By Leah Rozen
April 08, 2002 12:00 PM

Panic Room

Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Kristen Stewart

As scary films go, Panic Room is the real deal. It will make you jump, and more than once. The plot—a woman and her 11-year-old daughter are threatened in their home by armed intruders—is serviceable, the twists keep coming, and the dialogue is sprinkled with tart one-liners. Plus, the cast is high-caliber and the filmmaking kinetically stylish. What the movie doesn’t do is transcend its genre. There’s no deeper meaning to this one, no sense that Room has any greater ambition than temporarily to creep you out.

Essentially, Room is Wait Until Dark with a sighted heroine. Meg Altman (Foster), newly divorced and wealthy, moves with her daughter Sarah (Stewart) into a multilevel townhouse in Manhattan that features a “panic room.” Fashionable among the rich and paranoid, it’s a small, allegedly impregnable chamber to which one can retreat in case of a break-in.

On their first night, Meg and Sarah hastily head there after a trio of men in black (Whitaker, Leto and Yoakam) show up looking for $3 million that they know the previous owner, now deceased, hid in the house. The catch? The lucre is stashed away in the panic room. “If we can’t get in,” a bad guy announces, “then we have to make them come out.”

What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse, with resourceful Meg and Sarah trying to outwit their attackers. Director David Fincher (Fight Club) keeps his camera moving, prowling to find what evil lurks around the next corner. Foster impressively sprints through the emotional spectrum—from melancholic to frightened, fiercely protective to action-gal determined—but there’s no subtext for her to play. Whitaker ably portrays a good man stuck in a bad situation, while Leto impresses as a sneering dilettante. (R)

Bottom Line: Do Panic

The Rookie

Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths

Consider toting a baseball and glove along to the multiplex. Immediately after seeing the inspirational Rookie, you may want to test your pitching arm or at least play catch.

The Rookie is an uncomplicated feel-good film based on the true-life story of ex-minor leaguer Jim Morris, a high school science teacher and baseball coach in Texas who at age 35 discovered he could fire a fastball at 98 mph. He tries out for the minors again, makes the cut and soon is hurling in the majors as a reliever for Tampa Bay’s Devil Rays. (Morris’s career switch lasted two years, ending when his arm gave out.)

The script plays it safe; characters are all likable and the plot proceeds predictably. As Morris, the reliable Quaid throws heat, delivering smoothly in dramatic scenes and convincingly from the mound. As his loving wife, Griffiths shows how humor goes a long way in a marriage. (G)

Bottom Line: Worth catching

Blade II

Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson

As Blade, Snipes is the Miles Davis of superheroes, rarely doffing his wraparound shades and barely speaking. Maybe he figured he’d let the film’s hyped-up sound effects do the talking in this slick if soulless sequel to 1998’s Blade. Here his character—half man, half vampire but entirely cool—battles a mutant strain of vampires called reapers. You would think they’d hear him coming. Every time Blade takes a step, his long leather coat whooshes. If he cricks his neck, thunderous cracks resound. In the inventive fight scenes, his sword clangs, and there are sluicing sounds when it finds its target, all in keeping with the unapologetic bang! blam! pop! comic-book spin director Guillermo Del Toro brings to the film. (R)

Bottom Line: Sharp enough

Featured attraction

Death to Smoochy

Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito

Randolph Smiley (Williams), beloved by millions of lilliputian fans for playing a tap-dancing clown on a kiddie TV show, is knocking back scotch in a dark bar when a couple hand him a briefcase filled with cash. “So, you want your little booger-eater on my show?” Smiley asks, pawing the green. At which point the pair, undercover FBI agents, bust him.

Thus starts Death to Smoochy, the most inventive, darkly nasty, take-no-prisoners comedy so far this year. Directed with great energy by DeVito, the movie follows the disgraced Smiley’s ceaseless efforts to sabotage his Pollyanna-ish successor. That would be Sheldon Mopes (Norton), who wows tykes daily as Smoochy, a fuchsia rhinoceros.

The script, by Adam Resnick, is far from smooth, but it has a raucous, lewd wit and a venomous edge. Williams is in glorious form, ranting with gusto. Norton grows on you as the good-as-gold Mopes, and the sharp-tongued Keener, playing a cynical TV exec who comes to love him, is a Barbara Stanwyck for the 21st century. (R)

Bottom Line: A dark victory


Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Julia Sweeney

My watch was working fine throughout Clockstoppers, but each of the movie’s insipid 93 minutes seemed like an hour. Not that this sci-fi action comedy is aimed at time-conscious adults. The target audience is 6- to 11-year-olds who have yet to graduate from the Nickelodeon Channel (whose movie division produced this one) to MTV.

And they’ll be amused by many of the antics that ensue when the teen hero, Zak (Bradford, who’s personable), discovers that a watch he borrows off his scientist dad’s desk can stop time. Zak and his girlfriend (Garces) use it to play silly tricks on their pals until the villains, evil corporate types, show up to steal the watch and kidnap Zak’s dad. With the adults out of the picture—Sweeney and Stewart have supporting roles as Zak’s mom and the watch’s inventor—what’s a kid to do? Swing into action while yet another bubblegum band chirps away on the soundtrack. (PG)

Bottom Line: Time bomb