LevityDirected by Ed Solomon (Sony Pictures Classics, opens April 4) Sprung from the pen 23 years after a homicidal holdup, Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) is haunted by delusional visitations from his teenage victim. Back on the streets in a generic Anycity, he meanders, his long locks flowing through post-prison bounceback. He's hired in a halfway house by Miles (Morgan Freeman, borrowing Thornton's Sling Blade bullfrog voice). First-time director Ed Solomon, a comedy writer (MIB, both Bill and Ted movies), clots up Levity with symbolsempty chairs, reflections, winter slushand achy, tastefully drawn characters: Thornton's repentant con, Freeman's tricky preacher with a secret, Kirsten Dunst's little girl lost, Holly Hunter's headstrong single mom. Real levity is barely present. In what sounds like an ad lib, Dunst waves her mittens in front of Thornton's face, exhorting: "Are you here on earth with me? Hell-ooo? Hell-ooo, insane man?" Thornton's ashen humorlessness bears the mark of Cain as distinctly as the patchy white witch coif he's forced to wear. Edward Crouse
DysFunKtional FamilyDirected by George Gallo (Miramax, opens April 4)Like the recent Martin Lawrence rant-fest Runteldat, Eddie Griffin's stand-up performance film is a belligerent, long-winded ode to one man's sense of his own centrality. In his caustic routine, Griffin, who's been effective elsewhere (notably last year's Undercover Brother), reveals himself to be a racist, misogynistic provocateur who'll say anythingand offend anyoneto get a laugh. Interspersed with scenes from his act, which director George Gallo captures dutifully if dully, are sequences in which Griffin reunites with his family (the show took place in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri) and harasses various localsincluding a Sikh passerby he calls "Osama" and a counterperson he all but calls "faggot"to further endear us to his witty ways. It's nauseating, unfunny stuff, unmitigated by the revelation that Griffin's mom physically abused him. (Shots of them yukking it up backstage over her modes of attack are profoundly uncomfortable, and their utter lack of perspective or remorse is chilling.) When will these second-rate Richard Pryor-manqués figure out that hateful invective doesn't make for satisfying comedy? When Hollywood stops believing it's movieworthy, I suppose. Mark Holcomb
A Man ApartDirected by F. Gary Gray (New Line, opens April 4)When the wife of maverick, muscular DEA agent Vin Diesel meets the expected doom of all wives of maverick, muscular movie lawmen, Vin himself goes out for justice. Despite appearances by amusing narco-lowlifes (notably Timothy Olyphant as a craven dealer and Malieek Straughter as a wary informant who sports Minnie Mouse-style hair knobs), A Man Apart is slow-going indeed. As limited as Diesel's movie persona may be, the actor has been notable for projecting a certain gentleness and warmth. That, along with logic and any sense of urgency, gets lost here amid the longueurs of a tired vengeance plot. Justine Elias
Cowboy Bebop: The MovieDirected by Shinichiro Watanabe (Samuel Goldwyn/Destination, opens April 4, at Angelika and the Loews E Walk)When an explosion on Mars suggests bio-terrorism, the government posts a reward, attracting the spaceship Bebop's ramen-hungry bounty hunters a/k/a cowboys: Bruce Lee-ish protagonist Spike, fatherly ex-cop Jet, headstrong Faye, kid hacker Ed, and Welsh corgi Ein. Spinning off from their series on Cartoon Network, director Shinichiro Watanabe and animation director Toshihiro Kawamoto make Mars's Alba City a hybrid metropolis, with altered logos (WcDonald's) riffing on earthly iconography. Americanized through western showdowns, shadowy film noir, gangster shootings, sci-fi, Bruckheimer explosions, slapstick, and soaps, Bebop aims to transcend its own genre by emulating all genres, and it falls short only in the melodrama. Janet Kim
Fatal Fallout Directed by Gary Null (Gary Null Productions, Through April 10, at Village East) Been wondering lately what might happen if a 757 flew smack into the Indian Point nuclear power plant? (Just so you know, the metro evacuation plan is bullhooey, and duct tape's not gonna help either.) Alternative health nut/mogul and controversial WBAI talk-show host Gary Null convenes an articulate gaggle of talking heads (no nuke industry takers, natch) to address this possibility, as well as outline the risks we face from daily "low-level" radioactive emissions and the planets infinite inheritance of unstorable nuclear waste. Though much of this doc reiterates what thinking folk have been freaking on for years (long-term effects of Hiroshima, bomb testing, and the Three Mile Island meltdown) it's not conspiracy-theoretical to assume that global instability heightens the risk of near-future disaster. The scaaaary myooosic behind kids on swings is overkill, but a soberly delivered cell's-eye view of free-radical-spurred mutation and metastasis does not. (Sinagra)
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