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NOVEMBER 8, 1999: 

The Bone Collector

In Phillip Noyce's brilliant Newsfront, which he directed in 1978 in his native Australia, the villain is a swaggering media maven who's made his fortune selling out his considerable talents in America. It's hard not to feel the irony now that Noyce, after the splendid 1989 on-the-ocean noir Dead Calm, has come to Hollywood and made his fortune with a series of competent but not especially personal or memorable big-budget assignments, including Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Sliver, and The Saint.

His latest is a slick, intermittently effective, occasionally ghoulish genre thriller that squeaks by on the charisma of the two leads. We get an hour and a half in bed with Denzell Washington, who plays a New York detective specializing in forensics who's now a quadriplegic because of an accident on the job. From under the sheets, this paralyzed op conducts an investigation to locate a Silence of the Lambs-style serial killer, and he's helped by Angelina Jolie's street-smart (and incredibly good-looking) policewoman. She's threatened when out in the city; he's endangered when the killer comes calling at his bedside. Married with Children's dumbed-down dad, Ed O'Neill, co-stars as a cop, and Queen Latifah is a bedside nurse named Thelma, in obvious homage to the performance of Thelma Ritter in The Bone Collector's many-times-better source, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.

-- Gerald Peary


Show Me Love

By the time rave parties reach the small Swedish town of Åmål, magazines have already moved them from the "what's hot" to the "what's not" list. That's the cross borne by Elin, the pouty teen-drama queen at the heart of Lukas Moodysson's delightful debut. Marching around the school cafeteria in sexy tanktops and too much lipstick, Elin assures the world she'll get out someday -- she'll be an actress, she'll be Miss Sweden, she'll be a lesbian if that's what it takes. Bored witless, she and her sister attend a birthday party for Agnes, a bookish classmate far outside Elin's social orbit. Agnes's party is a bust, yet the girls become unlikely friends and, eventually, tentative lovers.

Moodysson stages their first big kiss to the swell of Foreigner, and he shoots in a grainy film stock reminiscent of Lars von Trier's Dogma crowd. But he's not out for haughty laughs. Show Me Love is a marvel of compassion, delivered pitch-perfect in that universal language -- teenspeak -- by the radiant Alexandra Dahlstrom (Elin) and Rebecca Liljeberg (Agnes). The film may gloss over the tribulations the girls are likely to face if they're not just experimenting. But its final, triumphant jab at small-mindedness truly deserves to be called the feel-good ending of the year.

-- Scott Heller


House on Haunted Hill

It's 1931, and the staff of a psychiatric hospital are conducting experiments on their patients. One night the patients viciously murder their torturers. During the attack, a doctor pulls a lever that locks down the building and sets a fire, killing everyone inside. What happens next? The hospital seeks revenge, of course. Sixty-eight years later it lures in five strangers with mysterious party invitations, promising that anyone who survives the night within its walls will win $1 million.

Sounds freaky, but after the first maniacal half-hour, William Malone's film gets sucked into the same dull vortex that has claimed so many recent horror movies. This latest attempt to scare a generation that finds nothing shocking has two things going for it: Geoffrey Rush as the billionaire ostensibly throwing the party gives the film its twists (which of the scares are real and which are his creations?) and SNL's Chris Kattan as the smart-ass paranoid owner of the abandoned hospital provides much-needed comic relief. Otherwise, it's same old same old, with flat acting, a bubble-headed script, and a creepiness that plummets into cheesiness when we finally see the monster.

-- Jumana Farouky


Bandits

Tired perhaps of being regarded as dreary and longwinded, German cinema of late has sped up. Following the breakneck cleverness of Run, Lola, Run is the frenetic MTV-style high jinks of Katja von Garnier's Bandits, a sourly exploitative but briskly paced trifle. Four women imprisoned for what amount to crimes against the patriarchy -- murdering abusive boyfriends, for example -- find time between spot body-cavity searches to form a pop-rock band. Chosen to play at a policeman's ball in a misconceived hope they'll rehabilitate, they turn their drunken guard's rape attempt into a prison break and are pursued in a relentless womanhunt.

What follows is Thelma & Louise by way of the Monkees, as the free publicity of their escape launches their recording career and every encounter with the dumb-ass law or bug-eyed fans eases into an easy-listening music-video montage (the lyrics are all in English). Its glibness curdled by an emphasis on crudeness (the name comes from "band" and "tits") and crass stereotypes, Bandits still can't shake its Germanic pessimism or its fascination with death, which in the end proves a lot more memorable than the film's ephemeral melodies.

-- Peter Keough


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