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Chicago, Kangaroo Jack, About Schmidt, National Security, The Hours

Richard Gere rounds out this deadly trio as the slick shyster Billy Flynn. Full of love, lust, intrigue and sultry song-and-dance numbers, "Chicago" is a sensual sensory feast. ****

"Kangaroo Jack" — This crassly played and scripted comedy caper featuring a pugilistic 'Roo as well as two hapless wannabe wise-guys (Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson) may look like a safe bet for the elementary school set — trust me, it's not. It's crammed with sexual innuendo, uninspired humor of the usual ilk: gay jokes and flatulence. O'Connell plays Charlie Carbone, stepson of Brooklyn mob boss Sal Maggio (Christopher Walken) who's given one more chance to prove himself by delivering "a package" to one of Sal's compatriots in the Australian outback. With longtime bud Louis (Anderson) along for the ride, the two quickly find themselves victimized by both the hackneyed plot and a boxing Kangaroo who runs off with the cash the boys need to deliver. Even the computer-generated 'Roo isn't cute enough to make this anything more than a pleasant rental come summer. **

"About Schmidt" — Jack Nicholson gives a master's class in the fine art of understatement in this character-driven tale of one man's reawakening, rekindling and reassessment of his life. Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, a newly retired insurance executive who embarks upon a cross-country trip. His destination is Denver, where his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) is about to marry a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney, sporting a hilarious "mullet") who aspires to mediocrity. Although the movie (by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) moves as slowly and plainly as its Midwestern setting, there are powerful emotions roiling and boiling just below the surface. And Nicholson delivers one of the most powerful — yet subtle — performances of his career. *****

"National Security" — Although star Martin Lawrence appears a tad bored with it all much of the time, this buddy-comedy/thriller does have plenty of politically incorrect punchlines. Lawrence plays Earl, a police-academy dropout with a big mouth and a genetic predisposition to doing everything by the book. Steve Zahn plays Hank, a tightly wound Los Angeles cop obsessed with solving his partner's murder. He and Earl meet when the latter is mistaken for a carjacker. Their ensuing argument is caught on tape by a bystander and gets blown all out of proportion, since it appears that Hank is brutally beating Earl. Hank is fired, jailed and then winds up at the same rent-a-cop firm where Earl works. Bickering the entire time, the two team up to try and catch the bad guys (led by Eric Roberts). **

"The Hours" — The death of the brilliant British author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) triggers a fatalistic ripple that spreads to two other women (Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep) in two different eras. Decades later, the two women feel the anxious and somber rhythms of Woolf's life and death. The movie, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is deeply moving — but not merely because the stories of the three women resonate with agony, bravery and inspiration. Deftly intercutting of both place and time, the film creates a powerful mingling of mysticism and fate. Add to the mix the truly stellar performances from the entire cast and the result is haunting, disturbing and unforgettable. *****

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