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Dry Season 

Fall film schedule offers a parched crop

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. These are some of the upcoming 2002 releases that have movie fans chomping at the bit. Unfortunately, you won't be reading about any of them here.That's because these titles are being saved for the lucrative holiday season, which begins in November and ends only when "Auld Lang Syne" has been sung for the final time at New Year's Eve revelries across the country. In the meantime, filmgoers will have to content themselves with what, on paper, appears to be a rather threadbare fall season.

That's not to say there aren't a few titles from September and October that hold some promise: For starters, I'm looking forward to One Hour Photo, The Four Feathers, Red Dragon and White Oleander. But for the most part, pickings are slim, with too many formula flicks, too many rehashes and too many movies starring MTV-sanctioned morons (Tom Green, Johnny Knoxville).

But you be the judge. Here's a checklist of the 32 motion pictures scheduled to play in town over the course of the next couple of months. And if nothing catches your fancy. . .well, isn't that why God created fall leaves and football?

SEPTEMBER 6:Overexposed Robert DeNiro plays a detective for the second time this year (after Showtime) in CITY BY THE SEA, in which said lawman learns that his own son (James Franco) might be a cop killer. . .A young man (Wood Harris) betrays his family and friends in an effort to lead the good life as a Harlem drug dealer in PAID IN FULL. . .Fatal Attraction for the high school set, SWIMFAN stars Jesse Bradford (Bring It On) as a swimming champion whose ill-advised affair with a sultry new classmate (Traffic's Erika Christensen) leads to blackmail, murder, and, presumably, a decline in SAT scores.

SEPTEMBER 13: Before turning up in November's The Friday After Next (the third entry in that popular series), Ice Cube headlines BARBERSHOP, a comedy about the zanies who populate the title establishment. Cedric the Entertainer and rap star Eve co-star. . .A nebbish (Robin Williams) who works in a photo shop develops an unhealthy fascination with one of the families he services in the psychological thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO. . .The highly appealing Jason Lee (Chasing Amy) teams with the highly unappealing Tom Green (Freddy Got Fingered) for STEALING HARVARD, a comedy about two doofuses who try to rob a bank so they'll have enough money for a relative's college tuition. . .A former soldier (Snatch's Jason Statham) uses his skills to kidnap a crime kingpin's daughter in the action yarn THE TRANSPORTER.

SEPTEMBER 20: The award for the season's worst title belongs to BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER, a violent action flick about two government agents (Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu) who try to terminate each other until they learn they share a common foe. . .THE BANGER SISTERS are Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, portraying former rock & roll groupies who view their past exploits in two completely different ways. . .Including a decent 1977 TV movie with Beau Bridges and Jane Seymour, the classic adventure yarn THE FOUR FEATHERS has gone before the cameras five times. In this sixth version, Heath Ledger (A Knight's Tale) plays the English officer who, despite being branded a coward, displays great courage in battle. Almost Famous's Kate Hudson and American Beauty's Wes Bentley co-star, with Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) in the director's chair. . .In the comedy SLAP HER, SHE'S FRENCH, a foreign exchange student (Piper Perabo) wreaks havoc at a Texas high school. . .In TRAPPED, two criminals (Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love) who have perfected a system of robbing from the rich and giving to, well, themselves, meet their match in a spunky housewife (Charlize Theron) whose daughter (I Am Sam's Dakota Fanning) they've unwisely abducted.

SEPTEMBER 27: Reese Witherspoon, still legally blonde, plays a fabulously successful fashion designer who can't marry her fabulously successful NYC boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) until she gets a divorce from her cracker husband (Josh Lucas) in SWEET HOME ALABAMA. But a trip back to the Deep South to get the papers signed leads to her rediscovering the simple pleasures of slopping the hogs and taking part in country hoedowns. . .In THE TUXEDO, a bumbling chauffeur (Jackie Chan) discovers that the title's evening wear magically provides him with extraordinary martial arts moves. Jennifer Love Hewitt co-stars as an inexperienced secret agent who tags along to help him save the world from the usual megalomaniacal villains.

OCTOBER 4: JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE is aimed squarely at the wee ones; all others best stay clear. . .After his fiancee is murdered, a young man (Good Girl's Jake Gyllenhaal) must come to terms with himself, with his fiancee's parents (Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman), and with his own growing attraction to another woman (Ellen Pompeo) in MOONLIGHT MILE, a somewhat personal tale from writer-director Brad Silberling (whose own girlfriend, actress Rebecca Schaeffer of TV's My Sister Sam, was murdered in 1989) . . .RED DRAGON may well turn out to be either the best movie of the fall or the most misguided. Thomas Harris' novel was already made into a superlative motion picture by Michael Mann (1986's Manhunter), but some of the folks involved with The Silence of the Lambs and/or Hannibal have decided to give it another crack. Anthony Hopkins returns as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, playing mind games with an earnest FBI agent (Edward Norton) on the trail of a serial killer (Ralph Fiennes). The high-powered cast also includes Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman, all under the direction of, uh, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 2). . .The top-grossing film in Japan is no longer Titanic but last year's SPIRITED AWAY, which is finally reaching our shores (though no word on whether the studio kept its original 160-minute running time). An animated epic from the director of Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki), this concerns the efforts of a little girl to rescue her parents from the clutches of various monsters. . .In WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, several cons try to outwit each other as they set their sights on a big score. George Clooney and William H. Macy head the ensemble cast.

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