BETTER LUCK TOMORROW
Opens Fri., April 18 at Uptown and Varsity Thanks to Roger Ebert's rave, Justin Lin's debut film about high-achieving Asian American kids in Orange County who turn to murder is winning more hosannas than it warrants. Ben (Parry Shen) is obsessed with getting 1,600 on his SAT, cracking the Ivy League, and courting a gorgeous cheerleader (bright new face Karin Anna Cheung). So when a classmate (Roger Fan) hips him to a racket selling cheat sheets, it's only ambition by other means. Soon Ben and his too-fast friends are dealing drugs, partying out of bounds, and doing things they'd best omit from their application essays (such as shooting hookers and burying a guy in the backyard). Some sequences have some shallow flash, but it's all unmotivated, arbitrary, and pretentiously tough. Not for one second is any of it believable, even though it's loosely inspired by a real gang murder in O.C.. That case featured interesting motives and poignant loss. Lin's features lots of attitude and commercial calculation. He's promising, but not that promising. (R) TIM APPELO BULLETPROOF MONK
Opens Wed., April 16 at Varsity and others Based on the comic book, Monk displays enough comic booky wit to keep you flipping its pages, even when they fall in no discernible order. It helps to have Chow Yun-Fat as the sage, superpowered Tibetan lama charged with protecting an ancient scroll with apocalyptic import. It also helps to have him pursued by nefarious Nazis cribbed from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And you can't even blame Monk's second-rateness on American Pie's Seann William Scott as the pickpocket who's also the Chosen One (like Keanu in The Matrix). Rather, it's Monk's essential made-in-Canada cheapness that prevents full-fledged cheesy enjoyment. (What good is CGI and wire-work with incompetent editing?) Scott has flashes of dim-bulb wit, but he's apparently not Chosen enough for decent lighting or dialogue. Chow manages English well enough to get some personality across (unlike poor Jackie Chan), but he, too, is crushed with hokey writing and a design scheme made up of old Billy Idol videos. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER CHASING PAPI
Opens Wed., April 16 at Metro At least, unlike Maid in Manhattan, the Latina women here aren't depicted as maids. They are depicted as fiery, impulsive divas, but who wouldn't be a little testy upon finding out her Papi chulo's been three-timing her? "Chulo" means beautiful; and in the case of Papi (Eduardo Ver᳴egui), it fits. But here he's also a big dumb oaf with no respect for his women. The real stars are the mujeres. Roselyn Sanchez (the Puerto Rican beauty of Rush Hour 2 and Boat Trip), Sof�Vergara (a comic television host), and Jaci Velasquez (a recording artist) respectively play a Chicago lawyer, a Miami cocktail waitress, and a New York heiress who all choose the same day to surprise Papi at his L.A. home. Thenyou know the drilldrama, screaming, comic mishaps, and female bonding ensue. The soundtrack's salsa-centric, which at least puts an enjoyable pulse to otherwise familiar fare. (PG) KATIE MILLBAUER HOLES
Opens Fri., April 18 at Metro and others One might approach gingerly a Disney film featuring characters named Armpit and Barfbag. But fears of toilet humor are never realized in this adaptation of the Louis Sachar children's novel. Stanley (Shia LaBeouf) is accused of theft and ends up at a juvie camp in the Texas desert, where the boys are forced to dig holes all day to "build character." However, the shoveling is mysteriously important to the warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her henchman (Jon Voight, who plays this bowlegged, snaggletoothed, good-ol'-boy codger to a T). The chemistry between the actors, young and old, might be the best I've seen all yearincluding Henry Winkler as the goofy scientist father and Patricia Arquette as the soft Texas schoolmarm. And waitis that Eartha Kitt as a fortune-teller? The story stands up to the cast, discreetly weaving serious themes (racism, homeless youth, etc.) into a generic treasure-hunt solve-the-mystery plot. (PG) ROSIE BOWKER
Ghost girl Bonham Carter in Voices.
(Suzy Wood) TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US
Runs Fri., April 25-Thurs., May 1 at Metro Clenched-sphincter psychiatrist Sam (rock-jawed Guy Pearce) goes back to his small-town home in Australia to bury his father. There, he rescues the amnesiac Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter in her blowsy mode) after she falls off a bridge. It's the most sexless screen courtship since Tomlin met Travolta in Moment by Moment, but the worst thing about this utterly dull film is its mystical pretension. Though it's all fuzzy, Ruby is apparently some sort of reincarnation of Sam's lost love, who inexplicably disappeared while swimming when they were 15. In sentimental flashbacks, we meet the far more intriguing young Sam (Lindley Joyner) and his T.S. Eliot-spouting love, then known as Silvy (Brooke Harman). In its original release Down Under, the movie reportedly began with the young-Sam story and ended up with the adults. Here, intercutting the storiesto begin with the movie stars instead of young unknownsonly intensifies the extraordinarily confusing pointlessness of the story. (R) TIM APPELO