Along Came a Spider

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Morgan Freeman returns as Dr. Alex Cross in this prequel to “Kiss the Girls.” Like the original, this movie has a nursery rhyme title and centers on a kidnapped girl. This time it is not a serial killer, just a madman inspired by the Lindburgh kidnap case, trying to make a name for himself with the crime of the new century. And this time the kidnap victim is not a woman but a little girl, the daughter of a United States Senator.

Freeman, as always, is a pleasure to watch, bringing a complexity and weight to every scene that almost makes up for a dumb plot. But even he cannot make up for Monica Potter, who replaces Ashley Judd as Freeman’s co-star, and who is as bland as a Barbie doll, and with an even blanker facial expression.

Potter plays Jazzie, a Secret Service agent assigned to a fancy school for the children of big shots and rich people. It’s the kind of place where every desk has an internet hookup and there are more Secret Service agents around than hall monitors. Let me just point out here that the Secret Service does not protect the children of Senators or even Senators themselves, who are in a different branch of government. We’ll give them some leeway for movie logic on that one. But there are some lapses, like having the President of Russia living in Washington, DC, that are inexcusably preposterous.

Jazzie blames herself when Megan (Mikka Boorem) is taken, and she is grateful when Alex Cross, himself recovering from a disastrous sting operation, wants her to work with him. They track down the kidnapper and prevent a second child from being taken. And there are shoot-outs, chases, and near-misses, some well staged. But the final twist is just plain dumb, and neither the performers nor the script’s explanation of the characters’ motivation have the panache to carry it off. No one could, especially when they resort to that hoariest of clichés, the good guy figuring it all out and then going out to the deserted location where it is all happening all by himself! At least they spare us the long explanation by the villain about the master plan.

Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with many deaths and some of the brightest-colored blood I have ever seen spurting in a movie. Characters use strong language. Many people may be upset by seeing children in peril, though Megan and her friend are strong, brave, loyal, and very smart. Other characters betray the trust of people who have been good to them, which may be disturbing to some viewers.

Families who see the movie should talk about what people do when they have to pick themselves up and go on following a disaster. They may also want to talk about how we decide whom we will trust and how we find reserves of strength when we are in scary situations. They should discuss Cross’ statement that everyone is born with a gift or gets good at something and “you don’t betray that.” They might also want to talk about whether criminals really are motivated by the prospect of fame, and whether there is or ever will be again a hero as universally adored as Lindburgh was.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Kiss the Girls” and an enjoyably dumb movie with a similar theme, Masterminds, a kind of “Die Hard” in a fancy prep school, with Patrick Stewart as the bad guy. Next to this one, “Masterminds” looks like “Citizen Kane.”

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Based on a book Series/Sequel Thriller

Arlington Road

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a very scary movie about a very scary subject — terrorism. Indeed, its release was delayed due to concerns about the sensitivity of the material. Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a professor who specializes in terrorism, still grieving for the loss of his wife, an FBI agent who was killed in a Ruby Ridge-style shootout. He is befriended by a new neighbor, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins). At first, Lang’s family seems like an all-American family straight out of an “Up With People” concert, but Faraday begins to suspect that under their bright smiles and peppy friendship might be something very sinister.

Faraday’s friends think that he has become a little unhinged from his wife’s experience. But as he continues to investigate, he discovers more and more disturbing information about the Langs.

This movie will give thoughtful teens some things to think about — balancing the need for security against individual rights, the difficulty of deciding whom to trust, and the factors that lead to hate crimes. The references to acts of terrorism in the US that are so close to reality you will think you recognize them make this more thoughtful than the usual thriller. The very first image, of a boy walking in an immaculate suburb, bleeding from an accident, sets the stage for the unsettling story, and the ending is not only scary, but hauntingly so.

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Drama Horror Thriller

Enemy of the State

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie is what I call a “soft R,” the rating based on limited bad language and violence, but not really unsuitable for younger kids. Will Smith stars as Bobby Dean, a successful Washington lawyer, who in true thriller fashion is inadvertantly drawn into a paranoid nightmare. An old acquaintence on the run from the CIA drops a computer disk into Dean’s Christmas packages just before he is killed. Dean does not know that he has the disk, much less that the disk proves that CIA operatives killed a senator (an unbilled Jason Robards) because he opposed their plans to expand surveillance. The head of a rogue operation within the CIA (current default bad guy Jon Voight) goes after Dean, who quickly loses his job and his wife, who leaves him after she learns that he has been seeing an old girlfriend. Every aspect of Dean’s life is scrutinized by the CIA and the chase scenes are very exciting, showing their ability to track every move he makes with the use of technology from satillites to to phone logs to tiny tracers in his clothes. Parents should know that there are four-letter words, references to infidelity, and bloody scenes, but fewer than in most R movies. Families may want to talk about the issues raised by balancing the right to privacy with the need for protection.

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Action/Adventure Thriller

Run Lola Run

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers with a taste for the offbeat will enjoy this German import about a woman who gets a frantic phone call from her boyfriend and has only 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks (about $60,000), or he will be killed by the drug dealer to whom he supposed to deliver the money. Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) live in a sort of of punk post-modern demi-mondaine. The key image of the movie is Lola, with her Raggedy Ann mop of bright red hair, running to save her beloved Manni from the drug dealer, and from himself — he has threatened to hold up a store if she cannot get him the money. When she interacts with people on her way — and in her way — we sometimes get glimpses of what their lives ahead will hold.

Lola runs to her father, who works at a bank, to ask him for the money. But he has his own problems. She does not make it in time, and the result is tragic. But Lola’s determination is such that she will not let that happen. All of a sudden, we are back in her apartment and she is getting Manni’s call again. Everything starts over, this time with tiny differences that have huge consequences for Lola and Manni and for the people around them. It takes three tries before Lola’s running is over.

The movie is fun to watch, with a lot of very clever jump cuts and effects, and it can be a nice jolt for kids who are used to pedestrian big-budget film-making. Parents should know that there is some rough street language, references to out-of-wedlock pregnancy and adultery, and that the main characters live on the edge of the underworld — the money Manni leaves on a train belongs to a drug dealer. Families may want to discuss the movie’s theme about the way that the tiniest choices and interactions can have the most wide-reaching consequences.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Diva.”

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Independent Thriller
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