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City Limits

That sound you hear is the stampeding feet of millions of pubescent and pre-pubescent girls, racing to movie theaters this weekend to catch sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen in their first feature film since 1995's It Takes Two. The Olsen twins began their acting careers at the age of nine months when they were cast in Full House, one of television's most enduring "cute kid" sitcoms. Over the years, they've starred in a wildly popular series of direct-to-video movies, and they launched a fashion and entertainment empire that earns more money annually than the gross national product of some countries. Now 17, these still adorable, blond, green-eyed actresses, pop culture icons, and industry mogulettes have finally returned to the big screen.

A high-energy action comedy, New York Minute finds the twins playing . . . what else, twins. Ashley is Jane Ryan, a rigidly organized, detail-oriented overachiever who is an exemplary student, president of her high school class, and lead cheerleader, with dreams of attending England's Oxford University. Her sister Roxy (Mary-Kate) couldn't be more different, from her grungy (but still clean) attire to her rebellious nature to her total lack of interest in school. The drummer in a rock band, Roxy has cut classes so often that she heads the "Ten Most Wanted" list compiled by overly zealous truant officer Max Lomax (Eugene Levy).

New York Minute opens with a nervous Jane heading to Columbia University to give a speech that, with luck, will earn her a scholarship to Oxford. Roxy, meanwhile, is skipping school to attend a music video shoot in downtown Manhattan (the Canadian band Simple Plan appears as itself), at which she hopes to slip a demo tape to the A&R team accompanying the band. The sisters find themselves on the same commuter train heading into the city, unaware that Lomax is hot on Roxy's trail.

Once close, Jane and Roxy have grown further and further apart -- a situation that distresses their father, Dr. Ryan (Dr. Drew Pinsky), who has been sole parent since the girls' mother died seven years ago. In no time, Roxy gets both sisters kicked off the train. The only upside is that Jane stumbles into a cute bicycle messenger (Riley Smith) as she disembarks.

It's just the start of an extraordinary day. In quick succession, the girls find themselves pursued by members of a nefarious music piracy operation (one of whose members slips a microchip into Jane's purse at the train station); repeatedly being kidnapped by an ostensible limousine driver (in reality, a member of the black-market gang); breaking into the hotel room of a visiting U.S. Senator (whose cute son, played by Jared Padalecki, becomes smitten with Roxy); baby-sitting the Senator's dog, who has inadvertently swallowed the microchip the music pirates want; eluding both Lomax and the music pirates (escaping at one point through the sewer system); trying to retrieve Jane's day-planner, which contains her notes for her big speech; and getting Jane to Columbia in time to give her speech. Through it all, the girls remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed if, at times, appropriately bedraggled looking.

Neither the energy level nor the action ever flags. A variety of characters wend their way through the film, appearing and reappearing before their true significance to the story is revealed. It will come as no surprise to anybody in the audience that through their shared adventures that day, the sisters realize how much they mean to each other.

Mary-Kate and Ashley get into some fairly sophisticated and unsavory situations (whose bad idea was it to momentarily drape them in nothing but a towel and a bathrobe while racing through the streets of New York?), but they easily outwit the bad guys and never find themselves in any serious danger. Overly broad and silly at times, the film also has an "important" message to pass along to its young viewers. A sequence involving a Harlem beauty salon (Hairspray Broadway cast member Mary Bond Davis is cast as the shop owner) is a little uncomfortably stereotypical, but no more so than some of the scenes in the Barbershop and Next Friday movies.

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Jean Oppenheimer

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