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Bandito: 'Soprano' James Gandolfini excels as a hit man in 'The Mexican'

Friday, August 17, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts: Together at last.

Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini: The best thing about "THE MEXICAN" 2 1/2 stars.

"The Sopranos" star Gandolfini, in fact, has been mentioned as an early Oscar contender for his portrayal of a sensitive, philosophical hit man who kidnaps Roberts and later counsels her about her relationship with Pitt. He also opens up about his surprising personal life.

"The Mexican" stars Pitt as a chronic screw-up who is given two choices by a mob boss: He can be rolled up to his neck in carpet, stuffed in the back of a sedan, doused with gasoline and set on fire, or he can go to Mexico to retrieve an ancient pistol. He opts for Plan B, which angers his girlfriend (Roberts) who wants to move to Vegas and become a croupier.

Gandolfini kidnaps her to ensure the return of the gun, and their scenes are the heart of the movie. Oh, sure, Roberts and Pitt make a handsome couple, but they spend much of their limited time together bickering. And Pitt's character is not the sharpest tool in the drawer. Stranded in Mexico without car or cash, he tells a driver, "I need a ride in your el-trucko to the next town-o. Village-o? Pueblo?"

The hunt for the firearm becomes tiresome, especially once Gandolfini disappears from the screen. Rated R for violence and language.

Other top rentals:

"THE FAMILY MAN" 3 stars -- In yet another variation of "It's a Wonderful Life," Nicolas Cage is given a chance to see what life as a married man and father might have been like. He plays a bachelor and Wall Street wonder who is working on a $130 billion merger when he awakens (on Christmas morning, no less) in a parallel universe where he is a New Jersey husband, father, tire salesman and minivan driver. Tea Leoni, the college girlfriend he left behind, is now his wife, and Don Cheadle the angel who sets the wacky wheels in motion. Although flawed, it may be the perfect Saturday entertainment for parents who can't get a sitter or afford a blowout at the megaplex.

PG-13 for sensuality and some language.

"THE WEDDING PLANNER" 2 1/2 starts -- Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. Is this a handsome couple or what? Who cares if he's engaged to another woman and she is planning their wedding? If you've seen your share of romantic comedies, you know these kids are destined to end up together -- somehow, some day, somewhere.

PG-13 for language and some sexual humor.

"DOWN TO EARTH" 2 1/2 stars -- Heaven can wait, or so Lance Burton (Chris Rock) insists. A bike messenger who moonlights as a stand-up comedian, Lance rides into the path of a truck and is transported to heaven -- prematurely, it turns out.

He wasn't supposed to check in until 2044, which is why heavenly helper Chazz Palminteri agrees to put Lance in another body. Ready for occupancy is one belonging to Charles Wellington, a 53-year-old white guy who is the 15th-richest man in America. Lance likes living large as Wellington, especially once he begins wooing a pretty Brooklyn activist (Regina King). Although not as funny as you might expect, Rock is an appealing leading man who shines when he's behind the stage microphone or talking to the previously ill-treated household staff.

PG-13 for language, sexual humor and some drug references.

"SWEET NOVEMBER" 1 1/2 stars -- Beware of movies featuring rainbow-colored clown wigs, bubble machines and adorable dogs. This has at least one of each, and it feels as artificial as the synthetic hair. A remake of the 1968 Sandy Dennis-Anthony Newley movie, this romantic drama stars Charlize Theron as a free-spirited Californian who tells a stranger (Keanu Reeves) she meets at the DMV: "If you're brave enough to commit, I will devote myself entirely to you." She likes to remold men, often inviting a different one home each month. How retro or really stupid.

When Reeves, a hotshot ad executive, loses his job, girlfriend and company car in short order, he accepts Theron's offer to move in during November. With a fondness for scarves and shawls, she dresses like a bohemian and believes in living instead of working. They fall in love, but fate conspires to keep them from the usual happily ever after.

PG-13 for sexual themes.

"THE BROTHERS" 2 1/2 stars -- Shemar Moore, Morris Chestnut, Bill Bellamy and D.L. Hughley are successful African Americans whose friendship is put to the test when one gets engaged. Dubbed "Refusing to Exhale" by writer-director Gary Hardwick, this comedy is filled with good-looking actors and actresses, upscale locations and ribald humor.

R for strong sexual content and language.

"UNBREAKABLE" 3 stars -- Bruce Willis, in one of his most contained, interior performances, is a security guard named David Dunn who is the only survivor of a train wreck that claims 131 lives. If he has been blessed with good health, a fellow Philadelphian named Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) has been cursed with broken bones from the day he was born. The accident brings these men together, with Elijah suggesting that perhaps David is a modern superhero. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") again tosses a surprise ending our way, although he wraps up the story in whiplash fashion.

PG-13 for mature themes, some disturbing violent content and a sexual reference.

"DOUBLE TAKE" 1 1/2 stars -- A Wall Street hotshot and a street performer do the old switcheroo in this complicated and occasionally crude comedy. Orlando Jones plays an uptight businessman who must masquerade as a homeboy when he is accused of murder and forced to flee New York. Eddie Griffin plays the other half in this buddy movie.

PG-13 for violence and language.

"CAST AWAY" 3 stars -- This is the video equivalent of "Shrek." First available for rent in June, it's been hanging on all summer as other videos have come and gone. Tom Hanks is a FedEx systems engineer from Memphis who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean. He washes up on an uninhabited island where he must find (or fashion) fire, food, companionship and the will to live. It's a great performance worthy of your time.

PG-13 for intense action sequences, some disturbing images.

"HEAD OVER HEELS" 1 1/2 stars -- Monica Potter, a blond Julia Roberts lookalike and soundalike, is an Iowa native living in Manhattan and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a restorer. She literally gets weak in the knees at the sight of a Titian painting. If only real life were so swoon-worthy and romantic. Ah, but it is, once she meets Freddie Prinze Jr., who lives in a fabulous apartment across the courtyard.

In this lame romantic comedy that borrows from "Rear Window," the artist apparently witnesses Prinze committing a murder. But the cops don't believe her (she lives with supermodels, and they assume she's a no-brainer), and the body seems to have disappeared. In a very unsavory trend, "Head Over Heels" treats us to two gross bathroom scenes that lend a touch of crass. And to think America was once shocked at the sound of a toilet flushing in the Bunker household.

PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor and language.

"SAVE THE LAST DANCE" 2 1/2 stars -- Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas star in this drama about an interracial romance and the pursuit of seemingly unreachable dreams. She is a small-town girl and aspiring ballerina who loses her mother, moves to Chicago to live with her father and transfers to a nearly all-black school where she meets Thomas, a student who wants to be a pediatrician. These two have enough issues (and heart) for a couple of Showtime movies.

PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references.

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