Runs Fri., Dec. 12-Thurs., Dec. 18, at Varsity
"Old men should be rich and respected," says Fanda (Vlastimil Brodsk´y) to his best friend, Eda (Stanislav Zindulka). These old duffers are neither, so they pretend to be both. Fanda impersonates a moneybags opera conductor, snootily touring vast mansions and scarfing up fine cuisine paid for by eager Realtors; while Eda makes a convincingly haughty secretary. They tell pretty girls they're railway inspectors, demanding kisses in return for not busting the babes for cheating on fares. Meanwhile, Fanda's wife spends her days planning their funerals. (Fanda would rather have the fun of faking his, like an octogenarian Tom Sawyer.) The jaunty comedy is forced, and beneath it lies infinite grief: Brodsk´y, a star since 1966's Closely Watched Trains, killed himself after shooting this Czech film by Vladimír Michálek. It's like Il Postino, whose star was slowly dying in agony while playing a man exultant in love: The hero's grin is upstaged by the skull beneath the skin. (NR) TIM APPELO
Opens Fri., Dec. 12, at Seven Gables and Uptown
I lived in New York City for many years, as did writer-director Jim Sheridan, but I have no idea where in the city this nostalgic, rosy-hued, loosely autobiographical tale takes place. Or when. Every character encountered by the illegal Irish immigrant Sullivan family feels like a romantic construct; there's nothing particular about themor the block or the neighborhood or the year. And New Yorkers are very particular about such details. Meaning to be generous, Sheridan is fatally vague, when a good dose of grimy specificity would've helped to cut America's blarney and treacle.
Aspiring actor Johnny (Paddy Considine) and wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) have two cute little daughters (played by cute little sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger), but they're ghost haunted by a son who died of cancer. Their apartment building is ghost haunted, too, filled mainly with smack addicts but dominated by one spectral presence: reclusive artist Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), who may be Africanagain, this is a maddeningly vague movieand appears to be dying of AIDS. Naturally, the daughters charm fierce Mateo out of his shell; naturally, the Sullivans must face several obstacles that ultimately draw the family even closer together. Then there are those pesky ghosts that must be laid to rest. To help us navigate while America plods its heartfelt path, the elder Sullivan sister lugs a camcorder to record and narrate their adventuresmost of which seem to be in the early '80s, though her camera is clearly a small, digital, late-'90s model (while the soundtrack features '60s geezer rock).
Sheridan co-wrote this sentimental story with his two now-grown daughters, Naomi and Kristen, and the film's cheery blandness may reflect a screenplay created by committee. There are too many perspectives at work, too many writers clinging to their one favorite speech or momentthe Sullivan girls have a naive, awestruck view of the city as an enchanted kingdom, while their parents suddenly erupt into maudlin scenes of grief or passion. Then, by way of dramatic resolution, everyone goes out for ice cream. It's like a Eugene O'Neill fairy talewithout the alcohol, anger, or resentments found in real families and cities. All three Sheridans clearly love N.Y.C. (except for the humidity), and that love seems to have obliterated any memory of its fundamental hardship and cruelty. America might've made more sense as three separately authored chapters with contradictory recollectionsdark as well as light.
For patriarch Jim Sheridan, the film represents a return to the spirit of My Left Foot, a holiday-friendly affirmation of family, after darker Irish fare like The Boxer and In the Name of the Father. Indirectly, I suppose, it's also a 9/11 film (though the Twin Towers are never shown), but the problem with monuments and memorials is that they often bear no resemblance to the place being honored. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER
LOVE DON'T COST A THING
Opens Fri., Dec. 12, at Meridian and others
It's 1987's Can't Buy Me Love remade for the BET crowd, named this time after a J.Lo song instead of a Beatles tune. Lacoste polos have been replaced by Sean John velour sweat suits, but the plot remains intact. Nick Cannon's geeky Patrick Dempsey character wants to spend his last semester of high school as a popular guy, so he pays head cheerleader Christina Milian to act as his girlfriend for two weeks. If you've seen Love, then you know the drill: Cannon is quickly corrupted by his popularity, becoming an obnoxious ass (this time as a thugged-out playa) and thereby exposing Milian as the kinder, truer spirit. Thing even includes a version of Love's painfully hilarious African anteater dance scene. Perhaps Love didn't need or deserve an update, but with Steve Harvey as Cannon's too-smoove father and Cannon's own R. Kelly-produced single, "Gigolo," leading the soundtrack, Thing is trying to appeal to a whole new group of teens. Problem is, like Cannon's character, Thing comes off as cheap. (PG-13) KATIE MILLBAUER
STUCK ON YOU
Opens Fri., Dec. 12, at Varsity and others
The Farrelly brothers make a point of extracting as much black humor from human disability as possible, sometimes leaving their characters with only a few vital organs to subsist onnamely heart and guts. The randy writer/director tandem's latest broad comedy of discomfort immediately offers us something we've never seen beforethe A-list talent of Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear in the risky roles of conjoined twinsthen infuses them with a dynamic emotional depth (no, your eyes are not crossed) that sweetly buffers the obvious physical comedy. Stuck's twins are athletic, popular, and quite content in their modest Martha's Vineyard lives until theater buff Kinnear literally drags shy, dorky Damon to the Left Coast to try his hand at "real" acting. Both have surprisingly realistic and legitimate issues with women, privacy, and conflicting ambitions; too bad a horrendous, extended, self-parodying Cher cameo dilutes those unexpected developments. (PG-13) ANDREW BONAZELLI