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The Motel

The central character is 13-year-old Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), a sensitive and chubby teen who spends his spare time cleaning the rooms at the motel run by his single mother (Jade Wu). The job is not an easy one because the establishment specializes in renting rooms by the hour.

Ernest dreams of being a writer, and indeed he has recently become a finalist in a writing competition. Unfortunately, his harsh mother has little use for his aspirations.

Meanwhile, he takes solace in his various relationships, including those with his younger sister (Alexis Kapp Chang); a friendly waitress (Samantha Futerman of "Memoirs of a Geisha") on whom he's got a severe crush; and Sam (Sung Kang), a Korean-American stranger who progresses from using the motel for quickie encounters with prostitutes to living there.

Not much of anything really happens in the course of the film's brief, 76-minute running time, but Kang's screenplay, adapted from a novel by Ed Lin, well captures the pains of adolescent life and the particularly depressed aspects of the story's rundown, unspecified setting (it was shot in upstate New York).

The filmmaker has also elicited sterling performances from the cast. Young Chyau beautifully depicts his character's adolescent confusion, Wu overcomes the mother's stereotypical attributes to make her ultimately sympathetic, and Sung is strongly charismatic as Ernest's less than admirable role model. While "The Motel" ultimately adds up to little more than a character-driven vignette, it is a particularly well-observed one.

Rank

The film concentrates on three finalists in particular: 25-year-old Justin McBride, a third-generation bull rider whose grandfather was killed while participating in the sport at age 48; Adriano Moraes; a 34-year-old Brazilian-born family man who has endured a series of devastating injuries during his long career; and Mike Lee, a 21-year-old born-again Christian whose father has become disabled after years of dealing with dangerous livestock.

Also profiled is the father-and-son-owned D&H Cattle Co. of Oklahoma, which raises the bucking bulls used in the competition, and one of their prized bulls, Mudslinger, who has been in contention for the PBR Bucking Bull of the Year award for three years running.

As the film demonstrates, no less dangerous are the efforts of the so-called "bullfighters," whose job it is to rescue the riders after they have been unceremoniously tossed off by the massive beasts.

Both in terms of the activities and characters depicted, "Rank" doesn't truly manage to sustain interest for the course of its feature-length running time. Not helping matters is the abbreviated length of the riders' exertions, which are necessarily over almost as soon as they have begun. But it does provide a thorough context for those even remotely interested in the sport, as well as a dramatic illustration of the physical sacrifices necessary to reach its top level.

Monster House

There is no monster in the dilapidated, crumbling relic, which is the title character. Instead, the house itself is the monster. It's an idea that works in fits and starts. The "horror," as such, is mostly exterior. When the movie finally enters the haunted abode, a good 52 minutes into the picture, it turns into a Halloween fun ride. Floors collapse and sections of the building develop carnivorous attitudes, but the movie soon enough scrambles back outside so the house can resume swallowing passers-by and storming down suburban streets after its prey.

"Monster" will be enjoyed by youngsters, but adults -- for all the suggestive wordplay and anatomical references thrown in for their benefit -- may find this more trick than treat. The film opens July 21, odd only because this would be a perfect Halloween movie. Nevertheless, the film should attract a solid family audience.

Kenan staged all the action in a 20-by-20-square-foot arena, where his actors dodged and ducked while wearing special suits so their physical motion got recorded digitally. The data was then turned over to animation supervisor Troy Saliba and lead character animator T. Dan Hofstedt to blend the live-action and CG imagery. Whether this is a wave of the animated future is still in doubt as it currently looks inferior to pure CG animation. Human characters have rubbery faces and limbs, and the voices seemingly bear little relationship to these emaciated bodies.

A couple of 12-year-old boys, DJ (Michael Musso) and Chowder (Sam Lerner), believe something truly creepy is happening across the street from DJ's house. While his parents (Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard) are away a day before Halloween and his baby-sitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is wonderful) is otherwise engaged with her boyfriend Bones (Jason Lee), the pair investigates along with their new friend Jenny (Spencer Locke).

