One of the craftiest and most satisfying pieces about gender politics to come along in ages–all the more crafty because audiences are encouraged to see it simply as a movie about a seven-year-old chess genius, based on Fred Waitzkin’s nonfiction book about his son Josh. Very well played (with Max Pomeranc especially good as Josh), shot (by Conrad Hall), and written and directed (by Steven Zaillian), it gradually evolves into a kind of parable about how a gifted kid learns to choose–and choose what he needs from–his parents, teachers, and other role models. The part played by gender in all this is both subtle and complex, relating not only to chess strategy (i.e., when to bring your queen out) and the personality of Bobby Fischer, but also to the varying attitudes toward competition taken by his parents (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen) and two teachers (Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley). It makes for a good old-fashioned inspirational story, easily the most absorbing and pointed since Lorenzo’s Oil. Water Tower, Lincoln Village, Old Orchard, Webster Place.
Technically speaking, this feeble effort is the ninth Pink Panther or Inspector Clouseau comedy, but only the third without Peter Sellers. Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) does what he can as Inspector Clouseau Jr. (which isn’t much, given the degree of prominence accorded to a hackneyed kidnapping plot), and Blake Edwards, the presiding auteur of all the previous installments (apart from the 1968 Inspector Clouseau), directs from a script that he wrote with Madeline and Steve Sunshine; with Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, and Claudia Cardinale. (JR)