Capsule Reviews of the Films of 1998
by Carlo Cavagna

American History X (Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo) -- There are problems with some of the character development, but cinematographer/director Tony Kaye's visuals and Norton's riveting performance make the story work. Despite a few weaknesses, American History X is a powerful film. It has been criticized for promoting the views it purportedly condemns, but it's difficult to see how. Grade: A

Armageddon (Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck) -- Michael Bay doesn't make movies; he makes overblown music videos. Armaggedon is a roller coaster--occasionally exciting, but when it's over, you feel like you've been taken for a long, nauseating ride. Grade: D-

The Avengers (Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery) -- Not quite the nadir of filmmaking that was Lost in Space, but almost. Forget about trying to follow the plot--even after extensive use of the rewind button on my VCR, I couldn't quite piece it together. Grade: D-

Babe: Pig in the City (E.G. Daily, Magda Szubanski, Mary Stein) -- If Tim Burton were to direct Oliver Twist, the result might be like Pig in the City, the sequel to the Oscar-nominated 1996 film. Pig in the City is most definitely not a movie for young children, even though it seems like it should be--it's too disturbing. Grade: B-

The Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore) -- The Coen Brothers try really hard to be outrageously funny, and they succeed more often than they fail. Jeff Bridges, hilarious as The Dude, continues to be one of the more underrated American actors. Grade: B

Blade (Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson) -- Powered by a pulsing techno/industrial soundtrack, Blade is yet another movie that plays like a music video. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as director Stephen Norrington varies the pacing and successfully reproduces the look and feel of a comic book. But Norrington goes to far with the blood and gore, and by the second hour the story is dragging, despite all the action. Grade: C-

Bulworth (Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt) -- As with Wag the Dog, a political satire released a few months before Bulworth, the concept here sounds much better in theory than it turns out to be in practice. Even if you're partial to political satires and don't mind a little Hollywood lecturing, the movie is dragged down by Warren Beatty's self-absorption and the utter lack of chemistry between him and Halle Berry. Grade: C

The Butcher Boy (Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shawn) -- A faithful, well-acted adaptation of Patrick McCabe's novel about a young Irish boy's descent into madness and murder. The Butcher Boy has all the elements of a superb film, but it fails to actually be a superb film. If the narrative doesn't sustain momentum and none of the characters elicit much sympathy, there is little to recommend a movie no matter how well it's made. Grade: C

City of Angels (Nicholas Cage, Meg Ryan, Andre Braugher) -- Why would anyone remake Wim Wenders' masterpiece, Wings of Desire? Certainly not for artistic reasons. City of Angels is heavy on the lectures about existence that Wenders eschewed until the final minutes of the original, but it's nicely shot and avoids a crowd-pleasing ending. Grade: C

Clay Pigeons (Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Janeane Garofalo) -- Jeanene Garofalo and Vince Vaughn shine in this thoroughly unpredictable noir with a wicked sense of humor. Joaquin Phoenex has the lead role, however, and even though a noir hero is always flawed and a bit dense, Phoenix doesn't elicit a bit of sympathy and is a bad actor to boot. Grade: B-

Clockwatchers (Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow) -- A smart, witty, incisive satire about the lives of four temps in New York City. However, like the unrelenting Musack that fills the heroines's offices, Clockwatchers is a bit too sedate. If you don't watch carefully, you'll miss half the fun. Grade: C+

Dangerous Beauty (Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Jacqueline Bisset) -- Little more than a fancy bodice-ripper with a political message. Beauty juggles comedy, drama, and heaving bosoms, sometimes successfully, other times not. If you are entertained by lush period pieces with an abundance of naked female breasts, then Dangerous Beauty is an enjoyable two hours. Otherwise, you can safely pass it over. Grade: C

Dark City (Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt) -- One of the year's most underrated releases, this dark, gothic film dares to ask, "What is the nature of human consciousness?" Visually stunning and thematically complex, it manages to provide some answers to the difficult question it asks. Grade: B+

Deep Impact (Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman) -- Unlike Armageddon, this film possesses a plot. Granted, it is the insipid plot of a made-for-TV miniseries, but at least it is an actual, tangible plot. The effects and the acting are better, too. Grade: C

