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NEW REVIEWS

BULLETPROOF MONK

Dir. Paul Hunter; writ. Ethan Reiff; feat. Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King (PG-13)

Oh, those National Socialists! Will they never learn?

Bulletproof Monk opens in 1941 Nepal with Nazis yet again lusting after a supernaturally endowed object when what they should be worrying about is the futility of waging a ground war against Russia in the wintertime. This time, it's a scroll with the power to reverse the aging process and make soft and supple the crows' feet of even the most decrepit Aryan that has Die Fuehrer's eye. Chow Yun-Fat's character, Monk, initially defeats the Brown Shirts (the '30s and '40s just weren't their decades when it came to this kind of thing), but must spend the next 60 years safekeeping his order's beautification secrets. It's the kind of responsibility that can wear on a fellow, even an ageless disciple of the gods, so come the turn of the millennium, Monk's eager to pawn it off on a worthy successor.

 
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Seann William Scott shows Chow Yun-Fat his sweaty pit in Bulletproof Monk.
Apparently, none is available, so Monk chooses instead, cloying, smirking Kar (played by Sean William Scott, who has cloying and smirking down to a science). A pickpocket with a heart of gold and an unfunny one-liner for every occasion, almost all of Kar's fight sequences appear CGI-augmented, which, for some reason, seems appropriate.

While ostensibly a tale of reluctant heroism and inner-peace gobbledygook, Bulletproof Monk is really just another vehicle for trotting out the horsewhipped East vs. West culture clash and all that goes with it. Since Monk is Asian and "enlightened" and polar-opposite Kar is Anglo and has no doubt spent a third of his life watching network television, the screenwriters are able to have an easy, paint-by-number time of things, apparently in the hopes that you will, too, and not resent it. Joe Weiss

CHASING PAPI

Dir. Linda Mendoza; writ. Laura Angelica Simon, Steve Antin, Alison Balian, Liz Sarnoff; feat. Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara, Jaci Velasquez, Eduardo Verástegui, Lisa Vidal (PG)

How many screenwriters does it take to write drivel? Four, say the credits to Chasing Papi. Three must have been busy changing a light bulb, since one is enough to conjure up this fluff. In her feature debut, veteran TV director Linda Mendoza goes off chasing poppycock. She finds it in the story of a three-timing ad executive whose women get wise, then even.

Tomás "Papi" Fuentes (Verástegui) pledges eternal and exclusive love to: Cici (Vergara), a buxom barmaid in Miami; Lorena (Sanchez), a lawyer in Chicago; and Patricia (Velasquez), a coddled heiress in New York. When the three converge at Papi's place in Los Angeles, images of La Llorona, the legendary, murderous, spurned Latina, lead us to expect a female revenge fantasy. In fact, Papi, who disappears for most of the rest of the proceedings, is just an excuse to bring the three characters together for a frenetic series of zany adventures. The women bond as they get caught up in the Miss Latina American pageant, a bungled drug transaction, and a vibrant fiesta. There are moments in which Chasing Papi promises the madcap mirth of Billy Wilder, but it settles for being tamer. The performances proceed with such infectious zest a viewer would have to gnaw on potent jalapeño in order not to grin. The female triad - mind (Lorena, the intellectual, since she wears glasses and owns a book), body (Cici, forever falling out of her skimpy blouse), and soul (Patricia, whose eyes could drown a hundred hungry men) - play with clichés and seem to be enjoying themselves. "I fight the fight for rights for all Latinos," says Loreno about her law practice - and so, in its own goofy way, does Chasing Papi, a film in which virtually everyone is Latino - everyone but the grubbiest drug dealer. Defying Hollywood ethnic stereotypes, he even mispronounces muchacha. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN

HOLES

Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. Louis Sachar; feat. Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette (PG)

Based on the award-winning children's novel of the same name, Disney's latest live-action feature, the mystery adventure Holes, is an engaging, worthwhile, and clever film for both children and adults. In the film, Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Greenlake, a boys' reformatory located in the Texas desert, for stealing a donated pair of shoes from a homeless shelter. Stanley's hope for a resort-like punishment is quelled upon his arrival, when motley boys scream "fresh meat" and Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) growls and grimaces as the camp overseer.

But the camp isn't what it appears. As Stanley adjusts to the endless and seemingly pointless digging of holes in the desert, we realize that the warden, Sigourney Weaver, is looking for something.

