The Fighting Temptations
dir. Jonathan Lynn
Opens Fri Sept 19 at various theaters.


Cuba Gooding Jr. continues his winning streak of zany fish-out-of-water comedies (in the now-illustrious tradition of Boat Trip and Snow Dogs) with a role as a shallow chump who must successfully champion a ragtag gospel choir or risk losing his family's inheritance. And as you might well expect, Cuba's fish-out-of-water has long since begun to smell like shit.

Costarring Beyoncé Knowles' abs, the paper-thin story is unimportant--functional only in its ability to daisy-chain together a series of rags-to-riches musical sequences, of which you are assured many. Within such a framework, it's hard to escape the feeling that the film was manufactured as an excuse to release a soundtrack record, only corroborated by the MTV Films stamp that precedes it. Oh, and then there's the "talent": Aside from the complete void of offstage charisma that is Beyoncé, the film is peppered with such musicians/would-be thespians as Faith Evans, Montell Jordan, and (most embarrassingly) the most current incarnation of the O'Jays--failing former stars stumbling onto a lazy agent's dream. To be fair, The Fighting Temptations is certainly less of a wreck than it could have been--it'll certainly be passable in the white noise of syndicated Sunday-morning cinema in a few months, upon its no doubt quick exit from theaters--but unless you've a real urge to be "inspired" or "uplifted" by a middling feature, you'd be best to steer clear. ZAC PENNINGTON

Secondhand Lions
dir. Tim McCanlies
Opens Fri Sept 19 at various theaters.


The one thing Secondhand Lions succeeded in doing was making me hate a child star--namely, Haley Joel Osment. I'm not one to hate child stars; I'm usually unmoved by their bright eyes and their too-cute mannerisms. Child stars are nothing to get worked up about; they rise fast and burn out badly. But maybe it's not Osment I hate, so much as his agent--the one who lands him scripts featuring boys who need their mothers in the worst Freudian way. It worked with A.I. , but in that film Osment was a convincing robot; in Secondhand Lions, however, he plays a convincing boy who is abandoned by his whore of a mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and so his pleas ("Don't leave me, Mommy"; "Mommy, love me and just love me"; "When is my mommy coming back for me?") are unbearable.

But other critics might argue, with good reason, that Secondhand Lions has less to do with Osment's loss of his mother and more to do with the discovery of his uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall); or, closer yet, the discovery of his father figure, his manhood, in the form of a macho Robert Duvall. The film is about a boy who is left by his mother to spend an indefinite amount of time with his uncles, who, upon first impression, are stubborn hicks with a big barn. Through stories told by Michael Caine, the boy soon learns that his uncles are not hicks at all, but war heroes with glorious pasts. The eldest uncle, Duvall, was in his youth a man of action, a great soldier who defeated powerful sheiks and seduced a dark woman while riding a wild horse on the shores of Arabia--a man-among-men who, even in his old age, has not lost an inch of his erection. Impressed by this example of pure manhood, Osment switches his dependency on Mommy for an even more unhealthy dependency on this violent father figure. This movie just sucks. CHARLES MUDEDE

In This World
dir. Michael Winterbottom
Starts Fri Sept 19 at the Uptown.


I left this movie feeling just about as raw as it's possible to feel. Harrowing, I guess, would be the right word for this story of two Afghan boys making the dangerous overland journey from a refugee camp in Pakistan to London. Every stop could be the end of the road; at every turn it seems about as likely that they will be enslaved or killed as anything else. Jamal and Enayat are sent by their families on this journey with only a dim sense of what will happen when (if) they arrive, and an even dimmer sense of the consequences of such a dangerous trip.

Winterbottom used nonactors for the two lead roles, and allowed the story to be shaped by their evolving relationship so that the film's natural documentary feeling is earned beyond the rather nauseating handheld jitters. As it turns out, In This World became a documentary after the fact, when one of the actors made that same terrible journey to England, where he was eventually denied asylum and will likely have to leave when he turns 18; the journey's end turns out not to be an end at all. EMILY HALL

Cold Creek Manor
dir. Mike Figgis
Opens Fri Sept 19 at various theaters.


Big-time New York snotty-snots (Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone) decide they need a change of pace after "tragedies" shake up their lives. So what do they do? They pack up their spoiled daughter and dumb-as-dirt son and move into Cold Creek Manor, a huge house in the middle of nowhere that the bank recently took from a family of crazy people who used to bash in the heads of sheep for a living.

The surviving son of the family that used to own the place (who's a homicidal maniac to boot!) gets out of prison just in time to welcome the new family to town. And he wants his frickin' house back! Seeing as how he's nuts, he tries to chase them out of "his" house. But Quaid ain't goin' nowhere! So they have a falling-out, try to bash in each other's skulls, and someone ends up at the bottom of "Devil's Throat." In a word: yawn. MEGAN SELING

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