Deep Rising (Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Wes Studi) -- Deep Rising draws equally from Aliens and Under Siege, with bits thrown in from The Poseidon Adventure, The Abyss and even Titanic. Although the computerized monsters are spectacular, they're nothing new either. Grade: D-

Dream for an Insomniac (Ione Skye, Jennifer Aniston, McKenzie Astin) -- Ione Skye is a depressed young woman who moons about quoting depressing philosophers and wearing early 20th century hats. When Our Hero walks in to add color (literally) to Our Heroine's black-and-white world, you'll want to groan in disgust. The characters in this film are the sort of insufferably pretentious, urbanite poseurs than insufferably pretentious urbanite poseurs wish they could be. Grade: F

Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush) -- Elizabeth features strong acting and exquisite sets, but the overpowering soundtrack and the confusing script provide little insight into what made Queen Elizabeth tick. The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth came from the most disfunctional family in recorded history, yet the film doesn't explore the subject. Elizabeth also borrows rather obviously from The Godfather and its sequels. Grade: B-

Enemy of the State (Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voigt) -- High production values and a fine performance from Gene Hackman are the only things that stand out in this run-of-the-mill Hollywood paranoia thriller. The unimaginative plot consists mostly of Will Smith being chased around by government agents, and the resolution is just stupid. Grade: D+

Ever After (Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Houston, Dougray Scott) -- This movie asks, "What if fairy tales are all actually exaggerated versions of true stories?" Of course, the Cinderalla story here is only slightly less incredible than the original fairy tale. Still, it's pleasant. Anjelica Houston is particularly delicious as the wicked stepmother. Grade: C

Fallen (Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland) -- A second-rate film based on a promising concept--Denzel Washington must hunt down a demon spirit that moves from person to person. It could have been another Angel Heart, but the writing and directing never reach that level. Grade: C-

Gods and Monsters (Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave) -- A infinitely patient film, a rarity in the era of Short Attention Span Theater. Director Bill Condon is in no hurry to reveal where's he's going, yet he never permits the film to drag. As retired 1930s film director James Whale, who develops a complex relationship with his "lawn boy," Ian McKellen gives the strongest, most nuanced performance of the year. Grade: A

Godzilla (Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno) -- The title sequence is probably the best thing about this movie, and contains all the exposition it should have had. The reason Godzilla is better than Armaggedon is that Godzilla doesn't take itself so damn seriously. Godzilla does pose an interesting question, however: Wherever did they find a female version (Maria Pitillo) of Matthew Broderick? Grade: C-

Great Expectations (Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft) -- Charles Dickens' novel has been pared to the bone and set in the present day, and the result is a beautifully shot mess. Artist Ethan Hawke has been pining for icy Gwyneth Paltrow his entire life, but it's a mystery why. The characters' motivations could not be any less clear. Grade: D+

He Got Game (Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Jim Brown) -- Spike Lee's look at corrupt college basketball recruiting practices, He Got Game is one of the most overlooked releases of 1998. Lee is remarkably adept at exploring all the different sides of an issue, never tiring of revealing new perspectives and adding layer upon layer of complexity to the story. Denzel Washington deserved to be considered for best actor, and real-life NBA star Ray Allen is a find as the high school phenom targeted by the recruiters. Grade: B+

Hilary and Jackie (Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, David Morrissey) -- Despite an uninspiring preview (two young girls are musical prodigies, and as they grow up they become more competitive, blah blah blah), Hilary and Jackie manages to engage and surprise. After a bit too much exposition, their story is told first from the point of view of the "ordinary" elder sister (Griffiths), and then again from the point of view of the world-famous younger sister (Watson), who might be losing her mind. Grade: B

Hurlyburly (Sean Pean, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri) -- This black alleged comedy wouldn't be funny at all if it weren't for Kevin Spacey's droll wit and silly bleach do. Sean Penn's self-indulgent performance as a cokehead in search of the meaning of it all and the unfocused script make sitting through Hurlyburly a chore, and at the end there's no payoff, except for the pleasure of seeing a particularly irritating character get what's coming to him. And that's supposed to be tragic. Who cares. Grade: D+

