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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current movies.

"Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" — Director Dwight H. Little ("Murder At 1600") artfully hits the horror genre's obligatory notes of suspense, action, and pathos with a cast of unknowns in this proficient sequel to 1997's "Anaconda." There's a vitality to the action that entices audiences to share in the swampy joy of watching potential victims work their way through a dense jungle filled with predators. A group of horticulturists and their two guides search for a rare flower amid raging waterfalls and gigantic anacondas that have already tapped into the orchid's life-prolonging potential. It's a perfect matinee treat with plenty of genre jokes and shocks to keep you squirming in your seat. The snakes here are also bigger than they were in the first movie, and that means a lot in the realm of horror-movie sequels. ***— Cole Smithey

"Collateral" — Michael Mann sends his camera roving through the streets of Los Angeles to create a sinister love letter to that city's labyrinthine highways and pulsing multicultural energies. But he's also got a story to tell, and a dumber, more leaden tale of mayhem would be hard to find. Jamie Foxx plays a crisply professional cabby whose lonely night is interrupted by Tom Cruise's hit man, who enlists Max as an unwilling accomplice in a series of hits. If Mann had been willing to use this unlikely premise as a platform for unadulterated action, he might have produced a pleasant summer diversion. Sadly, action takes a back seat to character study, in which Cruise's Vincent sees himself alternately as a rebel against stifling conformity and an agent of fate, borrowing from Darwinian theory and the "I Ching." We're supposed to be fascinated by what makes Vincent tick, but he turns out to be just a heavily armed gasbag. ** — Thomas Peyser

"Garden State" — Cute is a generous description for much of this character study of a young, chemically subdued Los Angeles transplant who returns to his New Jersey boyhood home to bury his dead mother. There he embarks on a pop-music-filled journey of self-discovery, reviving old friendships and making new ones. Writer, director and star Zach Braff obviously admires the style of Wes Anderson films — tone and staging make numerous bows to "Rushmore" and like fare. Braff shows an honest desire to capture life's eccentric characters and exasperating, surreal moments. But most of his jokes are too broad, and 90 percent of his costars function only as one-dimensional caricatures whose quirks can't overcome a lack of narrative drive. Natalie Portman bubbles up to the top of the cast as an agitated love interest, but her vibrant presence only amplifies others' shortcomings. Bottom line: Not as good a movie as you'd like it to be. **1/2 — Wayne Melton

"Hero" — Director Zhang Yimou (pronounced zong yee moo) makes an adept and awe-inspiring leap into the brand of sophisticated martial arts storytelling that made "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" an instant classic. Set in ancient China, the smart narrative approaches the story of a sheriff called Nameless (Jet Li) who attempts to assassinate the King of Qin by taking credit for killing the King's would-be assassins. Nameless is allowed an audience with the King to describe his combat triumphs over the King's foes, which play out in resplendent flashback sequences conceived as visual ballads of color and composition. Although bootleg video and DVD copies of "Hero" have introduced thousands to the film, it's a movie that must be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Zhang Yimou's astonishing follow-up "The House Of Flying Daggers" is due to open nationwide this fall. **** — C.S.

"Mr. 3000" — Feeble direction of a faulty script keeps Bernie Mac's leading-man film debut from tapping the comedian's potential. Mac plays an aging narcissistic former baseball player whose shot at the Hall of Fame is blown when an error in his number of base hits certifies that he only hit 2997 — instead of the 3000 that motivated him to retire and open a shopping center. Unperturbed, Stan decides to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers and attempt to set the record straight with an unprecedented comeback. Angela Bassett is wasted as Stan's ESPN reporter/love interest, and an inappropriate tone of uncomfortable sexuality pushes "Mr. 3000" completely out of the ballpark of funny. ** — C.S.

"Paparazzi" — Tacky revenge thriller draws on the same antagonistic relationship between paparazzi photographers and celebrities that caused the untimely death of Princess Diana. Cole Hauser plays a rising Hollywood action star who goes on the warpath against four tabloid-crazed paparazzi responsible for causing a car accident that nearly kills his wife and their 8-year-old son. Dennis Farina plays an investigator following the trail of paparazzi victims Hauser leaves in his wake, while the formula detective story turns up doltish cameos by Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson and Chris Rock. * — C.S.

"Suspect Zero" — The exhaustion of this kind of film is signaled by the labored premise: the possibility that a serial killer is out there on the prowl for serial killers. This is a film in which characters angrily bark things like "Ya ever hear of evidentiary procedure?" and show up drenched with rain in the middle of the night at their beloved's door. When he's not carving abstract art on the bodies of his victims, Ben Kingsley's former FBI agent Benjamin O'Ryan sits rapt in the throes of extrasensory terrors, compelled to produce artful, pencilled renderings of one grisly crime scene after another. At one point, relating the horrors he's experienced as the hardest-working remote viewer in the business, he pants, "We saw things men shouldn't see." It's a sentiment that people leaving this movie are likely to share. * — T.P.

"Wicker Park" — Abysmal attempt at creating a romantic thriller puts the audience to sleep with sluggish execution and ill attention to gaping plot holes. The movie tracks a heartbroken Chicago investment banker (Josh Hartnett) as he desperately attempts to reunite with his ex-girlfriend while dodging his current squeeze. The overworked plot continually loops back on itself as Matt becomes romantically sidetracked by his ex's mentally unstable former neighbor/friend. Characters are unlikable for their asinine behavior and inarticulate attempts at communication. "Wicker Park" is an infuriating movie that is best avoided. * — C.S.

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