By Leah Rozen
June 17, 2002 12:00 PM

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Ashley Judd

A father (James Garner) and his adult daughter (Bullock) sit outside a cabin enjoying a breeze while discussing the vexing woman who is his wife and her mother. “Daddy,” the daughter asks, “did you get loved enough?”

“What’s enough?” he replies.

Both are good questions. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, an exasperating comedy-drama that’s as imperfect as the lives it depicts, tries to answer them by looking at what can go wrong—and right—in the love between parent and child, man and woman, and longtime friends. Based on two related novels by Rebecca Wells (Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), it tells the story of Sidda Lee Walker (Bullock), a Manhattan playwright whose troubled relationship with Vivi (Burstyn), her moody, alcoholic mother, reaches the breaking point. Vivi’s best buds since childhood, a wacky trio of geezer southern belles (Flanagan, Knight and Smith), kidnap Sidda back home to Louisiana and try to effect a reconciliation by showing her a scrapbook her mother has kept since childhood. Cue the irksome, mawkish flashbacks, in which a high-spirited young Vivi (played by Judd) has the grits kicked out of her by life.

That Ya-Ya, directed and written by Callie Khouri (who wrote Thelma & Louise), amuses as often as it proves grating is due entirely to let-‘er-rip performances by Burstyn, Smith, Knight and Flanagan. Their accents may waver (none is a true daughter of the South), but their enthusiasm for the foibles and feistiness of their characters never does. Bullock, in what is a supporting role, steps aside gracefully to let these ladies strut their stuff, while Judd is asked to do scenes so excessively overwrought even Pamela Anderson would have blushed. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Ya-Ya only so-so

Bad Company

Anthony Hopkins, Chris Rock

Featured attraction

Bad Company is far funnier and more likable than it has any right to be, and the whale’s share of the credit goes to Rock. With his smart mouth, mischievous eyes and this-can’t-be-happening-to-me double takes, he offers welcome comic relief in these not so comical times. This is particularly apparent in Bad, a comedy-thriller with a queasy-does-it plot that pits a street-smart hustler turned reluctant CIA agent (Rock) against terrorists who’ve planted a nuclear bomb in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. (The film was scheduled for release last December but was put on ice after Sept. 11.)

Think of Bad as a less bombastic Sum of All Fears. Hopkins, playing Rock’s mentor at the CIA, gives Rock a steady platform from which to launch biting zingers and shows considerable comic agility of his own, most notably when he calmly continues chomping away on gum while mowing down bad guys. Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin) keeps things moving but deserves the highest praise simply for giving Rock plenty of rein and letting him lead. The movie hints at the end that there’s room for a sequel. Bring it on. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Good Company

Undercover Brother

Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan

To call Undercover Brother a smart dumb comedy may be an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what this amiable spy spoof is. A sort of African-American take on Austin Powers, the film riffs amusingly on race (the 3-point shot in the NBA was added so that white guys could score) while pretending to care about a featherweight plot that has its superfly secret-agent hero (Griffin) go undercover as a Dockers-clad corporate toady. His goal: to battle the Man, an evil mogul undermining powerful blacks. The movie is the first based on an Internet series, Undercover Brother, created by John Ridley, who cowrote the film. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Solid!