The Imposters (Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Lili Taylor) -- A sophisticated farce almost as funny as the much cruder There's Something About Mary. Paying tribute to the comedies of the 1930s, director/writer/producer/star Stanley Tucci sets The Imposters in the same time period and imitates their style. Numerous familiar faces appear in the supporting roles. Grade: B

Kurt and Courtney (directed by Nick Broomfield) -- A sloppy, irresponsible, self-promoting p.o.s. that documents little more than a bunch of people with an axe to grind. Broomfield would be better off writing for the Enquirer. Grade: F

The Last Days of Disco (Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Eigemann) -- More a series of conversations than a movie, the primary function of Disco seems to be to demostrate what a clever director Whit Stillman is. Sure, there's a conflict and a plot, and at the end there's even a point, but they're all secondary to the endless gabbing. Grade: C

Lethal Weapon 4 (Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci) -- No longer lethal, Mel Gibson is a crotchety middle-aged weapon now. Could he be, in the words of partner Danny Glover, getting too old for this sh**? Or is it just that this sh** is getting too old? Grade: D-

Life Is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini) -- This cross between Schindler's List and Hogan's Heroes works better than it has any right to, but not as well as most critics have said. Roberto Begnini, "Italy's Robin Williams," mugs and cavorts for the audience during the first hour, then, in an unexpected twist, directs his antics towards his son in order to hide from him the realities of the Holocaust. As with any foreign comedy, some of the humor is lost in the subtitles. Grade: B

Lost in Space (William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers) -- Unrelentingly bad, with disappointing special effects and a plot that's completely incomprehensible by the second hour. William Hurt wears his patented "I'm constipated" expression for the entire film, and by the end, so will you. Grade: F

The Man in the Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich) -- Woeful script, woeful direction, and Leonardo DiCaprio is woefully miscast. The talents of Irons, Malkovich, Depardieu, and Byrne are completely wasted here. Alexandre Dumas' last and darkest work deserves better. Grade: D

The Mask of Zorro (Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones) -- Sir Anthony lifts a weak script, as he often does, and the whole cast is having an infectiously good time. Far more entertaining in its second hour, Zorro ends up benefitting from all the longwinded exposition of the first hour. Grade: B-

Mercury Rising (Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes) -- Not an original moment burdens this film, but it's a return-to-the-basics thriller that's a welcome respite from falling asteroids, exploding airplanes, and flying buses. Willis turns in a typical performance, minus most of the wisecracks. Grade: C-

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong) -- Disney breaks its recent pattern of mediocrity with the lush and exotic Mulan, based on a Chinese folk tale about a young woman who goes off to war in the place of her aging father. Unfortunately, the songs are unremarkable, in part because the two best numbers in any Disney animated feature--the songs by the comic sidekick and the villain--are conspicuously absent. Grade: B

The Negotiator (Samuel Jackson, Kevin Spacey, JT Walsh) -- I would pay to watch Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey read out of a telephone book--and enjoy it. Sure, The Negotiator is hogwash, but it's entertaining nonetheless. Grade: B-

Next Stop, Wonderland (Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Holland Taylor) -- Like Sliding Doors and Sleepless in Seattle, Wonderland features a parallel storylines device, but only one of the two storylines is any good. As long as Hope Davis is on the screen, Wonderland is funny and entertaining, but due to the narrative structure, she's only on screen half the time. Grade: C+

Nil By Mouth (Raymond Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles) -- Imagine a movie where every character is played by Gary Oldman, in the drunken overacting Gary Oldman mode. Oldman's unfocused and self-indulgent directorial debut has moments of poignancy and insight, but not enough to make it endurable. Grade: D+

The Object of My Affection (Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Alan Alda) -- For the first 45 minutes or so, Affection unfolds like a standard romantic comedy, complete with the dreaded musical montage. Ah, but there's a twist--the object of Aniston's affection is gay. The second half is surprisingly complex, and Nigel Hawthorne arrives two-thirds of the way through to steal the film. Grade: B-