The house belongs to grouchy old man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), who chases away anyone who trespasses on his overgrown lawn. In a fit of rage when DJ dares to step on this lawn, Nebbercracker collapses and gets carted off by ambulance. Feeling guilty of "murder," DJ becomes convinced the house is haunted by a malevolent spirit, possibly Nebbercracker himself.

Local police (Nick Cannon and Kevin James) are of little help -- especially when the house swallows them along with a stray dog and Bones -- so it falls to the youngsters to get to the bottom of the mystery. They eventually realize the structure is the incarnation of Nebbercracker's late, gigantic and tragic wife (Kathleen Turner). Then Nebbercracker himself shows up, still quite alive, thank you, and the quartet must find a way to destroy the evil house and liberate the "spirit" of the old man's beloved wife.

For all the film's playful music (by Douglas Pipes), colorful design (by Ed Verreaux) and rambunctious characters, this Roald Dahl-esque tale and cornball fantasy never quite jell into a satisfying movie experience. The move feels frustratingly disjointed like that lumbering, disintegrating house storming down the street.

Director: Gil Kenan
Screenwriters: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
Story by: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab
Producers: Steve Starkey, Jack Rapke
Executive producers: Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Jason Clark
Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet
Production designer: Ed Verreaux
Music: Douglas Pipes
Costume designer: Ruth Myers
Editors: Adam P. Scott, Fabienne Rawley
Cast:
 Nebbercracker: Steve Buscemi
 Lister: Nick Cannon
 Zee: Maggie Gyllenhaal
 Skull: Jon Heder, Landers: Kevin James
 Bones: Jason Lee
 Mom: Catherine O'Hara
 Constance: Kathleen Turner
 Dad: Fred Willard

Click

Sandler's Michael Newman is established as a harried, workaholic architect determined to win the approval of his boss (David Hasselhoff) so he will be named a partner in the firm. Which leaves his lovely wife, Donna (Kate Beckinsale), and picture-perfect kids, Ben (Joseph Castanon) and Samantha (Tatum McCann), in the lurch. Dad hasn't any time to take a holiday or even finish that treehouse in the backyard.

Annoyed one evening when he can't figure out which of his remotes turns on the TV, Michael drives to a store to purchase a universal remote to operate all his electronic equipment. At Bed, Bath & Beyond, he slips through a door marked Beyond, which takes him to a shadowy warehouse/lab where a slightly demented guy named Morty -- Christopher Walken, who else? -- hands him a gadget that he promises will change Michael's life. It does.

Michael discovers that this remote can not only muffle the dog's bark, but let him fast-forward through arguments with Donna and skip the drudgery of work. The drawback is that the remote begins to program Michael: It anticipates, based on his previous preferences, the events he would like to experience and those he would choose to miss. Only now he is skipping over major sections of his life, fast-forwarding to the day he finally becomes a partner only to return home to a family irredeemably estranged from dad.

"Click" has a grand time aging people, portraying the results of a junk-food addiction over a long haul and seeing relationships crumble and resume at a click of a button. Clearly, this gag leads to serious themes explored in works as divergent as Harry Chapin's song "Cat's in the Cradle," Thorton Wilder's play "Our Town" and Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol," where a protagonist learns he must treasure everyday life just as it is and realizes the consequences of mistreating those who are close.

The logic of this Universal Remote is not completely thought through. If Michael can fast-forward in time, why can't he hit reverse and alter his destiny? More puzzling is that the devise seems to create two different Michaels. The one who hits the clicker is still sensitive to his desperate need for his family and their love. But the "bad" Michael, the one he catches up with in these time-travel leaps, is completely cut off, if not hostile, to family members.

Fortunately, Sandler sells the good Michael as a likable guy even when crazed with work and seems truly startled at this deviant version of himself. Michael's children, played at different stages by three sets of actors, grow up believably. However, Beckinsale's Donna isn't given much to work with other than an unlikely shift in her romantic affections.

