This fundamentalist SF, based on a best-seller by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, is (or was) billing itself as The Christian Entertainment Event of 2000, but seems perfectly timed to coincide with the ascension to office of George W. Bush. It’s a clunky effort Bush could have written and directed. Over 142 million people on the planetincluding all the childrenhave vanished and gone to heaven because they’re true believers. Meanwhile, the Antichrist turns out to be Russian, proving that Joseph McCarthy must have been right all along. The credited director is Vic Sarin and the credited writers are Allan McElroy, Paul Lalonde, and Joe Goodman. Among the cast are Kirk Cameron, Chelsea Noble, Clarence Gilyard, and Brad Johnson, doing what they can with hopeless if weirdly sincere material. 95 min. (JR)
Dopey but charming, this romantic comedyabout a San Francisco wedding planner (Jennifer Lopez) experiencing love at first sight vis-a-vis a pediatrician (Matthew McConaughey) who turns out to be the expectant groom in one of her assignmentsdraws much of its allure from the two leads. Most of the remainder comes from a clear desire to emulate and approximate various second-tier studio musicals and comedies that one might associate with the early 50s. This never rises above such treacle but happily lives up to it every chance it gets. With Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Justin Chambers, Judy Greer, and Kathy Najimy; written by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis and directed by Adam Shankman. 100 min. (JR)
The third feature directed by Sean Penn and the first one that I’ve liked. Adapted by the couple Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski from a 1958 Friedrich Dürrenmatt novel, this is a nervy as well as somber piece of work, not only for the way it confounds and even frustrates certain genre expectations, but also–and especially–for how it confronts the viewer with the moral implications of that frustration. Jack Nicholson, in one of his most impressive, least show-offy performances, plays a Reno police detective who becomes obsessed with the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl and by his pledge to her parents that he’ll catch the murderer–unlike his colleagues, he still considers the case unsolved. Though he makes a stab at retirement, moving into a fishing resort and taking over a filling station, he continues to track down what he believes are clues, but this movie qualifies as a mystery thriller only intermittently; it’s more concerned with how much he–and we–want the culprit, real or imagined, to spring out of hiding and continue his bloody work. An abandoned balloon at one juncture alludes directly to Fritz Lang’s M, and though Penn’s arty direction doesn’t belong in that league, he’s become a very accomplished storyteller and an adroit director of actors–including the omnipresent Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, and, in striking cameos, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, and Helen Mirren. (Even the normally disappointing Robin Wright Penn is better than usual.) With Sam Shepard, Tom Noonan, Lois Smith, and Harry Dean Stanton. 124 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Esquire, Golf Glen, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge, Village North.
A silly but fairly harmless industrial espionage thriller in which Tim Robbins plays a ruthless software billionaire transparently based on Bill Gates. Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) is the pretty-boy genius programmer in Silicon Valley who gets enlisted into the tycoon’s Portland-based company and satellite communications program, where he starts to become aware of foul play long after the viewer has figured everything out. The paranoid romantic subplot, delirious and intermittently good campy fun, suggests that this movie might have been called I Married a Capitalist, though the nonstop product placementsplus the fact that, given the nonenforcement of antitrust laws, you aren’t likely to see this studio effort in many independent theaterstend to interfere somewhat with this purity of intention. Peter Howitt unexceptionally directed the unexceptional Howard Franklin script; with Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, and Yee Jee Tso. 108 min. (JR)