Brief Encounters

BUBBA HO-TEP

Runs Fri., Sept. 19-Thurs., Sept. 25, at Varsity

Bruce Campbell's like one of those prop TVs at IKEA: sleek, handsome, utilitarian, and more or less impossible to employ outside of its prescribed niche. Since director Sam Raimi so sharply defined his persona as "goof hunk" in the Evil Dead trilogy, a glut of UPN/WB fantasy duds and inconsequential supporting roles have failed to capitalize on Campbell's affable charms.

Bubba is perhaps even more frustrating than his annual throwaway blockbuster cameo. Deeply vulgar and novel, it provides Campbell with his meatiest role, well, ever: A bedridden, porky, cantankerous modern-day Elvis joins forces with an elderly black man (Ossie Davis) who's convinced he's JFK; together they battle a soul-sucking cowboy mummy in an East Texas rest home. Take as long as you like to absorb that plot summary. Sadly, all that kitschy potential is flattened by long stretches of cheap introspection.

The movie imagines the King v.2003 as inert and bitter, ruing both his old-age irrelevance and the pus-spouting growth on his useless "crankshaft." His fellow rest-home denizens are curiously dropping off, which may have more to do with the giant flesh-eating scarabs crawling around than natural causes.

The heart of Bubba is not the ensuing, incidental war with the trash-talking mummynot nearly as Dead-ly a conflict as you'd expect, although we're treated to a few brilliant, fresh Campbell catchphrases ("TCB, baby: taking care of bidness")but glib assumptions based on tired Elvis mythos. This Presley traded places with an impersonator and left fame because he "got sick of it." Whoa, deep.

Take your pick: Campbell pondering trite meaning-of-life rhetoric, or Campbell hacking a skeleton in two with a chain saw. Nice try, Bubba, but Bruce is best served with bruises. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI

COLD CREEK MANOR

Opens Fri., Sept. 19, at Metro and others

Memo to Sharon Stone and Dennis Quaid, residents of This Spooky Old House: You may feel a bit frightened, with a trailer-dwelling psycho (Stephen Dorff) stalking you, but take heart. Here's what you don't need to fear: flesh-eating viruses; winged, carnivorous demons; a chain saw-wielding hick who goes by Leatherface; or anyone named Freddy, Jason, or Michael. Just do your best not to piss off Dorff any more than you already haveby visiting his loony-tunes dad (Christopher Plummer) in the hospital, annoying his trashy tart of a girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), and just generally gettin' in his face. Just try to relax and enjoy your creepy new digs. But please, please keep an eye on those scary-looking hammers in the study. If you happen to notice that one of them's missing, you might want to call the town sheriff . . . unless, of course, Dorff's gotten to her first. Uh-oh. (PG-13) NEAL SCHINDLER

THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS

Opens Fri., Sept. 19, at Meridian and others

The joys of this MTV-produced gospel musical (!) may not be legion, but the movie does have a few tricks up its sleeve. It certainly steals from the best: Ripping off both The Music Man and The Great Gatsby, Temptations tells the story of big-city ad exec Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.), whose Ivy League cred is a flat-out lie and whose only chance at redemption is scamming his Georgia hometown into believing in itself throughyou freakin' guessed it!the power of music. Beyoncé ‹nowles is anything but credible as the feisty single mom who wins Hill's heart, but this low-level charmer does feature a handful of funny performances in minor roles (especially Steve Harvey as the strangely omniscient town DJ and Mike Epps as Hill's pimp-daddy friend). Oh, and the musical numbers, corny or not, are a slice of toe-tapping heaven. (PG-13) N.S.

Japanese lady wrasslers in Girls.

photo: Courtesy of NWFF

GAEA GIRLS

Runs Tues., Sept. 16-Sun., Sept. 21, at Little Theatre

Holy butt-kicking, buff Japanese women! This documentary drop-kicks the stereotype about submissive Asian females, picks it up and twirls it, throws it down for a body slam, then blows fire in its face. And spits on it. Shown as part of the Wrestlezania! series, Girls chronicles life in a boot camp for young pro-wrestling hopefuls overseen by coach/sadist Nagayo Chigusa. The ex-pro champion likes her students bloodyand bloody loving it. And they do love it (at least the ones who don't run away). What's the reward for surviving the torturous rigors of training? So-called "Gaeas" get to don glittery spandex bodysuits, then obliterate or be obliterated in wrestling matches where the only rule is "Don't give up." That dropkick/twirl/body-slam/fire bit? These women do all that and more to the delight of thousands of screaming fans. And that's just the first round. Remarkably, the camera never winces during such canvas carnage, even if filmgoers will. (NR) KATIE MILLBAUER

SECONDHAND LIONS

Opens Fri., Sept. 19, at Metro and others

Corny title, cutesy premise, lukewarm actingLions is eminently missable. In the role of Walter, a quiet kid with abandonment issues, 15-year-old Haley Joel Osment looks about as comfortable as a lamb in a lion's den. Equally miscast (as Walter's mother) is Kyra Sedgwick, who strains to be tawdry and Southern when everything inside her yearns to shed the pancake makeup and the twang. At least Michael Caine and Robert Duvall (as gun-crazy Texas brothers who raise Walter when his mom goes AWOL during the '60s) seem to be having fun, and the flashback sequences that illustrate their swashbuckling past are more enjoyable than any other aspect of the movie. But Lions resembles a middlebrow children's book come to life, like James and the Giant Peach without Roald Dahl's sublime dark humor. Grandma may like this old-fashioned family film, but Junior will likely chew off an arm from sheer boredom. (PG) N.S.

 
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