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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current films.

"The Greatest Game Ever Played" Actor/director Bill Paxton misses par with his sophomore directorial effort about the 1913 U.S. Open and a former caddie named Francis Ouimet who emerged from an impoverished background to shock the golf world by beating the greatest players of the game. Shia LaBeouf ("Constantine") emerges from the rough of his previous performances with an astute portrayal of the can-do caddie that enhances this otherwise unremarkable film. Stephen Dillane does a powerful turn as golf legend Harry Vardon, but Paxton's faulty direction leaves significant subplots abandoned in favor of predictable putting sequences. (PG) 115 min. **1/2 — Cole Smithey

"In Her Shoes" - Presumably marketed for middle-aged females and their elderly mothers, "In Her Shoes" is a moralizing story about two feuding sisters — Maggie (Cameron Diaz), a slutty petty thief, and Rose (Toni Collette), an uptight Philadelphia attorney. While wearing out her houseguest welcome on Rose's couch, Maggie goes one grievous offense too far by sleeping with Rose's shifty coworker boyfriend. This last incident sends the illiterate Maggie off to Florida to reunite with her long lost grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) on a cheesy quest of redemption that not surprisingly includes discovering that her nutty mother committed suicide. Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner and directed by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential"), "In Her Shoes" is an unbalanced movie that teeters between saccharine fluff and preachy self-help sentiment. (PG-13) 129 min. ** — C.S.

"A History of Violence" — Anyone paying attention to director David Cronenberg's work over the years — "The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "eXistenZ" — will have noticed that his gift for horror has always been a vehicle for an examination of human consciousness and, more specifically, reality. "A History of Violence" stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a small-town family man caught up in a case of what looks like mistaken identity. A drama with horror-film undertones, its inventively rendered violence — startling, grotesque and heightened with uncomfortable humor — carries with it a central investigation of our inherent duality. Likewise, it is itself two films in one. You can spend the brief hour and a half contemplating its deeper significance or simply enjoy its ability to frighten and shock. "A History of Violence" lives up to its name by offering the most compelling (pleasing?) screen violence since Kevin Costner's "Open Range." R 96 min. **** — Wayne Melton

"Just Like Heaven" — This romantic farce (based on a book by Marc Levy) gets laughs with its light story about a comatose young woman (Reese Witherspoon) haunting a widower (Mark Ruffalo). He's moved into her former apartment only to find a woman who walks through walls telling him to clean up his beer cans. Soon the two are friends and getting friendlier while investigating why one of them is a phantasm. The screwball comedy moments are funny, but too much of the movie is old-fashioned. Witherspoon is a driven, talented doctor before her accident. The only thing that can save a wacko female like that, we learn, is a good man. (PG-13) 95 min. ** — W.M.

"Proof" — Trailing clouds of glory from its highly touted runs in London and on Broadway, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play dealing with a father-and-daughter team of mathematical prodigies has been almost reverentially adapted to the big screen. The cast, headed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, is top-drawer. The screenplay has been faithfully reworked by the playwright himself, David Auburn. Director John Madden, who teamed with Paltrow previously in his "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), keeps our attention on the crisp dialogue and classy performances. We get the impression that every effort has been made not to sully this gem of the stage with Hollywood glitz. It's something of a surprise, then, to discover that the movie is simply a diverting, insubstantial confection that's been dressed up with a frothy dollop of math-talk, like a plain old brownie served … la mode. (PG-13) 100 min. **1/2 — Thomas Peyser

"Roll Bounce" — Director Malcolm D. Lee tries his hand at a revisionist history of the summer of '78 wherein a group of roller-disco obsessed Chicago kids root their existence in "jam skating." Rapper/actor Bow Wow plays Xavier, a roller-boogie kid still reeling from the death of his mother and his father's (Chi McBride) tentative attempts at supporting them. Saccharine sentimentality abounds as Xavier and his crew of skater buddies take their skills to a roller rink on the north side of town, after theirs is shut down, to face off against an older roller "god" named Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan). The movie barely keeps any narrative momentum as it lurches toward a drawn-out skating competition finale. Bow Wow's presence alone doesn't make it a dog, but it is one. (PG-13) 107 min. *1/2 — C.S.

"Separate Lies" — Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are impeccable as a wealthy British couple whose failing marriage spirals out of control when a hit-and-run accident leaves a man on a bicycle dead on a country road in this beguiling drama. Screenwriter Julian Fellows ("Gosford Park") makes an impressive directorial debut with his adaptation of Nigel Balchin's novel "A Way Through the Wood," in which a web of lies connect James Manning (Wilkinson) and his wife, Anne (Watson), to their ever-blasé neighbor Bill Bule (Rupert Everett). Husband James is forced to continually lower his strongly held morals when answers to the crime begin to emerge. "Separate Lies" is a hearty mystery/drama that blooms as a succinct social critique of British aristocracy. (R) 87 min. **** — C.S.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" — Tim Burton's macabre return to the stop-motion world of "A Nightmare Before Christmas" is more self-indulgent than fanciful. Burton and animator Mike Johnson set the action in a drab 19th-century English town where one very lonely groom, Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), is uncomfortably poised to marry a poor little rich girl (Emily Watson). But Victor makes the mistake of practicing his wedding vows in a forest where the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) receives the intended wedding ring. Victor is pulled beneath the earth, where a festive world of dancing and singing corpses await new additions to their number. As Victor struggles to get back to Victoria while falling in love with his Corpse Bride, the story becomes a muddled and unpleasant affair. Is it better to be happily dead or drearily alive? When you get past the ghoulish kitsch "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" leaves a lot to be desired. (PG) 76 min. ** — C.S.

"Waiting …" — With all the waiters and waitresses working in Hollywood, why has it taken so long to make a good movie about the food industry? Along with the disturbing idiosyncrasies found at all restaurants, there are universal traits anyone who has schlepped onion rings or bused tables, especially at a casual dining chain, could relate to. The problem is that director Rob McKittrick, or someone else, didn't trust his material. His story about two waiters (Justin Long and Ryan Reynolds) and their co-workers' gross-out exploits piles on the cheese at every opportunity. Like the manager's sagging lower lip, intended to convey pompous satisfaction, much of this movie is an affectation, a prop, forced and unnecessary given the virgin territory being brought to the screen. For a truly damning investigation of the strangely decorated strip-mall food palace, we'll have to wait longer. (R) 93 min. ** — W.M.

"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"— British Claymation geniuses Nick Park and Steve Box bring to life their best-loved characters Wallace (voiced by veteran actor Peter Sallis) and his faithful tongue-tied dog Gromit in a nifty children's movie filled with just the right amount of bawdy double entendres to make adults snicker. Through a painstaking filming process that takes a full day to shoot at most two seconds of screen time, the filmmakers create a vibrant rural British community obsessed with growing giant vegetables for their annual fairground competition. Wallace and Gromit run a brisk pest-control business called Anti-Pesto by humanely capturing garden-ravaging bunnies with Wallace's specially invented Bun-Vac 6000 contraption that "sucks as well as blows." But their Northern England clientele run when an enormous rabbit attacks during a harvest moon to devour every gigantic vegetable in sight. It's "the world's first vegetarian horror movie," even though there's nothing scary about it. (G) 82 min. **** — C.S.

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