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JULY 13, 1998: 

CHINESE BOX. Wayne Wang, who directed Smoke, has managed to make an almost entirely unintelligible movie about...it's hard to say, exactly. It's kind of about the transfer of Hong Kong to the Chinese, and it's sort of about a journalist, John (Jeremy Irons), who rather conveniently comes down with a bad case of incurable leukemia that has him scheduled to die at the same moment the British are scheduled to pull out. John is an odd fellow, an antihero from the old school--macho, self-obsessed, frequently drunk. As soon as he's diagnosed with cancer, he runs out and begins to stalk a young girl (the adorable Maggie Cheung) with a video camera. Then he goes back to his apartment, where he and his buddy Jim (Ruben Blades), another middle-aged ex-patriot, obsessively ruminate over her image. Despite his fixation with the girl, John is hopelessly in love with Vivian (Gong Li). But Vivian loves Chang (Michael Hui), who refuses to marry her, because she was once a prostitute. Watching these two blowsy, middle-aged actors compete for the favors of Gong Li, indisputably one of the most beautiful women in the world, is like watching two bulldogs fight over an orchid. The melodrama heats up even more as John, increasingly fascinated and repelled by Vivian's disreputable past, takes a tour of Hong Kong's seedier sex dives. It's not long before the whole thing degenerates into a pretentious version of Showgirls, only more misogynistic. Sharing the blame for this travesty are co-writers Jean-Claude Carriere, Larry Gross and the ever-annoying Paul Theroux. --Richter

DIRTY WORK. Norm Macdonald has the sort of face and attitude that's funny even if he just stands there doing nothing. Unfortunately, in Dirty Work, Macdonald runs around spewing stillborn half-jokes and pulling unimaginative revenge schemes on stereotypical villains. Big dogs hump big dogs; skunks hump little dogs; Macdonald gets ass-raped in jail; the highly obnoxious Artie Lange (Mad TV) and highly dead Chris Farley try to squeeze laughs out of their corpulence; Gary Coleman and Adam Sandler appear for so-over-the-top-they're-under-the-bottom cameos; Chevy Chase and Don Rickles do what they always do, tiredly--and none of it is funny. Then again, if you willingly go to a movie directed by Bob Saget (of America's Stupidest Home Videos fame), you have no one to blame but yourself. --Woodruff

I WENT DOWN. Male-identified films, especially those grouped within the buddy genre, often go out of their way to direct audience attention away from queer interpretations of male-male relationships. In some ways that holds true for this Irish production--we get the mandatory female love interest; a three-second sex scene; and plenty of discussions about female hardware. The much more interesting and consequential narrative, however, involves the burgeoning Odd Couple-esque relationship between a doe-eyed ex-con named Git (Felix) and his bumbling partner (Oscar). They are brought together because both are working off debts of sorts to a mob boss, and initially their personality differences result in animosity and frustration. Many references to Git's titanic manhood later, the two decide to put their girls on the side and move to the United States. It's a formula we've all seen before: After many obstacles, the couple couples and rides off into the sunset. The satisfying and self-referential ending of I Went Down is welcome, too, because the weak comedic elements (madcap antics, pratfalls) that occur throughout the film become increasingly tedious and annoying. --Higgins

THE OPPOSITE OF SEX. Forget about wholesome sincerity in writer/director Don Roos' tale of unrequited love among gays and schoolteachers. Sarcastic self-cancellation rules, as the story's narrator, Christina Ricci, sourly criticizes all the storytelling conventions that come with the depressing territory. The result is a funny, energetic movie with a severe case of multiple-personality disorder. The travails of the spurned Martin Donovan form a fast-moving but not terribly compelling plot that provides Roos plenty of material for the bitchy Ricci (a manipulative catalyst throughout the story) to verbally trample. The movie's inability to keep its heart in one place might become annoying if it weren't for Roos' great lines of dialogue, most of which he gives to Lisa Kudrow, playing Donovan's cynical best friend. Kudrow's gift for sharp comic delivery ensures that the picture remains the opposite of dull throughout. --Woodruff

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