The flashbacks that link Stanley's fate to those of the other characters (especially Zero, the young mixed-race boy he befriends) are as interesting as the story in present time. Those familiar with the studio's history will be surprised to see a Disney film depict some of the history of racist violence in Texas, including lynchings and the outright destruction of "black towns." Camp Greenlake's own halcyon days end with the murder of Sam, a free black who is shot after falling in love with teacher-turned-outlaw, Kissing Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette).

It's good to see a kids' film with a multicultural cast and representations of blacks in history. Still, the movie succumbs to the increasingly troublesome motif in which noble black savages, in this case both Sam and Zero, help a white protagonist "build character." Still, although Holes may pander to white liberal guilt, the film offers a strong narrative, solid and often very funny performances, and a spirit of adventure that will appeal to people of different races and ages. — SHAKA MCGLOTTEN

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

Dir. & writ. Rob Zombie; feat. Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels (R)

Despite two years of high-profile rejection from Universal and MGM, as well as a close encounter with the direct-to-video market, Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses is finally hitting movie theaters. Now horror fans who are unfamiliar with the name Tobe Hooper (and in the home video age, how seriously can you take such a person?) will undoubtedly take director/writer Zombie to be the savior of American horror.

Those who have seen Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, will immediately find Zombie's House to be a tacky, trite imitation of the seminal 1974 horror film. The simplistic plot finds two college couples driving across the country to research their book on odd roadside attractions. They stumble into a garish murder museum, learn about Dr. Satan - the area's serial killer legend - and decide to check out the backwoods spot where the homicidal surgeon was allegedly executed. Unfortunately, the kids fall into the clutches of the craziest family since, well, Chainsaw.

In an attempt to distinguish his film from today's WB-populated horror dreck (or in a nod to Chainsaw's '70s-style sadism), the shock rocker has the story take place in 1977, which is irrelevant since the film feels like a contemporary music video. Zombie does pay consistent homage to Hooper with the same slow, steady zoom-ins and zoom-outs that pulled audiences closer to Chainsaw's depraved world. He also fills House's lunatics with genre veterans and favorites such as Karen Black, Sid Haig, and Bill Moseley.

But the heavy metal maven cannot help himself from parroting Natural Born Killers and Oliver Stone's manic, montage-heavy style. Zombie, a musician known for his horrific imagery and penchant for the outrageous, indulges in his rock video excesses and litters House with intermittent shock-o-rama shots of psychedelic, over-exposed

 
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Cult fave Jason Schwartzman in Spun.
nonsense, as well as snuff-inspired video footage. Unlike Hooper's disturbing, yet evocative creation, Zombie's world is muddled with neon signs and sensationalistic scares, making House more as butchery of Massacre's legacy than a tribute to it. — ALBERT LOPEZ

SPUN

Dir. Jonas Akerlund; writ. Will De Los Santos; feat. Jason Schwartzman, John Leguizamo, Brittany Murphy, Mena Suvari (NR)

Watching a movie shouldn't be this kind of painful. Cinematic anguish can be a purifying experience when the sadness, grief or anger elicited by a drama stems from concern for a well developed character or a message resonating in tandem with the human experience, but Spun hurts for none of these reasons.

Director Jonas Akerlund's descent into the gyre that is a speed freak's existence disgusts to no end, and does so without a mote of the compassion that made the drug-induced horrors of Requiem for a Dream moving commentary. Vile almost beyond words, Spun assaults the viewer like a psychic rape.

Scenes of filthy addicts stumbling hither and thither in desperate need of a fix no doubt reflect reality. Still, it's obvious that Mena Suvari's struggle to squeeze out a turd was put to celluloid because, and only because, the filmmakers equate ugliness with authenticity. Those who will praise Spun's affectations as "edgy," or, God forbid, "artful," will no doubt consider a grunting attempt by John Leguizamo to masturbate into a sock a story in itself, some sort of paean to emptiness that paradoxically speaks volumes. Yet emptiness is everywhere, a stone's throw from any point on the map, and despair as familiar as a lover. Finding them is no challenge, and Spun is in no way challenging. True vision has the courage to explore the interplay between anguish and hope, the way one illuminates the other. Spun, on the other hand, is filmmaking at its most cowardly. JOE WEISS


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