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The fine line between schlock and trash

NEW RELEASES

Godzilla 2000

(PG) The world's most famous monster (sorry, Kong) returns to stomp Tokyo and battle a giant flying bedpan that's draining Japan's power supplies.

First impressions: "Godzilla 2000 is really the Godzilla of 1954, a guy in a bulky rubber suit trashing toy cars and cardboard buildings while Tokyo collectively screams in poorly dubbed English. Now, that's entertainment.

"Forget the abominable Godzilla imposed on the public two years ago. . . . That state-of-the-art flop drained every ounce of fun from the franchise, replacing its adorable cheesiness with expertly computerized destruction. . . . Godzilla 2000 revives that good old campy spirit sadly forgotten or self-consciously spoiled by today's gee-whiz filmmakers.

"Be assured: This is not a slickly produced movie. In fact, it's shoddy, with bewildering edits muddling the plot, plus bad acting recognizable in any language. It's vintage Godzilla schlock, making it more purely enjoyable than X-Men, Armageddon or any other mousepad epic."

Second thoughts: The big guy still has what it takes.

Rental audience: Anyone who can name three previous Godzilla foes.

Rent it if you enjoy: Godzilla vs. Bambi.

The Art of War

(R) Wesley Snipes plays an ultra-super-secret agent for the United Nations' counterterrorism agency, investigating the assassination of a diplomat. Anne Archer co-stars as his supervisor, and Donald Sutherland's presence in such matters immediately suggests that he's a suspect. Lots of bullets, shattered glass, martial arts mayhem and xenophobic politics.

First impressions: ". . . a wretchedly acted slice of high-decibel nonsense. . . . Through it all, Snipes remains characteristically affectless. No emotion, not even rage, ruffles his masklike detachment. Sutherland, looking cadaverous and bleary-eyed, and Archer, grimly stony-faced, hit new career lows with wooden line readings of the screenplay's unreadable dialogue. (The) relentlessly grating music deserves special mention; it is like having a jackhammer just outside your window." (Stephen Holden, New York Times)

Second thoughts: Even theater owners at the ShoEast convention in Orlando pegged this one as a loser, and they like just about anything.

Rental audience: Steven Seagal fans. You know who you are.

Rent it if you enjoy: Passenger 57, Rising Sun (with Sean Connery's scenes cut out).

REWIND

Videos worth another look

Start a new year with old friends

By STEVE PERSALL

Times Film Critic

What are you doing New Year's Eve? There's nothing wrong with curling up on the couch with a loved one, a celebratory sip and a video rental. These old movie acquaintances shouldn't be forgotten:

Peter's Friends _ A clever ensemble comedy of manners from director/co-star Kenneth Branagh. Seven former college mates meet for New Year's Eve at another's estate. Old flames and new heartaches emerge from the snappy chatter. Emma Thompson co-stars in this warm variation on The Big Chill.

200 Cigarettes _ An odd assortment of twenty-somethings wander through Manhattan on New Year's Eve, looking for love in all the wrong faces. A veritable scrapbook of hot young stars: Ben Affleck, Christina Ricci, Kate Hudson, Janeane Garofalo and Dave Chappelle.

Happy New Year _ Peter Falk and Charles Durning are a nice pairing as small time crooks planning a jewelry heist. The plan gets elaborate, with false identities and Falk's double-talk. A remake of Claude Lelouch's French-language hit La Bonne Annee.

When Harry Met Sally - Rob Reiner's romantic comedy is divided into chapters marked by New Year's Eve parties. Boy (Billy Crystal) gets girl (Meg Ryan) and loses her a few times before the fadeout.

The Poseidon Adventure _ There's got to be a morning after, right? Not if you're spending New Year's Eve on the S.S. Poseidon. Gene Hackman leads an all-star cast through this hallmark disaster flick with a party getting completely out of hand.

"Exorcist' still thrills, even with few frills

DVD

New and noteworthy for digital players

The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen

A funny thing happened to William Friedkin's supernatural classic on its way to this DVD release. Warner Bros. figured a small theatrical release in September _ only 664 screens _ would drum up interest in the 1973 film among home video collectors. Maybe even pay for its own remastered sound and restored footage.

Warner Bros. was pleasantly shocked by the results. The Exorcist collected $8.1-million in its first weekend, finishing third overall despite its limited release. By Monday afternoon, the studio had deals for another 1,000 screens. Since then, moviegoers have paid nearly $30-million to see if what scared people way back when is still effective now.

It certainly is. Friedkin's somber, deliberate terror is intact, although slightly diluted by some of the 11 minutes of footage edited from the original release. Especially the ending, better explained now, then drained of suspense by a climactic conversation. Linda Blair's crab-walk down a flight of stairs is a fleeting new shock in a film that didn't need one.

Now that the theatrical run is completed, The Exorcist returns to DVD in pretty much the same condition of previous laserdisc and DVD releases. Friedkin adds an audio commentary track with updates for the restored scenes. Production notes are included, but that's as far as the added goodies go. No preview trailers or behind-the-scenes documentary. Maybe next time, if Warner Bros. smells another payday.

One benefit is how great the film should sound with its digital remastering. In a theater, sound effects like a gurgling fish tank and creaking stairs that were inaudible before added new hints of dread. Your remote control should come in handy during the demonic possession and exorcism sequences. Have fun with the pea soup scene.

_ STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

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