Yes, it does seem that everyone’s into box office grosses this season. As Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic bondage movie has been raking in the dough, Hollywood has managed to release some other efforts, although the buzz about The Passion…is still non-stop. Highest grossing religious movie, most money for an R-rated movie on a weekend, etc. Blah, blah, blah. And now the conspiracy-minded, such as the simplistic, bullying windbag Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, are worried that the film won’t be considered for the Oscars because it’s about Jesus and the ruling studio Jews will never let it win best picture. I gotta tell you, these nutcases never cease to amaze me. Plenty of movies about religion and Jesus and events from the Bible have received Oscar nominations and some have won the coveted gold trophy.

Gibson’s exercise in re-writing the Bible won’t win because it’s a cheesy gore-fest. And cheesy gore-fests do not win best picture Oscars. Hollywood likes their best picture winners to uplift in some way, and The Passion… is about as uplifting as burnt rubber. Oh sure, it may have moved some people - heck, a lot of people, to tears, but that doesn’t count as the reaction needed to score awards. Sheep will always follow other sheep, especially if they’re lied to the way religious Americans were lied to by Gibson and his publicity flacks about “somebody” not wanting them to see his motion picture. As much as I thought the movie was a distortion of religion and an exercise in sadomasochistic banality, I will grant Gibson one achievement, his behavior in promoting the film is as craven an act as anything Jesus ever preached against.

Meanwhile, movie reviewers have to move on, and I know you’re eager to read about Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Jersey Girl, The Ladykillers, Monsieur Ibrahim, The Secret Window, and Taking Lives, I wish had had better things to report. Here are a half a dozen new features and not one of them manages to coalesce into a fully satisfying film. There are bits and pieces of pleasure in these offerings, and occasionally there’s genius, but overall, each movie falters, maybe right out of the gate, maybe at the finish line. There aren’t a lot of science fiction comedies out there, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind goes for laughter, but never quite achieves nirvana. The movie isn’t as good as it thinks it is. You watch it admiring its daring, even smiling a lot, but the overall reaction is one of disappointment. Director Michael Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) are too fond of tricks; there are too many reversals in this tall tale of lovers who have their minds erased to forget about each other. Kate Winslet is feisty as all get out as the female half of the odd duo. Jim Carrey is the male who decides not to go to work one day, an act that alters his life forever. Carrey tries too hard to be sober-minded, as if he’s aware he’s in a comedy, but doesn’t want to be comic. He flattens the movie a bit. Winslet is so hippie-dippie that you can’t erase her from your mind. Tom Wilkinson is the man behind a method that will erase what you want from your brain. Kirsten Dunst has the stereotypical secretary role and Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo are technicians who perform the “operation,” which has something to do with sonic waves of some kind. It’s a nifty cast alright, but deep inside this whirlwind of a movie are Kaufman and Gondry trying too hard to be quirky. Director Kevin Smith used to make iconoclastic films. Clerks and Chasing Amy are his two best. Now he’s delivered Jersey Girl, and it’s a romantic comedy mish-mash that would embarrass even Doris Day. The idea for the effort came from Smith’s own experiences as a father. I’ve got news for him, who cares. I’m sick and tired of filmmakers who think that just because they’ve experienced the miracle of birth, everyone else has to share in the bounty or watch a movie based on the giddy utterances of their annoying offspring. I’ve got even more news for Smith. As an unimpressed Alexis Carrington snidely said on Dynasty to someone who was jawing about having a baby, “even worms procreate.” Anyway, Ben Affleck, desperately trying to underplay, is a successful Manhattan entrepreneur who moves in with his grizzled old father (the edgy George Carlin of all people) after his wife dies. The wife is the estimable Jennifer Lopez, and I’m sure I don’t have to rehash all the Ben and Jen baloney. Lopez was a good actress, until she decided she was a Diva. Sorry, Jen, you ain’t no Diva. Not as long as Faye Dunaway’s still alive. The movie is about Affleck’s widowed character coping with raising his cutesy-poo daughter who spouts sentimental schlock the likes of which no living child has ever spoken. The little girl is played by Raquel Castro, who’s so saccharine that she makes Shirley Temple seem mordant. This is drivel moviemaking at its zenith. Affleck has tossed aside any pretense of being able to act. But imagine someone worse. Liv Tyler is in the film, and she’s so badly in need of acting lessons that you cringe for those emoting with her, even Affleck.

We certainly should be grateful for the work of the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, and The Hudsucker Proxy are works to relish and watch more than once. And, I really enjoyed the sneaky humor of O Brother, Where Art Thou? So, it pains me to report that with their latest, The Ladykillers, the two have overreached. Something possessed the pair to remake the classic British Ealing Studios comedy of the same name from 1955 and to turn a gentle, graceful, charming, intelligent, and very funny English movie into a charmless, plodding, unfunny American mess. Where the former had Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, the Coen’s effort has Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans, and the twain doesn’t meet. The setting has been switched to the southern U.S.A. The plots are similar. The head of a gang of thieves rents a room in a house owned by an elderly woman. He’s going to commit a robbery. He brings in his henchmen. The old lady turns everything upside down. In the British film, the woman was curious and blithely unaware that her every act and word were disruptive. In the remake, the old lady is a busybody pain-in-the-neck, who’s prone to anger and physical violence. The Coens have also altered the landscape by making their woman black. But instead of making this switch work, they’ve created jokes that rely on race, and they just aren’t funny. Hanks has a good time with his southern gentleman persona, but Wayans is an untalented ham whose character is a tasteless abomination.

Monsieur Ibrahim stars Omar Sharif as an elderly Muslim man who befriends a neglected Jewish boy in Paris in the 1960s. Sharif won the Cesar (the French equivalent of the Academy Award) for best actor for his role, and he deserves it. His performance is wonderful and he keeps you interested in the story even as it bogs down in philosophical meandering. Screenwriter-director Francois Dupeyron does succeed in avoiding treacle; he never sugarcoats the differences between the boy and the man. The mentor-student relationship isn’t smarmy or played for anything other than its sincere and honest openness.

The Secret Window did prove something I’ve always thought about novelist Stephen King. He’s a one-note guy. The movie is based on a King work about a writer who can’t come up with anything new to say. He’s blocked. His marriage is bad, and he’s got a stalker. Sound familiar. The movie succeeds for a while because Johnny Depp is very good as the writer. But soon, ennui takes over as the road we’re on seems too well-traveled. Nothing original breaks through. Taking Lives is so boring that you wonder if some sort of chemical agent didn’t drift over the set making everyone drowsy. It’s a sub-standard serial killer movie in which the cast reads their dialogue s-l-o-w-l-y and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y. Only a quirky Ethan Hawke manages to have fun. Angelina Jolie is around to lead the chase, but halfway through, you just don’t care. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

My favorite comment of the week, which I overheard at a local Cineplex, came from a middle-aged woman telling her equally middle-aged female friend: “Do you know The Passion Of The Christ is this year’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”