Brief Encounters

DAREDEVIL

Opens Fri., Feb. 14 at Meridian and others

The only guy having any fun in this hokey, ploddingly literal-minded adaptation of a 1964 comic-book series is Colin Farrell as the pencil-and paper-clip-throwing assassin Bullseye. (Keep that man away from thumbtacks!) He's like Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman, only Daredevil is no Batman—nor even Spider-Man, unfortunately. The problem, for straitlaced Ben Affleck and the rest of the Daredevil crew, is that after all the dull exposition of how the fearless blind crime fighter came to be blind and fearless, there's no place new to go. Avenge slain father? Check. Romance the girl (Jennifer Garner)? Check. CGI-enchanced rooftop acrobatics? Check. Even if you've never even heard of the red-suited "demonic vigilante," you feel like you've already seen his exploits before. Although sightless, his remaining four senses are super-enhanced, making for a few nice sonogramlike special-effects shots where we see what he hears. But I kept count of his other senses, and he never tastes anybody—other than kissing Garner, that is. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER

THE GURU

Opens Fri., Feb. 14 at Meridian

This Bolly-go-lightly hybrid manages to have its dosa and eat it, too—allowing that culture is a con game, while seeking pleasure in the deception. Dance teacher/ Grease fan Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry) leaves Delhi for N.Y.C., where he becomes an East Sixth Street waiter, a porn flick tyro, and an accidental society sage. Befriending Ramrod Studios headliner and anxiously affianced schoolteacher Sharrona (Heather Graham), Ramu translates her spiritual take on carnality into profitable karmasutric mumbo jumbo for his gullible patrons. As a dirtier Deepak, Mistry is blankly sweet, suitable for his role as Subcontinental Rorschach. Authenticity is gleefully moot here: An agent calls Ramu "Indian, or—excuse me, Native American," while Marisa Tomei's New Age burnout delivers a line of cell phone patter as precise and vacuous as a DeLillo outtake: "I want the suede not the leather. I want every color." The Guru shows similar appetite. (R) ED PARK

JOHN CALE: BEAUTIFUL MISTAKE

7 and 9 p.m. Wed., Feb. 19 at Experience Music Project

Despite the mysterious guttural accent and stern European manner, as a founding member of the most New Yorkish of musical institutions, the Velvet Underground, John Cale will forevermore be as American as baseball or supersized fries. For this documentary, though, Cale returns to his native Cardiff, Wales, that he fled as a teen to acquaint himself with that nation's surprisingly rich roster of young talent. Despite the city's transformation from a coal-mining center to a sleek, modern landscape seemingly constructed solely for a Wallpaper magazine spread, Cale still bears some of the adolescent longings to flee the place. Alongside Welsh performers such as Super Furry Animals, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and Catatonia, Cale doesn't play the collaborator or mentor. He's just a grim specter laying down some keyboard parts before his plane leaves. The results are pretty, if not terribly exciting. (NR) PAUL FONTANA

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2

Opens Fri., Feb. 14 at Metro and others

Yet another unnecessary sequel to a Disney classic. After a shadow-puppet play that helpfully recaps the original, JB2 chronicles the growing pains of Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment), the adorable, mop-topped "man-cub" who made his cartoon debut 36 years ago in The Jungle Book. Torn between civilization and wilderness, Mowgli must also choose between Beatnik jungle bear Baloo (John Goodman) and Shanti, his pint-sized love interest from the village (nicely voiced by 14-year-old Mae Whitman). A few visual elements are worth noting: The jungle foliage looks like something out of a picture book, and the climactic sequence at a fallen temple truly rocks. But the new songs are lame, musically and lyrically; at the preview screening, a wave of boredom seemed to wash over the tots in the audience. Kipling may not be rolling in his grave, but I doubt he's grooving to Smash Mouth's cover of "I Wanna Be Like You." (G) NEAL SCHINDLER

LOST IN LA MANCHA

Fri., Feb. 14-Thurs., Feb. 20 at Varsity

Terry Gilliam spent 10 years trying to make a Don Quixote movie. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's fairly interesting if unexciting documentary shows how his flick died in 2000, the victim of unusually immense flash floods that washed the sets away and of the prostate and back problems of its elderly star, Jean Rochefort. We see a few promising scenes in the making: three obesely wobble-chested cavorting male giants; Johnny Depp fishing with bare hands; an Inquisition chorus line's cool puppets with teeth in their bellies ࠬa Yellow Submarine's Snapping Turtle Turks. Mostly, it's tedious: Filmmakers kvetching and dreading the insurance man's ax.

Gilliam is famous as a rebel saint, thanks to his marvelously original vision and his triumphant struggle against the studio to release 1985's Brazil. But his problems are often his own stubborn fault. His schedule for the Quixote film was foolishly tight—weather exists, Terry. His basic flaw as a director is his abhorrence of structure. Time Bandits wouldn't have had an end if Sean Connery hadn't concocted one to increase his role. Gilliam complained because Tom Stoppard's script for Brazil was too well-structured, making it hard for him to shoot new material as it anarchically occurred to him. He's still creating the way he did when he did the animation for Monty Python. His eye and wicked glee make him a director of great scenes, but he will never be in the pantheon of great directors of entire films unless he stops being dismissive about the art of narrative—and lowers the chaos-and-risk quotient of his productions. La Mancha shows how his approach can, and did, blow up in his face. (NR) TIM APPELO

 
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