Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater


Miss Congeniality (PG-13)

Directed by: Donald Petrie
Starring: Sandra Bullock
December 2000

An amusing fish-out-of-water tale,
Miss Congeniality is a feel good hit that’s an undisputed success thanks to the excellent script and memorable performances. Sandra Bullock’s character is a “tough girl” detective who must go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant in order to bust the bad guy. Swishy Michael Caine is hired to transform the tomboy into a fashion model, and his ongoing failed attempts at making Bullock more feminine are hilariously enjoyable. Candace Bergen plays the controlling pageant organizer and William Shatner is a hoot as the cheese ball emcee. Benjamin Bratt is the love interest; one of his scenes with Bullock prompts the movie’s most quotable section, “You think I’m gorgeous…you want to kiss me.” Miss Congeniality is no runner up, though the runner up in the movie, Miss Texas, had my vote.

Rating: 3

Cast Away (PG-13)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks
December 2000

Tom Hanks, again, proves he’s one of Hollywood’s finest actors. Just like he did for
Philadelphia, Hanks emaciated himself for the island scenes. An enormous amount of screen time is spent on Hanks’ survival lessons, and it’s a tribute to his acting and Zemeckis’ skillful directing that our interest is held for so long. Hanks’ conversations with Wilson get annoying after a while, but the anthropomorphized volleyball is a mental defense mechanism that, in tandem with his hope of being reunited with his sweetheart, Kelly (Helen Hunt), is the only thing that keeps him sane. His reunion with Kelly after his rescue is a study in ambivalence: he still loves her but realizes he must move on, just as she did. Other than the unsatisfactory existential coda, Cast Away is an excellent drama that speaks volumes even when dialogue is scarce.

Rating: 3

Unbreakable (PG-13)

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis
November 2000

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has never been sick, never broken a bone and has walked away from a train wreck where he was the sole survivor. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is the fragile art collector who tests Dunn’s special abilities and, in the process, discovers his own true nature. Despite an intriguing premise, forensic-level direction by M. Night Shyamalan and a wonderfully nuanced performance by Willis, the movie topples like a stack of comic books near the climax, when the auteur unleashes his unconventional, twist ending. There’s no doubting the movie’s status as a fine film, but it doesn’t take a sixth sense to divine that this second Shyamalan thrill-fest isn’t as good as the first.

Rating: 3

Mercy Streets (PG-13)

Directed by: Jon Gunn
Starring: Eric Roberts
October 2000

A low-budget affair that tells a decent story despite its monetary restrictions,
Mercy Streets is a religious film that doesn’t pound you over the head with its moral lesson, but rather, shows real people in real-life situations. David White, in a dual role, does a good job of playing the “good brother, bad brother” scenario: wayward John, pressured into doing “one last job” for nefarious Rome (Eric Roberts), accidentally trades places with his priest brother, Jeremiah, who ends up taking the rap for John. Excellent guest performances by Cynthia Watros (The Drew Carey Show), Stacy Keach and even Lawrence Taylor salvage the movie from the typical B movie slag-heap. The “anatomy of a heist” sequence is brilliant, especially the freeze-frame shot, but the final scene is nearly identical to the dénouement in Ocean’s Eleven.

Rating: 2 1/2

Meet the Parents (PG-13)

Directed by: Jay Roach
Starring: Robert DeNiro
October 2000

A far less controversial and far more whimsical riff on
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Meet the Parents is really just an elaborate Murphy’s Law scenario where events exponentially worsen each time Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) attempts to impress his future in-laws. Greg’s fiancée, Pam (Teri Polo), tries running interference for him with her prim and proper mom, Dina (Blythe Danner) and eagle-eyed dad, Jack (Robert DeNiro), but Pam’s peacekeeping efforts are no match for Greg’s uncanny ability to stumble into misfortune. It’s normal for fathers to view prospective son-in-laws with apprehension or distrust, but Jack takes that paternal instinct to new extremes; as an ex-C.I.A. operative, Jack uses high-tech equipment to spy on Greg and later, interrogate him.

