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The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13, 115 min.) Apparently, I'm about the only person in America who found this third Matt Damon-is-Jason Bourne film to be a surprise-free rehash of its predecessor rather than "an almost constant adrenaline surge" (Variety). I admire director Peter Greengrass' ability to move back and forth between converging hunter-and-prey storylines, and I appreciate his suspicion of government-sponsored technological surveillance (the movie offers a cutting critique of the current administration's spy policies); however, I find many of Greengrass' chaotic cut-and-paste montages tiresome rather than thrilling. Is this stylized action -- obscured by shaky camerawork and in-your-face edits -- really more exciting than the eye-popping stunts that unfold in real time in a cheesy martial-arts adventure like "Ong-Bak"?
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Hairspray (PG, 117 min.) Like a shellacked beehive hairdo standing proud on a blustery day, "Hairspray" defies expectations. The current Broadway fashion for mining recent movies for musical material may represent popular culture's most depressing and unimaginative trend, but this movie of the musical of the original 1988 John Waters film is a wonder of unflagging good will, high spirits and happy period production design, even if it delivers its pro-underdog social message with a heavier hand than did Waters' low-budget original. Director/choreographer Adam Shankman stages and cuts the song-and-dance numbers with wit and care, creating a paean to the liberating -- even integrationist -- power of rhythm-and-blues and rock and roll, as "short and stout" teenager Tracy Turnblad (irrepressible newcomer Nikki Blonsky) battles station manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) to bring full "Negro" participation to a local TV dance party program in 1962 Baltimore. John Travolta in fat-suit drag as Edna Turnblad is a gimmicky distraction, but the rest of the cast -- including Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle, Elijah Kelley as Seaweed J. Stubbs and James Marsden as Corny Collins (who knew Cyclops of the "X-Men" could sing and dance?) -- is a delight.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (PG-13, 138 min.) Daniel Radcliffe has visibly matured since the fourth film in the series, which may explain why raging hormones now seem as threatening as raving Dementors to the happiness of everybody's favorite boy -- make that surly adolescent -- wizard; even a first kiss with Hogwarts charmer Cho Chang (Katie Leung) leads to insecurity and (apparent) betrayal. Directed by BBC television veteran David Yates with a proud anti-Chris Columbus grimness, this is the darkest "Potter" yet, literally as well as thematically: The sets are as gloomy as the plot as Harry fights the influence of the resurrected Dark Lord (Ralph Fiennes), who materializes in the no-nose flesh during a spectacular climactic wizards' duel. Unfortunately for Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), most of Harry's now huge support staff has little to do, but the newcomers make an impression; these include Evanna Lynch as a fey young witch named Luna Lovegood and scene-stealing Imelda Staunton as self-righteous disciplinarian Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry of Magic moralist whose reactionary presence adds contemporary political resonance to a story that's as earnestly anti-Fascist as a British World War II movie.
Knocked Up (R, 126 min.) Title emphasis notwithstanding, writer-director Judd Apatow's raunchy but sweet follow-up to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" isn't really about a pregnant woman but about a carefree man confronted by the repercussions of a careless act; taking gender into account, "Knocked Upside the Head" might be a more accurate title, judging from the dazed expression star Seth Rogen wears through much of the film. Elevated from his usual second-banana status, Rogen plays Ben Stone, a jobless slob of a stoner. He's forced to make his belated debut into adult society after a one-night stand impregnates a beautiful, smart and successful blond angel of an on-air TV personality (Katherine Heigl), who -- in the unlikely conceit of the script -- decides Ben might be suitable life-mate material. This is a male fantasy of rescue from irrelevance if there ever was one. As Ben's potential future in-laws, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife) steal every scene and drip some necessary vinegar onto a premise threatened by its own cuteness.
Nancy Drew (PG, 99 min.) Somehow, Nancy Drew -- spunky amateur sleuth and welcome teen role model -- manages to survive everything her new movie throws at her. I'm not referring to the plot's conspirators and assassins but to such menaces as a winking, campy sensibility that threatens to turn Nancy into a youthful version of Daphne from the "Scooby-Doo" movies; a Hollywood mystery story that seems motivated by a desire to save money by shooting in Los Angeles; and indifferent direction that -- coupled with the overfamiliar California scenery and Nancy's comic supporting entourage -- gives the movie the vibe of a Nickelodeon TV pilot. Oddly, the film begins by mocking the validity and relevance of its own source material; but Carolyn Keene be praised, wholesome, intelligent Nancy (Emma Roberts) ultimately remains true to her non-mainstream ideals and interests, which makes her a fitting heroine for fledgling Riot Grrrls and virginity-pledge signers alike.
