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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

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I AM SAM (2001) (**)

There are films that people think are good that are so average that they infuriate me even more -- this is one of those films. They anger me like TV psychics anger me. They manipulate people's feelings. They pretend to be about something, but know nothing about the subject they speak about. They are frauds.

This story follows Sam (Sean Penn, DEAD MAN WALKING), a mentally challenged man who fathers a daughter named Lucy (Dakota Fanning, FATHER XMAS). Sam gets help with taking care of her from eccentric hermit Annie Cassell (Diane Wiest, LOST BOYS). Then the evil, uncaring child services come and want to take the child away. In comes big-ticket Beverly Hills lawyer Rita Harrison Williams (Michelle Pfeiffer, WITCHES OF EASTWICK), who finds Sam the perfect case to do pro bono and prove that she isn't a bloodsucking lawyer. For a time Lucy is placed with foster mother Randy Carpenter (Laura Dern, JURASSIC PARK), who seems good for the child, but is portrayed as an insensitive snob.

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MONSTER'S BALL (2001) (***1/2)

What a powerful film this is. The story is gritty, painful, honest and unflinching. The characters feel like they came from a novel. The performances from Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry are great — Berry's Oscar is well deserved.

The story follows the tragic events in the lives of Hank Grotowski (Thornton) and Leticia Musgrove (Berry), which lead up to them forming a relationship that transcends their pasts because all they really need is someone to comfort them. I simply love the way the film builds their relationship. Nothing is forced, even though their coming together means they must cross huge huddles. Hank is a cop who works death row. Leticia is the wife of Lawrence Musgrove (rapper P Diddy), a man on Death Row where Hank works with his son Sonny (Heath Ledger, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU). A lesser film would be centered on the fact that Hank keeps his connection with Leticia's husband from her, but this film is more real about it.

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OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001) (***)

This flick is the last of the major heist flicks, which included HEIST, SEXY BEAST and THE SCORE, which came out last year that I hadn't seen yet. It's more fun than THE SCORE, but not nearly as good as HEIST or SEXY BEAST.

The story follows Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who sets up a hit on three casinos almost a few seconds after he steps out of prison. Ocean's crew of 11 crooks is littered with quirky characters who swing for the fences with fun characterizations. Julia Roberts plays Ocean's ex-wife, Tess, who we find out is married to Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man who owns the casinos Ocean is planning to hit. The scene where Ocean meets his ex in the restaurant contains some of the best dialogue that I've heard in a long time. It reminded me of the cool lines in many of the 1930s screwball comedies and film noirs.

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ROSE RED (2002) (***1/2)

If you didn't catch this TV mini-series when it was on TV, you need to catch this on video. Written by Stephen King, this mini-series is one of the better King horror adaptations in quite some time. The longer format allows enough time to build real tension and develop a great myth surrounding the central haunted house.

The story follows a group of psychics who are brought together by psychiatrist Dr. Joyce Reardon (Nancy Reardon, CHAPLIN) to awaken a long dormant haunted house called Rose Red. Steven Rimbauer (Matt Keeslar, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN) is a telepath who is the owner of the house, a descendent of Ellen Rimbauer (Julia Campbell, 2000's BOUNCE), the original cursed owner of the house where she lived with her abusive oil tycoon husband John (John Procaccino) and African maid Sukeena (Tsidii Leloka), who may all still be haunting the large estate.

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SPIDER-MAN (2002) (***1/2)

This flick ranks up there with SUPERMAN, Tim Burton's BATMAN and X-MEN as one of the best comic book flicks of all-time. The film does total justice to the character of Spider-Man and has a perfect balance of character development and action.

In the beginning, we find Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, THE ICE STORM), a high school nerd who gets picked on constantly. With his parents dead, he lives with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robinson, CHARLY). He adores his pretty and popular next-door neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE). His only friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco, TV's JAMES DEAN), the troubled slacker son of scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe, PLATOON), who is developing high tech weaponry and a super strength serum for the military.

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MAGNOLIA (1999) (****)

I've recommended this film to many people before, but this review is more of a reaction to someone I know saying the film was pointless. I beg to differ. The key element that makes this film wonderful is that it can't be locked down into a one-sentence description. You couldn't even say what it's about in one sentence really. It works as a character piece and a meditation on the complexity of life. Director Paul Thomas Anderson was asked what the message of the film was and he said, "To be good to your kids." The film tackles loss, regret and forgiveness. What each character, and there are lots of them, is going through is paralleled by another character.

