Notable movies for the week of May 4 -- Short reviews on recently released titles


Notable movies for the week of May 4

Chattahoochee (R)
An institutionalized Korean War veteran (Gary Oldman) endures every imaginable form of squalor and cruelty to become the hippie Christ of the psycho ward in director Mick Jackson’s lurid yet dramatically inert film. British actor Oldman does an ace impersonation of a drawling American redneck, but it isn’t enough to salvage this sluggishly written and directed ”expose.” Dennis Hopper is surprisingly understated and touching as Oldman’s looney-bin cohort. D+

The First Power (R)
Swiping an idea from Wes Craven’s Shocker (which in turn lifted it from The Hidden), this thriller is yet another story of an evil force that leaps from body to body. Starring Lou Diamond Phillips (who looks way too skinny to be a cop), the movie is just a low-grade spectacular with occult cliches, but it’s enough to get you wondering: Will we someday look back with nostalgia at an era when monsters could actually be killed? D

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (R)
It’s no great shock that Jamie Uys’ Bushman sequel doesn’t feel nearly as fresh as the original. The surprise is that it’s a disaster — witless and crude, and patently offensive. The nifty silent-comedy routines of the first movie have given way to relentless sound effects and fast motion (it’s like watching South Africa’s Unfunniest Home Videos), and Uys’ patronization of the Bushmen can no longer be regarded as innocent folly. It is, quite simply, a beguiling form of racism. F

I Love You to Death (R)
Kevin Kline’s likable ham performance as a pizza-shop Casanova who — quite literally — cannot be killed isn’t enough to save Lawrence Kasdan’s laborious marital-revenge comedy. The film is supposedly based on an actual incident, but when Kline starts demonstrating his near-bionic survival abilities, it turns into a leaden supernatural sitcom. D+

Monsieur Hire (R)
Movies about voyeurs should be nothing if not titillating, and this French entry certainly qualifies — though in a ”tasteful” way. Michel Blanc plays a middle-aged Peeping Tom who’s less a pervert than a soulful, Victorian obsessive; gradually, he becomes aware that his sexual fixations are, in fact, romantic. The plot, which hinges on the murder of a young woman, is involving in a conventional way, yet isn’t tricky enough to work on the mystery-thriller level. Still, Blanc’s sad, severe performance holds you — as does Sandrine Bonnaire’s as his ravishing ‘cross-the-courtyard muse. B

Q&A (R)
Sidney Lumet’s new police movie is an epic portrait of an urban bureaucratic nightmare — it’s about a criminal-justice system so saturated with cronyism and rancor that it’s beginning to strangle itself. Nick Nolte gives a performance of venomous brilliance as Mike Brennan, a treacherous NYPD rogue at the heart of a homicide cover-up. The movie has its flaws, but it’s a superbly complex vision of racism and corruption — Lumet’s darkest, most labyrinthine drama yet. A-

Vital Signs (R)
Here is a youth-schlock soap opera that plays like some junior-high fantasy of what it would be like to go to med school. Still, director Marisa Silver has staged the stock romantic shenanigans with considerable zip; the movie never strays far from camp, but on its own shameless terms it delivers. Jimmy Smits is terrific as a hipster surgeon dispensing suave lessons in medical ethics. B-

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