Opens Fri., June 6 at Metro
Dallas in Iceland: Decrepit-yet-domineering evil family patriarch Thórdur convenes his spoiled, ungrateful adult children at the remote fishing village he presides over like J.R. at the Southfork Ranch. His cannery and fishing quota are the town's lifeblood, and he drives around imperiously in a red Cadillac to convey his power and wealth. The three scheming kidsplus their scheming husbands, wives, and girlfriendsall assume Thordur and his second wife will retire to Reykjavík, leaving them to wallow in the inheritance. Arriving from France is prodigal son Ágúst (Hilmir Snær Gudnason, also the star of director Baltasar Kormákur's 101 Reykjavík), who's the rebellious-yet-flawed Bobby Ewing figure. His gorgeous Gallic girlfriend (Hélène de Fougerolles) dresses the set nicely, as Victoria Principal used to do, while the cannery clan dissolves into an endless winter night of shrieking, drinking, recrimination, beating, infidelity, and arson.
I'd like to report that this is lurid melodramatic fun, like Dallas, but it isn't. The constant cycle of betrayal is hard to follow, and you have no idea who's married to whommuch less betraying themfor most of the movie (although long stretches of dialogue are in English). It all would've worked better if Kormákur had gone for consistent black comedy or consistent Lear-style tragedy ("The days of the sagas are over," says one sad Viking epigone). Worse, he edits the film like a sloppy fish cutter, leaving the fillets with the entrails on the floor. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
Opens Fri., June 6 at Harvard Exit
Chen Kaige's Together is, like his greatest hit, Farewell My Concubine, an attempt to portray China through the metaphor of its struggling artists. Instead of using a couple of Peking Opera actors to depict a generation of epochal change, Chen represents the 1 million Chinese kids now trying to hit the big time in music schools by focusing on 13-year-old violinist Xiaochun (Tang Yun). His dad, Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi), represents today's economically ambitious parents: He emigrates from the sticks to Beijing so Xiao can study with penniless professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), who lives for art (and his many smelly cats). Xiao loves Jiang, but Dad fires him for professor Yu (played by the director), who trains kids for fame and fortune, not art and feeling. Xiao has teen feelings for older party girl Lili (piquant cupcake Chen Hong, the director's wife), who gold-digs rich, married boyfriends, lipsticking their cell phone numbers on her mirror with annotations (from "?" to "!!!" to a heart symbol). Great characters all; and the father-son tension echoes Chen's real-life denunciation of his director dad in the Cultural Revolution. But after a strong start, the feel-good tale runs out of gas and gets lost, just like Concubine. (PG) TIM APPELO
2 Fast 2 Furious
Opens Fri., June 6 at Meridian and others
It's bad enough that Keanu will likely be earning A-Rod-level percentage cuts on the Matrix sequels. Now the usurper for his pretty (vacant) boy throne, Paul Walker, gets a summer blockbuster close-up on those big, beautiful, blue eyes . . . and the two pebbles bouncing around inside his skull. Vin Diesel, Ja Rule, Michelle Rodriguez, and even director Rob Cohen, all veterans of 2001's surprising, multiethnic chase sensation The Fast and the Furious, would be conspicuous by their absence in this sequelif the original were anything more than a younger, fleshier, even . . . um . . . dumberer Gone in 60 Seconds retread.
So 2 Fast is Walker's baby, and once- vital director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) knows that as long as his star's 1,000-watt smile is blazing, the nitrous boosts and hydraulics can handle the pesky storytelling. Because continuity is so critical to enjoying a narrative of this caliber, let's recap: Walker is a "disgraced" ex-undercover cop, having let the bad guy (Diesel), who schooled him in the original, walk free. Busted in a puree-edit, four-car, bridge-jumping, blowout prologue on the typically abandoned streets of Miami (all you need is two "Road Closed" signs, kids), Walker is conscripted by the feds to infiltrate a driver-hungry money-laundering ring. Thankfully, he insists on enlisting his house-arrested ex-bro, Tyrese, to help handle the hardware.
When I say "bro," by the way, I unequivocally mean "bro." Much peeling out and gear shifting ensues among hotties in thongs, but never in a dangerous, sexy, or even kitschy way. The real erotic electricity is conducted between our heroes, who afford us a delicious slice of homoerotic-when-it-shouldn't-be buddy-pic camaraderie. Paul calls Tyrese "bro," Tyrese calls Paul "brah," and Ty is curiously irritated by Paul's lady-killer history. 2 Fast, Bi- Curious? Imagination is your only salvation after 90-plus minutes of this dreck. (PG-13) ANDREW BONAZELLI
Opens Fri., June 6 at Varsity
Wattstax, to use a term as popular as hot pants in their day (1973), is a "thing"a self-consciously epochal celebration of black culture staged at the L.A. Coliseum around the anniversary of the 1965 riots. Riots are like earthquakes: They keep on coming. But there will never be another moment as innocent as this. Jesse Jackson, seeming less sleazily car salesman-like than today, still trailing clouds of glory from Dr. King, chants to the crowd about changing "Burn, baby, burn!"the motto of the Watts riotto "Learn, baby, learn!" The crowd is as prominent in Mel Stuart's documentary as the musical performers are. They rhapsodize and philosophize about the blues, interracial sex, and the irresistible villainy of men/women, and, in the film's best scene, swarm down from the stands to the field to strut the Funky Chicken at Rufus Thomas' behest.
Concert footage alternates with pleasantly aimless interviews, random local scenery, and Richard Pryor in his prime, who tosses off sharp, sober riffs on black culture (while also casually insulting female victims of black-on-white rape). Though the soundtrack has been cleaned up, the music remains a letdown. Rufus Thomas is good; the Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, and Jimmy Jones are OK; but Isaac Hayes is a flaccid shaft, Rance Allen an overstuffed potato, and the rest forgettablethough gospel singer William Bell is so awful, he's practically serving Satan. As a slice of history, however, it's a show well worth preserving. (NR) T.A.