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Miami Vice

Gone are the pastel threads and the night-soaked neon that played such a big part in the show that was born of NBC Entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff's simple yet wildly successful "MTV cops" concept.

In its place is a darker, grittier creature that, while benefiting considerably from Dion Beebe's HD cinematography, is a frustratingly inert affair -- a long and talky excursion that fails to engage the viewer from the outset.

Those in the market for some of that old Crockett-Tubbs camaraderie are bound to be disappointed by the Colin Farrell-Jamie Foxx model, in which the two actors appear to be engaged in a contest to determine who can appear more morose while expending the least amount of energy, especially in terms of their own flat exchanges.

Maybe it had something to do with that Miami heat, but the languid results likely won't be much of a tonic for the summer's lackluster boxoffice -- pirate pictures excepted.

In updating the series, which ran from 1984-89, writer-director Mann has moved beyond the trendsetting South Beach color scheme and into murkier waters for this story that pits undercover vice cops Sonny Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Foxx) against nasty international drug traffickers.

Drawn into a world of sophisticated cartels, the two face off against Aryan Brotherhood thugs and a beautiful but tough Chinese-Cuban money launderer (the latter played by not always easy to understand Gong Li), but Mann's writing keeps getting in the way of his direction.

The picture takes a stylistic cue from his previous film, "Collateral," also lensed by Beebe. But where that L.A. nocturne so effectively ratcheted up the tension, "Miami Vice" merely ratchets up the pretension, with too many potentially explosive sequences just ending up hanging there like the Florida humidity.

All the stilted dialogue -- more like the sentence fragments standing in for dialogue -- certainly don't help the actors' cause, especially those for whom English is unmistakably a second language. But even in silence Foxx and Farrell fail to generate any convincing buddy cop chemistry.

Taking advantage of the larger canvas, Mann expands the scenario to include stops in Uruguay, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic (which doubles for Haiti), but for all the cosmopolitan intrigue, "Miami Vice" just doesn't go anywhere interesting.

Even the music, which played such a key role on the TV series, is a letdown here.

In the absence of Jan Hammer's propulsive original theme, composer John Murphy's anonymous score and song contributions by the likes Moby and Audioslave fail to reach the mood-setting heights of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," updated here in an uninspired cover by Nonpoint.

While costume designer Janty Yates' steely, monochromatic Crockett and Tubbs duds are certainly in keeping with the grainier tone, it just ain't "Miami Vice" without those immortal powder blue or lime green sports jackets.

Director-screenwriter: Michael Mann
Based on the television series created by: Anthony Yerkovich
Producers: Michael Mann, Pieter Jan Brugge
Executive producer: Anthony Yerkovich
Director of photography: Dion Beebe
Production designer: Victor Kempster
Editors: William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell
Costume designers: Janty Yates, Michael Kaplan
Music: John Murphy
 Detective Ricardo Tubbs: Jamie Foxx
 Detective Sonny Crockett: Colin Farrell
 Isabella: Gong Li
 Trudy: Naomie Harris
 Fujima: Ciaran Hinds
 Zito: Justin Theroux
 Lieutenant Castillo: Barry Shabaka Henley
 Montoya: Luis Tosar
 Jose Yero: John Ortiz
 Gina: Elizabeth Rodriguez

Clerks II

The new film, in color and an easier-on-the-eyes visual style, should play well to today's teens as well as those who remember the 1994 film. MGM and the Weinstein Co. can anticipate above-average business with this counterprogramming to the cartoon and fantasy films of this weekend.

Our now-over-30 slacker/clerks, easygoing Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and his rambunctious pal Randal (Jeff Anderson), are forced to flip burgers in a fast-food joint after the convenience store that so long employed them burned down. (Randal left on a coffee pot one time too many.) Even by fast-food standards, Mooby's is scraping the bottom of the fry pot. The entry door "moos" when it swings open, burgers look like indigestible hockey pucks and the guys have plenty of time to argue because few people patronize the place.

On the day in question, big changes are in the air. Dante has "hit the jackpot." A hot blonde from high school days named Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) has miraculously fallen in love with him. Which means a move to Florida where her parents live, a big wedding, a house and job managing her dad's car wash for Dante. Slackers rule!