John C. Reilly (PERFECT STORM, WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) plays a hopelessly good-hearted cop named Jim Kurring, who desperately tries to help (and get a date) with self-destructive drug addict Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters, BOOGIE NIGHTS). Claudia struggles with the pain of her abusive father Jimmy Gator, (Philip Baker Hall, BOOGIE NIGHTS), who works as a host of a TV game show. The producer of the game show, Big Earl (Jason Robards), struggles with his guilt over mental abusing his son Frank (Tom Cruise), who has become a misogynistic dating guru. Julianne Moore plays Robards second-wife Linda, who struggles with her infidelity, which parallels her husband cheating on Frank's mother. Philip Seymour Hoffman (FLAWLESS, PATCH ADAMS) plays a good-hearted nurse named Phil who tries to reunite Big Earl with his son. William H. Macy plays former TV show whiz kid, Donnie Smith, who can barely pay his rent. Jeremy Blackman plays inquisitive young quiz kid Stanley on Jimmy's program, who father Rick (Michael Bowen, JACKIE BROWN) is a tyrant who drives his son deeper and deeper into his own shell.

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TRAINING DAY (2001) (***1/2)

Did Denzel give the best performance of the year? Out of the nominees, the only other one I have seen so far was Russell Crowe in A BEAUTIFUL MIND. And it's hard to say if one performance was better than the other. Both performances hold their films together. Washington adds so much believability to the role as the corrupt cop that you tend to side with his evil philosophy from time to time. The devil is a persuasive creature.

Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, DEAD POETS SOCIETY) is a rookie working uncover for the first time. His mentor on his first day is Alonzo Harris (Washington). Trial by fire doesn't quite capture the full extent of Jake's initiation. Alonzo is the meanest, dirtiest and most crooked cop in all of Los Angeles. Or is he just playing the rookie to see how he'll react? Or could it be all of the above?

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MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) (****)

This film quickly moved into third place on my top ten list after watching what I feel is David Lynch's best "dream state" movie yet. Personally ELEPHANT MAN will always be my favorite from him, but this is a very close second. For creative people, this is one of those films that really gets the creative juices flowing, because it's working outside convention at every step and inspires with its creativity.

Rita (Laura Elena Harring, THE FORBIDDEN DANCE) escapes her own murder by driving her car off the windy roads on Mulholland Dr. The crash leaves her with no memories. She finds her way to an abandoned apartment where she meets Betty (Naomi Watts, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), a fledgling actress literally straight off the bus. They travel around L.A. trying to discover Rita's identity. The twisted tale involves a famous director, mobsters, a cowboy and an actress named Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George, DARK CITY).

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) (***1/2)

This cult film is so freakin' cool. It's John Carpenter's first full-fledged theatrical feature, which he produced soon after film school and right before HALLOWEEN. The plot is simple; a small group of cops and convicts get surrounded by a multi-racial bloodthirsty gang in an abandoned police station.

Inspired by John Ford's RIO BRAVO, attacking Indians are replaced with gang members. After cops kill six members of their gang, the Street Thunder leaders make a pact to wage war on the cops and citizen of Los Angeles. It's New Year's Eve and only a skeleton crew is working Precinct 9, Division 13 station, which is set to close. Newly promoted Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker, TV's ROOTS) is given the glamorous duty of babysitting the station over the holiday. His only company is officer Chaney (Henry Brandon, THE SEARCHERS) and secretaries Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis, HALLOWEEN). Meanwhile, officer Starker (Charles Cyphers, COMING HOME) is transferring three prisoners to a new prison when one gets violently sick. So he orders the bus to stop at Bishop's station. One of those prisoners happens to be notorious killer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston, THE FOG). As the gang lays siege on the jail, cops must team with criminals to saves their lives.

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THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS (2001) (***1/2)

I must admit I have not read the book, so I can't comment on its adherence to the novel. But as a straight fantasy adventure film it's wonderful. The epic scope of the visuals is amazing, breathtaking. George Lucas was so right when he said we are in a time of filmmaking where any image or idea is possible.