One True Thing (Renée Zellwegger, Meryl Streep, William Hurt) -- Streep may have received the Oscar nomination, but the real star of this movie is Zellwegger, whose energy and vitality, combined with Carl Franklin's understated direction, pumps some life into the dying-nobly-of-a-horrible-disease genre. Grade: B

The Opposite of Sex (Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow) -- Creatively narrated by the film's central, but least sympathetic character, Christina Ricci, who is an absolute pleasure to watch. However, there's not very much to the story, and the male actors (Donovan, Ivan Sergei, Lyle Lovett) pretty much stink. Very uneven. Grade: B-

Out of Sight (George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Don Cheadle) -- This intelligent, creatively sequenced, and modestly-budgeted suspense/romance easily surpassed the brainless summer action fare. George Clooney does a bit of acting, rather than just wagging his head and crinkling his eyes. Don Cheadle's villain also stands out. Grade: B+

Palmetto (Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon) -- Features a classic film noir plot, and Harrelson is well-cast as the classic film noir hero--in other words, a guy who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, Shue (laughably bad as the bad girl) and Gershon (uncomfortable as the good girl) are miscast, and Palmetto never rises above its chosen B-movie level. Grade: C-

A Perfect Murder (Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen) -- A less-than-perfect remake of Hitchcock's classic Dial M for Murder. Director Andrew Davis plays fast and loose with the original story, and by the end only a key element is still unchanged. By the way, isn't Gwyneth Paltrow, like, 35 years younger than Michael Douglas? Grade: C+

Pleasantville (Tobey McGuire, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen) -- Tobey McGuire and Reese Witherspoon are transported inside a fictional 1950s television show, where everybody is happy and everything is homogeneous until the teenagers start introducing color--literally--into their world. Well worth seeing, Pleasantville features outstanding performances and beautiful effects, although the script is often heavy-handed. Grade: B

Primary Colors (John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester) -- An enjoyable, occassionally laugh-out-loud satire of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign that poses a serious question: Should we care about the personal flaws of our elected representatives? But, like many Hollywood films, it can't resist giving us lectures in civics even as it wrestles with ambiguous moral questions. Grade: B

The Replacement Killers (Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker) -- Brainless and bloody, but entertaining nonetheless. With Chow Yun-Fat, the antihero of John Woo's most famous Hong Kong films, in the starring role and Woo himself as the executive producer, Replacement Killers has the look and feel of a Woo movie. It lacks the touch of artistry that only Woo himself could have brought, but Antoine Fuqua copies the style well enough. Grade: C+

Ronin (Robert DeNiro, Natascha McElhone, Jean Reno) -- The thriller of the year. The ronin (patronless samurai in ancient Japan) motif is stretched thin, but Ronin is intelligent, well-acted, and features stomach-lurching car chases the likes of which have not been seen since The French Connection. Never a dull moment. Grade: B+

Rounders (Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich) -- Matt Damon has renounced gambling, but now must decide whether his poker habit is truly an addiction, or a special talent. Edward Norton is the devil on one shoulder; flavor-of-the-month Gretchen Mol is the angel on the other. Norton shames the acting of his bigger-name co-star, and would run away with the movie if not for John Malkovich and his arsenal of bizarre accents. Grade: B-

Rushmore (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams) -- This critically-acclaimed indie comedy doesn't work as well as it should, unless you find precocious kids intrinsically hilarious. Rushmore repeatedly comes close to being an all-out madcap farce, but always pulls back. At the same time, the more thoughtful elements don't work because the characters are too exaggerated. Still, it's creative, and Murray is always worth watching. Grade: C+

Saving Private Ryan (Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns) -- The Longest Day this ain't--the first half hour alone forever redefines the war movie genre. A runaway favorite to win the Oscar, Ryan has just one minor flaw: the plot is completely contrived... and when you can characterize a weak story as "just a minor flaw"--well, that's some pretty damn fine filmmaking. Grade: A

