Czech director Vaclav Vorlicek’s black-and-white slapstick fantasy is from 1966, the same year as Vera Chytilova’s Daisies, and it’s hard to think of two more gleefully anarchic comedies made under a communist regime. This one is slighter and more conventional, but its premise is still pretty outrageous. A scientist develops a formula that transforms bad dreams into good. She tests it on a sleeping cow, whose nightmare of being attacked by flies (viewed on a TV monitor) gives way to an idyll of lounging in a hammock. But things go awry when she tries the serum out on her wimpy husband, who, under the influence of a comic book, is dreaming of being rescued from the clutches of an overweight Superman clone and an ornery Wild West gunslinger by a sexy sci-fi heroine a la Barbarella. All three fantasy characters materialize in the real world, bringing their dialogue bubbles with them. The ensuing pandemonium is exceptionally silly and mostly delightful. For the record, the mistranslated title should have been “Who Wants to Kill Jessie?” In Czech with subtitles. 80 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.
Played with pizzazz by Jessica Alba (TV’s Dark Angel), 22-year-old Honey struggles to teach hip-hop and break dancing to the kids in her inner-city neighborhood in an energetic musical that’s like Flashdance with a social conscience, or Saturday Night Fever with an expanded one. It’s a hokey heart-warmer that works, not just because the dancing is great but because first-time director Bille Woodruff (a music-video veteran) and first-time writers Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson clearly believe in what they’re doing. The secondary cast, which includes 8 Mile’s Mekhi Phifer, Joy Bryant, and a raft of hip-hop stars doing cameo turns, brims with charisma. PG-13, 95 min. (JR)
A greeting card disguised as a historical drama about Jan Vermeer and his 17th-century Dutch milieu. Scarlett Johansson plays Grete, a 16-year-old domestic in the household of the dashing young painter (Colin Firth), who sublimates his feelings for her into his painting. The maid is lit like a Vermeer portrait even when she isn’t posing or mixing his paints, which reduces his art to photo-realism and undercuts the reverence accorded to him as a sacred visionary. The period detail is more vibrant than the minimal story (adapted by Olivia Hetreed from Tracy Chevalier’s novel), which includes Grete’s romance with a butcher’s assistant. Tom Wilkinson plays Vermeer’s patron as a lascivious ogre. Peter Webber, a first-timer, directed. PG-13, 99 min. (JR)
A low-budget exploitation item (1973) about an escaped lunatic menacing a small New England town. Its main point of interest appears to be its secondary cast, which includes John Carradine, Mary Woronov, Walter Abel, and Candy Darling. Patrick O’Neal stars and Theodore Gershuny directed. 87 min. (JR)