The tale begins in the land of the hobbits, a small race that live simple lives. Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, THE SWEET HEREAFTER) has held onto for years a magical ring that holds great power. He hands over the responsibility to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood, THE ICE STORM), who has always been curious about his uncle's adventures. Once, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, X-MEN) discovers the hobbits possess the One Ring, he travels to see Saruman (Christopher Lee, ATTACK OF THE CLONES), the leader of his order, to find out what should be done next. Now an agent of the evil Sauron, Saruman imprisons Gandalf and sends ringwraiths to kill Frodo and take the ring so Sauron can rule the world.

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THE COLOR OF PARADISE (2000) (***1/2)

Right now there is a renaissance of sorts going on in Iran. As the country becomes more liberal and moves closer to democracy, art is peaking, especially film. Some of the most successful films of late at international film fests have been Iranian. Majid Majidi, director of this film, was nominated for an Oscar for his CHILDREN OF HEAVEN in 1998, the only Iranian filmmaker to ever receive an Academy Award nod. For COLOR OF PARADISE, the simple story about a blind boy and his family is so tender and absorbing that it grips you from the first frame to the last.

The widowed father is searching for a new wife from a rich family and wants a way of "ridding" himself of the burden of his blind eight-year-old son. Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani), the blind boy, is full of life and likes learning at the school for the blind the same things seeing children learn. Mohammad is not completely unloved, cared for by his grandmother (Salameh Feyzi), his older sister (Farahnaz Safari) and younger sister (Elham Sharifi). His father Hashem (Hossein Mahjoub) finally finds the boy an apprenticeship with a blind carpenter. While the opportunity looks good for Hashem, he underestimates what his son can do, and more so doesn't care what he wants.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (2001) (***1/2)

One of the most important things about making a great fantasy/sci-fi film is the creation of the world. That's why HARRY POTTER is so great. The world is rich and borrows a lot from various Greek myths and wizard and witch tales, but finds a way to make it feel refreshingly original.

The story begins with young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) living under the stairs of his mean aunt and uncle's house. On a visit to the zoo, we learn that Harry has strange abilities that he does not understand. Then the owls arrive, carrying letters inviting Harry to come study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, his uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths, WITHNAIL & I) wants nothing to do with all this embarrassing witches and wizards hoopla. So the family runs to the countryside, but they can't hide from magic — arriving for Harry is the kind giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, FROM HELL), who takes Harry into a marvelous world that exists in the shadows of the human world.

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EVIL DEAD 2 (1987) (***1/2)

This film isn't really a sequel to the first EVIL DEAD, but more of a re-envisioning of it. EVIL DEAD 2 takes parts of the original and re-works them with much more success. The story is tighter and moves further away from just lining up teenagers to be killed. This film works wonderfully as a subtle satire of slasher and horror films. This is the film that EVIL DEAD wanted to be.

The story follows Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) as they take a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods. Turns out, the location is the place where a scientist unleashed the demons of the Book of the Dead. As Ash battles the evil spirits, the scientist's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her research partner Ed (Richard Domeier, DIE HARD 2), redneck Jake (Dan Hicks, DARKMAN) and Jake's girl Bobby Joe (Kassie DePaiva, TV's GUIDING LIGHT) venture out to the cabin, which is now cut off from its main entrance/exit. When they find Ash he has been nearly driven insane by the demons. To free themselves, they must find the pieces of an incantation and recite it before the evil spirits kill them all.

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MONSTERS INC. (2001) (***1/2)

Pixar hasn't made a bad film yet (TOY STORY & A BUG'S LIFE). In my opinion MONSTERS INC. isn't as good as the TOY STORYs, but isn't too far behind. Directors Pete Docter, David Silverman and Lee Unkrich have taken the common childhood fear of monsters in the closet and created a wonderful world around the idea.

The story follows the life of Monsteropolis, where all the things that go bump in the night live. The monsters sneak into the human world through children's closets to collect kids' screams, the source of power in their world. Sulley (John Goodman, TV's ROSEANNE) is the top scarer, but his world goes haywire when he discovers a little human girl named Boo has wandered into the monster world after him. The monsters believe that the children will contaminate their land. So along with his best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal, CITY SLICKERS) they try to keep the little one from Sulley's rival Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, DESPERADO), who would love nothing more than to humiliate the top scarer.

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SHREK (2001) (****)

The 3-D films coming out of Pixar and PDI/DreamWorks are so good that it makes other films look like they're just radio programs. The animation is breathtaking. At moments, you'd think they used puppets. This film works wonderfully as an irreverent satire of fairy tales and Disney's corporate rendering of those tales. Smaller kids won't get all the in-jokes, but adults will be in stitches. It takes every Disney cliché and smashes it.

