"Faithless," "Just Visiting," "Along Came a Spider." 

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!B! "Faithless"!B! "Just Visiting"!B! "Along Came a Spider"

"Faithless" — Award-winning actress-turned-director Liv Ullman's second film from an Ingmar Bergman screenplay is a darkly observed tale of personal torment. Structured as a movie-within-a-movie, "Faithless" introduces us to a film director named Bergman (Erland Josephson) who gets his actor-friend Marianne (Lena Endre) to help write his latest script. Slowly, Marianne becomes the fictional character he's writing about. We sit transfixed as Marianne becomes entangled between her conductor-husband (Thomas Hanzon) and a film director (Krister Henriksson) with whom she has an affair.

From her power position behind the camera, Ullman stays faithful to her mentor Bergman's trademark spare and emotionally raw performances. Watching the genuine suffering of these characters one cannot help but feel the depth of pain, despair and remorse that comes from living with the consequences of one's actions, no matter how frivolous. What's best about "Faithless" is this honest depiction of the suffering that friends heap on friends, lovers on lovers and family on family. The result is a harrowing but compelling watch.

"Just Visiting" — Clumsily contrived, this disastrous remake of the 1993 French farce "The Visitors" loses something major in the translation: its sense of humor. Despite hugely popular — and talented — French stars Jean Reno and Christian Clavier reprising their roles as a medieval knight and his peasant slave who are sent tumbling through time and space by a bumbling wizard (the once incredibly talented Malcolm McDowell), this Americanized version falls flat. When our hapless heroes find their 12th-century selves smack in the middle of 21st-century Chicago, the usual fish-out-of-water hijinks ensue. As the men contend with flush toilets, cars and liberated women, there are some laughable bits, but not nearly enough. The one bright spot, however, is Christina Applegate.

"Along Came a Spider" — Morgan Freeman reprises his role of forensics psychologist and criminal profiler Dr. Alex Cross in this second big-screen adaptation of a James Patterson best-seller. Again, the cerebral Cross must match wits with a clever villain (raspy-voiced Michael Wincott) to save lives. The plot spins on the kidnapping of a powerful senator's daughter, under the nose and protection of Special Agent Jezzie Flanigan (a wooden Monica Potter). Cross comes out of retirement when the kidnapper wants to deal only with him.

Freeman's ramrod-straight yet inherently dignified performance holds this mediocre thriller together. But Freeman's usual terrific performance, coupled with some dizzying plot twists, can't overcome the flat-footed dialogue or bland supporting characters. This "spider" needs more bite.


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