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quick flicks

The Santa Clause 2, The Ring, I Spy, Jackass - The Movie,

There are a few good chuckles, but not enough to delight tots. Kids 6 and older will perhaps follow the characters and wait for the laughs, even getting the more sophisticated humor. Rated G, "The Santa Clause 2" is tame: Mother Nature warns Santa she's feeling "pre-El Nino." Comet has gas. There's a warp-speed reindeer chase. Scott (Tim Allen) still loves his accidental job as Santa Claus. Elfin hammers are pounding at the North Pole as Christmas nears when he learns that the small print in his contract says he must find a Mrs. Claus or be de-Santafied. Leaving a life-size Toy Santa to keep order (in a clever bit, Toy Santa becomes a by-the-book fascist), Scott puts on street clothes and heads home. His son (Eric Lloyd) has discipline problems at school, and when Scott meets the principal (Elizabeth Mitchell), he's smitten. Kids will like it better when he meets the Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur). **

"I Spy" — An infuriating waste of millions, "I Spy" has little relation to the TV series "I Spy," which starred Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in the 1960s, except that its co-stars are also black (Eddie Murphy) and white (Owen Wilson). Where the TV show was thoughtful, droll and low-tech, the movie is a mindless buddy comedy about gadgets and explosives. Teens may take the silliness at face value and just enjoy the ride. The movie contains understated violence, sexual innuendo, crude language and toilet humor. Wilson plays an American agent tracking a black-market arms dealer (Malcolm McDowell) in Budapest. He's ordered to team up with a loudmouthed boxing champ (Eddie Murphy) who's there for a match, because the arms dealer's a boxing fan. Murphy is usually fun to watch, and Wilson is a likeably eccentric actor, but as the boastful pugilist and the slightly shy and bumbling spy, their banter sounds lame. Budapest looks great, though. **

"Jackass: The Movie" — Yes, I've cried wolf before, but "Jackass: The Movie" really is the end of civilization. An expanded version of an MTV reality show, it features guys acting like drunken frat rats and trying dangerous, stupid stunts. It was the No. 1 movie last week, so clearly some find the "Jackass" brand of anarchy and public lewdness entertaining. Teen boys are a likely audience, despite the R rating. While destroying property and risking life and limb (the movie warns us not to try the stunts at home), the "Jackass" guys, led by Johnny Knoxville, often expose their behinds and/or their privates, vomit, relieve themselves in public and guffaw at their wit. Some of the pranks are funny. Most are dumb, gross or vile. There's also profanity. *

"The Ring" — Aussie actress Naomi Watts stars in this visually arresting but narratively messy ghost story. She plays a journalist who's drawn into the mystery of her niece's sudden death after the girl viewed a surreal video. She, of course, watches the video as well and then — Holy Wes Craven! — the phone rings. The voice on the other end tells her she has only one week to live. Watts, being a reporter, naturally takes that to mean she only has seven days to solve the mystery. Dogged determination leads her to trace the evil to the usual deserted locales: a cabin in the woods, an abandoned lighthouse, and finally, a remote stable. It's eerie and disturbing — in a good way, mind you. Director Gore Verbinski understands that the horror in our heads is much scarier than any carnage he could put on-screen.

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