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HITCH If you see one movie this Valentine’s Day, don’t make it this one.
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
dir. Prachya Pinkaew
Opens Fri Feb 11.

Extreme levels of Internet geek heat have been generated over the no-budgeted (and much illegally downloaded) import Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, mainly due to star Tony Jaa, whom advance word has hailed as the Second Coming of Jackie Chan. The long-promised theatrical release finds the hype mostly justified; at its best, it brings back happy memories of watching scratchy bootlegs of the master, before he succumbed to the dual threats of old age and Chris Tucker.

The plot, in classic chop-socky fashion, exists only as a framework for Jaa to get his considerable freak on: After goons steal his village's sacred idol, a peaceful yet lethal bumpkin heads to the big city and teams up with a small-time hustler named Dirty Balls (a nickname that remains mercifully unexplained) to recover the statue. Much kickboxing ensues.

Compared to, say, Chan's comedic underdogging, the star can't help but come off as a bit of a cold fish. Thankfully, whatever Jaa may lack in charisma, he more than makes up for in utter and total bodily self-disregard; whether skittering through a coil of barbed wire at top speed or doing the splits under a moving van, he delivers a constant stream of suicidally crazy-legged stunts that would make the Jackass crew reach for their Blue Cross cards.

There are a few speedbumps along the way to testosterone heaven, unfortunately: The original soundtrack has been replaced with insipid techno-rap (courtesy of presenter Luc Besson), and the final reel amps up the brutality to such ludicrous heights that some of the fun drains away. Still, when a movie contains bits such as the hero kicking a bad guy through a second-story window, only to jump out and kick him again in mid-air, much can be forgiven. ANDREW WRIGHT

Bride & Prejudice
dir. Gurinder Chadha
Opens Fri Feb 11.

I can think of no movie premise so absurd, so deliciously improbable, as a Bollywood treatment of a Jane Austen novel. The infinitesimal transgressions of drawing room etiquette, the thrilling impropriety of combative conversation--each of these miniscule details would have to be blown up to impossible proportions and then exploded into a full-spectrum musical number complete with cheesy songs and sexy choreography. Though the pleasures of Bollywood cinema are many and various, subtlety is not among them.

So I'm happy to report that adapter Paul Mayeda Berges and co-adapter/director Gurinder Chadha, best known for her adorable girl-power anthem Bend It Like Beckham, lose no sleep over fitting the plot of Pride and Prejudice into a Bollywood mold. The end result doesn't bear the faintest resemblance to Jane Austen, and truth be told, it doesn't cleave too closely to Bollywood conventions either. Bride & Prejudice--even the title makes me simultaneously cringe and cackle--is shorter than you'd expect, some of the colors in that big party scene look a bit washed out, and a certain character bears an unmistakable resemblance to Ali G.

But who cares in the slightest? If you've ever wanted your date to whisk you to a new Frank Gehry building, pay for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, and then have you serenaded by a gospel choir on a sun-kissed beach, all in a single day--or conversely, if this scenario is your most gruesome nightmare--you'll find a lot to love in Bride & Prejudice. It also doesn't hurt that the movie stars Aishwarya Rai, who is quite possibly the hottest woman in the world. And whenever you get bored, you can always amuse yourself by imagining the ludicrous pitch that must have launched this brilliant, foolish project in the first place. ANNIE WAGNER

Inside Deep Throat dir. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato Opens Fri Feb 11.

Let's get the titillation factor out of the way: Yes, there's footage from the '70s porn classic in Inside Deep Throat; in fact, there's the famous scene featuring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems in the act of the title. But it's hardly the most revealing moment in the documentary. The scene looks dated and seems almost quaint--a relic from another era. But there's no denying it was a cultural landmark, and it's this status that Inside Deep Throat aims to explore.

For all its seeming daring, though, this is actually a very straightforward documentary. It introduces the players involved in Deep Throat, from the director to distributors to the actors, all of whom are old now and deliver the expected nostalgia. And there are the standard-issue talking head clips with the usual suspects: Camille Paglia, Norman Mailer, Helen Gurley Brown, Gore Vidal, John Waters, and even Dick Cavett (who admits he never saw the skin flick).