There’s no shortage of amusing scenes in the movie; like when Greg accidentally topples an urn containing the ashes of Jack’s mom, or the “Puff the Magic Dragon” conversation between Jack and Greg, or when Greg accidentally ignites the wedding gazebo, handcrafted by Pam’s ex-, Kevin (Owen Wilson), or when Greg, thinking he’s killed the family cat, Jinx, tries to pass off a painted stray for the genuine article—the faux Jinx demolishes the house while the family is at dinner. After an hour or so, however; these escalating incidents, though useful in generating sympathy for Greg, start to challenge the boundaries of believability—by the end, feelings of exhaustion set in and you just wish the guy would either escape the vicious circle of gaffes and mishaps or just be put out of his misery.

Director Jay Roach (
Austin Powers) does a good job of utilizing the considerable talent at his disposal. Ben Stiller, son of legendary comedian Jerry Stiller, is known for his slapstick sense of humor so his performance, to some degree, is predictable. The real surprise here is DeNiro, whose deadpan delivery almost seems incongruous with his typical “tough guy” persona. No one will ever confuse DeNiro with a comedian, but he’s quite humorous as the paranoid, overprotective father who uses Greg’s last name as an expletive and repeatedly cudgels Greg over the head with his familial “circle of trust” philosophy. “I’m watching you,” Jack warns Greg, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. What a nightmare!

Meet the Parents is the worst case scenario of a young man desperately trying, yet repeatedly failing, to please his fiancée’s family. Here’s hoping none of us will ever have to experience the embarrassment, humiliation and mental angst endured by that poor, misunderstood and tortured soul…Gaylord Focker.

Rating: 2 1/2

Remember the Titans (PG-13)

Directed by: Boaz Yakin
Starring: Denzel Washington
September 2000

On his impressively long list of career-defining roles, Denzel Washington’s turn as football head coach Boone, of newly-integrated T.C. Williams High School in Virginia during the early seventies, stands out as one of his very best.
Remember the Titans is so much more than a sports movie and even transcends its poignant social commentary…the movie is fun and the characters are memorable. There are many standout scenes, including: the team’s pre-dawn jog to Gettysburg, Gary Bertier’s ill-fated drive and, of course, the championship game. Remember the Titans is a winner on many different levels.

Rating: 3

What Lies Beneath (PG-13)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Harrison Ford
July 2000

Just this side of a horror film,
What Lies Beneath is a thriller wrapped in a mystery. The movie is brimming with spine-tingling scenes that make you want to jump out of your skin. Though a radical departure from the director’s staple, Robert Zemeckis does a fine job of building suspense and waiting until the perfect moment to have a door slam, a picture frame fall or a corpse appear in the bath tub (easily the freakiest transformation I’ve witnessed in a very long time). Michelle Pfeiffer delivers the most convincing performance I’ve seen this year and Harrison Ford keeps you guessing which side he’s on until the bitter, fateful end. What Lies Beneath is a finely crafted tale of dark secrets and hidden transgressions, presented with harrowing intensity.

Rating: 3

The Kid (PG)

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Bruce Willis
July 2000

A modern twist on Dickens'
A Christmas Carol, the movie introduces egotistical image consultant, Russ (Bruce Willis) to a 10 year-old version of himself. Dealing with the obnoxious nature of his younger, chunkier self brings Russ to a place of discovery and goads him into making positive choices for the future. A bit saccharine in spots, Disney’s The Kid is heart-warming and features a fine performance by Willis.

Rating: 2 1/2

The Perfect Storm (PG-13)

Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: George Clooney
June 2000

Based on actual events,
The Perfect Storm is a glimpse into the hard lives of Atlantic fisherman and the toll the job takes on them and their spouses. George Clooney is good, but not great, and the end is easy to predict. Perhaps taking a little artistic license would have improved the straightforward storyline.

