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Alex & Emma
Dir. Rob Reiner; writ. Jeremy Leven; feat. Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Rob Reiner, David Paymer, Sophie Marceau, Chino XL (PG)
Blandly likable but lacking any kind of real charm, Alex & Emma invites us to snicker at a novelist's unimaginative and uncompelling story but comes off like the pot calling the kettle black. Rob Reiner squanders the appeal of his lead actors, casting each in dual roles but not inventing much reason to care about any of the four resulting characters. JD

Bend It Like Beckham
Dir. Gurinder Chadha; writ. Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges; feat. Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (PG-13)
Beckham is the endearing story of culture clash - between England and India, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, immigrants and their assimilating children. While Jess rejects the cultural role assigned her, Bend It Like Beckham follows the conventions of inspirational sports movies - montage of matches, crisis in the team we are rooting for, a modicum of suspense over who wins the big game. Relentlessly cheerful, it is Rocky served up with samosas and bitters. SGK

Bringing Down the House
Dir. Adam Shankman; writ. Jason Filardi; feat. Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart (PG-13)
Queen Latifah is an escaped convict who intends to disrupt tax attorney Steve Martin's life until he helps clear her name. Blacks and whites may truly live in different worlds, but the filmmakers behind House don't know much about either one; only Eugene Levy, as a repressed white man in lust with a black woman, grasps the absurdity of this, and as a result gets most of the laughs in this bland, mechanical film. JD

Bruce Almighty
Dir. Tom Shadyack; writ. Michael O'Keefe; feat. Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Anniston (PG-13)
Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a guy whose complaints to God are greeted with "if you think you can do better, you try it." It is a premise that exhausts itself very quickly. Carrey's penchant for rubber-faced histrionics makes him the perfect candidate for such a role, but unfortunately the script denies him the opportunity to do anything the least bit interesting with it. JW

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Dir. McG; writ. John August; feat. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore, Bernie Mac (PG-13)
The first installment, we can now safely say, was a fluke: The man who calls himself McG was not meant to direct motion pictures. Even Tinseltown's most likable babes can't save this incoherent T&A fest, which is heavy on the costume changes but woefully short on clever jokes - and entirely lacking when it comes to enjoyable action, despite the director's delusion that he's a goodchase-scene choreographer. JD

Daddy Day Care
Dir. Steve Carr; writ. Geoff Rodkey; feat. Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Anjelica Huston (PG)
Daddy Day Care recycles tired Mr. Mom clichés, fart jokes, and bathroom humor in a story of Charlie and Phil, two men who, when they're unable to bring home the bacon, set out to conquer the world of commercial women's work. From start to finish, every gag is deadeningly familiar, another step in the public lobotomization of Murphy's once dangerous mind. JW

Down With Love
Dir. Peyton Reed; writ. Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake; feat. Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson (PG-13)
The latest in a spate of homages to Fifties/Sixties "chick flicks," Love casts Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger as Rock Hudson and Doris Day in a tongue-in-cheek battle of the sexes. Packed with lavish eye-candy sets and costumes, winking innuendos, and winning performances, it's the most accessible and entertaining of the retro-spectacles yet. JD

Finding Nemo
Dir. Andrew Stanton; writ. Andrew Stanton; feat. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould (G)
Finding Nemo is a proud continuation of the Pixar tradition, coming alive with the perfect ratio of drama to hyperkinetic irreverence that made its predecessors such lucrative, critically lauded efforts. For every pratfall the kids will find hilarious, the script provides a dash of higher-brow humor parents can appreciate, all set against an unprecedented backdrop of color and motion that's impossible to ignore. If distributor Disney wants to recapture the lost magic of their past, they needn't look far to see how. JW

Ghosts of the Abyss
Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the world's most famous ship comes alive here, with one of Hollywood's most gifted spectacle-makers using 3-D cameras to document the wreckage of the Titanic. James Cameron uses generous doses of computer imagery and re-created sets to show how great masses were once elegant decks and sepulchral chambers were once luxurious staterooms -- combining science, history, and gee-whiz effects in a very satisfying way. JD

Holes
Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. Louis Sachar; feat. Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette (PG)
An engaging, worthwhile, and clever film for both children and adults, Holes follows young Sidney Yelnats into a mysterious desert reformatory. It's good to see a kids' film with a multicultural cast, even if the filmmakers do resort to the old motif in which noble black savages help a white protagonist "build character." SM

Hollywood Homicide
Dir. Ron Shelton; writ. Robert Souza and Shelton; feat. Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett, Bruce Greenwood, Lena Olin, Isaiah Washington, Lolita Davidovich (PG-13)
Who needs yet another cop caper pairing incompatible partners? This script is so familiar it fits like an old gumshoe, a story of pursuit and possession like every other except that the stunts are so grandiose they mock all the movies they were stolen from. Despite beeping cell phones, the movie seems as ancient as Ford, when, mugging through Joe, he quips: "If I take my gingko, I can still remember where I put the Viagra." SGK

The Hulk
Dir. Ang Lee; writ. James Schamus, John Turman, Michael France; feat. Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas, Paul Kersey (PG-13)
Yes, the new CGI Hulk looks real - at least as much so as Ahnuld, Pam Anderson, and his other Hollywood peers -but the real star of this movie is the giddy way in which director Ang Lee appropriates comic-book language for cinematic purposes, splitting the screen in a hundred ways while telling a story that may be a lot darker than we expect from Marvel-ous minds, but is still pretty fun. JD

