Sex, Secrets and Videotape

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In the '60s, Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) was an L.A. disc jockey. Then he became the star of the TV series Hogan's Heroes. In due course, abetted by a video geek named John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), he became a sex addict. This destroyed his career. Reduced to the dinner-theater circuit, he met lots of willing women and took pictures of them in flagrante with the equipment Carpenter supplied. Then he was murdered, almost certainly by Carpenter. Auto Focus tells this story as affectlessly as we just have. It's a conscious aesthetic choice by director Paul Schrader, not an accident of ineptitude. But no matter — his objectification of sad and stupid material is neither tragic nor transgressive. It is just undramatic and uninvolving.

Imagine a murdered man in the upstairs bedroom and the 8 Women in his life left to decide whodunit. What would they do? Bitch, bitch, bitch — and then break into song. Francois Ozon's color-coordinated catfight assembles eight fabulous femmes (Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Isabelle Huppert, Firmine Richard, Emmanuelle Beart and Fanny Ardant) for a game of hide-and-shriek, with each star given a guilty secret and a solo chanson. Ozon, the bright hope of French pop cinema (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Under the Sand), lets the gals get a bit too chatty and catty. But he knows how to dress them in glamorous frocks and attitudes. Seduction is more important than deduction in this chic display of star quality to the eighth power. --By Richard Corliss

You watch the spooky, unlabeled videotape, and seven days later you die. So goes the urban legend that was the basis of a Japanese pop phenomenon — a movie trilogy, TV series and comics. The Ring is the American spin-off, stylishly directed by Gore Verbinski and well acted by an appealing cast, led by Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts. She's a reporter looking for a logical explanation for her niece's death and her son's increasingly haunted state. She almost finds one, and that proves to be a problem. What she discovers is a conventional mother-child psychodrama that doesn't persuasively match up with the film's supernatural elements. You keep waiting for someone to explain who shot, edited and distributed the Bunuel-on-a-bad-day video. The result is an edgy, watchable film, but one that makes you feel more squeamish than screamish. --R.S.