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AUGUST 9, 1999: 

The Sixth Sense

Bruce Willis starred in The Fifth Element and Demi was in The Seventh Sign, so Willis's new The Sixth Sense fills in the gaps, no? The first hour of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's psychological thriller is creepy, engaging, and unpleasant. Watching a child prone to intense anxiety attacks and brutal peer teasing fall apart is not my idea of fun, but Shyamalan gets the job done. Haley Joel Osment effectively plays emotionally disturbed Cole, a heartbreakingly cute, wiser-than-his-years eight-year-old whose parents' divorce sends him to see renowned child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (a different sort of role for Willis, though he's still called on for plenty of cool, near-whisper bits of banter). For Malcolm, Cole is an eerie reminder of a past patient he failed, and he's determined to devote all his time to redeeming himself, even if it means neglecting his wife (Rushmore's Olivia Williams).

Naturally, Malcolm is the only one who can really communicate with young Cole -- except of course for the dead people who are literally driving Cole crazy. But are these ghosts real or just a figment of Cole's tortured imagination? Either way, Shyamalan would have had a tough time concluding his film. Unfortunately, the choice he makes sends the movie into mere horror-film territory, away from the realistically chilling first half. The surprise ending, though, is quite the humdinger.

-- Mark Bazer


Trick

The moral of Jim Fall's film is that it's a good idea to wait to have sex. Sounds like a disguised piece of Christian Right propaganda, but in fact Trick is a hip, urban gay romantic comedy that falls somewhere between Jane Austen's Emma and Al Pacino's Cruising.

Gabriel (Christian Campbell), a lonely aspiring writer of musicals, gets picked up by Mark (John Paul Pitoc), a buff and over-sexed go-go dancer, on the subway soon after the two meet at a gay bar where Mark was shaking his moneymaker. Quickly falling into lust, the two descend on Gabriel's apartment for some nookie, only to be interrupted first by Gabriel's still-interested ex-girlfriend (Tori Spelling) and then by his straight roommate. The rest of the night turns into a farce of missed opportunities. As in a Victorian romance, however, postponing lust leads to love: Mark comes to value Gabriel's sensitivity and sincerity; Gabriel overcomes his objections to Mark's promiscuous past and learns to trust him.

Like the musical Titanic that Gabriel is writing, Trick has a few unintentionally corny moments, and the acting isn't always convincing. Still, this is an engagingly old-fashioned love story that explains how love can be pulled out of lust like a rabbit from a hat.

-- Nicholas Patterson


The Thomas Crown Affair

Norman Jewison's 1968 original, with Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown, the millionaire Boston businessman who robs banks for fun, and Faye Dunaway as demure Vicky Anderson, the insurance investigator hired to catch him, is memorable only for an amusing chess-game seduction scene. John McTiernan's remake, which transplants the story to New York City, is brighter, glitzier, and far smarter than its inspiration.

Pierce Brosnan's Thomas is a cocky, obscenely rich playboy who steals famous works of art (somehow more excusable than McQueen's money pilfering) for kicks. His latest acquisition is a Monet nabbed in a dazzling, ingenious scene. Trading in her sexy-mousy routine for fiery and passionate, Rene Russo as insurance investigator/bounty hunter Catherine Banning is the real reason to watch this movie: Catherine cottons onto Thomas immediately and the cat-and-mouse game commences. The question is not whether Catherine will get her man but whether she'll get to keep him; and with a backdrop of lust-driven romance, aptly placed humor, and "how the hell are they going to do that?" excitement, you actually care about the answer.

-- Jumana Farouky


The Iron Giant

In a genially animated Maine autumn countryside of 1957, Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) disobeys mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) and wanders out into the night to discover, Invaders from Mars-style, a giant robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space. Actually the big guy is just a kid himself, chomping on metal as if it were junk food, and Hogarth decides to hide his new friend with the help of village hipster Dean (Harry Connick Jr.) from their fellow Maine-iacs until he can think of a way to introduce him without causing a panic. Too late: their suspicions aroused by tractors with bites taken out of them and inexplicable train wrecks, his neighbors have called in Washington and special agent Mul . . . , er, Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate.

