"Slackers" ; "The Mothman Prophecies"; "I Am Sam"; "Gosford Park"
"Slackers" Not only is this uninspired college comedy unrelated to Richard Linklater's 1991 cultural landmark, it's not even about slackers. It's about a trio of cheaters: Dave (Devon Sawa), Sam (Jason Segel) and Jeff (Michael C. Maronna). Now seniors, their scam is about to fall apart because nerdy Ethan ("Rushmore's" Jason Schwartzman) catches them in the act. But instead of blowing the whistle, Ethan decides to blackmail them into hooking him up with campus beauty Angela (James King). If this premise remotely appeals to you, let me add that in execution, "Slackers" lacks laughs, focus and comic exuberance. Even its overflowing grossness is so calculated it fails to amuse.
"The Mothman Prophecies" Playing like an extended riff on an "X-Files" episode, but without the humor or the satisfaction, this supernatural thriller does have its share of goose-bumpy moments. Based on a true account of a series of recorded premonitions leading up to a late '60s disaster in a small West Virginia town, director Mark Pellington's film teases us unmercifully, making us squirm in anticipation of a scary payoff. Richard Gere keeps his twinkly charms in check as a Washington Post reporter baffled by the dark entity his late wife was preoccupied with sketching. Laura Linney, Will Patton and Alan Bates are equally good as a no-nonsense cop, a hallucinating local yokel and a twitchy paranormal researcher. But Pellington doesn't know when to stop the foreplay and deliver the goods.
"I Am Sam" Sean Penn plays a retarded father named Sam Dawson, whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) has mentally surpassed him by the time she turns 7. When social workers take his daughter away for her own good, of course Sam's only recourse is to challenge the move in court. Based on her ad in the yellow pages, Sam chooses hotshot, cold-fish lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). At the movie's heart is this simple, compelling question: Does a mentally disabled father have the right to raise a child, his child? Sadly, it deserves a better movie than this sappy, manipulative melodrama. Penn delivers a star turn as Sam, but equally impressive is Fanning, who plays sweet and innocent without the usual trappings of too-too precious child actors.
"Gosford Park" This latest ensemble piece from filmmaker Robert Altman resists definition, but it's definitely his best since "The Player." In true "Upstairs/Downstairs" fashion, Altman and his notable British cast transport us to a country estate where the likes of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Northam lord it over the equally status-conscious house staff, which includes Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Emily Watson and Clive Owen. Gossip and passions run rampant, while money troubles, marriage woes and family rivalries are dissected. Seamlessly melding stories, characters, actors and action, "Gosford Park" doesn't entertain, it beguiles.
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