The film follows the adventures of an ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers, AUSTEN POWERS), who makes a deal with the diminutive Prince Farquaad (John Lithgow, TV's 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN) to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz, THE MASK) in return for regaining his swamp back from the rest of the fairy tale creatures, who have been kicked out of the kingdom of Far Far Away. Along the way, Shrek will meet up with the very talkative Donkey (Eddie Murphy, MULAN), who has the exact opposite personality as the sarcastic and grumpy ogre. However, when Shrek shows up to rescue the princess trapped in the tower, she is less than impressed by her not-quite dashing savior.

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CUJO (1983) (***1/2)

I saw this when I was a kid and just re-watched it. It's just as scary as I remember. It's a slow build, but it's totally worth the wait. The moments with the dog are terrifying. The main reason the film works is that anyone can relate to the situation. Everyone has had a mean looking, giant dog bark at them in an angry way. Take that situation and turn it up a million degrees and you get this film.

Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace, E.T.) has moved to a small town in Maine with her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly, TV's RYAN'S HOPE) and young son Tad (Danny Pintauro, TV's WHO'S THE BOSS?). She dreads her new situation, fearing that her life will be painfully boring. Tad has fears of the bogeyman lurking in his closet. While Vic is away on a business trip, Donna takes her Ford Pinto to the farm of Joe Camber (Ed Lauter, SEABISCUIT) for repairs. However, Joe has already been killed by his rabid dog Cujo. Now Donna and Tad find themselves under siege over a sweltering three-day period trapped in their now inoperable car without food and water.

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GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI (2000) (****)

This film has been out for awhile and I've seen it three times already, but after re-watching it again I wanted to make sure that everyone knows how much I love this film. Films this good and original don't come along that often. The term cult film best suits this unusual genre tale of rap and the way of the samurai. Oh, and don't forget the Italian mob.

The film follows Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker, THE CRYING GAME), a hit man, who lives by the ancient code of the samurai. As a teen, the gangster Louie (John Tormey, GAME 6) saved Ghost Dog from some thugs and the African American man has vowed his life to the Italian American mobster. Ghost Dog's best friend, Raymond (Isaach DeBankole, CASINO ROYALE) is an ice cream man, who only speaks French and Ghost Dog only speaks English. The kind-eyed assassin develops a sweet friendship with a young girl named Pearline (Camille Winbush, TV's THE BERNIE MAC SHOW). Ghost Dog is cool, calculated and ingenious when he's doing his work. But he believes in his code of honor to the end, whether it will lead to his death or not.

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BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961) (***1/2)

If romantic comedies were more like this one, I'd have to re-think my general opinion of the genre. Director Blake Edwards, working from George Axelrod's Oscar-nominated adaptation of Truman Capote's novel, is witty and nuanced. Led by an effervescent performance from Audrey Hepburn, the film is light as air and still has meat on its bones.

The story follows the eccentric New York playgirl Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, SABRINA) as she sets her sights on marrying a millionaire. She has Brazilian Jose da Silva Pereira (Jose Luis de Villalonga, DARLING) and American Rusty Trawler (Stanley Adams, TV's THE TWILIGHT ZONE) on short leashes, while she's getting paid $100 an hour to visit Sing Sing and talk to gangster Sally Tomato (Alan Reed, TV's THE FLINTSTONES). George Peppard (A-TEAM leader Hannibal Smith) plays Holly's new next-door neighbor, Paul Varjak, a writer who's being "sponsored" by a wealthy older woman named Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal, THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES), who is referred to throughout the film as 2-E.

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THE TERRORIST (2000) (****)

Here's another film that you'll probably have to search out to find, but it's worth the hunt. It's from India (which is the main reason it's hard to find) and follows the journey of a pretty young girl, who has been chosen to be a human bomb to assassinate a VIP. Made prior to September 11th, the film has only increased in importance as a window into the mind of someone who is willing to kill themselves in an effort to murder others. Though inspired by the assassination of the Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 by Tamil Tigers, there is no country, religion or political preference mentioned in the film, which makes the story very universal. Reminding us that terrorism is an act not solely used by Muslim extremists.