Characters on the periphery -- Hasselhoff, Henry Winkler and Judy Kavner as Michael's parents, Sean Astin as a swim coach and Jennifer Coolidge as Donna's husband-cheating girlfriend -- are all caricatures.

The visual effects by Jim Rygiel and Pete Travers and special effects supervised by John Hartigan are part of the fun. The various design elements pull you into the world of the Universal Remote as well as a credible future complete with 2016 cars and Perry Andelin Blake's sleek production design, all expertly woven together by Dean Semler's crisp cinematography.

Director: Frank Coraci
Screenwriters: Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe
Producers: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Neal H. Moritz, Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe
Executive producers: Barry Bernardi, Tim Herlihy
Director of photography: Dean Semler
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Costume designer: Ellen Lutter
Editor: Jeff Gourson
Cast:
 Michael: Adam Sandler
 Donna: Kate Beckinsale
 Morty: Christopher Walken
 Ammer: David Hasselhoff
 Ted: Henry Winkler
 Trudy: Julie Kavner
 Bill: Sean Astin

The Devil Wears Prada

The film is based on the best-seller by Lauren Weisberger, who did a stint as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the all-powerful editor of Vogue. That novel and now this movie are her revenge: Here is an insider's view of the insane, pressure-cooker atmosphere an outrageously demanding boss can establish in her architecturally pristine executive suite. You might want to sit back from the screen, though, so that Miranda's morning barrage of wraps and overcoats flung at her assistant doesn't hit you.

Hathaway plays Andy Sachs, a fashion-challenged Northwestern graduate who takes a job as an assistant to Miranda, editor of Runway magazine. Her idea is that a year at Runway on her resume will help her achieve her goal of working at the New Yorker. But Andy so doesn't fit the mode.

Nigel (Stanley Tucci in perfect casting), Miranda's fey but tough right-hand man, takes one look at Andy and wonders, in one of the movie's better lines, if there is "a before-and-after piece I don't know about." Yet it is this awkward fashion sense and naivete that actually land Andy the job. All of Miranda's previous assistants, fashion horses in clacking stilettos, have disappointed her. So why not try the nerd?

Installed as Assistant No. 2 under Assistant No. 1, Andy is swiftly cut down to size by Miranda. That would be a size 6, which causes one Clacker to call Andy "fat." (The problem with this line, which is funny, is that Hathaway is the thinnest person onscreen -- a size 4 at worst. Then again, maybe that's why it is funny.)

One day, while whining to Nigel and getting no sympathy, something clicks in Andy's head. She inveigles Nigel into an instant makeover in the magazine's wardrobe room: Gliding out in a Chanel outfit with stiletto Jimmy Choos and a new hairstyle, Andy has now entered the world of fashion.

Frankel and McKenna do a smart thing in not completely demonizing Miranda. Fashion is a serious business in America, and Runway means to remain the bible of that industry. Only a killer editor who takes no prisoners can maintain those standards. So Miranda, and for a while Andy, put their jobs first. Everything else -- husbands, twins and any social life outside of fashion for Miranda, and a boyfriend (Adrian Grenier), coterie of friends (Tracie Thoms, Rich Sommer) and a dreamy novelist (Simon Baker) with romantic ideas for Andy -- come a distant, distant second.

It eventually becomes clear that there is method to Miranda's madness: Her incessant demands are tests to purge staff members who are not up to her own ruthless quest for perfection. Indeed the virtuous moral at the movie's end -- that this is no way to live a good life -- feels hallow because the film displays an unmistakable ambivalence toward Runway. With its grudging admiration for fashion-fabulous costumes and for this glamorous lifestyle, the film idolizes that which it would skewer.

Streep makes Miranda a bit sad and lonely without allowing for even an ounce of sympathy for her character: She has made her choice in life and clearly loves it. Hathaway's Andy has gotten momentarily swept up in the excitement of anticipating and exceeding her boss' demands but realizes she has lost her career focus.

However, Tucci's Nigel has passed the point of no return: He can meet Miranda's demands but has lost control of his life. And Emily Blunt, as Miranda's Assistant No. 1, delivers a comic gem as a woman so enthralled with fashion and service to its diva that her life is in free fall. Only she fails to recognize it.

