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Around the World, Take II

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The umbrella, it turns out, has magical powers. No sooner has the now-drunken Victor braved the downpour than he meets up with a pair of unusual rubbish collectors, who give Victor what he really needs: a second chance. Before he knows it, the guy finds himself transported back in time, plopped down just minutes before he confessed his infidelity to Sylvia. He chooses a different fate and, as is the way with whimsical tales, a different fate chooses him.

This British-Spanish production -- the director and screenwriter are Spanish, the film was made in London, and the leading man has a pronounced Scottish accent -- also features Spanish actress Penelope Cruz as a woman who falls for Victor as he's trying to put his life back together. But the picture's prevailing personality is that of musician and first-time screenwriter Rafa Russo, on whose real-life love affair the story is based. Russo's experience may have been heartbreaking and fascinating to him -- it always is when it happens to you -- but despite the fact that he introduces elements of magical realism, Russo hasn't made this account of failed love anything but generic.

It doesn't help that Henshall isn't a particularly compelling actor. We never understand why any of the women Victor encounters would find him appealing. (Is it just coincidence that all three of them are drop-dead gorgeous while he's a schlub?) Set in London's ethnically diverse Notting Hill neighborhood, Twice Upon a Yesterday isn't the first film in which the production design -- with interiors painted in bright mango and Caribbean yellow and exteriors reflecting the dappled, rain-swept streets -- is more interesting than the story. Rather, it's one of countless mediocre movies during which you stop paying attention to the characters and start wondering where they bought their furniture.

-- Robin Dougherty (Saturday, February 27, 9:30 p.m.)

One of the the primary precepts of any good film noir is that the movie's characters should be oblivious to the unwritten rules that dictate the conventions of their hard-boiled, black-and-white world. Crime may not pay, but the criminals aren't supposed to realize that. So having a grizzled cop read a paperback by famed noir novelist Jim Thompson is just one revealing sign that director Sebastian Gutierrez's by-the-numbers debut feature Judas Kiss seems ill-conceived. From start to finish, Gutierrez rolls out mossy cliches from virtually every bank-heist film ever made. While his intention might have been to concoct a loving tribute -- or perhaps a tongue-in-cheek send-up -- the result nonetheless is pure tedium.

The story opens with Junior (Simon Baker-Denny, from L.A. Confidential) and Coco (Carla Gugino, from Snake Eyes), a sultry pair of con artists, expressing weariness with their routine of extorting cash from philandering husbands after setting them up with compromising photos. "I'm tired of faking orgasms for pocket change!" exclaims Coco. Then the ticket to an early retirement presents itself: the kidnapping for ransom of a young Bill Gates-like computer wunderkind. From there several subplots ensue, including one with a trigger-happy hired gun, another that concerns two craggy but endearing veteran FBI agents (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in roles far beneath their talents), and a third that involves an intrigue with a vengeful U.S. senator (Hal Holbrook) that strains credulity. It all amounts to nothing you haven't already seen on any TV cop show, complete with earnestly delivered pearls of wisdom such as "Everything happens for a reason, mostly because life is fucked."

Most puzzling of all is the decision to set the film in New Orleans, a milieu the sole purpose of which seems to be to force the cast members to speak in ridiculous faux Cajun accents. Meanwhile the screenplay (by Gutierrez and Deanna Fuller) conjures none of the city's fabled sinfulness. Judas Kiss does, however, recall The Big Easy (1987), which told a similar tale of cops, robbers, and corruption with considerably more panache.

-- Brett Sokol (Saturday, February 27, midnight)

For those of us trying to piece together the reality of the various civil wars in Yugoslavia from unemotional news reports, Goran Paskaljevic's 1998 The Powder Keg is a maddeningly difficult story to navigate. The director wants to give us something more than mere headlines, but it's obvious he no longer lives in the same universe we do. From the first scene, which depicts a seemingly ordinary fender bender, we're plunged into a relentless landscape of aggression. A teen who runs a stop sign is attacked by the driver of the car he hits, who then proceeds to kick in the boy's windshield. When the kid runs away, the driver shows up at the teen's house with a friend. Together they smash the furniture and terrorize the boy's father. People's nerves, it would seem, are monstrously on edge.

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Robin Dougherty
Brett Sokol
Contact: Brett Sokol

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