An American Rhapsody (Paramount, 2001) stars Tony...

January 24, 2002

An American Rhapsody (Paramount, 2001) stars Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski as cultured Budapest parents who leave their infant daughter behind when they flee Stalinist Hungary in 1951 and aren't reunited with her until she is 6. By then, she has bonded indelibly with her Hungarian peasant guardians. Writer-director Eva Gardos is telling an autobiographical story, so you hope for the equivalent of a successful hypnosis - one that brings back, all at once, tactile details, psychological insights and the aura of a just-past era. Disappointingly, this picture provides little of that. Too often, Gardos seems to be musing on celluloid rather than reliving with blistering immediacy her traumas and catharses. (Michael Sragow) PG-13 103 minutes **

Kiss of the Dragon(Fox, 2001) doesn't refer to a buss on the lips; it's something far more sinister. Yet Jet Li as a Chinese super-cop pitted against a corrupt French inspector, and Bridget Fonda as the junkie streetwalker who helps him, bring the action an emotional thread that winds through the back alleys and boulevards of Paris. The spectacular choreography, worked out with action specialist Cory Yuen, enables you to see how the compact, concentrated Li can turn his opponents' looming physiques into targeted geometric maps and attack them square by square - or occasionally to bend, fold and mutilate them. (Michael Sragow) R 98 minutes ***

Rat Race (Paramount, 2001) features slapstick on the Punch-and-Judy level, while substituting a low-comedy high concept for the scene-to-scene precision of classic farce. The characters race from Las Vegas to Silver City, N.M., to claim a $2 million jackpot. They are unwitting players in a bigger game: Gambling impresario John Cleese has gathered the world's wealthiest men to bet on who will win. You lose count of the bonked heads and not-so-funny faces, and even of the number of times a body gets slammed against cows. The final credit announces that only humans, not animals, were harmed in the making of this film. I hope that line doesn't refer to the actors' reputations. (Michael Sragow) PG-13 102 minutes * 1/2

Rock Star (Warner, 2001) is an inept moral fable about glad rags and sad riches. Set in the mid-'80s, it centers on a heavy-metal super-fan (Mark Wahlberg) who catapults to black-leather Olympus as the lead singer for his favorite group. Gradually, he learns that their music is nothing but hard-driving hype; he realizes he'd rather live with his righteous girlfriend (Jennifer Anniston) and become a writer and singer of heartfelt songs. The picture's real-life hook comes from the story of Ripper Owens taking over for his role model, Rob Halford, in Judas Priest. But the movie is a semi-raunchy rehash of every happy-faced Hollywood fable that instructs people to follow their dreams but first make sure they're the right dreams. (Michael Sragow) R 106 minutes * 1/2

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