Kevin Spacey in K-PAXK-PAX

Kevin Spacey has made a career out of being snidely patronizing, of being the smartest person in the room, and that's what I adore about him; he patently refuses to be lovable, and his wicked intelligence and dry-as-sandpaper line readings give a snap to just about every role he plays. (That's why his performance as the physically and emotionally scarred teacher in last year's imbecilic tearjerker Pay It Forward was so disappointing; he's not built for sentiment, and his presence in that mopey role merely exposed the film's schmaltziness.) I guess it was inevitable that Spacey, who always comes off as knowing more than we do, would one day play an alien (or is he?) who arrives on Earth to teach us all lessons about life and love that we can't figure out for ourselves. And so we have K-PAX, which had the potential to be excruciating but, as directed by Iain Softley and performed by a marvelous cast led by Spacey and Jeff Bridges, turns out to be thoroughly engaging; it's a case study in how the right director and performers can redeem mostly worthless material.

Johnny Depp in From HellFROM HELL

You can be forgiven for assuming that From Hell, Allen and Albert Hughes' re-telling of the Jack the Ripper saga (based on the immensely popular graphic novel), is a follow-up to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, what with its previews focusing on a shadowy murderer, lots of fog and mist, Johnny Depp's investigator speaking in a British accent (Cockney this time), and Heather Graham in the Christina Ricci role of the Corseted Love Interest.

Denzel Washington in Training DayTRAINING DAY

In Training Day, Denzel Washington plays a character so far against type - a ruthless, volatile inner-city detective who just might be a sociopath - that the movie's opening 30 minutes give you a bit of a charge; you're willing to give this umpteenth good-cop/bad-cop tale the benefit of the doubt for the chance to see Washington showboat in a larger-than-life villain role.

ZOOLANDER

Those of us who've been waiting, in film after film, for Ben Stiller to hit the comedic peaks he reached on his short-lived TV series The Ben Stiller Show might find Zoolander pretty irresistible.

Anton Yelchin and Hope Davis in Hearts in AtlantisHEARTS IN ATLANTIS

Given current events, are audiences now so hungry for nostalgic, nonthreatening entertainment that they'll happily accept something as profoundly awful as Hearts in Atlantis? If so, you certainly can't blame them, but Lord knows they deserve better than this mawkish Stephen King adaptation, a gooey and incoherent fable that gets more maddening as it progresses. I have friends who swear by the greatness of King's novel (unread by me), but the film version comes off as a mixture of the feyest aspects of the mostly terrific Stand by Me (based on King's novella The Body) and the metaphysical hokiness of King's The Green Mile. It proves to be a nearly unbearable combination, and yet something tells me that this wimpy, unfocused film could turn into a big hit among those who believe, as its author apparently does, that America died right about the time King turned 13.

Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman in Startup.comSTARTUP.COM, WIT, and 61*

I had the good fortune to view three sensational 2001 releases last week, but as you might imagine, none of them is playing at your local movie theatre. The Warner Bros. and Touchstone studios showed welcome tact by delaying the premieres of Training Day and Big Trouble, initially scheduled for release on September 21, in light of the tragic events of September 11; apparently, both films feature subplots that, in our current national climate, might be inappropriate for mass consumption. (One of the plotlines in Big Trouble, for example, deals with the impending detonation of a nuclear device.) Good for Hollywood, I say, and I hope they feel free to forever shelve any movie where explosions could legitimately be billed as featured characters. Will any of us feel the desire to watch the destructive, slow-motion set-pieces in something like Die Hard or Independence Day ever again? Should we ever have wanted to in the first place?

Leelee Sobieski in The Glass HouseTHE GLASS HOUSE

The domestic thriller The Glass House is obvious and over-the-top from the word go, and that's what I liked about it. It takes true chutzpah to pull off a movie with visuals this baroque and plotting this convoluted; it might be the most trashily enjoyable work of its kind since 1997's The Devil's Advocate. Like that Al Pacino craptacular, The Glass House has no higher agenda than showing audiences, in horror-flick form, the luridness behind ultra-rich "perfection," and it's so up-front about its limited ambitions, and so earnestly performed by its top-tier cast, that you can easily lean back and enjoy it for the stylish dreck it is. Is it a good movie? Nah. An entertaining one? Hell, yes.

Jennifer Aniston and Mark Wahlberg in Rock StarROCK STAR and THE MUSKETEER

If you were to guess based solely on their previews, you'd probably imagine Stephen Herek's Rock Star to be a kitschy, affectionate look at heavy metal in the '80s - like This Is Spinal Tap played straight - and Peter Hyams' The Musketeer to be a brisk reinterpretation of the Alexandre Dumas classic with a martial-arts bent - Crouching Tiger, Hidden D'Artagnan.

Mekhi Phifer in OO

We've had so many reinterpretations of Shakespeare's classics in recent years, and so many that have been surprisingly fine (I'm thinking of 10 Things I Hate About You, the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, and the genre's standard-bearer, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet), that you're inclined to give O, which sets Othello in the world of high-school basketball, the benefit of the doubt.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in Jay & Silent Bob Strike BackJAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK

Kevin Smith's Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, the fifth and reportedly final installment in his View Askewniverse series, is less a movie than a live-action thank-you note to his fans.

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