But it's the background of Deep Throat not as a porn landmark, but as a portrait of the cultural climate of repression and anti-obscenity laws that met it, which is the most fascinating aspect of the film. From Nixon appointing a commission on pornography and then suppressing its findings when they don't deliver the wanted political outcome, all the way up to the Meese Commission under Ronald Reagan's regime, the filmmakers give us a chilling portrait of the industry of censorship. Toward the film's end, porn starlets at an industry convention (which demonstrates not so much the mainstreaming of smut as the legitimate ghettoization of it) may struggle to remember Linda Lovelace's name, but as this well-made and sly documentary shows, her impact and the lasting cultural legacy of Deep Throat is everywhere. NATE LIPPENS

Donkey Skin
dir. Jacques Demy
Fri Feb 11-Thurs Feb 17 at the Varsity.

This perverse bonbon of a musical by Jacques Demy (Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is packed with dark subject matter but soaked in color--silly pastels, ostentatious reds and blues, and winking points of light, all set gorgeously aglow in this restored print. Adapted from a 17th-century fairy tale by Charles Perrault (a sort of French Brother Grimm), Donkey Skin tells the story of a princess (Catherine Deneuve) whose dying mother (also played by Deneuve) makes her husband (Jean Marais) promise never to marry again, unless his new bride is more beautiful than she. Of course, only a princess can match the beauty of a queen (and only Deneuve can compete with her own comeliness), and soon the king is trying to persuade his own daughter to marry him.

Demy makes no apologies for the incestuous themes and mild misogyny that run through this lesson of civilization and its discontents; in fact, he exaggerates the comedy in the debased donkey-pelt disguise the princess must don before she can escape her father's ghastly appetites. Deneuve's many prancing escapades with the skin are shot in slow motion--a technique that's coarse, agonizing, and funny to the marrow.

But even outside all the Freudian/Jungian/Levi-Straussian subtext, Donkey Skin is a treat. There are loads of faux special effects, a parade of fanciful costumes, and a vast quantity of early '70s kitsch to feast your eyes on. And Delphine Seyrig's goofy performance as the polyester-draped fairy of the lilacs, Deneuve's well-intentioned but completely incompetent godmother, is a film moment you truly cannot miss. When she makes the case to her young charge (by way of an infectious song by Michel Legrand) that the girl really needn't marry her father, her irrepressibly winsome cheer set my mouth agape. ANNIE WAGNER

Hitch
dir. Andy Tennant
Opens Fri Feb 11.

I've never watched What Women Want, but the kind of enjoyment or misery derived from that picture can't be different from the kind of enjoyment or misery derived from Hitch. Starring Will Smith, it's a story about a man who has solved the mysteries of the other sex and sells this valuable knowledge to other men who have little or no skills in the game of love. Smith not only sells advice but also transforms the entire lives of his (mostly white) clients, so that every aspect of it is working hard towards winning a woman's affection and body. And for Smith it has to be both (affection and body); he will not work with men who just want to "hit it." He's an ethical dating doctor.

Hitch is structured in this way: On one side, there is the story of a clumsy financial adviser, Kevin James, who falls in love with the rich and elegant woman he works for (Amber Valletta). Smith is hired by James to help him realize the impossible. On the other side, there is the story of Smith's seduction of a voluptuous celebrity columnist (Eva Mendes). He wines and dines her, and she gradually opens her heart to him.

For the most part, though, the movie is dull because Smith plays a playa (a man who has all the right moves). It's only late in the film where things turn lively, as Smith finally wakes up and begins to do more of what he always did when he was as a teen rapper and a '90s TV star: comedy. Indeed, this man who bores us with his knowledge of what women want is the very same man who once made us laugh when he rapped "girls of the world ain't nothing but trouble." Unfortunately, that funny man arrives too late to save Hitch. CHARLES MUDEDE

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