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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current films.

"The Brothers Grimm" — Terry Gilliam's much anticipated film is a visually impressive but viscerally blank movie thanks to Ehren Kruger's ("The Skeleton Key") irksome script. Without concern for veracity about the celebrated authors of such fairy-tale classics as "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel," Kruger imagines the erudite brothers as fictional 19th-century con men, fooling German villagers about monsters. The gypsy brothers, cynical Will (Matt Damon) and gullible Jacob (Heath Ledger), are found out and captured by French authorities, who assign them to dispel the mystery behind the disappearance of some young maidens. Even fairy tales don't need to be this tediously gimmicky. (PG-13) 118 min. ** — Cole Smithey

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" — Tim Burton's latest film is a more ambitious and much funnier adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's book. It is contemporary, sophisticated satire and spoof, whereas "Willy Wonka," with its melancholy titular character and obsession with spies, was mustier, Cold War Dickens. In the new version, the poverty of Charlie (Freddie Highmore) and his family (Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, David Kelly) is played for laughs rather than tears. Charlie, in fact, though returned to the title, is exiled to the background once he finds his golden ticket. The show is mostly Burton until we get to Wonka's extravagant lair, and after that moment all Burton as channeled through Depp, the zaniness culminating in a homage to "2001." Whether or not kids will think it's funny is hard to say, but their parents will surely wonder what happened to the book's message about honesty being its own reward. (PG) 115 mins. **** — Wayne Melton

"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" — Pungent warmed-over jokes about "manginas" and "prostidudes" from the first "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" (1999) sink into the channels of Amsterdam where Deuce (Rob Schneider) hustles his way through a litany of wacky women to exonerate his best friend (Eddie Griffin) of murder. Raunchy jibes and goofy sight gags don't add up to laughs, although there is an endearing quality to the film's non-politically correct sense of humor. Strictly the domain of teenage boys. (R) 83 mins. * — Cole Smithey

"The Dukes Of Hazzard" — Cousins Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) displace their concerns for smuggling moonshine to save Hazzard, Ga., from being turned into a coal mine by corrupt commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), with the help of cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson), all to a plethora of Southern rock music from the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Charlie Daniels Band and Molly Hatchet. There isn't a story in the movie so much as there are repeated sequences of riffing humor. Most of it isn't funny. And there are two derailing sequences that put Bo and Luke, or more specifically their car, under the scrutiny of city dwellers who holler over the Confederate flag that graces the top of their vehicle. Simpson is stiffly sexual and one-dimensional as Daisy, with Willie Nelson turning in the only likeable character with his portrayal of Uncle Jesse. "What do you get when you cross a donkey with an onion?," Jesse asks. "A piece of ass that will bring a tear to your eye." That's about as satisfying as the movie gets. (PG-13) 100 mins. * — C.S.

"Four Brothers" — John Singleton directs a clumsy modernist revision of John Wayne's Western "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965) with a multiracial group of four adopted brothers who bond over a mission to avenge their mom's brutal killing. Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund do competent jobs of representing a tough brand of macho charisma but never compensate for the script's artificial underpinnings. Chiwetel Ejiofor is positively menacing as a brutal mob boss responsible for killing the boys' mother. Corrupt cops and politicians, blazing gun battles and uncertain stabs at sentimentality accompany this revenge thriller that's more spectacle than content. (R) 108 mins. ** — C.S.

"The Great Raid" — Recounting a heroic, mostly forgotten episode from the closing days of World War II — the liberation of more than 500 American soldiers from a brutally administered Japanese POW camp in the Philippines — "Raid" is an earnest, large-scale attempt at a very old-fashioned kind of picture. There's a kind of grim innocence to the whole enterprise, and locations are often scrupulously, ravishingly re-created. But the film also abounds in simplistic history lessons and glorification of its American protagonists. Characters are stiff, depthless and unapproachable, like figures engraved on a banknote. It's moving to think about the bravery of the prisoners and the soldiers who rescued them, but "The Great Raid" itself is not in the least a brave movie. It wants to honor history, but thinks the way to do it is to leave out murk, ambiguity, irony — in other words, history. (R) 132 mins. ** — Thomas Peyser

"March of the Penguins" — At the start of winter, emerging from their ice holes, a long line of emperor penguins proceed in their shuffling walk 70 miles to their breeding ground. Once paired off, mom and pop penguin wait for the coming egg, switching guardianship when it arrives so the female can head back to the ocean to eat. Director Luc Jacquet (aided by a sober and reverential narrative from Morgan Freeman) imbues the harsh test of nature that follows with a touch of human feelings. The documentary has its moments of sentimentality, but it succeeds as an uncomplicated testament to the courage of our fellow animals and the fortitude of a much misrepresented bird. (G ) 80 mins.**** — W.M.

"Red Eye" — Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth's admission that he wrote the movie with inspiration from Joel Schumacher's notoriously hokey "Phone Booth" speaks volumes about the tedious straight-line narrative Ellsworth gives horror master Wes Craven to direct. Rachel McAdams is a hotel manager on an overnight flight to Miami. Her fear of flying is overshadowed by the threat to her father (Brian Cox) by her seatmate Jackson Ripper (Cillian Murphy). Something about switching hotel rooms, the plot is too hokey by half to recount. Craven fails to elevate the lackluster script and does surprisingly little to add scares. (PG-13) 85 mins. *1/2 — C.S.

"The Skeleton Key" — This stylish thriller takes a no-nonsense approach to its divertingly nonsensical plot and atmospheric bayou setting. Kate Hudson is a city girl who has taken a job at a grand, decaying house in Louisiana and must now deal with John Hurt, Gena Rowlands and Peter Sarsgaard. The scenes involving hoodoo — not voodoo, but our own Southern hoodoo, the movie explains — lack a real eeriness. Moreover, some of the many twists toward the end are predictable. Still, there are enough surprises, along with a naughty pleasure the movie takes in the plight of those who end unhappily, to let you leave the theater mostly satisfied. Everyone involved with this film seems to have known its limits and to have kept within them. These days, that's almost cause for celebration. (PG-13) 104 mins. *** — T.P.

"Valiant" — A computer-generated prepubescent Chicken Little (inexplicably named Valiant and voiced by Ewan McGregor) pushes his way into an elite unit of WWII carrier pigeons (the Royal Homing Pigeon Service), where his blind patriotism pays off. Burdened with a sluggish pacing and dull story line, "Valiant" sits as a capricious piece of pro-war merchandising for children that's accented by fart jokes and a disregard for any historical truth regarding WWII. Posited as a homage to war documentaries like "The Battle of Britain," "Valiant" comes up woefully short, with yawn-inducing aerial sequences that lack even a modicum of originality. You're much better off renting "Chicken Run" for an evening of entertainment with the kids. (G) 149 min. ** — C.S.

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