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Thursday, July 8, 2004 09:27 pm

Movie reviews

King Arthur

Stripped of myth, this Arthur seems more heroic

King Arthur departs from tales of swords in stones, mad wizards, and crazy love. Instead, relying on recently discovered archaeological evidence, director Antoine Fuqua gives us "historical Arthur": A beleaguered Roman commander is forced to engage hordes of advancing Saxons as the empire loosens its grip on the British Isles. Stripped of mystical folderol, this Arthur seems more heroic than the mythical king of Camelot.

However, the film gets off to a shaky start as Fuqua bombards the viewer with a confusing history lesson. Once the dust settles, the motivation and purpose of each character become clear. The basic story focuses on a group of foreign warriors pressed into the service of the Roman occupation army. The Christian commander, Arthur (Clive Owen), leads brothers-in-arms Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), and Bors (scene-stealer Ray Winstone) into battle. Believing they'll win their freedom and be allowed to return to their distant home once the Roman occupation ends, Arthur's soldiers are given a final mission: rescue an influential family from the Saxons, led by the fearsome Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård).

Fuqua finds the perfect balance between action and narrative. A battle on a frozen lake is thrilling and inventively realized; a climactic encounter compellingly shows how a small guerilla force can overcome a superior army. The action, however, doesn't overwhelm the characters or the story. Merlin and Guinevere also factor into this Arthur: The wizard is re-envisioned as a rebel leader (Stephen Dillane), and the once and future queen (Keira Knightley) is a fierce warrior whose actions on the battlefield match Arthur's devotion to his men and their cause. By grounding the film and its characters, Arthur injects a much-needed sense of urgency to this tale and provides one of the biggest cinematic surprises of the summer. (CK)

Dumb as a brick, and even less funny

I know what you're thinking: How could this guy relate to a movie about teenage girls? That is certainly a valid point, and I will answer it with another question: Can teenage girls relate to this terrible film? If they can, this doesn't bode well for the future. Absolutely nothing in this film works, and at its core is the most ludicrous plotline imaginable. Alexa Vega, best known for her role in the Spy Kids movies, stars as Julie, an unpopular 14-year-old who holds a slumber party for a friend (played by Mika Boorem) who will be moving soon. Stacie (Sara Paxton), Julie's former best friend who has graduated to the ranks of the popular girls, is disappointed that her boyfriend won't take her to the dance she has been planning for months. In a matter of minutes, she concocts a contest involving a scavenger hunt pitting Julie's group of unpopular girls against Stacie's popular friends, who, coincidentally, are also having a slumber party. When did Stacie have time to plan this? The prize for the winning team is the best lunch table at school. Yes, a major studio purchased this idea.

The good tables, where the popular kids sit, are located near a fountain in front of the high school; the bad tables are just a few feet away, beside a giant waste bin. No high school would place a Dumpster near a fountain, out in the open. It would be hidden behind a building. Can this plot get any more ridiculous? Yes, it can. Wouldn't the popular girls automatically have the good tables, just on the basis of the accepted high-school social order? Stacie and her friends are apparently very stupid, because they have nothing to gain from the contest. Another lapse in logic: The unpopular girls, with one exception, are better looking than the popular girls. Apparently Sleepover is science fiction, because this would never happen in any high school on this planet.

Sleepover is purportedly a comedy, but it strains hard for laughs and misses all of them. Most of the male characters are buffoons who are not only as dumb as bricks but also just as funny. Evan Peters as Russell, the leader of a trio of skateboard geeks, must be singled out for special condemnation. His constantly gyrating mouth is the most annoying affectation I've seen in a long time. Director Joe Nussbaum makes a disappointing feature debut after the praise he received for the short film "George Lucas in Love." John Hughes did these teen films so much better back in the 1980s. (MS)

What other critics are saying. . .

Anchorman [PG-13] Will Ferrell is a pompous newscaster in the '70s who is matched with an ambitious and talented female colleague. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

The Day After Tomorrow [PG-13] Global warming throws the world into chaos. ShowPlace West

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story [PG-13] Vince Vaughn leads a group of friends to a dodgeball competition in Las Vegas to save their favorite gym. Ben Stiller leads the corporate team. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Fahrenheit 9/11 [R] Michael Moore (director of Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine) looks at the Bush Administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Parkway Pointe

Garfield [PG] The famous cartoon cat finally comes to the big screen in a mix of live action and CGI animation. Bill Murray seems the ideal choice to voice the cat with an attitude. Parkway Pointe

The Notebook [PG-13]Two young lovers from different backgrounds are separated when the U.S. enters World War II. Seven years later, she is engaged to a soldier when she discovers the whereabouts of her first true love.Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Spider-Man 2 [PG-13] Peter Parker still has personal problems, while Spider-Man is forced to confront Doctor Octopus. "Spider-Man 2 is that rare thing, a thoroughly successful sequel." (John Anderson, Newsday)ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East, Route 66 Drive-In

The Stepford Wives [PG-13]Nicole Kidman stars in this remake of a mediocre 1970s science-fiction thriller about a suburban town whose female citizens are too perfect and very artificial.Parkway Pointe

The Terminal [PG-13] Tom Hanks stars in this Steven Spielberg romantic comedy as an Eastern European immigrant who is confined to an American airport after his country is ravaged by war. Catherine Zeta-Jones co-stars. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Two Brothers [PG] Two tigers are separated as cubs are inadvertently brought together years later by an explorer. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Bear)."A strong tiger-centered story drives this endearing drama which takes cute and runs with it, climbs up trees with it, sucks your thumbs with it." (Ross Anthony, Hollywood Report Card) White Oaks

White Chicks [PG-13] Marlon and Shawn Wayans star as a pair of bumbling FBI agents who volunteer to protect two rich heiresses, patterned after the Hilton sisters. Part of their plan is to pose as the girls -- in drag and white makeup. Older brother Keenen Ivory Wayans directed.ShowPlace West

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