Gas-powered vehicle 

Genius Products

To gauge how far the Weinstein brothers' star has fallen, look no further than 2002's Thunderpants, a noxious direct-to-DVD "family film" that the men who made Miramax decided to distribute. Thunderpants' four-years-later release seems arbitrary, except that it was the acting debut of Rupert Grint, who is currently appearing in multiplexes everywhere in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Grint plays Alan, the brainy best friend to Patrick Smash (Bruce Cook), a boy blessed with the "gift" of being unable to stop farting. Ostracized at school and home and with a pipe dream of becoming an astronaut, Patrick is down in the dumps until he realizes his farts are magical, giving him the ability to fly. Assisted by the titular pants (a gas-catching mechanism invented by Alan) he saves a group of stranded astronauts stuck in space — but not before he joins a Pavarotti-like opera tenor on his national tour, providing the shyster's impossible-to-hit high notes with his sphincter. I feel really silly writing this, let alone watching it; I can't imagine how embarrassed Paul Giamatti and Ned Beatty are, who somehow appear in this stinker. I smelt it, but director and co-writer Peter Hewitt most certainly dealt it. —John Thomason


Confessions of a Call Girl
Vivendi Home Video

Tori is a successful African-American doctor with a thriving practice in New York City, a wonderful husband, a doting child and a brownstone that looks like it's two doors down from the Huxtables. Too bad she's addicted to the thrill of turning soft-core tricks — the kind that saved us from seeing Barbra Streisand's cooch in The Owl & the Pussycat — for the rich and powerful.

But a woman can only hide her inner ho for so long before the two worlds overlap and destroy everything she's worked for. She tries to break free by spilling all her dirty little beans to her lady psychiatrist, who would be disbarred in the real world for initiating a heretofore unheard-of massage therapy that unblocks hidden childhood traumas in knotted back and waist muscles.

But who's complaining? Watching saucy Tamala Jones, (Head of Jones, Booty Call) stripped to bra and panties is like seeing Pam Grier in her prime. Jones' talents deserves better than a movie written, directed and produced by Lawrence Page, a guy whose cinematic aspirations become transparent when he composes an opening theme that's two notes removed from "Love Theme from Mahogany" — played on a Casiotone for that extra touch of crass.

Side note: All the white extras here look as if they were bused in from Atlantic City, and the movie set were a timeshare seminar they were supposed to sit through. —Serene Dominic


Shallow Ground
Universal Home Video

What just happened? Who's the guy in jail? Why is everyone leaving town? Questions. Questions. Questions. You'll have many in the first 15 minutes of Shallow Ground. There's a new dam that has locals abandoning their community and a female deputy with relationship woes. There's a blood-soaked and naked teen boy (Muskegon's own Rocky Marquette) with a hunting knife in his hand. There's a missing girl, a dude locked up in jail and a creepy guy in want of a hunting license. And this is just a portion ... Huh? There's more? With a $72,000 budget, writer-director Sheldon Wilson's Shallow Ground is ambitious and occasionally scary. Surprisingly, the meager finances did get him great special effects, decent production values, gallons of fake blood and horror icon Patty McCormack (Rhoda from The Bad Seed) in a key role. Wilson should've been as thrifty with his script that's bloated with subplots, multiple killers, confusing flashbacks and underdeveloped characters.

Sure, Wilson's striving to make an original horror flick — his starts with a bang, bogs in the middle and ends with an unfocused and uninvolved central plot. When the credits role and the dust settles, there's the illusion Shallow Ground makes sense; but you'll run through the details and scratch your head, befuddled. Like, did that guy really rape and kill that girl? Or, how does the big-city sheriff know what's going on? Questions. Questions. And you're right back where you started. —Paul Knoll


Haunted Boat

Oh, irony, thy name is Haunted Boat! Just for the record, it's actually possible for six teenagers to hit the high seas and have nothing supernatural happen — except maybe an amazing ménage à trois. Yet when this cryptic crew discovers the craft's previous owner was found dead and decomposing on the poop deck, instead of schtupping each other immediately, they decided to discuss "what's your greatest fear" and "how do you not want to die."

As sure as Rod Serling's in heaven, all manage to let their worst fears get the best of them. Even when a creepy pale guy steps aboard and actually helps one of the girls with the human parasite problem she's managed to contract as part of her worst fears showcase, another girl — who's obviously afraid of slow talkers — forces him off the vessel at gunpoint. You've got to feel for the heroine whose main hang-up is worrying she'll die alone with no friends. Nya ha ha ha.

Spoiler alert: When said heroine says, "My existence is infinitely paramount and yet is subsequent nominal or non-existent in each of your various universes," it's for certain that existence will soon be the least of anybody's worries. All in all, Haunted Boat manages to stay afloat despite the sinking feeling that the final plot twists will be less M. Night Shyamalan and more eighth season of Dallas. —Serene Dominic


Cherry Crush

First Look

Jordan Wells (Jonathan Tucker, Pulse) is a teen student born of privilege and wealth burdened with a fetish. His existence is all mapped out — doctor, lawyer, politician. But Jordan finds zero pleasure in living a scripted life. To compensate, he posts nude pics of fellow (female) students on the Web, naming them salaciously after lipstick colors. The prep academy gives him the boot and he attempts the straight and narrow at a public high school. He spies Shay Bettencourt (Nikki Reed, Thirteen), a mysterious chick from the wrong side of the tracks, who soon rekindles his lipstick fetish and leads him into blackmail, murder and double-cross.

With such noir-y trappings, one hopes Cherry Crush might rise above the average teen angst flick. It hits you up front with a titillating and voyeuristic setup, but that's never capitalized on. Instead, the flick unfurls like a neutered version of last year's high school neo-noir Brick. Even the casting of Reed (see the sexiest mouth since Gina Gershon!) as the femme fatale fails to spark, and the too-simple plot twists are voiced-over. —Paul Knoll

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