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"The Next Best Thing," "Drowning Mona," "3 Strikes" and "Wonder Boys"

Quick Flicks

!B! "The Next Best Thing"
!B! "Drowning Mona"
!B! "3 Strikes"
!B! "Wonder Boys"

!B! Now Showing

"The Next Best Thing" — Madonna and real-life best pal, Rupert Everett, star as reel-life best friends in this dramatic comedy about the trials facing parents in blended families. Everett's Robert is gay, Madonna's Abbie is not. After she is dumped by her latest, best prospect for a stable relationship, the two friends commiserate with alcohol. Then the incredible happens — the two sleep together. Then the more incredible happens — Abbie is pregnant.

Bucking convention, the two move in together and are loving parents to their son. But trouble soon rears its head in the form of Benjamin Bratt, as a love interest for Abbie. The next thing you know, "The Next Best Thing" has wandered into simpering melodrama as Abbie and Robert sue each other for custody.

Everett is sweet and endearing as Robert, and Bratt does his best with a one-dimensional role. But Madonna is oddly self-conscious here, slipping in and out of her pseudo-Brit accent. She vogues for the camera well enough, but when she opens her mouth to deliver lines, any genuine feeling is lost. You'll snuffle at the touching courtroom scenes, but the overly feel-good finale will leave you feeling used and abused.

"Drowning Mona" - A trailer-park comedy about the untimely death of the meanest woman in town, "Drowning Mona" never quite lives up to its humorous potential. Bette Midler does a seriously genuine turn as the nasty Mona Dearly; Danny DeVito is believable as the small-town sheriff saddled with trying to see if her death was an accident or not. Forget whodunit, here the question is "who didn't do it?"

Starring a cast of second-tier, but recognizable actors — Neve Campbell, Casey Affleck, Jamie Lee Curtis, William Fichtner — this dark comedy has a few funny bits. But not nearly enough to recommend it. Hoping for a "Dumb & Dumber" meets "Cookie's Fortune," director Nick Gomez tries to beat this lackluster material into something more. Mostly he fails.

"3 Strikes" — Exuberant in its urban raunchiness, this spoof of the "three strikes, you're out" law tells the tale of an ex-con Rob (Brian Hooks), who gets picked up from prison in a stolen car. When the L.A.P.D. pull his buddy over, Rob panics and flees. MGM and the film's makers hope comic hijinks ensue. Some do; some don't. Mostly, "3 Strikes" wastes a wonderful cast that includes Antonio Fargas, David Alan Grier and Vincent Schiavelli.

"Wonder Boys" — Director Curtis Hanson follows up his Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" with this entertaining take on an old Hollywood chestnut: older, wiser man teaches and learns from his younger protégé. Though not nearly as accomplished as "L.A. Confidential," Michael Douglas and Frances McDormand help Hanson make the most of Steve Kloves' ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") script. Douglas plays a one-shot wonder novelist-turned-professor; McDormand is an adulterous college chancellor, who just happens to be in love with Douglas. Both, of course, are married to others.

Tobey Maguire is James Leer, the most talented student Douglas' professor has had. Katie Holmes is a comely coed with a crush on her teacher. Things come to a comedic head when Douglas' literary agent (Robert Downey Jr.) shows up and wants a look at the new novel. Well-developed characters and sharp, funny dialogue make this a quirky delight.

Now Showing — Most of this year's Oscar contenders! Don't be left out when it comes to second-guessing the Academy, try to catch one of last year's best films: "American Beauty," "Cider House Rules," "Boys Don't Cry," "The Sixth Sense," "All About My Mother," "The Straight Story," "The Green Mile," and "The End of the Affair" are all showing in the metro