Designer Jeff Gonchor, costumer Patricia Field and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus outdo themselves in realizing a rarefied world not unlike the one which Cole Porter once satirized in song as "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor."

Director: David Frankel
Screenwriter: Aline Brosh McKenna
Based on the novel by: Lauren Weisberger
Producer: Wendy Finerman
Executive producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Joe Caracciolo Jr.
Director of photography: Florian Ballhaus
Production designer: Jeff Gonchor
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Costume designer: Patricia Field
Editor: Mark Livolsi
Cast:
 Miranda Priestly: Meryl Streep
 Andy Sachs: Anne Hathaway
 Emily: Emily Blunt
 Nigel: Stanley Tucci
 Nate: Adrian Grenier
 Christian: Simon Baker

Waist Deep

Tyrese Gibson, after two fine performances in the John Singleton films "Baby Boy" and "Four Brothers," carries the movie on his broad shoulders, though the impossibly good-looking Meagan Good makes a solid action co-star. The opening sequence in the screenplay by Hall and Darin Scott (from a story by Michael Mahern) is overly contrived, but does set off a classic race against the clock.

A newly paroled ex-con named O2 (Gibson) has somehow landed a security job that gives him access to a gun. When his flaky cousin Lucky (Larenz Tate) fails to pick up O2's son, Junior (H. Hunter Hall), from school, O2 must leave his job before a replacement shows up, taking the gun with him, to pick up the boy.

Then, tooling down Adams Boulevard, O2 has his car jacked by hoods with his boy still inside. This leads to a well-executed foot-and-car chase through traffic with guns going off and bad guys shot, but O2 ultimately loses the car -- and his beloved son. His only connection to the carjackers is a hustler named Coco (Good), who apparently was assigned the job of distracting O2 before the assault. He forces Coco at gunpoint to join him in his crusade to get back his son.

Since O2 has two strikes against him under California's "three strikes" law, he can't go to the police -- certainly not after that highly visible shootout. Lucky finds out that O2's son is being held by a notorious gang leader named Meat (hip-hop star the Game). Meat is demanding $100,000 in two days for Junior's release. So what's an ex-con trying to go straight to do but rob a couple of gang houses and then a few banks to raise the coin?

For a while, O2 and Coco play with the idea of robbing rival gangs to pit them against each other. Somehow this intriguing plot element gets frittered away in the need for action. The robberies themselves are so far-fetched that Hall wisely plays them for laughs. In another mischievous touch, the 48-hour action occurs amid a sea of street protests by South L.A. residents demanding the mayor and police keep their neighborhoods safe. One ambush of the unlucky Lucky happens right behind a rally without one angry participant noticing the gangsters or their guns.

Hall paces the film expertly so he can work in calmer moments for his two desperate characters to open up to each other and explore a blossoming friendship. Along with cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, Hall goes for a straightforward yet often striking visual style that allows for a mobile camera and stunts that flow smoothly from characters' actions. In the early going, though, characters in their cars are framed so tightly you wish for a few wider angles so you can see where all the cars and people are positioned.

Terence Blanchard and Denaun Porter's music is serviceable, while Warren A. Young's production design and Marie France's costumes go for a natural though dramatically heightened look. For the record, Junior is played by the son of the director and his actress-director wife, Kasi Lemmons.

Director: Vondie Curtis Hall
Screenwriters: Vondie Curtis Hall, Darin Scott
Story: Michael Mahern
Producer: Preston Holmes
Executive producers: Ted Field, Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans, Russell Simmons, Stan Lathan, Amy Kaufman, A. Demetrius Brown
Director of photography: Shane Hurlbut
Production designer: Warren A. Young
Music: Terence Blanchard, Denaun Porter
Costume designer: Marie France
Editor: Terilyn A. Shropshire.
Cast:
 02: Tyrese Gibson
 Coco: Meagan Good
 Lucky: Larenz Tate
 Meat: The Game
 Junior: H. Hunter Hall

Superman Returns

While Routh is the same age as Reeve when he played the role, Routh's Superman is older in spirit. His Superman has known heartbreak and loss. He thinks about his late father and must consider the possibility that he might have a son. He even faces his own mortality. In other words, Singer wants to put human emotions into his alien superhero, and for the most part, he succeeds.