On Dante's final day, all that's left to do is for Randal to arrange for a highly inappropriate going-away party that involves a donkey act. But -- and you knew there was going to be a "but" -- is Emma right for Dante? She clearly is going to make every decision in his life. Witness the wedding invitations she has already printed when Dante didn't even know they had set a date. And what to do about Dante's unresolved feelings for his boss, the incredibly lovely Mooby's manager Becky (saucy Rosario Dawson).

That pretty much sums up the plot. As the day wears on, Dante, Randal, Becky and super-nerd employee Elias (Trevor Ferhman) engage in debates that push deeper and deeper into raunchy areas involving oral and anal sex, racist slurs, bestiality and a hilarious argument over which is the best cinematic trilogy, "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings."

Meanwhile, those low-level drug dealers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) hang out in front of Mooby's. Jay is just out of rehab and thinks he has found Christ but isn't completely sure. Bob is, well, Bob has little to say.

Acting is erratic in minor roles, but the central trio are wonderful with their lower-middle-class characters still trying to figure themselves out in their early 30s. O'Halloran allows his character to mellow and mature while carrying a vestige of his former slacker self. Anderson still embraces a freeform lifestyle but harbors a secret desire to keep things the same while making one radical change. Dawson is alternately flirtatious and level-headed as she must deal with feelings she keeps very much below the surface.

One change for the better is that Smith has grown more skilled in shooting and editing his films. Despite a mostly one-set location, "Clerks II" feels anything but static as characters and story flow easily in and around the restaurant and its suburban environment. There is even an MTV-style musical number!

Smith semi-regulars Ben Affleck and Jason Lee put in cameo appearances.

Screenwriter-director-editor: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Carla Gardini
Director of photography: David Klein
Production designer: Robert Holtzman
Music: James L. Venable
Co-producer: Laura Greenlee
Costumes: Roseanne Fiedler
  Dante: Brian O'Halloran
  Randal: Jeff Anderson
  Becky: Rosario Dawson
  Jay: Jason Mewes
  Elias: Trevor Fehrman
  Emma: Jennifer Schwalbach
  Lance: Jason Lee
  Silent Bob: Kevin Smith

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

The Ivan Reitman-directed comedy manages to sap the charm from everyone in its cast, all of whom have shone quite brightly in other settings. America's reigning superheroes need not fear the competition; "Super Ex" likely will stall without leaping tall buildings or scaling boxoffice heights.

The title role, theoretically, is a perfect fit for Uma Thurman, who in recent outings has created a vengeful uber-vixen ("Kill Bill") as well as full-blooded, vulnerable women ("Prime"). But here, as both fearless G-Girl and bespectacled Jenny Johnson, she's an unconvincing, ill-at-ease cartoon. Her leading man, Luke Wilson, is a wan washout in the poorly conceived part of Matt Saunders, an architect with a history of crazy exes. He comes to the rescue of Jenny (think a less-sexy version of Toni Collette in "In Her Shoes") after she is robbed by a subway thief. Her inner blonde, G-Girl -- what it stands for is left to viewer interpretation, and ultimately is less burning a question than the all-encompassing "What were they thinking?" -- is weary of saving humanity solo, and she sparks to his heroic gesture.

Jenny, whose Clark Kent guise is that of an assistant curator at an art gallery, picks up signs of danger through a kind of X-ray hearing. This happens mid-curry on her first date with Matt, at an Indian restaurant, and after excusing herself for a trip to the restroom, she saves a building from fire and returns to the table with soot on her chin. G-Girl, who rarely dates, is not very cool about the mechanics of this double life, an endearing idea whose potential comedy, like that of many things here, is squandered.

Despite clear indications of how clingy and controlling Jenny is, Matt, who is schlepping his own relationship baggage, falls for her -- a woman who interrupts their first kiss to critique his tongue technique. Let's not get started on what havoc Miss I Don't Know My Own Strength wreaks in the bedroom. And that's when she likes him. It gets uglier. Jenny picks up on the unacknowledged attraction between Matt and his colleague Hannah (Anna Faris). He wakes up and smells the lunatic and ends the relationship with Jenny. Cue the rampage.

