Leah Rozen
December 23, 2002 12:00 PM

The Two Towers

Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Miranda Otto

Peter Jackson is Cecil B. De Mille for the new millennium. The director-cowriter creates stunning, massive battle scenes using digital special effects galore—as well as hundreds of grimy extras—in his three-hour, second episode of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But any sort of compelling story gets lost amidst all the spectacle.

The Two Towers, the second film based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, is about marking time. Frodo (Wood) and his Hobbit pals are still imperiled, the kindly wizard Gandalf (McKellen) continues to uphold good, while the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) remains intent on conquering Middle Earth, using hordes of monsters to help him. And the noble warrior Aragorn (Mortensen) is still pining for his elf love (Tyler), though he’s not above exchanging yearning looks with a princess (Otto) whose people he’s aiding. None of these story lines is resolved because there’s still a final film to come next December, making Towers akin to cinema interruptus. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Wake us when Part 3 starts

Maid in Manhattan

Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes

Unlike Cinderella, the heroine here—read no further if you hate knowing what happens—gets to have sex with the prince on the night of the big ball. Then she runs away. Otherwise, Maid in Manhattan, a labored romantic comedy about a hotel maid who strikes sparks with a dreamboat politician when he mistakes her for a hotel guest, sticks to a familiar script.

Lopez plays Marisa Ventura, the maid and a single mom, and Fiennes is Christopher Marshall, a rising politico from a hoity-toity family. We know he’s a good guy because he loves his dog and he’s kind to Marisa’s son. But how will he react when he finds out she’s been putting mints on his pillow?

There’s no real suspense because Maid is total wish-fulfillment fantasy, with strong echoes of Pretty Woman (indeed, Julia Roberts passed on an early version) and Working Girl (also written by Kevin Wade, who did Maid). Lopez, though stiff, brings sincerity and warmth to her role. Fiennes seems faintly embarrassed by his dopey part, but game. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: We have reservations

Featured attraction

Antwone Fisher

Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant

In preparing to direct his first film, Denzel Washington screened Ordinary People, the Oscar-winning directing debut of fellow dreamboat Robert Redford. The pupil learned well. Antwone Fisher is a terrific movie that will have viewers rooting—and shedding a tear or two—for its young hero.

Like People, Fisher is about a troubled youth, Navy sailor Antwone Fisher (talented newcomer Luke, see page 103), who, with the help of a dedicated psychiatrist (Washington), overcomes his traumatic childhood. What makes the film so compelling, and inspiring, is that it’s true; Fisher himself wrote the script. As a director, Washington shows intelligence and restraint. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Fisher is a great catch

Two Weeks Notice

Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant

Does anyone play a roguish, self-centered charmer more appealingly than Grant? Or portray a gawky, tart-tongued smarty better than Bullock? No, but the two have done variations on these roles enough times that, in replaying them again in the negligible Two Weeks Notice, their romance feels stale-mated. Which is not to say that fans of romantic comedy won’t find clever lines to laugh at as Bullock’s crusading lawyer and Grant’s spoiled mogul fall for each other. Just not enough to transform Two into another Notting Hill or While You Were Sleeping. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Love these two, but not in this

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