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Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, The Santa Clause 2, Jackass: The Movie, 8 Mile

The worst? It slows to a snail's pace in the middle, making its two-and-a half-hour running time feel even longer. Although director Chris Columbus again tries to include every incident and character found in J.K. Rowling's book, his near-slavish commitment to re-creating the novel's mass appeal keeps any genuine movie magic at bay. Daniel Radcliffe returns as Harry, and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are back as his boon companions Ron and Hermoine. New at Hogwarts this term is Gilderoy Lockhart, a foppish instructor brought to riotous life by Kenneth Branagh. But the true Potter fan will be on the edge of his or her seat waiting for the mystery to kick in, watching breathlessly as Harry, Ron and Hermoine find the Chamber of Secrets and try to defeat the monster within. ****

"The Santa Clause 2" — Multiple screenwriters and elaborate North Pole sets can't duplicate the charm of the original in this wildly uneven, often disappointing sequel to the 1994 hit (rated PG). For long stretches, "The Santa Clause 2" is a laugh-free, fidget-inducing zone. There are a few good chuckles, but not enough to delight tots. Kids 6 and older will perhaps follow the characters and wait for the laughs, even getting the more sophisticated humor. Rated G, "The Santa Clause 2" is tame: Mother Nature warns Santa she's feeling "pre-El Nino." Comet has gas. There's a warp-speed reindeer chase. Scott (Tim Allen) still loves his accidental job as Santa Claus. Elfin hammers are pounding at the North Pole as Christmas nears when he learns that the small print in his contract says he must find a Mrs. Claus or be de-Santafied. Leaving a life-size Toy Santa to keep order (in a clever bit, Toy Santa becomes a by-the-book fascist), Scott puts on street clothes and heads home. His son (Eric Lloyd) has discipline problems at school, and when Scott meets the principal (Elizabeth Mitchell), he's smitten. Kids will like it better when he meets the Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur). **

"Jackass: The Movie" — Yes, I've cried wolf before, but "Jackass: The Movie" really is the end of civilization. An expanded version of an MTV reality show, it features guys acting like drunken frat rats and trying dangerous, stupid stunts. It was the No. 1 movie last week, so clearly some find the "Jackass" brand of anarchy and public lewdness entertaining. Teen boys are a likely audience, despite the R rating. While destroying property and risking life and limb (the movie warns us not to try the stunts at home), the "Jackass" guys, led by Johnny Knoxville, often expose their behinds and/or their privates, vomit, relieve themselves in public and guffaw at their wit. Some of the pranks are funny. Most are dumb, gross or vile. There's also profanity. *

"8 Mile" — While this won't make a hip-hoppin' believer out of you, it will make you rethink your media-hyped thoughts about its star, Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem. Quasi-autobiographical, "8 Mile" introduces us to Jimmy (Eminem), a gifted Detroit rapper with a temper, a dreary job, a dissolute mom (Kim Basinger) and an adoring little sis (Chloe Greenfield). As with most rags-to-riches tales, Jimmy wants to compete in the local weekly "battle" of amateur rappers, but he's uneasy about trying to rap for an African-American audience. His pal, Future (Mekhi Phifer), who emcees the event, and his other black friends urge him to try. He, of course, chokes the first time out. Although much of "8 Mile" approaches cliche, director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") fills the movie with genuine grit and emotion. He also gets an amazingly controlled and full-bodied performance from Eminem. Who knew such a thing was possible? ****

— compiled by Maribeth Brewster

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