Screenwriter Don Payne, a writer-producer of "The Simpsons," here skips the cutting-edge smarts, opting instead for a coarse sitcom. Whatever kernels of humor his dialogue might contain, every scene is a nonstarter, and it's doubtful that less-clunky direction would have made much difference. By the time the only sympathetic character, Faris' Hannah, shouts, "Why did G-Girl throw a shark at us?" audiences might wonder why the filmmakers didn't toss in a murderous kitchen sink while they were at it.

What they do throw into the mix are Wanda Sykes' uninspired turn as Matt's boss; Rainn Wilson ("The Office") in the de rigueur love-'em-and-leave-'em Vince Vaughn role (his character's name is Vaughn, wink-wink); and Eddie Izzard, wearing an ascot and chagrined what-am-I-doing-here gaze, as archvillain Professor Bedlam.

From the ultraobvious musical cues to the wow-less FX and uneasy performances, there's not a drop of wonder or suspense in this lead-footed fantasy. The only touch of whimsy belongs to production designer Jane Musky's luxe digs for G-Girl -- apparently there's good money in the superhero trade.

Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenwriter: Don Payne
Producers: Gavin Polone, Arnon Milchan
Executive producer: Bill Carraro
Director of photography: Don Burgess
Production designer: Jane Musky
Music: Teddy Castellucci
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon
Editors: Sheldon Kahn, Wendy Green Bricmont
 Jenny Johnson/G-Girl: Uma Thurman
 Matt Saunders: Luke Wilson
 Hannah Lewis: Anna Faris
 Vaughn Haige: Rainn Wilson
 Professor Bedlam/Barry: Eddie Izzard
 Carla Dunkirk: Wanda Sykes

Lady in the Water

Nevertheless, living, breathing creatures from a child's bedtime story lurk within its confines. Working with a very talented cast and a strong visual design engineered by cinematographer Christopher Doyle and designer Martin Childs, Shyamalan does project genuine menace and suspense into this mundane location, especially in nighttime scenes. But the magic that would transport you from reality into fantasy is missing. The particulars of the fairy tale are simply too sketchy and convoluted to inspire confidence in its mythology.

Shyamalan's films, taking place in twilight zones far afield from all other Hollywood science-fiction, fantasy and horror, have earned $2 billion in boxoffice and video sales. So clearly there is something about his vision that resonates with audiences. Consequently, "Lady" should open strong, but the lack of any genuine frights or thrills may not sustain a long run.

Paul Giamatti plays the kind of character he does best -- Cleveland Heep, a guy hiding out from life as a caretaker/manager of the Cove Apartments. Lately, from his cottage near the pool, he suspects someone has been swimming in the pool at night against regulations. Pursuing this intruder one night, Cleveland falls into the pool and is rescued by a nymph-like female (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is very quiet and frightened and calls herself Story. She insists she comes from the world of water and that fierce beings want to prevent her return to that world.

One of the movie's conceits is that the Cove is more multi-ethnic than the U.N. So it is from a Korean tenant (June Kyoko Lu) -- whose hip and scantily clothed daughter, Young Soon (Cindy Cheung), provides the translation -- that Cleveland learns of a tale "from the East" that fits the particulars of the water nymph's situation.

Story is a "narf," a creature from the water, and her vicious adversary is a "scrunt," which when it finally becomes visible is a cross between a hyena and wild boar with matted, spiky fur and a really bad temper. The bedtime tale insists that several humans in the area where the narf appears have powers, unknown to themselves, that will enable them to protect and guide her to her destination.

So Cleveland, who buys into this fairy tale without a moment's hesitation, rushes among the tenants to determine which ones fit the necessary roles. His reluctant mentor is the newest tenant, Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban), a prissy and cynical book and film critic, who because he knows every possible plot devise and character thinks he can determine the obvious candidates. (This character must certainly be Shyamalan's revenge against his less friendly critics, but the character nevertheless is a hoot in his icy arrogance.)

