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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of films playing in theaters.

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" — The latest Will Ferrell vehicle affectionately ridicules the time when facial hair sprouted and shag carpets resembled tentacled creatures of the deep. The movie whisks us behind the scenes of one of the period's dubious bequests to our own era, local nightly news. Its peculiar brew of weather, sports, mayhem and fluff was just then taking on its strangely unchanged flavor. Yet even a talented cast can't do much with the lazy script that Ferrell and former "Saturday Night Live" writer Adam McKay have cooked up in a fit of self-indulgence. They've pinned their comedic hopes on the ludicrous setting and on Ferrell's bankable appeal, but what emerges is only sporadically entertaining. "Anchorman" is three times the length of a local news broadcast, and if you're in a generous mood, you'll find it only roughly three times as funny. **1/2— Thomas Peyser

"The Bourne Supremacy" — Matt Damon returns as super-spy Jason Bourne in the hair-raising sequel to "The Bourne Identity." This time around, our preoccupied assassin is shaken out of seclusion in India by CIA bad guy Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), who falsely blames Bourne for a recent assassination that has caused a rift between the U.S. and China. Bourne turns the tables on his CIA aggressors with every bit of steel-nerved ability he can muster. Director Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday") delivers an elegant if overedited response to Doug Liman's initial effort. Action-packed fistfights and car chases punctuate the fast-paced espionage as CIA agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen from "The Contender") leads the effort to bring Jason Bourne in alive. While not as engaging as "The Bourne Identity," the movie fills a void in the lacking spy-movie genre. ***1/2 — C.S.

"Catwoman" — From the looks of one-named French director Pitof's poorly realized effort at bringing DC Comics' character "Catwoman" to the big screen, it seems unlikely that there will be a sequel for the feline superhero/villain. The ridiculous S&M-style costume that Halle Berry struts around in is the first obvious clue that Hollywood's latest comic book movie is less than inspired. Patience Philips (Berry) is a wanna-be artist working as an ad designer for a cosmetics conglomerate when her employers ruthlessly murder her after she discovers the harmful effects of their new line of beauty cream. Patience is reborn as a human with feline traits, through the mystical powers of an Egyptian cat that breathes life into her pliant body. A tortured romantic relationship develops between Patience and police detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) as she vacillates twixt her Catwoman identity and her true self. The result is a prosaic comic-book action movie for the middle-school crowd. *1/2 — C.S.

"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. ** — T.P.

"De-Lovely" — The personal life and music of Broadway composer Cole Porter are examined against a backdrop of aged reflection in director Irwin Winkler's overly simplistic and unsatisfying musical. Kevin Kline avidly plays the gay songwriter though he is miscast, as is the inappropriately young Ashley Judd as Porter's loyal muse and wife, Linda. Singers such as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow and Natalie Cole perform Porter's standards from the lexicon of American pop music. The choice of Alanis Morissette over more suitable singers such as Harry Connick Jr. haunts the film during its bumpy musical numbers. However, this movie's greatest defect is its inability to unite Porter's personal story with his music in a non-cheesy way. **1/2 — C.S.

"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 co-stars 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

"I, Robot" — There are brief moments in this moody Will Smith vehicle when we are watching the best sci-fi noir in years, even if it does hash out like the Fresh Prince wandering into "The Maltese Falcon." A summary of Isaac Asimov's short story collection, the action thriller casts Smith as a tough-talking cop who isn't buying into the idea of robots as the salvation of humanity. His sharp comebacks are rapid-fire and dry as a martini, and the pace is lively enough to let us overlook the fact that the film's set pieces bear a striking resemblance to other movies. Lower-hanging one-liners ("It's a human thing, you wouldn't understand.") ultimately rust the shiny veneer, and this tale of artificial intelligence ends up more artificial than intelligent. **1/2 — Wayne Melton

"Little Black Book" — Brittany Murphy continues her lateral assault on Hollywood in another girlie-flick dog that will displease as many audiences as it entertains. Murphy plays an associate producer for daytime television talk show "Kippie Kann," attempting to over-leverage her ties to her new boyfriend. His departure on a business trip allows Stacy time to search through his personal possessions, including revealing photos of his former girlfriends on his palm pilot. Stacy's co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter) secretly plans an episode of "Kippie Kann" based on Stacy's effort to meet and interview Derek's ex-girlfriends. The result is a hack girlie-flick where two grown women dance around a living room as a moment of pure bonding. ** — C.S.

"The Manchurian Candidate" — Jonathan Demme's remake of John Frankenheimer's Cold War classic, "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), is a slick and competent entry in Hollywood's summer blockbuster sweepstakes — even if it doesn't come close to the original's wit, suspense or offbeat incisiveness. The candidate in question is Gulf War vet and vice-presidential candidate Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), haunted by his old platoon leader, Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) — himself plagued by nightmares of the war. Frankenheimer's masterpiece relied on American commie paranoia. Unfortunately for Demme, that powerful spook is no longer available, so he and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris came up with the multinational corporation Manchurian Global. Without the Cold War to lend structure to the action, it's not exactly clear what the ultimate aims of anyone in the picture are. The original had a vision, but the update just has a market niche. *** — T.P.

"The Notebook" — Nick Cassavetes (son of auteur director John Cassavetes) directs his mother (Gena Rowlands) in a sumptuous film about young lovers from opposite sides of the tracks in '40s North Carolina. Rich girl Allie (Rachel McAdams, "Mean Girls") and blue-collar boy Noah (Ryan Gosling, "The Believer") share a summer love affair that will draw them together again, and later be recounted by an elderly Noah (James Garner) to his Alzheimer's stricken true love (Rowlands) from a notebook she has kept. Garner and Rowlands give exceptional performances along with a brilliant cast that includes Sam Shepard (as young Noah's loving father). "The Notebook" is a mature romantic drama with a precious understanding of the meaning of loyalty and love. **** — C.S.

"Spider-Man 2" — Since the phenomenal $820-million international success of the first "Spider-Man" movie, the franchise's team went back to the drawing board to improve upon technical shortcomings and, more important, get a top-notch script by screenwriter Alvin Sargent ("Ordinary People"). The glorious result from director Sam Raimi is a careful blend of subtext and rich characters in a colorful action movie embellished with grace notes from Danny Elfman's subtle score. Tobey Maguire again inhabits the role of the emotionally conflicted web-slinging crime fighter, with Kirsten Dunst and James Franco returning to their roles as Peter Parker's thespian love interest and best friend. There are plenty of surprises in this entertaining, comic book-inspired movie that help it top everything else in the genre. **** — C.S.

"The Village" — Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has made a career on meager movies buttressed by the guarantee of shocking revelations since 1999's hit "The Sixth Sense." Shyamalan wrote, directed and produced "The Village," about a reclusive clan of late 19th-century farmers holed up in a peaceful valley surrounded by haunted woods. Big surprises are afoot for the audience and the film's bumper crop of stars, including Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. Yet it's obvious that Shyamalan is not interested in real human behavior or a compelling story. This plot is devoted to piquing audience interest in final bombshells. When they arrive, the movie you've just devoted two hours of your time to crumbles. 1/2*— W.M.

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