Opens Fri., April 8, at Harvard Exit
Swept along by Gabriel Yared's unabashedly romantic score, this World War II melodrama from writer-director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Cyrano de Bergerac) is easy on the eyes and a rushing good time. Gérard Depardieu plays Jean-Etienne Beaufort, an embattled French government official having an affair with popular film actress Viviane (Isabelle Adjani) while struggling to prepare himself and his country for war. Once the Nazis begin their invasion (driving everyone from Paris to the Free French redoubt of Bordeaux), these two characters and five others, including foxy physics student Camille (Virginie Ledoyen of The Beach) and handsome novelist Frédéric (Grégori Derangère, a ringer for Noah Wyle), become hopelessly entangled.
Though Camille is clearly sweet on him, Frédéric only has eyes for Viviane; problem is, she's an actress through and through. "What will become of us?" she coos to him, knowing full well that she'll hop on board any man who can bring her to safety. A high-spirited spin on the Casablanca formula (romance plus the need to flee), Voyage is knowingly packed with clichés, clinches, chase scenes, murder, and betrayal. Like the tale of Rick and Ilsa, it successfully alchemizes global conflict into the ultimate aphrodisiac. (PG-13) NEAL SCHINDLER
Opens Fri., April 9, at Metro and others
It was only a matter of time before even Cinderella got the CGI treatment. On a trip to the castle to find her fairy godmother and fall in love with her prince, Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) kicks a lot of ogre butt, Matrix-style. This story's set in medieval times, but the special effects aren't the only modern accoutrements. Hathaway's utterly repulsive stepsisters shop at a mall, and her wicked stepmother (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous) gets Botox. Enchanted is Cinderella with a social conscience. Hathaway isn't weak in the knees over Prince Char to begin with—she hates his guts for the evil politics his family deals the kingdom. Char's uncle, the king, has segregated the people, the elves, the ogres, and the giants. The giants have been enslaved as laborers. The elves have been forced to entertain the people with song and dance. The ogres have been banished to the forests and cut off from government support.
Hathaway identifies with the minorities because of her own pseudo-disability: As an infant, her incompetent fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox) gave her the "gift" of obedience (it's more like a curse), one her stepsisters use against her at every turn. When she accidentally meets the prince (Hugh Dancy), she uses it as an opportunity to school him on his uncle's wrongs. Love, of course, comes later. It's a sweet take on Gail Carson Levine's 1997 children's-favorite novel, and the movie is definitely suited for that same young kids demographic. There are also a few annoying songs, giving parents the opportunity to step out for more popcorn. (PG) KATIE MILLBAUER
The Girl Next Door
Opens Fri., April 9, at Metro and others
Although its plot can be comfortably reduced to 10 words (introverted student-council president crushes on penitent porn-queen neighbor), Girl isn't your typical teen sexcom. No, director– co-screenwriter Luke Greenfield (The Animal) devises new and exciting means of suckifying the genre, inflating his carnal cardboard coeds with empty, pretentious gravitas more befitting Magnolia than American Pie. In order for the milquetoast protagonist (Emile Hirsch) to simply shed his inhibitions and convey the film's trite "risks = good" dogma, he endures a sexual and emotional scourging that marries Porky's to The Passion of the Christ. Hirsch's suffering is predicated on the neighboring seductress (24's Elisha Cuthbert) being "better than" a mere piece of ass, a concept that Greenfield effectively subverts by giving her about as many lines as the Terminatrix. At least Timothy Olyphant is given free rein to basically reprise his hilarious, lecherous ecstasy dealer from Go as Cuthbert's ruthless porn producer ex. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI
Johnson Family Vacation
Opens Fri., April 9, at Bella Botega and others
Vanessa Williams' judgment has been questioned before and, in fact, cost her the 1984 Miss America title. So I won't mention the unlikelihood that she and Cedric the Entertainer would ever actually be married. Oops, too late. Nevertheless, Vacation begins agreeably enough. As the Johnson dad, Cedric's usual over-the-top comedy is, thankfully, toned down (though it resurfaces later in his hillbilly Uncle Earl character). He's just a sensible insurance salesman who wants to do right by his family—and win the "family of the year" trophy out from under his big brother (Steve Harvey) at the annual Johnson family reunion. Li'l Bow-Wow is charming as ever as the son with rap dreams; and Williams and daughters are fine. But the plot, which takes them on a nightmarish road trip from Inglewood to Missouri, is weak and predictable. This movie was funny enough when Chevy Chase did it 21 years ago, but it's a journey we didn't need to repeat. (PG-13) K.M.
Road to Love
7 and 9 p.m. Fri., April 9–Thurs., April 15, at Little Theatre
Rémi Lange's demure French romance won a Best Feature nod at last year's Seattle Lesbian & Gay Fest, but "modest" might be the best word to go into it with. It's a cheap project, awkwardly shot on video (by the director), and Lange's spotty aesthetic suggests he's an affable soul with an expansive heart but something left to learn about constructing a cohesive filmic experience.