Rating: 2 1/2

Chicken Run (G)

Directed by: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Starring: Mel Gibson
June 2000

From the director of the Oscar-winning shorts, Wallace & Gromit (Nick Park), comes
Chicken Run, a claymation extravaganza starring the voices of Julia Sawahla, Miranda Richardson and Mel Gibson as an American chicken trapped in a British farmyard. Part Animal Farm, part The Great Escape, Chicken Run is full-on comedy that follows the madcap misadventures of Rocky (Gibson) and a group of aimless chickens as they hatch one hardboiled escape plan after the next. The heckling weasels are hilarious as is the flight training sequence, but the laughs really start rolling when the potpie machine becomes operational and when the chickens make a final, frenzied flight to freedom. Chicken Run is clever and witty…perhaps too slick for its own good. Some of the British humor goes right over the heads of American audiences and the uninterrupted torrent of jokes and gags actually detracts from the movie’s overall impact…every once in a while we need a breather. Chicken Run is a bit of a conundrum: it’s wildly entertaining, yet instantly forgettable.

Rating: 2 1/2

Titan A.E. (PG)

Director: Don Bluth
Starring: Matt Damon
June 2000

The science is appalling in this animated sci-fi flick, but the creativity is quite high—I especially liked the planet with hydrogen trees and the chase through the ice field. Ultimately,
Titan A.E. fails to entertain even with the aid of stellar voice talents like Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore and Nathan Lane.

Rating: 2

Mission: Impossible 2 (PG-13)

Director: John Woo
Starring: Tom Cruise
May 2000

This is the biggest disappointment of the year. The first
Mission Impossible was a fine yarn with great performances. Tom Cruise is back again (on cruise control) and Anthony Hopkins makes a brief appearance, but the storyline is mediocre, at best. The face disguise gag is employed way too often and the Matrix-style bike chase and ensuing melee are nothing more than a glorified 80’s action TV show ending. And how about the scene where Cruise hangs onto a cliff with one hand? The only thing impossible in this movie is its believability.

Rating: 2

Dinosaur (PG)

Directed by: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag
Starring: D.B. Sweeney
May 2000

I was blown away by the trailer but was less impressed with the actual movie. The latest in a long line of “mass exodus at the onset of the ice age” dino. movies,
Dinosaur has a run of the mill story, but boasts startling, photo-realistic animation. D.B. Sweeny voices lead character, Aladar the Iguanodon, and Della Reese takes a memorable turn as a matronly Styrachosaur. Kids will love it…adults, maybe not so much.

Rating: 2 1/2

Frequency (PG-13)

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Dennis Quaid
April 2000

What a great movie!
Frequency has a riveting, pulse-pounding plot and excellent performances by Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel as a father and son duo separated by time, but mysteriously connected by a HAM radio. Every time they alter history, a new set of variables come into play, creating more problems and ratcheting up the tension. This Murphy’s Law scenario is wildly entertaining—if not a bit far-fetched—and the ending twist makes you want to stand and applaud. The most enjoyable movie I’ve seen this year.

Rating: 3

U-571 (PG-13)

Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Matthew McConaughey
April 2000

Life imitates art in
U-571: just as First Officer Tyler comes into his own, so does Matthew McConaughey as a leading man. The story is rife with leadership lessons, both good and bad, and the pulse-pounding plot makes for a first-rate submarine warfare flick. Though it borrows (quite heavily at times) from Run Silent, Run Deep and Crimson Tide, the movie presents intense battle sequences and really hits the mark with Tyler’s baptism of fire after his field promotion to captain. Featuring great performances from Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, David Keith and even Jon Bon Jovi, U-571 is a rousing and patriotic tribute to WWII soldiers.

Rating: 3

Snow Day (PG)

Director: Chris Koch
Starring: Chris Elliott
February 2000

What I thought was going to be a Chevy Chase vehicle picture turned out to be a slogging B movie—Chase’s presence, as the zany weatherman, is barely felt in the snowbound comedy. About the only thing that works in the movie (other than Chris Elliot’s annoying snowplow) is the refreshingly romantic subplot. I say refreshing because it’s not the typical “guy overcomes hardships to get the girl” scenario. Here, Hal (Mark Webber) is desperately in love with high school hottie, Claire (Emanuelle Chriqui), but after constant rejection by Claire, Hal realizes that his gal pal, Lane (Schuyler Fisk), is the better choice and a budding romance ensues. Cheesy? You bet, but Snow Day is a harmless shovel-full of slapstick fun that’s an appropriate diversion if you’re snowed in and have nothing else to do.

Rating: 2