Is Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright), a loving father with an aptitude for crossword puzzles, the Interpreter of Signs? Is Mrs. Bell (Mary Beth Hurt), a lover of animals, the Healer? Cleveland thinks he may be the Guardian. But how does the unusual bodybuilder Reggie (Freddy Rodriguez), the intellectual but remote Mr. Leeds (Bill Irwin) and an Indian writer and his sister (Shyamalan and Sarita Choudhury) fit in? One very curious thing about all these tenants is that when Cleveland comes to them with his tale of narfs and scrunts, no one looks at him and says he should check into a mental hospital. Not one.

If you take a stab at film fantasy at the level of such Shyamalan favorites as "The Wizard of Oz" and "E.T.," then you must be clear about your other worldly creatures and their goals. Here the film utterly fails. It never quite takes that very necessary step into the wardrobe as "Narnia" most recently did.

This bedtime story comes at a viewer too sporadically and the goals of the opposing forces are too vague. If a narf is a creature of the water, then why should she be rescued by an eagle from the air? If the mere appearance of Farber is enough to stop an imminent attack by a scrunt, then why should the scrunt assault Farber the next time it sees him? What are the rules of engagement here? Where is the jeopardy to the world of humans?

Giamatti is marvelous as a tortured soul whose damaged life may get resuscitated in this close encounter with a narf. Howard makes a beguiling, sculptural, waif-like being, but the role is more ephemeral than her one in Shyamalan's "The Village." All the other character actors are splendid but Cheung does stand out as a human who also exists in two parallel worlds, her mother's traditional home and the All-American life she embraces with such alacrity.

Screenwriter-director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: Sam Mercer, M. Night Shyamalan
Director of photography: Christopher Doyle
Production designer: Martin Childs
Music: James Newton Howard
Creature designer: Crash McCreery
Costume designer: Betsy Heimann
Editor: Barbara Tulliver
 Cleveland Heep: Paul Giamatti
 Story: Bryce Dallas Howard
 Mr. Dury: Jeffrey Wright
 Farber: Bob Balaban
 Anna Ran: Sarita Choudhury
 Young-Soon Choi: Cindy Cheung
 Vick Ran: M. Night Shyamalan
 Reggie: Freddy Rodriguez
 Mr. Leeds: Bill Irwin
 Mrs. Bell: Mary Beth Hurt
 Joey: Noah Gray-Cabey


Audiences certainly appreciated the change in scenery and approach Allen took in "Match Point" ($23 million domestic boxoffice). Focus Features should expect more of the same with this amusing if minor work that delivers many of the hallmark Woody Allen pleasures.

Not that one doesn't miss the sharp asides from his best comedies. ("We can walk to the curb from here" or "I have to go now, Duane, because I'm due back on the planet Earth" from "Annie Hall," for instance). There are a few here. One of the best has Allen declare he was born to the Jewish persuasion but later converted to Narcissism. Otherwise, the dialogue is more prattle than zingers.

Allen, long fascinated with encounters with death, imagines that a crack Fleet Street journalist, Joe Strombel (McShane), gets a hot tip from a fellow passenger on a boat ride to the Afterlife. Slipping away from death, he is determined to work the story from beyond the grave.

At this same moment, a third-rate (to be generous) magician named Splendini, who actually is Sid Waterman from Brooklyn (that would be Allen, of course), is performing his act in London. A young American journalism student, Sondra Pransky (Johansson), is plucked from the audience to be placed inside the "De-Materializer." To her astonishment, when the door shuts, Joe's spirit appears to her and quickly fills her in on his big scoop.

This metaphysical event sends Sondra and Sid into the streets of London and surrounding countryside in pursuit of the "Tarot Card Killer." Joe's tip is that the serial killer might be British aristocrat Peter Lyman (Jackman).

Allen plays his stereotypes to the hilt. Sondra is a clever but ditzy American blonde, who immediately falls for the suave charm of her prey. Sid is an old wind-bag, who talks in trite phrases -- "from the bottom of my heart" and "with all due respect" -- and treats everyone he meets as an audience. Peter oozes upper-class allure and glamour with small hints that darkness may lurk beneath this too-smooth exterior.

