While a detective (Don Cheadle) investigates an African-American policeman’s murder at the hands of a white fellow officer, a racist beat patrolman (Matt Dillon) disgusts his liberal partner (Ryan Phillippe) when he humiliates a black TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) at a traffic stop. Those are just two story threads in this multi-layered, mosaic-like drama that investigates issues of race and class among Los Angelenos. “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis’ script is overly schematic in its dependence on coincidence to move the interlocking stories forward, but his characters are unforgettable, and the situations in which they find themselves are as fresh as today’s headlines. The awesomely talented ensemble is terrific, particularly Cheadle and Dillon as jaded cops who undergo unexpected epiphanies.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Haggis could have delved even deeper into society with the addition of gay or lesbian characters, but he limits himself to issues of race and class. Dillon, Phillippe, Howard, and co-stars Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, and Keith David have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
House of Wax
When twins Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and a group of friends encounter car trouble en route to a sports event, they wind up in a small, deserted town. However, the town’s wax museum isn’t empty – its residents are also twins, ones who delight in killing stranded motorists and making wax figures out of their corpses. This “re-imagining” of the 1953 Vincent Price film shares practically nothing with its predecessor. For starters, it’s brutally violent, picking off its characters in especially sadistic ways. And the inclusion of do-nothing socialite Paris Hilton in the cast is hilariously distracting – she can’t even run away from psychos convincingly. But the killings are inventive in their nastiness, the blood flows freely, and the wax-melting final moments are a marvel of digital technology. Just don’t go in expecting to be scared.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (None of the young cast has any queer-related credits, but there are a few innocuous moments of male characters engaging in gay-baiting banter with one another. And lead bad boy Murray winds up shirtless once for no reason related to the movie’s plot.)
Kingdom of Heaven
Simple French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) becomes involved in major battles during the 12th-century Crusades. He’s brave but spiritually conflicted, managing along his journey through the ravages of war to reconnect with his long-lost father (Liam Neeson), to romance a princess (Eva Green), and to work his way up the ladder of Roman success and lead the battle for Jerusalem. And while the story is formulaic and the boyish Orlando Bloom lacks the sort of gravitas that Russell Crowe brought to “Gladiator,” “Kingdom” is a staggeringly good-looking epic, one that does its best to be even-handed about religious wars in this cultural moment of religious tension. In fact, for a Hollywood take on the Crusades, its sweep is almost matched by its commitment – more or less – to historical accuracy. Who would have guessed that a holy war could be so much popcorn fun?
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bloom’s first screen role was as a rent boy in “Wilde,” Neeson starred in “Kinsey,” and co-star Jeremy Irons starred in the gay drama “Callas Forever” as well as in “M. Butterfly.” Co-star David Thewlis played queer poet Paul Verlaine in “Total Eclipse.”)
A Lot Like Love
Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily (Amanda Peet) have anonymous sex in an airplane restroom, exchange names, then spend a day together bickering and probably imagining how cute they look doing it. Then Emily bets Oliver that in six years he won’t be a successful, competent adult. Oliver takes the bet, and the two sporadically reunite in the ensuing six-year span for more bickering and making out. Whether or not they eventually fall in love, however, is irrelevant. Frankly, it’s weird enough that these two irritating, dull, shallow characters manage to sustain interest in anything other than their own reflections. The movie wants to be “When Harry Met Sally” for Generation Y, but its target audience is more likely to walk out feeling punk’d.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Peet appeared in “Isn’t She Great,” and Kutcher made out with Seann William Scott in “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Co-star Gabriel Mann appeared in “High Art,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” and “Stonewall,” while co-star Jeremy Sisto is a regular on “Six Feet Under.” Linda Hunt, who played a man in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” makes a cameo appearance.)
The Amityville Horror
The white Long Island colonial looks like a dream home to George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George), in spite of the realtor’s admission that its most recent residents died there violently. No sooner have the Lutzes moved in than daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) befriends the ghostly little girl who haunts her room, and George starts hearing voices urging him to kill his family. This silly remake of a 1979 horror classic – based on an allegedly true story – pours on the dripping blood and horrific special effects, but more often provides unintentional laughs instead of chills. Reynolds and George don’t possess the gravity to make the family’s situation believable, and a script that ladles on the cliches further sabotages the action.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (George had a small part in the lesboerotic “Mulholland Drive,” while co-star Philip Baker Hall appeared in the Charles Busch drag comedy “Die, Mommie, Die.”)