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FROM HELL (2001) (***1/2)

FROM HELL, based on a graphic novel (i.e. a big fancy name for a big fancy comic book), follows London investigator Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) as he tracks down Jack the Ripper. The plot is pretty much a standard thriller, but the direction and style make it something that I loved. The mood and look reminded me of Tim Burton's SLEEPY HOLLOW, which was another standard thriller that rose above its script because of its performances and design.

This flick was directed by the Hughes Brothers (MENACE II SOCIETY, DEAD PRESIDENTS) with the passion of two guys who have read every little fact and theory about Jack the Ripper. My favorite part of the film is its desire to be detailed about its era. It weaves in all the seedy and current events of 1888 England, including Buffalo Bill's Wild West Shows and John Merrick, the Elephant Man. The story also mixes "real life" characters and theories with literary influences — Abberline and Godley aren't far off from Holmes and Watson.

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BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY (2001) (***1/2)

Helen Fielding adapts her own novel, which was inspired by Jane Austen's PRIDE & PREJUDICE. I guess in some way all love stories since Jane Austen have been influenced by Jane Austen. Some fans of Fielding's book grumbled when hot American starlet Renee Zellweger was cast in the very British role. But she truly makes the character her own. She becomes Bridget Jones and we love her for it.

Zellweger plays the chucky British gal, who is desperately looking for Mr. Right, with pluck and no shame. Bridget makes a New Year's resolution that she will get her life into order through moderation. Less smoking, less drinking, less eating, more snogging. Zellweger is wonderfully backed up by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Grant plays her dashing co-worker Daniel Cleaver, who we know from the start is a cad; but it's Hugh Grant so he's too charming to ignore. Bridget meets Firth's Mark Darcy at a Christmas party, one in which he so desperately wants to leave. He seems like a boring snob, so we know Bridget is destined to be with him, because you shouldn't judge a book by its hideous Christmas sweater, and if you know Austen then you know his last name is a clue.

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SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941) (***)

Considered by many as a comedy classic, I found it a bit dated. Film buffs might just want to check it out because of its place in history and others might just want to watch it for Veronica Lake. This slapstick film follows a movie director who is tired of making comedies and wants to make a social message film (which were very popular in the 1930s when this film was made). Due to his privileged life, he decides to head out into the world with 10 cents in his pocket to find trouble. However, the studio determines he's too valuable and sends a busload of people out after him to make sure that he doesn't get himself killed. His adventures often lead back to Hollywood and at the moment when he decides to give up is when he really learns about hardship. It is considered the film that justifies the existence of slapstick in general; making the point that laughter is all that some people have. If you like films with witty banter and people falling down a lot then this is a film for you.

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MEMENTO (2000) (***1/2)

This is a film for fans of unpredictable films like THE USUAL SUSPECTS and SIXTH SENSE. The most interesting thing about the film is that it runs backwards. You see the end of the film first and then it jumps back fifteen minutes runs forward then jumps back in time before the moment you just watched. This isn't just an exercise in style, but also fits the plot brilliantly.

The film follows Leonard (Guy Pearce, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), who has lost the ability to make new memories. He can't remember what happened 15 minutes prior. However, every memory before his wife was killed and he was hit in the head is still there. He races around trying to find the man who killed his wife. If he doesn't write things down (or tattoo them to his body), he will forget them soon after, even friends Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX) and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano, BOUND). But when you can't remember who these people are, can you really trust them?

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JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001) (***)

This is a film for fans of director Kevin Smith. Taking the lowbrow MALLRATS approach, Smith crafts one big in-joke for film geeks. He spoofs his own movies as well as Hollywood in general. It's part road movie, part stoner flick, part action movie, and all comedy. How much you laugh really depends on you.

The film follows the adventures of Smith's dimwitted team of Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Smith, respectively. Jason Lee's Banky Edwards from Smith's CHASING AMY shows up to tell the hetero life partners that the comic book he created based on them is being turned into a movie. So the twosome race across the country in an attempt to stop Miramax from making the film based on their comic book alter egos, Bluntman and Chronic. Their trip is a meandering one where they partner with four hot female animal rights activists into a monkey-kidnapping attempt. Justice (Shannon Elizabeth, AMERICAN PIE) has a soft spot for the duo, but her partners Sissy (Eliza Dushku, BRING IT ON), Chrissy (Ali Larter, LEGALLY BLONDE), and Missy (Jennifer Schwalbach aka Mrs. Kevin Smith) just want to play Jay and Bob for bigger idiots than they are.

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