Karim (Karim Tarek) is a young Algerian student living in Paris whose dubious "sociological" interest concerning homosexuality in the Arab community leads him to explore gay life through the presumed safety of a documentarian's lens. Yep—one of his interview subjects, charming steward Farid (Riyad Echahi), becomes increasingly more interesting off- camera, much to the consternation of Karim's savvy girlfriend, Siam (Sihem Benamoune).
No, there isn't anything revolutionary here, and the vérité narrative is mucked up by a distracted focus. Lange generally shoots from an omniscient, amiably bumbling handheld perspective (which also captures Karim's other gay subjects and their amblings). Then he incorporates shots from Karim's documentary and, eventually, from Farid's personal video footage—that's at least one camera and several perspectives too many, if you ask me.
Still, Lange does show us the little-known milieu of Paris' gay Arab subculture and demonstrates admirable ease with his two main players. When he relaxes and doesn't force the romance, he captures both actors in a seemingly effortless, immediately recognizable evocation of the casual, quiet, playful tension involved in such a flirtation. When Karim defensively suggests that the queer population just wishes he were gay, Farid affectionately hoots, "What a star! Who do you think you are?" Farid has a mile-wide grin, and uses it to good effect during this patient, 70-minute seduction of doe-eyed Karim. It ain't art, but it does sometimes feel like life. (NR) STEVE WIECKING
Runs Fri., April 9–Thurs., April 15, at Varsity
Lordy, it's an orgy at the château! If you feel like you've already seen most of this feverishly bad French office erotic thriller, that's because Eyes Wide Shut supplies the main template and a half-dozen other films fill in the rest. Just as in Kubrick's cheesefest, decadent sex and gilded deviancy are about as exciting as naked statuary. Things reveals murky misdeeds behind the doors of the rich and powerful, as we follow two young career girls out of a strip bar and up the corporate ladder of a Parisian real-estate firm.
Bold brave brunette Nathalie (Coralie Revel) is introduced buck naked onstage, gyrating and masturbating like she's in outtakes from Flashdance (the bar patrons look just as bored). Mousy blond bartender Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) watches admiringly, saying in voice-over, "She's my secret role model. I'd like to do the same and have the world at my feet."
Soon enough, Nathalie begins tutoring her new roommate in the ways of sexual power games and manipulation. (Kernel of wisdom: "Let yourself go!") Lots of lesbo groping and kissing is part of the 91/2 Weeks curriculum; I half expected Mickey Rourke to appear, saying, "Save some for me, ladies!" Soon Sandrine abandons the bar and begins sleeping and cock-teasing her way from the secretarial pool to the boardroom of her stuffy, moneyed office—kind of like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Orgasming, only with garter belts and three-ways. Eventually she and Nathalie run up against the boss' smirking son, Cristophe (Fabrice Deville), who's even more twisted than they are. We know this because his management lexicon includes notions like, "Useful vices soon become virtues."
All these decadent roads lead inevitably to the château, where said orgy, incest, a carrion-feeding falcon, threatened auto-immolation, murder, and weird suggestions of an Egyptian afterlife collide. I'm all for ludicrous endings, but in situations like this, sometimes it's better to actually have the spaceship land and the aliens cart everyone away—just to provide a little more closure.
For all its presumed naughtiness and transgression, the shagging is spectacularly dull in Things; it's the Marquis de Sade treated straight and serious, in the literal-minded Gallic tradition, without any sense of the comic, deflating side of sex. Supposedly "daring" Nathalie turns out to be a regimented Rules Girl at heart. "Don't fall in love," she says. "Just pretend. It hurts less." Oh, non, mademoiselle, I beg to differ—it hurts so much more. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
The United States of Leland
Opens Fri., April 9, at Uptown
Debut writer–director Matthew Hoge is a bloated case study in delusions of grandeur. In dramatizing a juvenile-crime story, he knows what he's talking about (he worked in a California juvie hall), but he's too elliptical to say anything intelligible on the subject. As the film's titular protagonist, who stabs a mentally handicapped boy, Ryan Gosling (The Believer) has his sullen art down pat, but Hoge gives him no character to inhabit, and no motives beyond generic teen ennui.
Although rich in atmosphere, and set to a jangly soundtrack by Sunny Day Real Estate veteran Jeremy Enigk, Leland's story is both thin and overstuffed with characters and incidents related in a zigzag flashback format that looks jazzy but sheds no light on the making of the murderer. Pearl (Don Cheadle), Leland's jailhouse teacher, smuggles him pencil and paper to jot a journal, so Pearl can cash in by writing a book about him. Leland spills various beans about his unrequited love for his victim's junkie sister (surly Jena Malone) and his distant, famous-novelist dad (Kevin Spacey), who is Pearl's literary idol. There's an irrelevant subplot about Leland's junkie gal pal's straight-arrow sister (Michelle Williams) and her clingy boyfriend (Chris Klein), who lives with the family, plus an astoundingly irrelevant subplot about yet another family Leland gets erotically mixed up with in New York.
It's all supposed to add up to a grand statement about alienation, but Hoge can't even articulate a Cliffs Notes précis of the concept. This is the sort of movie that gives Sundance a bad name. (R) Tim Appelo