Not that the other kind of Superman movie turns up missing. The hero's rescues are spectacular thanks to the marvels of digital effects. And its villain, Lex Luthor, and Luthor's female companion, Kitty Kowalski -- deliciously played by Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey -- spice the film with extravagant comedy. So old fans can rejoice even as this "Superman" wins new fans from among those who normally don't care about superheroes.

Singer and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris imagine that the superhero has vanished for five years. During that time, he has searched the far reaches of space for his home planet of Krypton and has determined that, yes, it is a destroyed planet. Now, returning to Earth, he discovers that absence has not made the heart grow fonder.

His mom (Eva Marie Saint) is overjoyed to see him, of course. But Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has won a Pulitzer by penning a story, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman," and the world has more or less forgotten its savior.

Superman in his Clark Kent guise gets his old job back at the Daily Planet from editor Perry White (Frank Langella). Day 1 on the job, Lois is in deadly peril when a space shuttle launched from the back of a jet fails to disengage and rockets into space with the jet still attached and Lois onboard. Fighting through fire and molten debris, Superman brings the disintegrating plane in for a soft landing in a crowded baseball stadium before he and Lois can lock eyes for the first time in five years. Well, he certainly knows how to get the girl's attention.

But Superman can't overcome the obstacles he faces in the new realities in Lois' life: Not only is she still angry at him for disappearing without a word, but she has a son, Jason (Tristan Leabu), and a fiance, Richard White (James Marsden), the editor's nephew.

Meanwhile, Lex, newly sprung from prison, plots to use Superman's own "crystal technology," married to Superman's Achilles' heel, kryptonite, in an ingenious scheme to ignite a new land mass in the Atlantic that will swamp North America while creating a gigantic real estate venture for him. These evil machinations barely leave Superman and Lois much time to reflect on their relationship. But clearly, Superman must wonder who Jason's father is even as he adjusts to a role reversal that sees Lois and her fiance coming to his rescue! Times have indeed changed.

To underscore the link to Donner's film, designer Guy Hendrix Dyas borrows here and there from John Barry's original design elements, composer John Williams' "Superman" theme is woven through the film, and Singer incorporates footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman's long-dead father, into the early segments. However, this Superman does represent a new generation of flying. Superman doesn't so much fly as float. He can levitate a few feet or thousands of feet in the air. He's a Michael Jordan who never comes down. His nighttime excursion with Lois in the skies above Metropolis is reminiscent of the romantic moonlit ride Reeve gave Margot Kidder, his Lois, a ride that thrilled female viewers a generation ago.

This high-wire act would have gone for naught if Routh had not so capably filled the Man of Steel's costume. Like Reeve, he is just right physically, looking at times like the old comic book drawings of Superman. There is honesty in his acting where the emotions that play across Superman/Clark Kent's face and body come from deep within. Bosworth's Lois is a torn woman, highly ambivalent over the return of a man she has tried to hard to forget. And young Leabu does a nice job in conveying the innocence and curiosity of a boy with a new hero/authority figure in his life.

The oh-wow technical wizardry behind "Superman Returns" accomplishes two things: It makes you appreciate the huge advances in visual effects since 1978 but also appreciate the considerable accomplishments of Donner's team back in the day.

Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriters: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Story: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics
Producers: Jon Peters, Bryan Singer, Gilbert Adler
Executive producers: Chris Lee, Thomas Tull, Scott Mednick, William Fay
Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Production designer: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Music: John Ottman
"Superman" theme: John Williams
Costumes: Louise Mingenbach
Editors: Elliot Graham, John Ottman
Cast:
 Superman/Clark Kent: Brandon Routh
 Lois Lane: Kate Bosworth
 Lex Luthor: Kevin Spacey
 Richard White: James Marsden
 Kitty: Parker Posey
 Perry White: Frank Langella
 Jimmy Olsen: Sam Huntington
 Martha Kent: Eva Marie Saint

Garfield: Two Kitties

Wandering into "The Prince and the Pauper" territory by way of "Babe," this lifeless, talky, family-oriented feature never manages to rise to the occasion of its witty title, which actually was appropriated from a 1942 Merrie Melodies cartoon featuring Babbit and Castello.

Even the kiddies responsible for the original $75.3 million kitty likely will be consumed by restlessness this time around if the audibly unengaged reactions at a recent preview screening are of any indication.

The action, such as it is, moves to across the pond to England, where Garfield (again voiced by Bill Murray), accompanied by his live-action, dim-witted canine cohabitant Odie, follows his nice but dull facilitator (Breckin Meyer) to London, where he's planning to propose to his perky veterinarian girlfriend (Jennifer Love Hewitt).

In short order, Garfield manages to swap places with his doppelganger -- a pampered royal pet (voiced by Tim Curry) who has just inherited his master's castle, much to the distinct aggravation of the plotting Lord Dargis (a waste of Billy Connolly), who thought he had permanently taken care of the one obstacle blocking his rightful place in line.

Despite an official running time of 78 minutes, the sequel somehow feels twice that long, dragged ploddingly along the subordinate claws provided by incoming director Tim Hill ("Muppets From Space") and writers Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (the first "Garfield," "Cheaper by the Dozen").

While the inaugural installment at least had the benefit of Murray's sardonic way with a line reading, here his patented tossed-off dialogue has all the bite of soggy kibble.

Visually, even with all the advances in CG technology, the latest Garfield model succeeds in looking even creepier than its predecessor.

It is only during those "Babe"-inspired sequences involving a live-action grouping of animals on the estate (voiced by the likes of Bob Hoskins, Sharon Osbourne, Richard E. Grant and Rhys Ifans) that the picture offers a glimpse of something approaching amusement.

The rest of the time is occupied wondering why the ever-soulful Odie doesn't ditch the tiresome orange fur-ball once and for all and strike out on his own capable four feet.

Director: Tim Hill
Producer: John Davis
Screenwriters: Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow
Based on the comic strip "Garfield" by: Jim Davis
Executive producers: Michele Imperato Stabile, Brian Manis
Director of photography: Peter Lyons Collister
Production designer: Tony Burrough
Editor: Peter S. Elliot
Costume designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Music: Christophe Beck
Cast:
Jon Arbuckle: Breckin Meyer
Liz: Jennifer Love Hewitt
Dargis: Billy Connolly
Voice of Garfield: Bill Murray
Smithee: Ian Abercrombie
Mr. Hobbs: Roger Rees

Nacho Libre

Set in the colorful world of Lucha Libre -- sort of the Mexican equivalent of WWE -- the deliberately off-kilter picture throws political correctness to the mat with abandon, but that unlikely will be much of a concern for its target demo.

Black takes on his most fully realized character to date as Nacho, the orphaned son of a Scandinavian missionary and a Mexican deacon (which would explain the wacky accent) who now is a cook in the monastery in which he was raised.

Tired of feeling put upon by the friars, Nacho finds relative respect by leading a double life as a masked luchador with plans to take his prize money to buy better food for the orphans which, in turn, would hopefully impress the lovely Sister Encarnacion (popular Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera).

Finding a worthy partner in the timid, skeletal Esqueleto (the hysterical Hector Jimenez), Nacho steps into the ring and puts his dream to the test opposite a succession of real-life luchadores including Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez aka Bronco) and, in the role of Satan's Helpers, the screeching midget duo of Filliberto Estrella Calderon and Gerson Virgen Lopez.

Given the comic talents involved, there might have been hopes for something more dynamic than the languid pacing and self-consciously quirky style found here, but those potential deficits prove to be part of the production's considerable charms.

