LOVE AND A BULLET-- Malik Bishop (Treach) lives the gangsta life. He's a hard thug who steps up to the challenge of joining a crew of professional killers. The money, clothes and action he enjoys are straight-up hardcore. When Bishop develops feelings for a female contract killer and his boss' girlfriend who just might be his next target, it's time for him to give up the gangsta life before he loses his. Love And A Bullet could easily be mistaken for a hardcore Hip Hop track where the best raps are nothing more than the voiceovers of B-movies that play on late night TV. First-time writer/directors Michael McCants and Ben Ramsey try to poke fun at gritty "hood" dramas by flashing plenty of Matrix-style wire-fu effects and showing hired killers going through whole gun clips without hitting a damned thing.
CityBeat grade: D
POSSESSION-- Possession is an intelligent and zesty romance that flits from present-day London to 19th-century England. A.S. Byatt's novel tweaked the boundaries of fiction with its collection of letters, diaries and fairy-tale stories. Director Neil LaBute's Possession is more straighfoward, but no less satisfying. American scholar Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) and English professor Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) uncover a secret love affair between Victorian poets Randolph Ash and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known fairy poetess. A stack of hidden love letters sends them on their academic journey. Along the way, they will uncover their own long-repressed feelings about love, life and relationships. The backstabbing world of academic research comes alive with plenty of verve to spare but LaBute saves his best moments for the romance. As a result, a classic novel becomes the source material for one of the most heartfelt screen romances in a very long time. -- SR (Rated PG-13.)
CityBeat grade: A
SERVING SARA-- The great Friends movie experiment continues. The cast members from the hit show have tried to break away from their NBC alter-egos by dabbling in the film business. More times than not, they've failed. Chalk Serving Sara up as another poor showing. It's not that the film itself is bad, although it's certainly not great. It's just that Matthew Perry (as Joe Tyler) never is able to lose his TV character's well-known Chandler-isms. Playing a scummy process server, Perry still softens the hard edges and makes the guy too likeable too early. Elizabeth Hurley plays his target-turned-accomplice Sara Moore, adding little to the film's conventional revenge plot. Director Reginald Hudlin (The Ladies Man) spends a little too much time on the lowbrow humor and hangs on to the intercalary scenes with Cedric the Entertainer a tad too long. Otherwise, the movie moves pretty well and offers a few good laughs. -- Rodger Pille (Rated PG-13.)
CityBeat grade: C
UNDERGROUND ZERO-- Shortly after the terrorist attacks, filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi solicited work from some 150 experimental and documentary artists. Out of these programs, Rosenblatt and Zahedi created Underground Zero, a two-part compilation of the assembled film work. Underground Zero Program One is the first presentation in the Cincinnati Film Society's From the Ashes: Cinematic Responses to Sept. 11 series. Over the next four weeks, a series of cinematic responses to Sept. 11 will bring light to the new technologies in filming and editing that make films like Underground Zero possible. 7 p.m. Sept. 4 at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Use the Dewitt (back) entrance. The program is presented by the Cincinnati Film Societ -- SR (Rated Unrated.)
CityBeat grade: B