Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel.
+++1/2 Very Good
++ 1/2 Average
Director: Vincenzo Natali. With Nicole deBoer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Maurice Dean Wint. (90 min.)
++ Surreal fantasy about a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in a mysterious structure where all the rooms are cube-shaped cages, many of them booby-trapped with deadly dangers. The characters are stereotypes and the psychology is simplistic, but the movie builds an effective sense of claustrophobic menace that thriller fans may enjoy.
Director: John Dahl. With Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Moll, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau, Famke Janssen. (120 min.)
++ The hero is an on-and-off law student with a passion for poker, and an honest streak that keeps him from cheating even when he's desperate for money to pay off dangerous debtors. The acting is solid, but the story builds less drama and suspense than its high-stakes subject might lead you to expect.
SIMON BIRCH (PG)
Director: Mark Steven Johnson. With Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Dana Ivey, Jan Hooks. (110 min.)
+++ The hero is a very small boy who's convinced his "abnormal" physique is proof of God's particular interest in him, and feels he'll fulfill some special purpose as soon as he can figure out what it's supposed to be. The movie is lively, funny, and endearing until melodramatics and sentimentality take over in the last few scenes.
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