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"Serendipity"; "Joy Ride"; "Training Day"; "China: The Panda Adventure"

Quick Flicks

!B! "Serendipity"!B! "Joy Ride"!B! "Training Day"!B! "China: The Panda Adventure"

Movies are rated out of a possible 5 popcorns.

"Serendipity" — This romance about destiny's role in love plays like the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, and its delights last about as long. One pre-Christmas night, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet by chance and share a magical evening together. A firm believer in fate, Beckinsale convinces Cusack that if they are meant to be together, destiny will reunite them. Ten years later and days before he's to say "I Do" to another woman, Cusack and his best bud Jeremy Piven start one last manic search for his mystery girl. As fate would have it, she, too, is about to wed but still pining for the one who got away. Although sweet and charming while unfolding, "Serendipity" is far from perfect. Sadly, the best moments in the film come from the minimal secondary characters, the aforementioned sharp-tongued Piven and Eugene Levy as a conniving store clerk.

"Joy Ride" — Although certainly not of the same caliber as his "Red Rock West" or "The Last Seduction," this latest thriller from John Dahl does generate plenty of suspense and tension. At just barely over 90 minutes in length, "Joy Ride" is fast, furious and mindlessly entertaining. Paul Walker and Steve Zahn play two brothers who get the bejeezus scared out of them when a practical joke turns deadly. Along for the mayhem is Leelee Sobieski, Walker's longtime gal-pal with whom he hopes to forge a new, deeper relationship. But that desire gets pushed aside when the trio becomes the target of a homicidal maniac. Dahl soft-pedals the graphic violence, choosing instead to rely on mounting tension and a few glimpses of bloody carnage to creep us out. So if you like your escapist fun heavily laced with adrenaline, this is one ride you're sure to enjoy.

"Training Day" — A tantalizing hybrid, "Training Day" is riveting and intense, offering something for both action fans and those who yearn for a little more philosophical meat to their movies. But it doesn't completely deliver the goods. Denzel Washington plays corrupt LAPD detective sergeant Alonzo Harris, who attempts to blackmail new recruit Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) onto his dirty team in one day. Director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter David Ayer fill those 24 hours with violence and sinister motives at every turn. But the movie's true tension stems from the escalating confrontations between good and evil as personified by Hawke and Washington, respectively. Unfortunately, "Training Day's" final 15 minutes unspool with a dizzying amount of cliches, and contrivances that lessen its total impact. Attempting to entertain as well as enlighten, it's Washington's electrifying performance that makes "Training Day" worth seeing.

"China: The Panda Adventure" — Family audiences won't be disappointed by this latest large-screen format film about Ruth Harkness (Maria Bello), who in 1938 introduced the world to panda bears. But it's simplistic script and overblown orchestral score will leave others disappointed. For serious panda lovers (which I gladly count myself) only who'll overlook these filmmaking flaws just to see those heavenly creatures larger than life. (Now showing at the Science Museum of Virginia.)

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