`Holy Smoke' is a quirky and satisfying love story

February 11, 2000

`Holy Smoke'

***; Rated R (strong sexuality and language)

Director Jane Campion has succeeded in milking a consistently surprising and ultimately satisfying romantic comedy from this season's most unlikely love story: that of a young woman whose newfound spiritual life is threatened by a cult de-programmer.

The fact that these thoroughly original protagonists are played with vigor and focus by Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel adds considerably to the appeal of the movie, which actually earns the term "quirky," in all its best senses.

But credit also goes to Campion, who directed "Holy Smoke" from her own script, for using the dynamics of their relationship to examine deeper issues of family, belief, obsession and redemption -- without a scintilla of pretension.

Winslet, an actress of much more depth and fire than "Titanic" suggested, anchors the film with a galvanizing performance, embodying spiritual ecstasy with muscularity, courage and an admirable lack of vanity. Keitel, who struts around in conquistador boots and aviator shades, reins in his native volatility to deliver a sweetly vulnerable portrayal of a man whose identity -- inextricably tied up with his sexual persona -- is profoundly shaken by a young woman made heartless by her own beauty.

Their sexual dynamics shift and settle with tectonic force throughout "Holy Smoke," which culminates in an extraordinarily funny and painful scene of a desperate Keitel in a red dress and lipstick.

Campion has made a weirdly wonderful movie, one that questions and finally celebrates the bizarre rituals and reversals that make us only human. -- Ann Hornaday

`Snow Day'

**1/2; PG (brief mild peril and language)

What do kids think about when school is called because of snow? Why, making sure it's canceled again tomorrow, of course.

But unlike so many who have come before, Natalie (an embracingly precocious Zena Grey) and her pals are determined to do something about it, like ensuring the dreaded snowplowman (Chris Elliott) doesn't get to all the streets.

Their mission is the central focus of "Snow Day," a trifle of a film that proves as pleasant a surprise as an unexpected snow holiday -- and just as fleeting.

Blanketed by a quick-hit storm almost no one foresaw, everyone in Syracuse is enjoying the magical nature of a snow holiday. Natalie's brother, Hal (Mark Webber), hopes it'll help him catch the eye of the prettiest girl in town; her weatherman dad (Chevy Chase, considerably less irritating than normal) believes his accurate forecast of the storm proves he's better than that vain pretty boy on the competing channel; and workaholic mom (Jean Smart) just may find out there's life beyond her cell phone.

With a uniformly likable cast (including Sissy Spacek's daughter, Schuyler Fisk, as the plucky girl who already likes Hal) and easygoing manner, "Snow Day" is a film parents can let their kids see without trepidation. Breezy and fun, it's an innocuous little wisp of a movie that pushes no limits, treads no new ground and makes no claims to greatness: it's just there. Which, in this day of overstuffed action flicks and dumbed-down "comedies," is kinda refreshing. -- Chris Kaltenbach

`The Tigger Movie'

**1/2; Rated G

It's good to know that getting his name in the title of a movie hasn't changed Winnie the Pooh's extroverted friend, Tigger. He is, after all, "bouncy, trouncy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun" and always will be.

Alas, he, or more to the point, the story of his search for more Tiggers just isn't enough to sustain "The Tigger Movie," even with the short running time.

The Sherman brothers songs are cute enough, and there are a couple of in-jokes to keep parents mildly amused, and you just have to love that Eeyore. But too many things miss -- like the casting of Jim Cummings as the voice of both Pooh and Tigger and a plot that seems stretched for the big screen.

In the end, you feel that the most wonderful thing about "The Tigger Movie" is when it gets to video release, where it probably belongs. -- Milton Kent

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