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"Sweethearts' hard to love

America's Sweethearts (PG-13)

Billy Crystal directs and co-stars as a Hollywood publicist with a nightmare to handle. The studio's top screen couple, Gwen and Eddie (Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack), have divorced, she's involved with her new leading man (Hank Azaria), and their latest movie needs both of them to do publicity on a media junket. Only Kiki, Gwen's sister and publicist (Julia Roberts), can keep them friendly, but she has a crush on Eddie.

First impressions: "There's no room for diplomacy in satire, especially with such ripe material. Viewers get the feeling that Crystal is always pulling his punches, perhaps because he's chummy with everyone in the biz. He has to work with these people, you know . . . The result is an uneven movie that can't decide whether to sneer or coo.

"(The writers) sprinkle the script with knowing jests about depressed celebrities seeking spiritual guidance and about perks for friendly reviewers. Then they toss in a tenderly glib exchange to satisfy the When Harry Met Sally crowd. They're making the same kind of movie Crystal's character is selling, a neat package of personality."

Second thoughts: Even after that assessment, I was shocked by how strongly moviegoers in general disliked this movie.

Rental audience: Fans of Roberts, Crystal, Zeta-Jones and Cusack. That pretty much covers the world.

Rent it if you enjoy: Poking fun at fashionable fawners on Entertainment Tonight.

Crazy/Beautiful (PG-13)

Troubled, privileged teen (Kirsten Dunst) meets a boy (Jay Hernandez) from the other side of the tracks with a bright future he's willing to risk for her affections. The clash of cultures and social status create numerous problems handled with care.

First impressions: "(The film) remains interesting, mostly because Dunst and Hernandez so effortlessly portray that dubious romance. Director John Stockwell has two good character studies and two capable actors at his disposal. They might be better served by separate movies, or by screenwriters who wouldn't make their personalities so opposite. . . .

"Crazy/Beautiful appears as much in touch with adolescent sensibilities as American Beauty, and almost as racy. The film was submitted five times to the MPAA before earning a PG-13 rating after minor trims. Sex, drugs and alcohol abuse are still recurring themes, but always with consequences. That's a remarkably responsible angle for a youth-culture movie in 2001 and a good reason older teens should see it."

Second thoughts: Should be a slumber-party fave on home video.

Rental audience: The MTV crowd and parents trying to understand them.

Rent it if you enjoy: Love and Basketball, Romeo+Juliet.

Osmosis Jones (PG)

Grubby zookeeper (Bill Murray) gets food poisoning, and his immune system responds by sending germ killer extraordinaire Osmosis Jones (voice of Chris Rock). Blending live action and animation is a tough balance for directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, but the premise and energy of the project make this one fun.

First impressions: "Osmosis Jones is the crude joke . . . we whispered in the back of the classroom. Eighth-graders aren't comic geniuses, so don't expect much. And don't expect total gross-outs like those in There's Something About Mary or Kingpin. This time, despite gags about pus, perspiration and bowel discomfort, the Farrellys are working clean. . . .

"Watching Murray in this movie again would be a pleasure. He hasn't appeared this loose, so unconcerned about acting yet inspired by a script, since bowling us over in Kingpin. He's back as that deadpan, naughty boy who can suggest junk food to a child because angioplasty won't be that bad, and we love him for it."

Second thoughts: The smaller dimensions of home video will complement the bargain-basement animation. The laughs will be just as large.

Rental audience: Anyone who giggles at snot jokes and clever puns.

Rent it if you enjoy: Murray's throwaway humor, Rock's edgy personality and the animated works of Ralph Bakshi.

DVD can't revive DOA "Lara Croft'


New and noteworthy for digital players

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider special collector's edition

Spending hours browsing DVD extras from great films is one thing. Doing the same for a mediocre movie that was dead on the screen long before its running time expired is a waste.

Thank goodness, Paramount Home Video didn't supply a preview copy of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, so I can't feel guilty about not watching it. But since it's the only major DVD release this week, we'll simply note the bonuses that must interest somebody out there.

They'll get director Simon West (Con Air) describing how he turned a home video game into a flatter, flabbier movie, plus "in-depth" interviews with cast and crew members.

So much whoop-dee-doo was made of Angelina Jolie's physical regimen to prepare for the title role that a separate documentary of her training is included. Other featurettes showcase the film's stunts, visual effects and the computer game's phenomenal success.

Four deleted scenes are available, plus an alternate title sequence, sort of like putting a different bow on a bashed package. The movie couldn't even make a hit out of U2's single Elevation, but that music video is here, too.

Since the core audience for this project is computer geeks, the disc provides DVD-ROM access to a Lara Croft time line, a demonstration of the next game and access to official Tomb Raider Web sites.

More than likely, the most commonly used DVD function will be the pause button for Jolie's fetching, prosthetically enhanced profile.


Videos worth another look

Tyrone Power and his glory

Tyrone Power died on this date in 1958 doing what helped make him famous. He collapsed with a heart attack while filming a swashbuckling duel with George Sanders on the set of Solomon and Sheba. Yul Brynner inherited the role, but Power can still be spotted, uncredited, in some of the distance shots.

That's a shame, because Power's face was his original fortune. Growing up in a Hollywood family with a silent-film namesake provided his first breaks, but his handsome features stood out among the pretty boys of the golden age of cinema.

Power's countenance and career noticeably changed after a decorated Marine Corps stint during World War II. He came back flintier, not the leading man type scaling walls and swinging swords but a mature, pained man whose final roles _ Witness for the Prosecution and The Sun Also Rises, for example _ reflected that weariness. Recapturing his youth against Sanders proved a futile, fatal move.

Check out Power's career path with these suggested videos:

Nightmare Alley _ Power's best reviews were earned playing a shady carnival mentalist. Interesting companion piece to Tod Browning's Freaks.

The Mark of Zorro _ Forget Antonio Banderas. The best Zorro who ever slashed a Z was Power, playing a California territory nobleman fighting corrupt Spanish officials.

The Razor's Edge _ Spoiled Chicago businessman (Power) dumps his life to find enlightenment in India and pass it along to Parisian socialites. Based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel, remade in 1984 with a too-serious Bill Murray.

The Sun Also Rises _ Ernest Hemingway's flawed hero, an impotent roustabout in Paris and Spain, provided Power with his last great role.

Rose of Washington Square _ Fanny Brice wasn't a funny girl when she sued Twentieth Century Fox for invasion of privacy over this thinly veiled account of a stage performer (Alice Faye) and her ne'er-do-well lover (Power).

Alexander's Ragtime Band _ Irving Berlin's music highlights this tale of an upper-crust man (Power) junking his plush life to play ragtime music.

In Old Chicago _ Power plays the black sheep of the O'Leary family that was better known for its cow. You know, the one that kicked over the lantern and started the great Chicago fire.

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