Directed by Andrew Davis (Disney, in release)
As they say in Twelfth Night, What's your metaphor? Andrew Davis's quirky Holes (adapted by Louis Sachar from his popular children's novel) brims with storytelling flourishes and gently deployed life lessons that even accompanying adults may dig; to its credit, the title's symbolic sense still stumps me. After young, palindromic Stanley Yelnats (newcomer Shia LaBeouf) gets hit by a famous athlete's falling footwear, some loopy extenuating circumstances (inventor father Henry Winkler obsesses over shoe deodorant) lead to an unjust sentence that Kafka might have cottoned to: 18 months at a desert reformatory, excavating a fresh five-by-five hole daily, to no apparent end. (Overseer Jon Voight, all potbelly swagger, treats them to a story: "Once upon a time, there was a magical place that never rained. The end!") Interrupting this rather grim child-labor narrative are flashes of the outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette), whose career was sparked by a doomed interracial romance. Parched present and lush past eventually mingle, and the act of reading (Stanley teaches an illiterate chum the alphabet) becomes a source of power. Full of little surprises, unearthed in leisurely style, Holes (to paraphrase the poet Richard Howard) suggests a metaphor for metaphor itself. Ed Park
Directed by Linda Mendoza (20th Century Fox, in release)
Tomas Fuentes (Eduardo Verástegui) makes the mistake of wooing three women at the same time, and when his ladies-in-waiting discover they've been had, they forgo Jerry Springer and gang up on their continental papi chulo. For 80 grueling minutes, the film's females endure Three's Company-style high jinks and misunderstandings in order to own their independence. Chasing Papi shamelessly purports to be "the first major studio comedy to reflect the Hispanic cultural experience in America," but the only place you're likely to find such shrill and whitewashed caricatures is in the elitist pages of ¡Hola! If not for the watered-down Spanish anthems, ad hoc appearances by Latin über-celebrities (freakish astrologer Walter Mercado serves as the film's preening guiding light), and Sofía Vergara's irrepressible Colombian accent, this faux feminist riddle would be no more soulful or authentic than, say, Maid in Manhattan. Director Linda Mendoza would like to position the film as a celebration of Latina pride and solidarity. That she so respectfully forgives Tomas's three-timing ways (the psychology here is that a player is not born but bred by doting females) implies that the world revolves around the alpha male and the female is simply there to chase his tail. Ed Gonzalez
Directed by Elia Zois (Castle Hill, opens April 25, at the Village East and Clearview Chelsea)
Like a spiral perm growing out, Jersey Guy droopily unravels as partial homage to the Balki Bartokamous school of bad acting before collapsing into a mess of fragmentary sermonizing on deceit, commitment, and the meaning of choice. Namby-pamby Jack (Steve Parlavecchio), the 25-year-old titular, works at Happy Acres nursing home, still lives with his parents, and crows about stalling marriage to get "laid, re-laid, and parlayed anytime I want" by Susan (Stacy Mistysyn), his doting girlfriend of seven years. An affair with Sam (Jill Wolfe), a dewy model Jack meets after voyaging across the Holland Tunnel to the glittery Elysium of a Soho club, compels him to decide between all that he could be and all that is already his. This predicament is considerably less intriguing than why director Zois costumes poor Susan as a Piercing Pagoda refugee, circa 1985. Nita Rao
Directed by Yojiro Takita (Pioneer Entertainment, opens April 25, at the AMC Empire)
Japan is currently in the midst of a revival of the 10th-century yin-yang master Abe no Seimei, with serial novels, manga, and even a Brian Eno CD paying tribute to his legend. Yojiro Takita's Onmyoji, number one at the Japanese box office in 2001, succeeds in visual splendor (it was shot on location in Kyoto) but falls flat on characterization. Mansei Nomura's Seimei is impish and unconvincing, lacking in vulnerability. When Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu) as the villain Doson summons the vengeful spirit of Prince Sawara to destroy the court of the Mikado, there is little doubt Seimei will save the day. Special effects also disappoint: Early scenes find Onmyoji solving the riddle of a gourd growing out of a pine tree and proving his prowess by killing a butterfly, while the climactic sword fight cribs from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Though this Heian period drama may not resonate stateside, viewers can indulge in a different sort of historicism'80s idol Kyoko Koizumi and Eriko Imai, of the '90s girl group Speed, both have significant roles. Mary Jacobi
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