The Missing

dir. Ron Howard

Opens Wed Nov 26

Various Theaters

The fact that The Missing is directed by Ron Howard should be a tip-off that it isn't the supernatural and eerie tale promised by the ubiquitous advertisements. Like a brand name that connotes banality, Howard's movies have typically been empty, emotionally superficial and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Howard seems to have a knack for identifying potentially epic narratives, as well as attracting quality actors to these stories. He then fills these promising movies with about as much gravity and emotional weight as a helium balloon.

Set in 1885 New Mexico, The Missing starts with intriguing promise. Maggie (played by the forceful Cate Blanchett) is a single mom raising two daughters. When her eldest sets out to town one day, she is abducted by an evil shaman and his lawless pack of Navajo Indians, who plan to sell her and several other fetching frontier teens in Mexico. With the Calvary and the sheriff unable to help out, Maggie, along with her long-absent father (Tommy Lee Jones), take off after the kidnappers.

What could have been friction between frontier families and Indians, between Christianity and witchcraft, instead turns into long, drawn-out galloping scenes and achingly empty conversations between Maggie and her desperado father. PHIL BUSSE


dir. Donner

Opens Wed Nov 26

Various Theaters

Timeline, the latest product from the Michael Crichton franchise Books for the Screen Inc., follows a group of nerdy archeologists as they travel back in time to save their leader, who has been stranded in 14th- Century France just as the Frenchies are waging bitter feudal war against the English. No, this ridiculous scenario can't be plausibly explained, but Timeline sure tries, concocting a typical blend of mad scientists and wormholes with so many logical plot holes it could drive the physicist in you nuts.

The action sequences between bloodthirsty Medieval knights and Timeline's hapless gang of modern-geek heroes had the potential to balance things out but, directed by the normally reliable Richard Donner, they are instead lifeless and derivative. All the time and energy on this project seems to have been invested in the pitiful sci-fi details, when it should have been spent primarily on making a rousing, silly action/adventure flick. Timeline believes it actually has something interesting to say, yet also revels in blockbuster stupidity. It's a fatal combination, capped off by one of the more ludicrous onscreen romances in recent memory: the lovely British sophisticate Frances O' Connor, and the vapid, humorless, self-absorbed surfer dude Paul Walker (of The Fast and the Furious), who I truly hope never works in show business again. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS


dir. Stickler

Opens Fri Nov 21

Cinema 21

Mark "Gator" Anthony Rogowski was perhaps the most graceful vertical skater who ever lived. Thanks to his fearless talent on the half-pipe, in a manner of years, Gator progressed from breaking into backyards in order to skate pools, to representing Vision Street Wear, guesting on Club MTV with Downtown Julie Brown, and hanging out with Cindy Crawford. Essentially, he was skateboarding's first national hero, a charismatic, caustic fellow who loved the limelight almost as much as he loved to skate. These days, however, Gator's notoriety comes from darker avenues: in 1991, angry and lost from his decrease in popularity, he raped and murdered Jessica Bergston, the best friend of his former fiancée.

Stoked! tells Gator's story, and through it, the story of skateboarding in America, as it grew from a small regional subculture to a fully marketable national pastime, complete with skaters tantamount to rock stars, essentially, such as Gator, Tony Hawk, and Lance Mountain. It follows the early life of Gator, a cocky and talented youth sponsored by the time he was 17, making millions of dollars as the face of Vision--the first identifiable brand name devoted to skating that signified skate punk culture. Eventually, however, as street skating became popular and vert eased out of fashion, Gator felt himself washing up. Footage shows Gator's attempts at street--dude can barely even ollie a curb. Unable to keep up with the new style, Gator became a wash-up by age 21.

Interviews with the aforementioned skaters, Jason Jessee, Shepard Fairey, Gator's former fiancée Brandi McClain, and others paint a complete and fascinating oral history of skateboarding's progression in the mid-'80s. Surprisingly and perhaps disturbingly, little time is devoted to Gator's heinous crime, however, and Gator almost ends up coming off as the victim in the situation (due in part to continuous audio commentary from the imprisoned Gator himself). Gator, a victim of the commercialization of skating, a victim of the exploits of fame? He murdered a woman, and I ain't buyin' it. But the skate footage is fucking awesome. JULIANNE SHEPHERD