Meanwhile, the detective team of Waterman and Pransky is unimaginably bad. Their idea of looking for clues is to shuffle through Peter's briefcase. Sure, serial killers always leave major clues in briefcases. Naturally, the two actually do find clues in odd, casual places.

Also their roles switch. At first, Sid is certain they have the wrong man. Peter doesn't act or look like a serial killer. "I'd be very surprised if he killed one person," he declares. (Come to think of it, that's not a bad aside.) Then Sondra, besotted with love, wants to exonerate Peter and it's Sid, egged on by the diaphanous Joe, apparently no longer needing the De-Materializer, who is certain Peter is a killer.

"Scoop" flies by in a snappy, well-paced 96 minutes, but you can't help noticing that Allen is recycling his old movies. Along with the fascination with things metaphysical ("Alice," "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion") and the dregs of show business ("Broadway Danny Rose") and Bob Hope-style murder mysteries ("Manhattan Murder Mystery"), there even is the use of a coincidence in which a woman spies her man, supposedly out of town, across a crowded street ("Husbands and Wives"). Nothing wrong with that but these things were often sharper and funnier the first time.

With the aid of accomplished cinematographer Remi Adefarasin and designer Maria Djurkovic, Allen romanticizes London and environs just as he did so many for Manhattan. This is an ideal England with pleasing interiors and gracious exteriors, often gardens or parks, where everyone moves to the sounds of classical music.

Little Man

While this particular hook involves electronically grafting Marlon Wayans' animated mug onto the 2-foot, 6-inch body of a 9-year-old actor, it's really just the latest opportunity for the Wayans boys to dish out the same sort of bodily function-driven outrageousness that they've been lobbing at appreciative movie audiences since 1995's "Don't Be a Menace."

Although you'll likely hate yourself in the morning for having succumbed to the sophomore silliness of it all, at the time resistance proves ridiculously futile. It might never make an AFI list, but the picture generates sufficient blasts of laughter to ensure brisk crossover business for Sony.

Bugs Bunny buffs will recognize the premise as a riff on the 1954 cartoon short, "Baby Buggy Bunny," in which pint-sized gangster Baby Faced Finster passes himself off as an infant after stowing his bank job booty in a runaway baby carriage.

Here, Marlon Wayans (at least his noggin anyway) plays freshly paroled jewel thief Calvin Sims, who, along with his normal-sized buddy Percy (Tracy Morgan) has one last heist in mind involving an awfully large diamond.

But when things don't go as planned, Calvin stashes the gem into a purse belonging to Vanessa Edwards (Kerry Washington), a recently promoted advertising exec whose husband, Darryl (Shawn Wayans), is ready to start raising a family.

Needing to get easy access to the Edwards home in order to reclaim the stolen prize, Calvin shows up on their front porch disguised as an abandoned toddler.

Unfortunately, Calvin's plans to make a clean getaway are thwarted when the surprised couple prove to be quite taken with their decidedly advanced bundle of joy.

As directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, who co-wrote the script along with Shawn and Marlon, "Little Man" scurries around serving up the anticipated pee-pee/poo-poo platter of gags, but once the initial round of breast-feeding and rectal thermometer bits is fired off, the picture starts to give off the funky whiff of unattended Pampers.

But while the Wayanses seem to be aiming for the record books in terms mining laughs out of shots to the crotch (according to preliminary estimates, there is a blow to the gonads roughly every 8.5 minutes), they admittedly get a lot of comic mileage out of the juxtaposition of Marlon's face on that little body.

Granted, they could have saved a bundle on the FX budget if they simply had hired "Bad Santa's" Tony Cox to do the honors, but baby-pussed Marlon, backed by about 1,000 visual effects shots, really works it, rivaling Jim Carrey in the facial elasticity department.

Props also to costume designer Jori Woodman, whose wildly over-the-top, Gymboree-on-acid baby frocks whimsically inform a vintage Looney Tunes fashion sense with "In Living Color" Men on Film street cred.

Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Producers: Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez, Lee R. Mayes
Screenwriters: Keenen Ivory Wayans & Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans
Director of photography: Steven Bernstein
Production designer: Leslie Dilley
Editors: Nick Moore, Mike Jackson
Costume designer: Jori Woodman
Music: Teddy Castellucci
 Calvin Sims: Marlon Wayans
 Darryl Edwards: Shawn Wayans
 Vanessa Edwards: Kerry Washington
 Pops: John Witherspoon
 Percy: Tracy Morgan
 Greg: Lochlyn Munro
 Walken: Chazz Palminteri
 Soccer Mom: Molly Shannon

You, Me and Dupree

Kate Hudson is every shade of winsome and adorable, while Matt Dillon as her newlywed husband morphs believably from likable, stand-up guy to anal-retentive jerk. Owen Wilson is most definitely a slacker's slacker, and Michael Douglas is up to old tricks as a wily father-in-law with an agenda.

So Universal can look forward to an above-average opening, attracting largely female audiences. But the movie loses focus about halfway through, so boxoffice will probably level off around the $50 million range.

There is something about the "situation" in this situation comedy that rings false. Molly (Hudson) and Carl (Dillon) return from a Hawaiian wedding and honeymoon to discover that Dupree (Wilson), Carl's best man and pal since apparently kindergarten, is suddenly broke and homeless. Naturally, Carl offers to let him stay at his house for "a couple of days" -- without consulting his new wife -- and you can pretty much tell where the rest of the movie is going.

One problem, though, is the house itself. Carl works for Molly's dad (Douglas), a real-estate tycoon, in a lower echelon job, but he and Molly have a dream home. Who paid for it? If dad paid for it, there is nary a hint in the complicated dynamics among father, daughter and son-in-law that will occupy much of the movie to suggest that he did. If he didn't, then the well-to-do couple can afford to send Dupree to a motel for a month or two while he gets his act together rather than let him single-handedly destroy their marriage through his adolescent antics.

But no, the movie wants to explore the many ways a thirtysomething male, who has "never truly been domesticated," can screw up a seemingly solid, healthy, loving marriage. None of these shenanigans, which you have seen many times before, is the least bit interesting. Indeed, Le Sieur's script strains to come up with improbable acts for Dupree to commit.

Mostly, the movie, indifferently directed by the brothers Russo, must rely on the performing skills of an excellent cast. They do as well as the story will allow. Wilson can play a goof like nobody's business, so he puts terrific physical clowning into the role.

The Hudson-Dillon relationship is more interesting for what the movie leaves out than what it portrays. They seem ideally unsuited to each other, but then opposites do attract, so the relationship is ripe with possibilities the movie fritters away. And the fact that Carl has married the boss' daughter yet can barely get past a scowling office security guard (Sidney Liufau) each day speaks volumes about the two men's relationship.

Douglas, letting his hair grow magnificently white, is "Wall Street's" Gordon Gekko grown older and mellower into a figure of comedy. Again, this is ripe territory, which the movie mostly ignores for jokes about backed-up toilets and skateboarding accidents.

Some of the comedy just doesn't play. Carl can't possibly think Dupree, who is nothing if not loyal, is hitting on his wife. After all, Carl was the one who came home late, leaving Dupree and Molly to share an intimate dinner for two. And would Carl really keep his old porn collection lying around the house? And if he would, what does that say about him?

The production feels overly calculated, with costumes and design elements to "indicate" how you are supposed to feel about characters and extras and kids to populate the newlyweds' street, who seemingly swing into action at the sound of a clapboard.

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writer: Michael Le Sieur
Producers: Owen Wilson, Scott Stuber, Mary Parent
Executive producers: Michael Fottrell, Sean Perrone, Aaron Kaplan
Director of photography: Charles Minsky
Production designer: Barry Robison
Music: Rolfe Kent
Costume designer: Karen Patch
Editors: Peter B. Ellis, Debra Neil-Fisher
 Dupree: Owen Wilson
 Molly: Kate Hudson
 Carl: Matt Dillon
 Mr. Thompson: Michael Douglas
 Neil: Seth Rogen
 Annie: Amanda Detmer
 Toshi: Ralph Ting

Pirates: Dead Man's Chest

Anticipation is huge for the middle film in this projected pirate trilogy, so "Dead Man's Chest" should equal if not surpass the $656 million worldwide gross of 2003's "The Curse of the Black Pearl." Most of the crew has reunited under the helm of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, including Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, as the second and third films were shot simultaneously in Caribbean locales.

