SECRET WINDOW This dum-dum drama is about an author who's accused of plagiarism, and one has to wonder whether this irony was lost on writer-director David Koepp and author Stephen King (on whose novella this is based). Secret Window is nothing if not a pastiche of past big-screen thrillers, recycling most of its elements from The Shining, Misery, The Dark Half and just about every other King project this side of The Mangler. Yet even such a lazy dependence on been-there-done-that material might have been overlooked had the film managed to trick us with its climactic plot turn; instead, figuring out the "shocking" twist requires less brain power than a word search puzzle in a children's magazine. Johnny Depp, whose recent ascension to superstardom won't be damaged in the least by this recyclable nonsense, stars as Mort Rainey, a successful author still reeling from the fact that his wife (Maria Bello) left him for another man (Timothy Hutton) six months earlier. Holed up in his isolated cabin in the woods, Mort is startled one day by a visit from a Mississippi rube named John Shooter (John Turturro, too good an actor to be treading water in such a one-note role), a slow-speaking hayseed who accuses the writer of stealing his story. Bodies begin to dot the landscape and things start to go bump in the night, but the only thing scary about Secret Window is how effortlessly it manages to talk down to its audience. 1/2
TOUCHING THE VOID Everest Meets The Eiger Sanction in Touching the Void, which can be classified as both a documentary and a work of fiction. Falling best under the heading of "docudrama," the film centers on a 1985 climbing expedition in which Joe Simpson and Simon Yates attempted to climb a 21,000-foot mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Things went well until Simpson fell and broke his leg; Yates did everything he could to lower his injured friend down the mountain, but a treacherous situation forced him to cut the rope that connected them to each other. Certain that Simpson was dead, Yates made his own way back to base camp, little realizing that the other climber was embarking on his own against-the-odds trek to make it out alive. Director Kevin Macdonald decided that the best way to bring this riveting story to the screen was to combine fiction and nonfiction moviemaking, by having "talking head" interludes with the real Simpson and Yates interspersed with two actors (Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron) cast as the pair and reenacting their mountain climbing misadventures. Purists of the documentary form may carp, but Macdonald's approach brings an immediacy to the tale that otherwise might not have been possible.
BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD The five-man troupe Broken Lizard presents this comedy in which the vacation resort Pleasure Island becomes a stomping ground for a masked maniac with a very large machete. Yet here's the kicker: Club Dread doesn't exactly feel like a comedy. The genuine laughs are few, the gore quotient is high, and the youthful characters are no more sophisticated than the dolts who populate Jason and Freddy movies. The result, then, is basically just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill slasher flick, with the usual amount of fleeting T&A tossed in to mollify the Playboy perusers in the audience. 1/2
DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS Just as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey infused the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing with their vibrant personalities and swift moves, so do Diego Luna and Romola Garai provide some lift to this otherwise forgettable "re-imagining." Set in 1958 Cuba, on the eve of Castro's revolution, the film centers on an American student (Garai) who strikes up a friendship with a local lad (Luna) who shares her passion for dancing. The storyline is trivial in the extreme, and the film never establishes its explosive era in any believable sense -- despite some tacked-on moments of chaos, this might as well be set in 1986 Miami as 1958 Havana. Yet Luna and Garai make an appealing couple, while fans of the original Dirty Dancing will be rewarded with an extended cameo by Swayze as a dance instructor.
THE DREAMERS Yes, Bernardo Bertolucci's adaptation of Gilbert Adair's novel has indeed been awarded the NC-17 rating. And yes, there are copious amounts of full-frontal nudity (both male and female), as its young leads engage in sexual mind games in 1968 Paris. But the puritans who will lambaste this film for being about nothing more than sex will largely miss the point. Sure, there's sex, but there's also politics, cinema, psychology, and the sort of ruddy-faced idealism that once upon a time fueled numerous motion pictures made by filmmakers with international aspirations. But even though the movie is more ambitious than it initially appears, its overall success can't quite rival its heady intentions. 1/2