Gridlock'd (18). With this sharp-witted and subtly intelligent first feature, actor-turned-writer-director Vondie Curtis Hall uproots one movie cliche after another. A drug film that doesn't preach or glamorise, Gridlock'd is also a complete overhaul of the white-guy/black-guy buddy comedy. It pairs Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur as best friends, both jazz musicians and heroin addicts. When their roommate, a singer (Thandie Newton) falls into a drug-induced coma after a New Year's gig, Spoon (Shakur) takes it as an omen that his luck's about to run out, and convinces Stretch (Roth) that it's time to go straight. They try checking into rehab, but find themselves repeatedly thwarted by a health-care system that's not simply inefficient but frighteningly unreasonable. Shakur's performance (his penultimate one) is notable for its easy charm, while Roth, as the loose cannon of the pair, admirably resists scenery- chewing (the film's energy has a lot to do with his tightly coiled screen presence). The two stars bounce off each other wonderfully, and their relationship has a complexity far beyond most interracial movie friendships. Curtis Hall never turns his keen grasp of race dynamics into anything too heavy-handed. One of the year's most memorable debuts.
Kama Sutra (18). Mira Nair's pretentious, interminable saga of sexual rivalry and treachery in 16th-century India is her worst film by far, and perhaps the most unsexy movie ever made about sex. When you're not cringing, you're bored out of your mind. Characters include an exiled courtesan, an unhappy royal couple, and a tortured sculptor. No actor could survive the minefield of a script, so it scarcely matters that normally reliable performers like Sarita Choudhury and Naveen Andrews are trapped in here somewhere. This is faux- exotic, pseudo-erotic Merchant-Ivory, and every bit as ridiculous as that sounds.
love jones (15). Larenz Tate and Nia Long are alert and likable as the lovers in this romantic comedy by first-timer Theodore Witcher. It's a perfectly straightforward film, but it reminds you just how few three- dimensional black middle-class characters have actually made it to the screen.