High-powered consultant Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) falls hard for math teacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon), who is sensitive, kind, and unthreatened by her success. But when she discovers that he is a rabid Boston Red Sox fan, it’s Lindsey who feels threatened by his love for the team. This is one of those romantic comedies that presumes a strictly heterosexual universe where men and women can never get along. It paints a world where women, no matter how successful, are only really interested in their relationships, while men are depicted as childish for caring about things outside of theirs – a premise both dated and insulting. Still, Ben’s fellow Sox fanatics are hilarious, and, however weak the central story, seeing a replay of Boston’s curse-breaking 2004 season is pretty wonderful.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Barrymore is bisexual and starred in the somewhat homoerotic “Poison Ivy” and the lesbian drama “Boys on the Side.” Co-stars Ione Sky, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Michael Rubenfeld, Willie Garson, and Jackie Burroughs have all appeared in gay-themed projects.)
With her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott), about to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Theresa (Zoe Saldana) thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce her boyfriend, Simon (Ashton Kutcher), and announce their engagement. But her African-American family only finds out that Simon is white when they meet him, throwing everyone, especially over-protective Percy, for a loop. This comedy works best when it confines itself to physical bits of slapstick, as when Simon teaches Percy to tango. The rest of it plays like an overlong sitcom, with tired race jokes and hackneyed put-upon-dad gags alternating with moments of cringe-inducing sentimentality. Mac makes the best of an underwritten part with a forceful, charismatic performance, stealing the movie away from bland, pretty-boy Kutcher.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Percy in convinced that the party planner for the anniversary fete is gay, while his wife insists he’s merely metrosexual. There are a few fleeting moments of gay panic when Percy and Simon hit the dance floor and share a bed.)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
When the earth is destroyed, mild-mannered Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and his intergalactic travel-writer pal, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), become galaxy-hopping hitchhikers. Romantic entanglements and life-threatening adventures ensue when they land on a stolen spaceship manned by renegade galaxy president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and the girl Arthur adores, Trillion (Zooey Deschanel). The late Douglas Adams’ cult sci-fi series comes to the big screen in a dazzling display of special effects and animatronics, but it is the amiable cast, witty dialogue, and Alan Rickman’s magnificently crabby tone as the voice of depressed robot Marvin that provide the movie’s chief charms. Purists may balk that the balance has shifted from science fiction to romantic comedy, but the fleshed-out love story is sweetly appealing.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gay actor/filmmaker Stephen Fry has a voice-only role. Co-star Anna Chancellor appeared in the lesbian drama “Tipping the Velvet,” while co-star John Malkovich played queer director F.W. Murnau in “Shadow of the Vampire.”)
United Nations interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) returns to her listening post after business hours and overhears conspirators discussing a plot to assassinate her country’s president. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to investigate the matter, although he suspects Silvia is either lying or a potential assassin herself. This paranoid thriller suffers from a miscast Kidman and a plot that hinges on too many coincidences, so it is a credit to director Sydney Pollack that he is able to maintain a steady level of suspense despite those distractions. The real reasons to see the film, though, are for the peek it provides into the U.N., and for Penn, who infuses his depressed, skeptical lawman with a kind of wounded grace.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Kidman won her Oscar for playing bisexual writer Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” while Penn appeared in the queer-themed “Before Night Falls.” Pollack directed and co-starred in “Tootsie,” and currently plays Will’s dad on “Will & Grace.”)