Director Hess, who penned the script along with his wife and writing partner, Jerusha Hess and White, lends the film a fittingly eccentric look and feel with the assist of cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet ("Before Night Falls"), production designer Gideon Ponte ("The Notorious Bettie Page"), and especially those wondrous Spandex creations of costume designer Graciela Mazon, a frequent Robert Rodriguez collaborator.

Filmed entirely on location in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, "Nacho Libre" makes effective use of both the local color and talent, especially in Jimenez, who has a knack for stealing attention away from the antics of his capable co-star simply by doing absolutely nothing.

Look out, Laurel and Hardy!

Director: Jared Hess
Screenwriters: Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess & Mike White
Producers: Mike White, Jack Black, Julia Pistor, David Klawans
Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet
Production designer: Gideon Ponte
Editor: Billy Weber
Costume designer: Graciela Mazon
Music: Danny Elfman
Cast:
 Nacho: Jack Black
 Esqueleto: Hector Jimenez
 Sister Encarnacion: Ana de la Reguera
 Guillermo: Richard Montoya
 Ramses: Cesar Gonzalez

Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift

Universal pegs the worldwide boxoffice take of the first two installments at $443 million. "Tokyo Drift" will add considerably to that figure. It's not as sharp and savvy as the first film nor, on the other hand, is this one running on empty as the second film did. Teens, especially males, will dig the action and the hot Asian babes, so probably few are going to mind that its hero is a moron.

That would be Sean Boswell, played by young Lucas Black, his native Alabama accent going full throttle yet the guy gets upset when Japanese youth call him a gaijin, meaning foreigner or outsider. In the movie's first extended sequence, which takes place somewhere in Red Neck, USA, Sean flirts with another guy's girlfriend and finds himself challenged to a car race.

In the movie's second extended sequence -- after his mother is forced to send him to his dad, a military man stationed in Japan, in order for Sean to escape the legal consequences of the destruction caused by the race -- he flirts with someone else's girlfriend and gets challenged ... oh, you get the picture. This is a guy who not only is not going to learn from past mistakes, the movie actually takes these failures as a solid character trait.

When he trashes a Nissan Silvia S15 in the second race, this lands him a a job as a stooge to Japanese-American gangster Han (Sung Kang). Strangely, director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan see nothing ominous in their hero's easy transition into crime. This is just a setup for his immersion into the Japanese racing phenomenon known as "drift" racing.

Drift is the rubber-burning, slide-and-glide maneuvers that allow racers to negotiate hairpin turns and switchbacks in the mountains and canyons of rural Japan and the parking structures of urban Japan. Sean totals several cars before mastering the art, but like all Americans in Japan before him -- think Tom Selleck in "Mr. Baseball" and Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai" -- he soon can out-Japanese the Japanese.

Plot developments that bear little scrutiny involve Sean's growing affection for Neela (Australian newcomer Nathalie Kelley, whose ethnicity is never clear), the girlfriend of a gangster known as D.K. (Brian Tee) as in "Drift King." There also are a few speeches about trust and character and knowing where you belong as the movie wants to cast its characters as misunderstood youth. In fact, they are thoroughly understood as amoral, sensation-seeking youngsters who care about nothing save themselves.

The car stunts, especially the drifting, are brilliantly choreographed, though at times the choreography shows. Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon and editors Fred Raskin and Kelly Matsumoto display these stunts to maximum impact.

The movie's basic problem is that Sean is the least interesting character and Black the least interesting actor in the film. Even Bow Wow as Sean's sidekick Twinkie has more depth and the gangsters -- including D.K.'s uncle, played by legendary Japanese film star JJ Sonny Chiba in his "Godfather" whites -- are more charismatic. Or at least they are before the auto eroticism takes over.

More worrisome is the steady decline in ambition in director Lin. Coming off the high of one of Sundance's most electric titles, the edgy, satirical "Better Luck Tomorrow" in 2003, both of his 2006 films, "Annapolis" and now this one, have displayed not one iota of a filmmaking personality. That's drift of the wrong kind.
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