Shakespeare in Love (Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush) -- Far and away the best romantic comedy of the year. The conceit is that Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet is so moving and so brilliant a play that Shakespeare himself must have been in love when he wrote it. Every aspect of the creative process, from the writing to the production of a play is lampooned, and the story uses numerous modern anachronisms to get laughs. Shakespeare in Love is quite accessible even if you don't know Shakespeare's works. Grade: A-

The Siege (Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis) -- Well-acted and thematically complex (and not racist, despite accusations to the contrary), this intelligent thriller falls completely apart in the last ten minutes and plummets into B-Movieland. I guess whatever ending they originally wrote didn't screen well with test audiences. Grade: C+

A Simple Plan (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda) -- Despite Bill Paxton's outstanding performance as Hank and Sam Raimi's surprisingly restrained and intelligent direction, it's difficult to sympathize with Hank. The premise is that the opportunity for easy money would lead even an intelligent, educated family man to do some extremely bad things. The problem is that Hank changes too abruptly into a dangerous felon. It's a shame, because A Simple Plan is otherwise one of the best films of 1998. Grade: B+

Six Days, Seven Nights (Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, David Schwimmer) -- An old-style romantic comedy/adventure in the vein of The African Queen and Mother Goose. Not much substance, but it's fun and well-cast. It's been awhile since Harrison Ford has done comedy--too long. Grade: C+

Sliding Doors (Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch) -- Ever wonder how different your life would be if just a single tiny event had gone differently? Sliding Doors provides the answer by developing two parallel story lines that flow from a single altered event--in one, Gwyneth Paltrow catches a subway train; in the other, she misses it. It's a great premise, but when the story lines converge again at the end, it seems a bit too convenient. Grade: B

Slums of Beverly Hills (Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei) -- A vagabond family tries to climb the social ladder in Beverly Hills while coping with the horrors of puberty and avoiding landlords who want to be paid. Lyonne, Tomei, and Arkin shine in one of the year's best small films. Grade: B

Soldier (Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Gary Busey) -- They just don't make bad films like they used to. Unlike laughably bad 1980s classics like The Running Man, The Hidden and They Live, Soldier is just plain bad. Entirely humorless and uninspired. Grade: F

The Spanish Prisoner (Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Steve Martin) -- In David Mamet's world nothing is what it seems and nobody talks like a real person. The stylized dialogue is not a flaw--it's part of the entertainment. Mamet, who wrote and directed, keeps you and star Campbell Scott guessing until the final moments. Grade: B+

Sphere (Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel Jackson) -- Let's face facts: Michael Crichton is a hack. He usually comes up with a pretty good concept, but the demands of writing two best-sellers a year make for half-assed execution. His characters are cardboard cutouts, which, given the psychological foundation of the story, is an egregious flaw, and the ending is absurdly dissatisfying. Grade: D

Star Trek: Insurrection (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, F. Murray Abraham) -- No more Trek stories about Eden-like planets, please. Director and co-star Jonathan Frakes lurches clumsily between drama, moral lecturing, and hammy comedy. With a better script and the old Trek crew, this kind of mix might have worked. Here, it's just a mess. Grade: D

Stepmom (Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris) -- A sloppily-scripted, by-the-numberstear-jerker about spoiled rich people who whine a lot. I defy you to feel anything for these characters other than the desire to slap them--even Sarandon's obligatorily terminally-ill Mom. Grade: D-

Suicide Kings (Christopher Walken, Henry Thomas, Jay Mohr) -- This movie assembles all the independent-film-of-the-Nineties cliches: brainless criminals, a bad plan, lots of dialogue, and Christopher Walken. Yet another Tarantino ripoff, but reasonably entertaining. Grade: C+

Tarzan and the Lost City (Caspar Van Dien, Jane March) -- Does this film even merit comment? Occasionally getting drawn into movies like this is the downside of having HBO when you're stuck at home with nothing to do. Do whatever you have to--mow the lawn, clean the garage, re-grout the bathroom tiles--but stay away. Grade: F

There's Something About Mary (Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon) -- Say what you want about how stupid or crude this film is, or how politically incorrect it is, but I laughed my ass off from start to finish, and so did most of America. The funniest farce since A Fish Called Wanda. Grade: A-

