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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current films.

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"Beauty Shop" — Take one part "Barbershop," one part Queen Latifah, sprinkle in a tablespoon of 'you-go-girl' attitude and stir to get the confection of "Beauty Shop." Gina (Latifah), who made her trash-talking debut in "Barbershop 2," moves to Atlanta and opens up her own salon. Gina hustles to raise her daughter, keep the shop afloat, and treat her customers to a vibe full of glam, girl-power and spunk. Brandishing curling irons and hair dryers, the ladies sling a sassed-up version of the ribald barbershop banter, gabbing about breast implants, Oprah, and the pros and cons of pubic hair. It's formulaic and the jokes are hit or miss, but Latifah's warm, toned-down performance gives "Beauty Shop" real heart. (PG-13) ** — Cole Smithey



"Guess Who" — Every American institution has questions to ask itself regarding race relations, but the entertainment industry's question is usually the most American: how to turn it into profits. Hollywood's answer in 1967 was the Poitier/Hepburn/Tracy classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," a film choked by timid progressiveness. "Guess Who" makes that earlier movie's tepid, tedious sermonizing sound daring and incisive. Done in by a fear of offending anyone, the people behind "Guess Who" have virtually banished all but the most superficial treatment of race from the plot. That's no mean feat, given the premise: a black family's queasy confusion at the prospect of a white in-law. But most of us, one hopes, don't rely on movies for ethical guidance, so the rigorous triviality isn't much of a problem. What is a problem is that "Guess Who" isn't particularly romantic, moving or funny. (PG-13) ** — Thomas Peyser



"Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" — Sandra Bullock is an interesting actress. She's lovely, quick-witted and has a silky charm that smoothes her rough edges. Unfortunately, she seems forever tied to ill-fated fare like "Miss Congeniality 2," a movie that tries too hard at its theme and forgets the simple goal of being funny. A poorly written comedy-action sequel, the film's motor turns on the rescue of a kidnapped Miss United States (Heather Burns) and drags along as nearly every identically paced scene lies on the big screen like a dried egg on day-old toast. Pageant emcee William Shatner adds some surprisingly lively moments, but most of "Miss Congeniality 2" seems hurried and forced. (PG-13) ** — C.S.



"Off the Map" — Campbell Scott ("Big Night") directs a lackluster adaptation of Joan Ackermann's slice-of-life play about an offbeat family living a fringe existence in Taos, N.M., in the early '70s. Joan Allen is a nudist earth mother to a precocious home-schooled daughter obsessed with snapping her inexplicably depressed father (Sam Elliott) out of his deep, dark depression. Individual talents fail to add up to much except a meandering meditation on what it means to be unclear. "Off the Map" plots many points of potential interest, but they lead absolutely nowhere. (PG-13) *1/2 — C.S.



"The Ring Two" — Naomi Watts' Rachel tiptoes around this sequel about a creepy young girl who dwells in the innards of a videotape. Hideo Nakata, who helmed the Japanese originals "Ringu" and "Ringu 2," seems to have gone buck wild with his new Hollywood-sized budget. His film explodes with visual devices and camera trickery, before imploding into a heap of symbolic nonsense and visual crud. This one's weird even for horror movie sequels, a highly stylized, glittering monument of nothing. A brief appearance by Sissy Spacek seems like the icing on a cake of empty spectacle. (R) * — Wayne Melton



"Sahara" — The latest adventure comedy from Paramount falls into a chasm as a shoddy derivative of the Indiana Jones and James Bond franchises. Matthew McConaughey plays generic sun-kissed treasure hunter Dirk Pitt, searching the Sahara with his quirky sidekick (Steve Zahn) for a Civil War ironclad. Penélope Cruz adds female distraction for the explorers as a doctor working for the World Health Organization to remedy a plague sweeping Africa from an epicenter in Mali. The movie is based on the popular novel by Clive Cussler ("Raise The Titanic") and is a feeble preview of the coming summer blockbuster season. (PG-13) *1/2 — C.S.



"Sin City" — High-contrast tour-de-force cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller's wickedly grotesque graphic novel pays homage to the hard-boiled shadowy style of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane. Robert Rodriguez teams up with co-directors Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino to deliver a TKO of a movie. Constructed with state-of-the-art special effects, "Sin City" is a stylized, dark and gritty (and it must be said, quite risqué) film that weaves together three Frank Miller stories with eye-popping results that threaten to addict audiences to the movie for repeated viewing. (R) ***** — C.S.



"The Upside of Anger" — Kevin Costner plays Denny Davies, a retired pro baseball player turned radio talk-show host who shares his midday drinking and pot-smoking with the newly single Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four insufferable teenage daughters. Every character behaves badly by sleeping with wretched people and milling aimlessly about toward an anticlimactic ending that's pasted together with a vague and drippy voice-over narration by the youngest daughter. Writer/director/actor Mike Binder (writer on HBO's "The Mind of the Married Man") is to blame for this melodramatic game of three-card monte, a scattershot movie about suburban ennui as glimpsed through a gauzy female gaze. (R) ** — C.S.

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