Depp is less a swashbuckler than a swishbuckler as he prances and preens through the movie with a bemused scowl on his face and the devil-may-care attitude of a hero who knows things will turn out well. He is the comic gel that holds the whole enterprise together. The performance is a total delight that somehow combines Bugs Bunny, Peter Pan and Charlie Chaplin.

"Dead Man's Chest" revolves around a blood debt Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) owes to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the legendary fiend aboard his ghostly ship, the Flying Dutchman. To escape this fate, Captain Jack must recover a key that will open a buried chest containing his nemesis' still-beating heart.

Others want to seize this chest, however, most particularly the East India Trading Co.'s Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). He imprisons Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) before their wedding on trumped-up charges so that Will is motivated to beat Captain Jack to the prize. Along the way are encounters with Will's father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), who long ago lost his soul to Davy Jones; a blackened-tooth Jamaican soothsayer, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris); and Mercer (David Schofield), Beckett's informer in ne'er-do-well disguise.

Many characters are unearthly creatures with extreme physiologies -- essentially bloated, decaying, barnacle-encrusted corpses of dead sailors arisen zombielike to terrorize the sea. Their leader, Davy Jones, is the movie's most amazing creature. His head is that of an octopus whose many tentacles wiggle, glower and reach out ominously as he rages against all living beings. This imagery gets repeated in his pet sea monster, Kraker, a giant version of his head.

Nighy does a great job of getting across his tormented character despite his face being hidden behind special effects. Knightley, who gets lovelier with each picture, makes a stout-hearted heroine, adept at physical action yet demure when need be. Bloom, though, is too much in earnest as if he were playing Errol Flynn rather than a comic version of same.

If one wants to carp about such things, this family adventure has morphed into something decidedly odd, though perhaps it fits the zeitgeist: The film overflows with as much gleeful sadism as a PG-13 rating can contain. Birds pluck eyes from living captives, a father must whip the flesh from his son's back, Captain Jack is prepared for roasting, and the threat of rape clearly looms over Elizabeth as she languishes in prison.

The whole pirate stew is flavored with moral fuzziness. The movie views pirates, who rob and murder on the high seas, as exemplars of fun-loving freedom; the East India Trading Company -- admittedly an imperialistic global corporation but nevertheless one that wants to rid the seas of homicidal criminals -- represents the forces of repression.

This production is a vast, expensive, sprawling affair that never feels out of control thanks to Verbinski's assured direction. Dariusz Wolski's cinematography superbly admires Rich Heinrich's lavish sets, while Hans Zimmer's busy though effective score -- he makes nice use of organ music -- pumps the action.

The film also marks the debut of a snappy new logo for Walt Disney Pictures that gives Sleeping Beauty's Castle a glittering cityscape in which to shine.

Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenwriters: Ted Elliott, Terry Russio
Based on characters created by: Ted Elliott, Terry Russio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Bruce Hendricks, Eric McLeod
Director of photography: Dariusz Wolski
Production designer: Rick Heinrichs
Music: Hans Zimmer
Costume designer: Penny Rose
Editors: Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin
 Captain Jack Sparrow: Johnny Depp
 Will Turner: Orlando Bloom
 Elizabeth Swann: Keira Knightley
 Norrington: Jack Davenport
 Davy Jones: Bill Nighy
 Gov. Swann: Jonathan Pryce
 Pintel: Lee Arenberg
 Ragetti: MacKenzie Crook
 Lord Beckett: Tom Hollander
 Bootstrap Bill: Stellan Skarsgard
 Tia Dalma: Naomie Harris

Strangers With Candy

At the helm, Dinello finds the right note of cheesy bathos for a takeoff on after-school specials that dares to ask, "Can we change?" But even given the essential goofiness of the premise -- and the 10-minute cut since "Strangers" premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival -- the story line is thin, the execution uneven and some of the gags repetitive. Fans of the 1999-2000 series will flock to this low-budget limited release, but many will be disappointed, as will the avid audience of "The Colbert Report," accustomed to that show's nightly dose of satirical brilliance.