The Italian Job
Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Donna & Wayne Powers; feat. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland (PG-13)
Smooth and likeable, this caper remake takes itself far less seriously than "Heist" or "The Score," which is a good thing considering the charming sidemen surrounding leading man Mark Wahlberg. The initial caper is so clever it outshines the more elaborate one that closes the story -- and both are overshadowed by the trio of Mini Coopers that sometimes seem to be the film's reason for being. JD

Man on the Train (L'Homme du train)
Dir. Patrice Leconte; writ. Claude Klotz; feat. Jean Rochefort, Johnny Halliday, Charlie Nelson, Pascal Parmentier, Jean-François Stévenin (R)
Man on the Train is an exquisite silent film that happens to have a soundtrack. Primarily through the body language of a cast of expert actors, this French tale of strangers whose personalities rub off on one another manages to convey a rich sense of the possibilities in provincial lives that have been sidetracked. SGK

The Matrix Reloaded
Dir. and writ. Andy & Larry Wachowski; feat. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau Jr. (R)
In this hyper-anticipated sequel, the Wachowski brothers appear to have taken the hype to heart, insisting on making everything bigger and bolder. The action is appropriately hyperbolic, then, but so is the endless philosophical pontificating - which misses the point of the original film, in which the heavy themes were demonstrated by the plot as much as they were explicated by dialogue. JD

Rugrats Go Wild
Dir. John Eng, Norton Virgien; writ. Kate Booutilier; feat. Michael Bell, Jodi Carlisle, Nancy Cartwright, Lacey Chabert (PG)
Standard kiddie fare teaming two popular Nickelodeon franchises, Rugrats Go Wild should please the target audience, but it's a drag for parents. The picture has the depressing tone of a corporate exercise, right down to the synergy of using John Waters' "Odorama" cards - now a property of Viacom, just like Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys. TS

Spellbound
Dir. Jeffrey Blitz; feat. Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Ted Brigham, April DeGideo, Neil Kadakia, Nupur Lala, Emily Stagg, Ashley White (G)
Spellbound, whose witty title alludes to a Hitchcock thriller, documents the 1999 National Spelling Bee. The National Spelling Bee finals are televised by sports network ESPN, and Blitz's Spellbound is as riveting as any basketball tournament or Hitchcock feature. The film maintains suspense until the end, through "hellebore," "opsimath," "mattock," and other words that challenge a viewer as much as the contestants, a group of children more charming and well-rounded than viewers might expect. SGK

Together (Han ni zai yiki)
Dir. Chen Kaige; writ. Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu; feat. Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige (PG)
Together overflows with feeling - between father and son; teacher and pupil; a worldly young woman, Lili (Chen Hong), and the adolescent musician who develops a crush on her. The film, which seems like chamber work after Chen Kaige's orchestral Farewell My Concubine, is a foundling fable, a coming-of-age story, and an affirmation of art and love together. Like Tchaikovsky, whose lush Violin Concerto provides a recurring theme, Chen must enjoy playing with a viewer's emotions. He does it relentlessly, and he does not strike a false note except at the end. SGK

 
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Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma to find London deserted in director Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.
28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Alex Garland; feat. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie, Christopher Eccleson (R)
For once, a zombie movie you can sink your teeth into! With plague-devastate London as a backdrop and bleak videotape cinematography to capture it, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle gets off on the right foot. He seals the deal by giving us zombies who come at you like hellfire instead of sleepwalkers, and by working non-undead threats into the scenario. Forgive the occasional horror-film pitfalls, and go get scared. JD

2 Fast 2 Furious
Dir. John Singleton; writ. Michael Brandt; feat. Paul Walker, Tyrese, Eva Mendes (R)
Content-free, 2 Fast exists for purposes of visual stimulation only, like a video game, so, of course, anything approaching dirty reality is stricken from the record. Yes, there's a story somewhere, but it's more of an excuse than a plot. Like many similarly minded films, this one will taut the "white knuckles" and "sweaty palms" it produces, but the unceasing growl and flash of 2 Fast does nothing but aggravate. JW

Whale Rider
Dir. & writ. Niki Caro, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera; feat. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis (PG-13)
Filmed in spectacular coastal Whangara, on New Zealand's North Island, Whale Rider is a beguiling exercise in both ethnography and wish fulfillment. It is a South Pacific fish story that assumes respect for history and sympathy for social justice - and provides an inspiring, implausible conclusion that reduced the woman I saw it with to blubbering. SGK

Wrong Turn
Dir. Rob Schmidt; writ. Alan B. McElroy; feat. Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, Jeremy Sisto, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Lindy Booth, Kevin Zegers (R)
Cannibalistic inbreeders with a knack for hacking up unwary travellers run wild in Wrong Turn. Sound familiar? It should. The gore quota is certainly met, compliments of effects wiz Stan Winston, and the deformed family of homicidal inbreds is a scary hoot. But the filmmakers' attempt to marry the action-filled set pieces of Deliverance with the cannibalistic intensity of Chainsaw Massacre is uneven, and at times ridiculous: Giggling, bumbling cannibals can survive any misfortune and get away with any scheme in Wrong Turn. AL

X2: X-Men United
Dir. Bryan Singer; writ. Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris; feat. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin (PG-13)
Somehow expanding on the original in opposite directions at once, this slam-bang sequel: introduces compelling new characters and enhances minor ones while still letting Ian McKellen shine as Magneto; features more and better action scenes while also enhancing the quieter social messages introduced in the first film; stuffs the frame with insider comic references while making the comic's serpentine plotlines digestible to newcomers. Excelsior! JD

Films reviewed by:
AL: Albert Lopez
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
LMF: Laura Fries
JW: Joe Weiss
AP: Alejandro Pérez


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