Thirteen-year-old Aviva (played by a rotating cast, including Jennifer Jason Leigh) wants to have a baby. When Aviva is impregnated by a teenage boy, her loving but hysterical parents (Ellen Barkin, Richard Masur) force her to have an abortion. Traumatized, Aviva runs away from home and, in her travels, encounters a sympathetic pedophile and sinister pro-life Christians; her circular journey will ultimately lead her back to where she started from – hence the film’s title. This is a brutally funny, emotionally defeated, yet still humane skewering of America’s public and private morality. Director Todd Solondz’s detached filmmaking style rejects the idea of sympathetic characters; he dares his audience to stay the course, and, for a certain brand of adventurous film-goer, that will prove a selling point. Others are advised to approach with caution.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Leigh co-starred in “Bastard Out of Carolina,” and co-star Debra Monk appeared in both “In & Out” and “Jeffrey.”)
Rodney Copperbottom (the voice of Ewan McGregor) is a small-town robot with dreams of going to the big city. Rodney’s a genius inventor, wanting to use his creations to make the world better. But when he arrives, he finds that the city is a harsh place with no room for nice robots. He also discovers that a huge, amoral corporation is out to dominate all of robot life by making the population dependent on its products. To fight the bad business-bots, he enlists the help of new friend and love interest Cappy (Halle Berry), as well as some friendly metal misfits (Robin Williams, Amanda Bynes). And while a happy ending is assured in this family movie, the main draw is the spectacular 3-D animation and the reasonably witty script, both of which keep the moral from going down like sugary medicine.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Williams tosses out an obliquely gay, ad-libbed joke about two male robots bunking together for the night. Otherwise, the huge voice cast – including McGregor, Berry, Williams, Greg Kinnear, Jim Broadbent, and Jennifer Coolidge – has a lot of queer credits on its collective resume.)
Undersea expert Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his sidekick, Al (Steve Zahn), are on a mission to hunt down a lost Confederate ship they believe drifted across the ocean to African waters. They cross paths with a U.N. doctor (Penelope Cruz) who’s researching what seems to be a plague, and collide with French corporate criminals, tribal warlord baddies, and one action sequence after another in a mixed-up stew of a plot. The ridiculous pile-up of characters and perilous moments would be unforgivable if the movie weren’t so much fun. Sure, there’s no reason to believe that any of it could happen – much less that Cruz and McConaughey’s characters could find time to fall in love in the middle of it – but this popcorn movie is so handsomely crafted and excitingly paced that believability is the least of its concerns. It just wants to entertain, and does so with exuberance to spare.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Zahn appeared in “The Object of My Affection,” played gay in “Reality Bites,” and pretended to be gay in “Happy, Texas.” Cruz played an HIV-positive nun in Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother.”)
There is no daylight ever in Basin City, where good cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) bucks the system to bring down a politically connected pedophile; warm-hearted psychopath Marv (Mickey Rourke) takes on the establishment to avenge a hooker’s death; and gentlemanly murderer Dwight (Clive Owen) fights to stop a war involving police, pimps, and the town’s prostitutes. Based on a series of graphic novels, this ultra-violent neo-noir offers three terrific lead performances and stunning visuals. But beyond the antiheroic trio, the acting is wildly uneven, and this fifth-rate pulp fiction – with its tin-eared dialogue and vacuous triad of stories – is an example of faux hard-boiled style over substance. Writer Frank Miller betrays his lack of imagination with female characters that are nearly all whores.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (One of the few females who is not a hooker – a parole officer played by Carla Gugino – is identified as a lesbian. Owen and co-stars Michael Clarke Duncan, Nick Stahl, Rosario Dawson, and Devon Aoki have all appeared in queer-themed movies.)
xXx: State of the Union
When gunmen breach his heavily fortified offices, NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) knows that it is time to go underground and recruit a new super-secret operative. For this new XXX, Gibbons turns to imprisoned ex-Navy SEAL Darius Stone (Ice Cube), and before long both men realize that a growing conspiracy threatens the very freedom of the United States. This ridiculous action thriller arrives in theaters dead on arrival, which is appropriate given its extravagant body count. The acting is generally abysmal, the premise is ridiculous, and while there are plenty of laughs, they are nearly all unintentional. Gearheads will appreciate the many muscle cars on display, but the only real entertainment value in this movie is in the spectacle of its many explosions.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Willem Dafoe has appeared in several gay-themed films and worked with John Waters on “Cry-Baby.”)