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JULY 19, 1999: 

The Wood

As announced by one of the main characters, the entity of the film's title isn't testosterone slang for an erect penis but a short, affectionate nickname for Inglewood, home to a trio of hipsters who reflect on their life and times as one of them battles cold feet and a drinking binge two hours before his wedding. The movie wants to be Boyz N the Hood (Boyz N the Wood?), but the obscenity-laced dialogue and raw objectification of women renders it a contrite pretender more along the lines of Booty Call or Trippin'.

Buffster -- and he shows all -- Taye Diggs (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) plays the embattled protagonist struggling between the lifelong commitment of matrimony and a variety pack of booty. Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones are the sidekicks who try to sober Diggs up and get him to face his nuptial responsibility. Through the leaden and uninspired plot, Diggs upchucks liberally in the back seat of an SUV (in a sequence that feels strangely like the head-shot scene in Pulp Fiction), there are flashbacks to the old high-school days, and as the guys nosh on pizza, they wax nostalgically about their first loves (lusts). Epps, Diggs, and Jones are talented actors, but the material lacks character development and forces them to play tail-chasing caricatures. Besides the cast's good looks and an occasional, well-timed quip of humor, there's little about The Wood to get hard about.

-- Tom Meek


Party Monster

This documentary mixes crude video footage with over-the-top re-enactments to chronicle the rise and fall of Michael Alig, a Midwestern kid who quit college to become a party promoter in Manhattan's clubland in the mid '80s. Warhol had just died, downtown was declared dead, and Alig's parties mirrored the grotesque hyper-consumerism of that lamentable decade. His foray began innocently enough (drag queens, ecstasy, hot-bod contests) before spiraling into the glittering gutter of depravity, with hired performers demanding heroin, human-pee drinkers, blood-feast-themed soirées (replete with raw liver and buckets of blood), and the Christopher Street svengali's own increasingly erratic behavior. In 1996, the legless torso of Alig's drug-dealing roommate, Angel Melendez, was found in the East River; he'd been bludgeoned with a hammer, smothered, poisoned with drain cleaner, and dismembered. Despite Alig's bragging about the crime to his friends, it was nine months before the police went after him.

Acclaimed filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Drop Dead Gorgeous) are also directing a theatrical-feature version of the story. Although their crime-show-style dramatizations seem laughable at times, they nevertheless have crafted a chilling portrait of a drug-gobbling, megalomaniacal sociopath. Which terrifies more, the failure of his adoring friends to turn him in? Or Alig's own petulant, on-camera confession, three months before his arrest: was he one of those scapegoats that we hate and so we kill him?

-- Peg Aloi


Muppets From Space

Nine years after Jim Henson's death and two ill-conceived period capers later, the franchise is finally back on its spindly green legs. Mercifully avoiding the stabs at relevant hipness that marred the past decade's Muppet endeavors, Space succeeds by boldly manipulating the tender spot in our affections that longs for googly-eyed clumps of felt to play pranks and yank tears.

First-time director Tom Hill abandons soggy song-and-dance in favor of a wholesome plot: charismatic oddball Gonzo's search for his family. Belonging to no genus or species, the hirsute chicken fetishist wonders the big Hows and Whys while on the hunt for his blue-nosed brethren. "I've always had alien tendencies," he sighs, verging closer to genuine pathos than you've any right to expect. Under Hill's eye, however, the gang has rarely held more appeal. Sage Kermit reaches profound new levels of best-friendness, Miss Piggy is resplendent in various shades of violet, and creepy madman Animal easily aces creepy madman David Arquette, who's seen here in a cameo. The lasting impression, however, is Gonzo's embrace of the superstar critter within.

-- Joseph Manera


Lake Placid

This is not what you'd expect from a monster-lurking-at-the-bottom-of-the-lake scare pic; instead, writer David E. Kelley -- yes, the guy behind Ally McBeal and The Practice -- kicks the generic material into high gear with some devilish dialogue and a poignant dash of camp. Think Ally McBeal versus Jaws, except that in this dicy little flick a resilient Bridget Fonda subs in for the frail Calista Flockhart, and the rampaging leviathan is the mother of all crocodiles.

A crocodile in Maine sounds silly, but that's the film's strong suit. Lake Placid is a tart comedy of human folly layered atop a nonsensical horror-thriller -- à la Tremors or Piranha. And it doesn't hurt that FX master Stan Winston (Jurassic Park) is on hand to conjure up the gargantuan croc with mind-boggling realism. In Kelley's bubbly parade of stark personas lurking lakeside, Fonda and Bill Pullman are amiable and romantically awkward as the wilderness-naive paleontologist from the big city and the authoritarian game warden. Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson generate a hilarious rivalry as an eccentric academic and a gruff sheriff, but the film belongs to "Golden Girl" Betty White as the reclusive old bat who coddles the ravenous reptile and employs obscenity with gut-wrenching precision. At the bottom of this flake lies a depth charge of disemboweling good-humor.

-- Tom Meek


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