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movies: quickflicks

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"Empire"

— John Leguizamo plays Vic Rosa, a street dealer in the Bronx, whose thriving drug trade falls short of his driving ambition. When Wall Street investment banker Jack (Peter Sarsgaard) offers him an investment deal, Vic sees his chance to leave true crime behind, but still take other people's money. Kicking to the curb his crew — including Anthony "Treach" Criss and his heroin supplier (Isabella Rossellini) — Vic and pregnant girlfriend (Delilah Cotto) go "legit" and become close with Jack and his girlfriend (Denise Richards). But Vic soon reverts to type, finding it impossible to get where he wants as quickly as he wants, without a little gunplay. When Wall Street ends up screwing Vic, trust me, you won't be surprised and you won't care. *



"Friday After Next"

— Craig Jones (Ice Cube) and his pretty-much-worthless cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) are at it again. In this seasonally based escapade, the two are robbed on Christmas Eve by some punk dressed as Santa. If that weren't bad enough, it seems they also have until the end of this Friday to pay their rent or a big guy named Damon (Terry Crews), just out of jail, will take care of them. While this latest from producer/co-star Cube doesn't have the spark of "Friday" or "Next Friday," he's still the best thing in it. Not that Epps doesn't have his moments, he does; it's just that this third trip to the creative well proves how lame a third helping of anything can be. *



"Solaris"

— Steven Soderbergh's remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film of the same name has the stylish authority of Kubrick's "2001." It even maintains a similar deliberate pacing, allowing us time to drink in the credible, futuristic production design. But that's where the comparison ends. Soderbergh's cast and direction never rises above — or delves beyond — its surface texture. George Clooney is surprisingly good as Chris Kelvin, a doctor grieving for his dead wife (Natascha McElhone), who's sent to look into some weird doings aboard a space station near the planet Solaris. After finding one dead crewman (Ulrich Tukur) and two strangely behaved survivors (Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis), Kelvin starts to see and feel unearthly things, as well. When those ethereal oddities take the form of his dead wife, the movie moves into the realm of metaphysical "what ifs." While Soderbergh wants us to ponder the meaning of life, God, science and religion, he's tied all of his thought-provoking wishes to a mundane movie that lacks conviction.

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