Ratatouille (G, 115 min.) Brad Bird makes cartoons, yet I don't think there's a filmmaker anywhere with more respect for his audience. Bird's movies -- "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles" and now the Pixar-produced "Ratatouille" -- work on levels that appeal to kids, teenagers and adults, yet he never panders to a specific demographic or cheapens his scripts to expand his audience. His movies suggest the influence of Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg, but his real role models may be Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges: filmmakers who believed that smart and popular weren't mutually exclusive terms. The rather bizarre computer-animated story of a lowly rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who befriends a restaurant garbage boy (Lou Romano) to pursue his dream of becoming a great chef, "Ratatouille" celebrates the spirt of artistic collaboration (as represented by the staffs of both the restaurant and Pixar) while acknowledging the singular vision of the artist (be it a chef or Bird) who directs the effort. The alliance between the boy and the rat (who hides beneath the boy's hat, like a second brain) is a beautiful metaphor for the artist's divided self -- for the old conflict between mind and body (the brilliance of inspiration vs. the clumsiness of physical expression), and the need to unite the two to create art. The movie's inspirational message is surprisingly honest: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."
Rush Hour 3 (PG-13, 95 min.) Despite a scene in which L.A. cop Chris Tucker engages in an extended "Who's on first?" routine with a pair of "Chinamen" named Mi and Yu, the so-called humor in this third and worst "Rush Hour" isn't so much Abbott & Costello as Cheney & Rove. Racial profiling, unwanted American intervention and might-makes-right bullying make this one odd, sick puppy of an action-comedy, as Tucker and the still likable but less active Jackie Chan follow a Chinese crime ring to France, where Tucker slaps an Asian for not speaking English and holds a gun to a cabbie's head while yelling: "Say you love America!" Long-delayed, this feels like a relic from the days when some people actually uttered the phrase "freedom fries" with a straight face; it's the work of filmmakers (including returning director Brett Ratner) who didn't just lose their moral compass but stomped it flat.
Talk to Me (R, 118 min.) This vibrant and highly entertaining film from director Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou") casts Don Cheadle as the late Ralph Waldo 'Petey' Greene, who delivered "nothin' but the sho' nuff" as an outspoken and troubled Washington, D.C., deejay and talk show host in the 1960s and '70s. Petey is presented as the lead character, but the movie is not so much a biopic as an examination of two competing approaches by which a black man might achieve success in a white man's world: While Petey exploits his somewhat stereotypical, jive-talking "mack" persona, his professional "brother," program director Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), moves through the corporate ranks as a well-spoken, unthreatening "Negro." It's this tension rather than Petey's troubles with drugs, alcohol and romance (his outrageous girlfriend is played by Taraji P. Henson) that provides the movie with its real drama.
Transformers (PG-13, 144 min.) The "giant toy death matches" between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons are impressive, and the CGI transformations of the alien "robotic organisms" into trucks, tanks, planes and even boom boxes and cell phones are knockouts. But overkill-crazy director Michael Bay ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor") substitutes eyeball-jiggling, hard-to-follow action close-ups for the sense of awe that executive producer Steven Spielberg brings to his own special-effects epics, and the plot is gobbledygook. The movie works best when it focuses on the comic boy-and-his-robot relationship between an 11th-grade underdog (Shia LaBeouf) and a guardian Autobot named Bumblebee, who comes into Sam's life in the form of a used Camaro and helps him win the heart of a high school hottie (native Memphian Megan Fox). But Bumblebee is no Lassie: At one point, the Autobot essentially urinates (with "lubricant") on an annoying federal officer. It's hard to believe Bay or Spielberg or the screenwriters think this incident is funny, but they no doubt think it will amuse moviegoers less sophisticated than themselves. This is pandering at its worst, and it reveals a lack of respect for the audience, kids and adults alike, as does the incessant product placement. Or is it ridiculous to complain about advertising in a film inspired by a 1984 line of toys and the cartoon series that promoted it? 350c69d7ab