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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current movies.

"Cellular" — At the end of a summer marked by overinflated thrillers, it's a pleasure to welcome a slick, unpretentious little film that's content to entertain with glowering villains, winsome protagonists and plot twists that provoke the occasional mild gasp. The movie is a race against time between a kidnapped Kim Basinger and the random rescuer she dials from confinement. What keeps the movie from degenerating into a series of car chases and gunfights is the gradual, satisfying revelation of just who these abductors are, what they're after, and who's backing them up. Director David R. Ellis doesn't want to turn this kidnapping caper into a metaphor for our existential crises. He just wants to propel his attractive, talented cast at high velocity through a cleverly constructed, if not terribly original, labyrinth of a story. ***1/2 — Thomas Peyser

"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.

"First Daughter" —Another presidential daughter movie: The flimsy theme of "First Daughter" seems to be that it's tougher than ever to be the daughter of a president since 9/11 happened. Katie Holmes, first daughter, shows up for her first semester in college with her entourage of Secret Service men in tow, and soon discovers that her new 'boyfriend' James (Marc Blucas) is really just another federal security guard planted by her overzealous American president father (Michael Keaton). Few movies achieve the subterranean blandness of "First Daughter." * — Cole Smithey

"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 costars 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

"Hero" — Director Zhang Yimou (pronounced zong yee moo) makes an adept and awe-inspiring leap into the brand of sophisticated martial arts storytelling that made "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" an instant classic. Set in ancient China, the smart narrative approaches the story of a sheriff called Nameless (Jet Li) who attempts to assassinate the King of Qin by taking credit for killing the King's would-be assassins. Nameless is allowed an audience with the King to describe his combat triumphs over the King's foes, which play out in resplendent flashback sequences conceived as visual ballads of color and composition. Although bootleg video and DVD copies of "Hero" have introduced thousands to the film, it's a movie that must be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Zhang Yimou's astonishing follow-up "The House Of Flying Daggers" is due to open nationwide this fall. **** — C.S.

"Shark Tale" — Terrific voice characterizations by Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Martin Scorsese and Will Smith can't elevate "Shark Tale" anywhere near the greatness of last year's animated instant classic "Finding Nemo." Relentless commercial retail references, a shoddy pop music soundtrack, and an ill-conceived story about Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian mobster shark unwilling to do his family's violent bidding, immerse "Shark Tale" in a murky narrative pool. However, the film's lush animation and brilliant colors are exemplary. Oscar (Smith) is an ambitious little fish who takes undeserved credit for the accidental death of Lenny's shark big brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Oscar enjoys a short-lived run of enriching public adulation that promptly endangers Angie (Zellweger) the one fish that really loves him for who he is. Predictable fart jokes and endless puns attend the humor. **1/2 — C.S.

"Shaun Of The Dead" — Ingenious blend of romance, comedy and horror effortlessly swells in this gloriously off-kilter zombie movie. Shaun is a 29-year-old North London slacker dealing with odd-couple roommates when a creeping zombie invasion elicits his latent leadership abilities. The group of comedians responsible for the UK cult television show "Spaced" team up to add layers of zesty humor as Shaun and his small group of family and friends seek refuge from the invading horde. "Shaun Of The Dead" is a well-written foreign independent movie that will satisfy audiences looking for clever surprises. **** — C.S.

"Wimbledon" — Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst play star-crossed tennis finalists at Wimbledon in this fantasy romance mired in quirky subplots involving too many secondary characters. Bettany is a 31-year-old, 119th ranked British tennis player struggling to make the most of his last tennis tournament before he retires. Dunst plays a temperamental tennis star with an endearing charm and spunkiness that ignites Bettany's more reserved character. There aren't any dramatic surprises to be had in "Wimbledon's" padded plotting, but Bettany and Dunst manage to keep their volleys going during this mediocre movie. **1/2— C.S.

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