By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001
(PG-13) Ben Stiller plays a fool in love (according to Randy Newman's Oscar-nominated song) who must meet his future in-laws. Could be an easy visit, except Dad is played by Robert De Niro as a former CIA agent being very protective of his daughter. Meet the Parents was the most consistently funny film of 2000, a kinder, gentler There's Something About Mary.
De Niro is a riot, playing off his tough guy persona. Stiller is a perfect fall guy, always turning the other cheek and wincing in anticipation of that one getting smacked, too.
First impressions: "Meet the Parents has more going for it than pinpoint casting. This movie has the captivating rhythm of a stand-up comedy routine, laying out minor riffs that later become call-back jokes, looping and dovetailing into crescendos of laughter. Then riding that momentum, nursing it, while a new set of future punch lines starts weaving together. Everything counts, sooner or later.
"This could be merely a star trip, but it isn't. It could be an overblown late-night skit, but it isn't. Meet the Parents is a polished screwball prank, even making poop jokes respectable again."
Second thoughts: This one should be a smash on home video.
Rental audience: De Niro and Stiller fans, people who consider the Farrelly brothers comic geniuses.
Rent it if you enjoy: Analyze This; There's Something About Mary; Me, Myself & Irene.
(R) Academy Award nominee Joan Allen stars as a U.S. senator and Democrat appointed to become the next vice president, although her confirmation hearings are troublesome.
News of a sexual peccadillo from her college days is all a Republican watchdog (Gary Oldman) needs to cloud her career and future. Jeff Bridges is also an Oscar nominee for his role as an affable president along the lines of Bill Clinton.
Written and directed by former film critic Rod Lurie, whose Democratic Party leanings are evident in each scene.
First impressions: "Lurie's partisanship is one of the strengths of The Contender, creating a rare political drama naming names when possible, making transparent comparisons when needed. Beliefs about real issues and scandals give viewers personal links to the drama. . . . The Contender is an engrossing battle of sound bites and cloakroom dealing, no matter how you vote.
"Every character, even (Oldman's), gets at least one scene that humanizes him. Like TV's The West Wing, this film is a civics lesson disguised as melodrama, reassuring us that politicians are people, too."
Second thoughts: Flopped at box offices during last year's presidential campaign, when viewers could see such machinations free on TV. The movie deserves more attention on home video.
Rental audience: Democrats still smarting from the last election; anyone appreciating intelligent writing and crisp acting.
Rent it if you enjoy: The Candidate, The War Room, Primary Colors.
(PG) Minor league kiddie flick starring moppet-actor Jonathan Lipnicki as an American living in England, haunted by nightmares of vampires. Turns out they do exist. The boy engages one bloodsucker (Rollo Weeks) as a friend for some forgettable misadventures.
First impressions: "A family-friendly fantasy with a long future as a Halloween offering on basic cable. For years, (Lipnicki) will be cute, long after Jerry Maguire's bespectacled buddy discovers contact lenses and loses that lisp.
"Performances are capably one-dimensional, especially Lipnicki's gee-whiz enthusiasms. . . . Weeks displays a glimmer of potential in pallid makeup and shadowy lighting. . . . Two laughs in the entire movie, and both come from undead cows."
Second thoughts: A nice trick, if not exactly a treat.
Rental audience: Children under age 10.
Rent it if you enjoy: Scooby-Doo reruns.
New and noteworthy for digital players
Best of Hitchcock, Vol. 1 and 2
The Alfred Hitchcock Collection, Vol. 2
Call it coincidence or competition, but three DVD tributes to the late filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock debuted this week. They're expensive, without any special extras to justify such prices, but Hitch's fans have waited years for pristine copies of his classics.
Volume 1 of Best of Hitchcock contains widescreen (when applicable) versions of these films: Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); a special edition of Psycho (1960); and the director's final work, Family Plot (1976). Another disc contains four episodes of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Revenge, Breakdown, Wet Saturday and Mr. Blanchard's Secret.
Volume 2 features Saboteur (1942), The Trouble With Harry (1955), special editions of Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963), plus Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966) and Frenzy (1972). Episodes from the TV series include Poison, The Perfect Crime, A Dip in the Pool and One More Mile to Go.
The suggested retail price for each set is $174.98, with a 30 percent discount available on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com).
More affordable is Vol. 2 of The Alfred Hitchcock Collection ($64.98, discounts available), although the set's limited offerings makes Best of Hitchcock seem like the better deal. Only three discs here: Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much, plus a few television episodes.
Butter up your local video store owner to purchase any of these collections for rental customers.
Videos worth another look
Stevens died from a heart attack on this day in 1975, but not before he left moviegoers with these memories, now available on home video:
The Diary of Anne Frank -- The book that inspired the world became an equally moving picture, with Millie Perkins unforgettable as a Jewish girl hiding from Nazis in a cramped attic.
Giant -- James Dean's last performance, Rock Hudson's best one and Elizabeth Taylor combine to make this sprawling Texas soap opera soar. Don't settle for the edited version shown on commercial television. Stevens won the Academy Award for best director.
Shane -- Alan Ladd stood (not very tall) by his principles, his guns and a frontier family terrorized by Jack Palance. Considered by many to be the greatest Western of all time. Certainly one of the most gorgeous depictions of wide open spaces.
A Place in the Sun -- The American Dream -- symbolized by Elizabeth Taylor -- crumbles for an ambitious man (Montgomery Clift) who jilts, then murders his girlfriend (Shelley Winters). Still a fascinating drama of crime and self-punishment.
The More the Merrier -- World War II causes housing shortages, prompting a patriot (Jean Arthur) to share her apartment with Oscar winner Charles Coburn, who sublets his half to Joel McCrea. Cheery screwball comedy. The first of five Oscar nominations for Stevens.
The Greatest Story Ever Told -- One of the better biblical epics, with an cast so impressive even John Wayne only gets one line of dialogue. A remastered DVD version with a deleted scene will be released in time for Easter.
Woman of the Year -- Wiseguy sports reporter (Spencer Tracy) teaches a political journalist (Katharine Hepburn) about baseball and the finer points of romantic comedy. She teaches him he's not as smart as he thinks. A bit dated in its feminism, making some jokes even funnier.
Gunga Din -- The granddaddy of modern movie adventures. Rudyard Kipling's 1939 tale of brave buddies and a loyal sidekick's sacrifice is still imitated. Great cast includes Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Victor McLaglen and Sam Jaffe in the title role.