The Thin Red Line (Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, James Caviezel) -- Reclusive director Terrence Malick is purportedly an erudite virtuouso of the screen, but if so, his genius is only sporadically on display. The Thin Red Line is a tangled mess, with characters that mysteriously come and go and intrusive voiceovers that don't flow naturally from the action on the screen. The film has moments, but it could have used some narrative vision instead. Grade: D+

The Truman Show (Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris) -- With his always gentle touch, director Peter Weir brings you the story of Truman Burbank, who is unaware that he is the star of a 24-hour-a-day television program. Finally, at age 30, Truman begins to suspect that something is wrong. Obviously The Truman Show is an indictment of the manipulative media, but Weir is never heavy-handed. More interested in the what-ifs than the social commentary, Weir presents the story as more of a fairy tale than an Orwellian nightmare. Grade: A-

Twilight - (Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman) -- Sometimes superb actors are enough to make a movie enjoyable. With a lesser cast, Twilight would have been unwatchable, but Twilight features the talents of Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Stockard Channing, James Garner, Reese Witherspoon, and Giancarlo Esposito. That's the reason to watch. Grade: C+

Two Girls and a Guy (Robert Downey, Jr., Heather Graham, Natasha Wagner) -- This isn't so much a movie as a play captured on film. When Heather Graham and Natasha Wagner show up at Robert Downey Jr's apartment simultaneously, they discover that he's two-timing each of them with the other. Through talk, talk, and more talk, they attempt to resolve the conflict. Smart and witty, it's not at all the male-bashing film that it starts out as. Grade: B-

U.S. Marshalls (Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey, Jr.) -- Tommy Lee Jones is the only reason to see this sequel to The Fugitive, and the strength of his character is probably the only reason it was made. The story just doesn't hold together. Grade: D+

Vampires (James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee) -- Your basic cheesy horror-action movie, which means either a horrible piece of schlock or a fabulous guilty pleasure, depending on your point of view. Vampire-lovers and fans of John Carpenter will be pleased. Grade: C-

The Wedding Singer (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Matthew Glave) -- Fairly typical comedy, in that moments of genuine humor are spread out too thinly over a schmaltzy--oh, sorry, I mean "heartwarming"--script. But Adam Sandler is occasionally funny, Drew Barrymore is pleasant, and I just can't give a failing grade to a movie that spotlights silly early Eighties music. Grade: D+

What Dreams May Come (Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr.) -- This ambitious afterlife romance introduces provoking themes, but Williams (going full bore in sensitive-Williams mode) eventually leads the way back to familiar hackneyed ground. The grandiose art direction and Oscar-winning effects (particularly the three-dimensional Impressionist painting) provide moments of wonder, but the unfocused script gives them no raison d'être. Grade: D+

Wild Things (Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Kevin Bacon) -- Good, trashy fun, with gratuitous sex and nudity, a ludicrous (in a so-bad-it's-funny way) performance by Denise Richards, and an implausible noir plot that keeps you in the dark until the final credits. The ultimate guilty pleasure. Grade: B

The X-Files (David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau) -- I'm sure that fans of the show were satisfied, but I found this movie uninteresting and its conspiracy theories juvenile. The X-Files is nothing more than a two-hour promotion for the television series that fails to resolve any of the conflicts it introduces. As I walked out of the theater, I felt more than a bit used. Grade: F

You've Got Mail (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear) -- Normally when the makers and stars of a film try to "recapture the magic" (and the box office receipts) of a success, the result is a disappointment. But in this case, the result is superior to its predecessor, Sleepless in Seattle. There's excessive cuteness a-plenty, but Mail is more intelligent, far more entertaining, and slightly less implausible. Grade: B

Zero Effect (Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller, Kim Dickens) -- The premise is this: What if the world's greatest superspy is an antisocial nerd afraid of his own shadow? Bill Pullman is a good fit in this role, but Ben Stiller is wasted as his assistant. The movie can't decide whether it's a farce, an intelligent comedy, a thriller, or what. The script plays like an early rough draft, not a finished product. Grade: C

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