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Friday, April 23, 2004 03:31 pm

Movie reviews

13 Going on 30

13 imitates Big but comes up short

The body-switch premise was done to perfection in Penny Marshall's Big when young David Moscow turned into Tom Hanks. Even in an adult's body, the character of Josh looked at the world with a 13-year-old's sense of wonderment and innocence. Hanks' performance and Marshall's deft direction turned this potentially cloying subject matter into a poignant film.

Now comes 13 Going on 30, with a plot that mirrors Big's. Like every other teen outsider, young Jenna Rink (Christa Allen) wants to run with the cool crowd, but her braces, less-than-stylish clothing, and studious ways guarantee that she'll always be on the outside looking in. Obsessed with being a fashion plate, she's oblivious to the advances of her neighbor Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.), a young man so enamored of Jenna that he makes her a model dream house for her 13th birthday and gives her a packet of "wishing dust." When her birthday party turns into a disaster, Jenna wishes to be an adult -- and wakes up in a tony Manhattan apartment in the body of Jennifer Garner.

The adult Jenna is the managing editor of a fashion publication and, by reputation, a veritable bitch on wheels. After her transformation, she takes a fresh approach to life. Not only does her teenage perspective rescue her career, it also salvages her relationship with Matt (played as an adult by Mark Ruffalo). Although Ruffalo is genuinely likable and natural, Garner is in over her head. She's stiff and lacks subtlety.

But what proves most frustrating about 13 is that it contains intriguing plot threads that could have offered a fresh spin on the material. For example, the film never fully explains why Jenna's relationship with her parents soured or why she became best friends with her high-school rival. Jenna's budding friendship with a group of teens in her building is another missed opportunity. Although 13 contains a satisfying twist or two at the end, it's too little, too (CK) late.

Tarantino's greatest achievement; Thurman's defining role

The Bride (Uma Thurman) is back with more vengeance in the second and final installment of Quentin Tarantino's stripped-down tale of revenge. This time Tarantino relaxes the pace by reducing the swordplay and focusing more on characterization and dialogue. With two down and three to go on her hit list, the Bride continues her quest to find Bill (David Carradine), but first she must eliminate Budd (Michael Madsen), Bill's younger, dopey brother, and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), the deadly one-eyed assassin seen briefly in Vol. 1. The chronology is a matter of movie convention.

Vol. 2 fills in many of the plot details that were withheld before. We see and learn more about the massacre at the wedding rehearsal that propels the story, and the true nature of her strange relationship with Bill comes to light. The Bride's name is also finally revealed. Her confrontation with both Budd and Elle is the film's grandest set piece, and this section contains some of the most powerful scenes ever directed by Tarantino. There is one particular moment in her battle with Elle that will cause the most jaded moviegoer to gasp. Hannah has been bland in many roles, but her portrayal of the villainous Elle is absolutely riveting.

And then it derails a bit. After a three hour-plus build up, including last year's edition, it's difficult not to feel let down by the softer climax. Still there is so much to recommend, Tarantino's faltering is not completely fatal. His annoying pop culture dialogue that marred Pulp Fiction appears to be a thing of the past, and Kill Bill, in its entirety, still seems shorter than Jackie Brown. The greatest asset, of course, is Thurman. She is quite simply a screen goddess, and this could be her defining role. You may never see a more appealing natural-born killer.

Tarantino, however, remains the master of movie pastiche, and Kill Bill is an amalgam of Japanese samurai and Chinese martial arts films, with a dose of spaghetti westerns thrown in. For the latter he cheats by layering the soundtrack with the music of the master composer of the genre, Ennio Morricone, but I guess that is a minor point. Now we can see Kill Bill as one grand epic, and it may be Tarantino's greatest achievement to date. (MS)

What other critics are saying. . .

The Alamo [PG-13] Santa's coming, and you better watch out. Tells the story of the 1836 standoff between a group of Texans, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and the Mexican army, led by General Santa Ana.ShowPlace West

Connie and Carla [PG-13] After they witness a mob mix-up, two girls go deep undercover, posing as drag queens on the dinner theater-cabaret circuit. Parkway Pointe

The Dreamers [NC-17] A young American studying in Paris in 1968 strikes up a friendship with a French brother and sister. Set against the background of the '68 Paris student riots. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Parkway Pointe Art

Ella Enchanted [PG] Ella is a young woman who was given the "gift" of obedience by a fairy named Lucinda. After her mother dies, Ella is cared for by her thoughtless, greedy father who remarries a loathsome woman. A variation on the Cinderalla theme based on Gail Carson Levine's award-winning novel. Parkway Pointe

Hellboy [PG-13] A demon, rescued during infancy from the Nazis, becomes a defender against the forces of evil. ShowPlace West

Home on the Range [PG] When an eviction notice is posted on the Patch of Heaven dairy farm, the cows decide to raise money by collecting a bounty on a notorious yodeling cattle rustler. ShowPlace West

Jersey Girl [PG-13] A music industry executive struggles to raise his young daughter on his own. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Johnson Family Vacation [PG-13] A family takes a road trip from hell, with the inevitable wrong turns, car problems and trouble with the law. Stars Cedric the Entertainer.Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

The Ladykillers [R] A professor assembles a group of thieves for a casino heist. After they hole up in a sweet old woman's home, they find that she's the biggest threat to their plans. Stars Tom Hanks.Parkway Pointe

Man on Fire [R]A former Marine [Denzel Washington] swears vengeance on those who committed an unspeakable act against the family he was hired to protect. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

The Passion of the Christ [R] Mel Gibson's version of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life. "The sacrifice Gibson's Jesus makes is purely physical. The violence to which he is subjected is portrayed to the point of being gratuitous and manipulative." (Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times)Parkway Pointe

The Prince and Me [PG] Fairy tale about a college student who meets a prince in Wisconsin. Parkway Pointe

The Punisher [R] Based on a bad-ass Marvel Comics hero, FBI agent Frank Castle takes it upon himself to rid America of crime after his wife and family are killed. "Laudably exposes the dark core of the human heart." (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed [PG] The gang must contend with a masked villain who unleashes scary monsters in an attempt to take over Coolsville. ShowPlace West

Walking Tall [PG-13] A former member of U.S. Army Special Forces (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) returns to his small Washington State home to revive his family's lumber business. The town's overrun with corruption; the ex-soldier fixes things with a two-by-four. ShowPlace East

The Whole Ten Yards [PG-13]Jimmy the Tulip's (Bruce Willis) springs into action when the wife of his old pal Oz (Matthew Perry) is kidnapped by a Hungarian mob. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

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