Based on a children's book written by the late poet Ted Hughes, Brad Bird's film is of course a giant ironic allegory. A self-conscious, somewhat anachronistic version of the conflict between national innocence and Cold War paranoia dramatized in movies from The Day the Earth Stood Still to E.T., it's also a magical evocation of a special time in history and a time in everybody's life when the dream and the nightmare quotients are equally high. Adults will be moved when the colossus learns about death from a deer shot by hunters (pace Bambi) and declares, "I am not a gun." The kid in all of us, though, will be most turned on when the pissed-off giant sprouts hydra heads of weaponry and takes on the Army, Navy, and Air Force. That's irony for you.

-- Peter Keough


My Life So Far

By the titles of their memoirs you will know them. The subject of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man will become James Joyce; the author of My Life So Far (originally titled Son of Adam) will grow up to be Sir Denis Forman, a British television executive. Joyce is a genius; Forman is not -- yet Hugh Hudson's adaptation of Forman's book enlightens and entertains as long as it adheres to the casual, inchoate, eccentric spirit suggested by its title.

Here Forman has been rechristened Fraser Pettigrew (Robert Norman), the scion of Kiloran House, which is owned by his grandmother Gamma (Rosemary Harris) and ruled by Gamma and her daughter Moira (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). The uncertain interloper in this post-World War I Scottish Elysium is Fraser's beloved father, Edward (Colin Firth), who has taken the rolling-stone proverb to heart and turned the estate into the world's only supplier of sphagnum moss. That and his penchant for Beethoven, flying machines, and cold outdoor baths mark Edward as a free spirit. But not where matters of the flesh are concerned. He spends his spare time preaching Non-Conformist fire and brimstone -- until Moira's dapper millionaire brother Morris (Malcolm McDowell) shows up with his young French bride, Héloïse (Irene Jacob).

Ostensibly told from Fraser's point of view, this morality tale of desire, propriety, covetousness, and hypocrisy is most telling when Hudson keeps it at a distance (a final confrontation is jarring and distasteful), allowing Norman's carrot-topped curiosity and insouciance to take charge. A tasty trifle full of treats, My Life So Far is satisfying as far as it goes.

-- Peter Keough


Mystery Men

For all the name actors and elaborate, Tim Burton/Batman scenery, this Kinka Usher film is amateurish. Perhaps that's because every comic-book fan has sat around dreaming up his own superheroes, either legitimate or wanna-bes like the dubious crew that are the Mystery Men. Funny are Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious, whose "power" is that he gets really mad, and Janeane Garofalo as "The Bowler." But Bob Burden, who created the cult comic on which the film is based, could have been more imaginative with the rest of the gang. What's up with "The Shoveler" (William T. Macy), whose "power" is his skill with a shovel? Or Paul Reubens as "The Spleen," who wipes out enemies with his tremendous farts? Believe me, that's funny only once.

The initial sighting of celebs in their costumes is fun, the acting is energetic, and there are some clever moments, especially when the film directly spoofs the superhero genre. Take Greg Kinnear's Captain Amazing, who looks just like his alter ego, yet no one can put two and two together. It's too bad that Captain Amazing has to be kidnapped so early on -- as the arrogant all-American, corporate-sponsored, legitimate superhero, he's the film's best character. After he's captured and the Mystery Men set out on a rescue mission, the film becomes interminable -- just like the list of other stars here: Hank Azaria, Claire Forlani, Eddie Izzard, Kel Mitchell, Pras, Wes Studi, and Geoffrey Rush as the arch-villain Casanova Frankenstein.

-- Mark Bazer


Dick

Watching dumb people do dumb things on celluloid is frequently more numbing than engaging, and heartless teensploitation wave riders that champion feeble-mindedness only make matters worse. In Dick, Andrew Fleming's oily Oxy pad of a film and the latest subscriber to the Beavis-knows-best theory, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams portray chirpy imbeciles who uncover the Watergate scandal. Once you move beyond this clever premise and the self-congratulatory chutzpah of the title, there's little more here than pretty girls bumping into things. Nowhere near the berserk delights of the Farrelly brothers and even farther from scathing political satire, Dick spins in place in its own beige-bland roller derby.

There is plenty of pat cuteness -- our heroines work as official White House dog walkers and unwittingly bake LSD-laced Hello Dollys -- but the fizzy details can't hide the lack of meat and bone. True, Dunst and Williams make charming polyester sweet 15s, but it seems that Fleming and co-screenwriter Sheryl Longin riffled through Lisa Kudrow's castaway closet to find their lines. What's left actualizes all of the lame puns and associations the filmmakers don't want you to make: Dick is flaccid, puny, and dopier than even its creators could have imagined it to be.

-- Joseph Manera


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