In garish makeup and professional golfer's hairdo, Jerri returns home after 32 years of hard knocks, in and out of prison, to pick up where she left off -- as a student at Flatpoint High. But the halls of Flatpoint are at least as cruel as lockup. On the home front, Jerri's stepmother (Deborah Rush) and half-brother (Joseph Cross) greet her with instant enmity, while her father (Dan Hedaya) lies -- and, when propped up for company, sits -- in a coma.

As bad teledrama would have it, a challenge presents itself as an opportunity to solve just about everyone's problems: the fast-approaching science fair. In order to prove that there is some learning going on at Flatpoint, principal Blackman (series regular Gregory Hollimon), who is corrupt and inefficient, desperately needs the school to win the fair in order to save his funding, threatened by two unamused members of the school board (Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman). Jerri, naturally, sees a trophy as a surefire way to inspire her daddy back into consciousness. Spurned by the popular kids, she teams with smitten Indonesian science geek (Carlo Alban) and a studious redhead (Maria Thayer) who provokes some prison-perfected extracurricular notions on Jerri's part.

Bible-thumping science teacher Chuck Noblet (Colbert) is no help to Jerri on her quest; offering a kinder, gentler but no more effective touch is the art teacher of Noblet's in-denial affections (Dinello). Deadpan turns from Janney, Hoffman and Ian Holm heighten the absurdity by way of contrast with Sedaris' intentionally over-the-top Jerri, while Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker deliver a couple of delicious characterizations -- he as a science-fair impresario who drags around his very own Boswell, she as a grief counselor whose chief tools of the trade are a timer and a tip jar.

As a sendup of teen-centered melodrama, "Strangers With Candy" is often on target, with savvy production design, costumes and music enhancing the effect. But though this film simmers with pitch-perfect observations, particularly about self-absorbed adults, it struggles to sustain the hilarity.

Director: Paul Dinello
Screenwriters: Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris
Producers: Mark Roberts, Lorena David, Valerie Schaer Nathanson
Executive producers: David Letterman, Rob Burnett, Fred Nigro
Director of photography: Oliver Bokelberg
Production designer: Teresa Mastropierro
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Co-producer: Stephen Colbert
Costume designer: Victoria Farrell
Editor: Michael R. Miller
 Jerri Blank: Amy Sedaris
 Chuck Noblet: Stephen Colbert
 Geoffrey Jellineck: Paul Dinello
 Sara Blank: Deborah Rush
 Megawatti Sacarnaputri: Carlo Alban
 Tammi Littlenut: Maria Thayer
 Principal Onyx Blackman: Gregory Hollimon
 Guy Blank: Dan Hedaya
 Derrick Blank: Joseph Cross
 Roger Beekman: Matthew Broderick
 Dr. Putney: Ian Holm
 Peggy Callas: Sarah Jessica Parker
 Alice: Allison Janney
 Henry: Philip Seymour Hoffman


The lately ubiquitous Laurent Lucas ("Lemming") plays the hapless victim, Marc Stevens, a low-rent traveling singer whose van breaks down on a proverbial back road. After first coming into contact with a deranged looking man claiming to be looking for his lost dog, Marc happens upon a cozy inn, run by the deceptively friendly Bartel (Jackie Berroyer).

The inn¬keeper, clearly bereft after having been left by his wife, cautions Marc not to wander down into the village. But of course the young man ignores the warning and to his horror comes across a scene in which it's made clear the sexual predilections of the male villager tend toward bestiality.

But that is just the first of the horrors awaiting Marc, as it soon becomes clear that Bartel intends to make his latest guest a handy substitute for the wife who left him.

Director/co-screenwriter du Welz uses a slow, subtle approach in the beginning, carefully laying the groundwork for the more explicit horrors that are to come. But by the time it reaches its final act, the film rivals its American counterparts in intensity if not quite in explicit violence.
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