BE COOL Yet one more lazy sequel to a great film, Be Cool is a major disappointment that fails to capture the essence of what made Get Shorty such a memorable experience. In adapting the Elmore Leonard novel, director Barry Sonenfeld and scripter Scott Frank knew that the key to success rested in the capable hands of John Travolta, whose work as shylock-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer remains a career best. Travolta owned that picture, yet he received more than adequate support from Sonenfeld's playful direction, Frank's character-driven screenplay and a stellar supporting cast that included Danny DeVito. Alas, F. Gary Gray (the tepid remake of The Italian Job) is no Sonenfeld, Peter Steinfeld (Analyze That) is no Frank, and a promising cast is largely left to flounder in the middle of a movie that never provides a compelling argument for its own existence. DeVito gets bounced after one brief scene, while Travolta often seems like an extra in his own story - when the movie spends far more time salivating over musical numbers featuring pop star Christina Milian than watching Chili navigate the shark-infested waters of the music business, it's clear that priorities are out of whack. The degree to which characters, plot developments and even snatches of dialogue mimic those from the first film is irritating, and while there are some big laughs, they're isolated moments of mirth cast adrift in an ocean of indifference. The cast includes Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Cedric the Entertainer, yet the most creative acting comes from Vince Vaughn as a thug who fancies himself black and The Rock as his gay bodyguard.
ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR It's a great marketing ploy: The studio behind Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior reasons that because the 1970s gave us Bruce Lee, the 1980s introduced us to Jackie Chan and the 1990s heralded the arrival of Jet Li, then why shouldn't Ong-Bak star Tony Jaa be earmarked as the great martial arts star of the 2000s? Yet even with the decade half over, I say we hold out a while longer: Thailand's Tony Jaa doesn't possess the authority of Lee, the charisma of Chan or the intensity of Li, though he does project plenty of the same sleepy-eyed blandness as flash-in-the-pan Jean-Claude Van Damme. Jaa stars as the young Ting, who, like his fellow villagers, is aghast when the town's Buddha statue (Ong-Bak) is stolen by some uncouth city slickers. Ting sets off in hot pursuit, but his journey to Bangkok finds this "hick" (as he's frequently called) getting caught up in illegal street fights orchestrated by a brutal crime lord (Suchao Pongwilai). Ong-Bak resembles nothing so much as one of those action cheapies regularly churned out by outfits like Cannon back in the 80s, the ones in which goofy performances and lazy plotlines competed with passable fight sequences for the lion's share of the running time.
THE AVIATOR This sprawling biopic about Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the notorious billionaire-industrialist-producer-flyboy, employs all the cinematic razzle-dazzle we've come to expect from Martin Scorsese, yet there's an added layer of excitement as the eternal cineaste finally gets to step back in time via his meticulous recreations of the sights and sounds of Old Hollywood (look for Cate Blanchett in a show-stealing turn as Katharine Hepburn). Still, the behind-the-scenes movie material takes a back seat to other aspects of Hughes' life - namely, his adventures in the field of aviation and his lifelong battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. At its best, the film is a stirring tale about a man whose inner drive allowed him to climb ever higher and higher, grazing the heavens before his inner demons seized the controls and forced the inevitable, dreary descent. 1/2
BRIDE & PREJUDICE As she did with Bend It Like Beckham, writer-director Gurinder Chadha has tentatively mixed the worlds of Hollywood and Bollywood, fashioning a global tale out of Jane Austen's Brit-lit staple Pride and Prejudice. Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, one of four sisters whose pushy mom (Nadira Babbar) is perennially trying to find her children suitable Indian husbands. Mrs. Bakshi attempts to hook Lalita up with an Anglicized nerd (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), but the independent-minded woman instead finds herself torn between sly English charmer Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) and American businessman Will Darcy (dull Martin Henderson). Bride is far less polished than Beckham, but Rai makes an appealing heroine, and the movie's musical numbers are a treat to behold.
CONSTANTINE Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer, this disappointment casts Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a man with the ability to recognize the angels and demons that walk the earth in human form. Yet as he goes about his business of wiping out as many of the demonic "half-breeds" as possible (in an attempt to "buy" his way into Heaven), he realizes that there's a seismic shift occurring in the underworld, and the only way he can get to the bottom of the mystery is to join forces with a police detective (Rachel Weisz) investigating the apparent suicide of her psychic twin sister. Because it's an exhaustive exercise to keep abreast of the story's seemingly haphazard developments, Constantine ends up resembling nothing so much as a punctured tire with a slow leak, letting all the air seep out until what's finally left is flat and fairly ineffectual.