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"Hart's War"; "Crossroads"; "John Q."; "I Am Sam"

Quick Flicks

"Hart's War" — An old-fashioned World War II drama, this Bruce Willis-starrer also offers a contemporary twist: a social conscience. Shot handsomely in bleak, wintry tones, the movie overflows with ominous, complex motives. Colin Farrell plays Lt. Hart, who's taken prisoner in late 1944 and sent to a POW camp where Willis is the ranking American captive. As Col. McNamara, Willis is a tough West Pointer. He assigns Hart to an enlisted men's barracks. When two African-American Tuskegee airmen end up in Hart's barracks, he tries to diffuse the racial tension. But then a bigoted sergeant is murdered, and a Tuskegee pilot (Terence Howard) stands accused. Hart defends him in a court-martial sanctioned by McNamara, but the good colonel has more in mind than a trial. Until it lays on the sappy melodrama at the end, "Hart's War" is a winner.

"Crossroads" — To quote a buddy of mine, Fox News at 10 anchor Curt Autry, Britney Spears is "not a girl and not yet an actress." But she does show potential, and unlike Mariah Carey's dismal star vehicle "Glitter," "Crossroads" doesn't ask much more of Spears than she can deliver. She plays Lucy, a smart, small-town girl raised by overprotective single-dad Dan Aykroyd. Although she and two childhood friends have grown apart during high school, all three live up to a vow to dig up a sort of wish-fulfillment time capsule they buried as little girls. The moment works its magic, and Lucy and glam-gal Kit (Zoe Saldana) join preggers Mimi (Taryn Manning) on a road trip to L.A. Their driver just happens to be a scruffy, musician-type hunk (Anson Mount); think second-string Ben Affleck. Traveling a well-worn, predictable path, "Crossroads" offers few surprises, except for a sweet vulnerability from Spears.

"John Q." — Denzel Washington is so good his performance makes "John Q." — a two-hour infomercial for national health insurance — watchable. Washington plays John Q. Archibald, a dedicated workingman whose factory job has been downsized to the point where he can't make ends meet. He is a loving husband to his wife, Denise (Kimberly Elise), and a terrific dad to 10-year-old Mike (the adorable Daniel E. Smith). His world changes dramatically when he learns Mike not only needs a heart transplant, but that his insurance won't cover it. Emotionally spent and pushed to the extreme, John Q. decides to take cardiologist James Woods and the entire E.R. hostage. But instead of building on the tension or our righteous indignation, director Nick Cassavetes turns the movie into a parody. No matter where a viewer stands on the issues, most will find "John Q." a fevered melodrama where resorting to violence seems the natural, accepted thing to do. Washington does a fine job as a father pushed over the edge, but even he can't work miracles.

"I Am Sam" — Sean Penn plays a retarded father named Sam Dawson, whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) has mentally surpassed him by the time she turns 7. When social workers take his daughter away — for her own good, of course — Sam's only recourse is to challenge the move in court. Based on her ad in the Yellow Pages, Sam chooses hotshot, cold-fish lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). At the movie's heart is this simple, compelling question: Does a mentally disabled father have the right to raise a child — his child? Sadly, it deserves a better movie than this sappy, manipulative melodrama. Penn delivers an Oscar-nominated turn as Sam, but more impressive is Fanning, who plays sweet and innocent without a trace of affectation. She's the real marvel.

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