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American: The Bill Hicks Story (NR)

Variance Films

Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas' well-meaning documentary on Bill Hicks commits the same sins as many similarly well-meaning Lenny Bruce documentaries. It strives so hard to place a brilliant, troubled, dead-too-soon comedian in a frame of social "importance" that it makes him seem less funny than he actually was. Hicks died of symptoms related to pancreatic and liver cancer in 1994, just as it seemed that Clinton-era America was ready to embrace his combative, anti-establishment form of comedy. A pet project of Hicks' friends and family, American works best as a highly personal testimonial to his life in comedy, which started at age 17 when he lied his way onstage at a Houston club. More questionable is the filmmakers' decision to fashion their amazing access to a wealth of Bill Hicks archival material into some Kid Stays in the Picture-lite graphic design mush. — Daniel Barnes

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Ka-Boom (NR)

MPI Media Group

Director Gregg Araki ruled the '90s indie scene, capturing the imagined angst of the proto-hipster set in the most irritatingly cinematic of ways. Indeed, for too many of us, college included VHS screenings of Nowhere and The Doom Generation to accompany miserable experimentation with X and sex. The flicks, as you might imagine, don't hold up; yet today, here's another from Araki. Ka-Boom follows his trademarks to a T: young and beautiful people having sex with everything in sight while, in the background, nefarious deeds are committed that cast a glum apprehensiveness over the proceedings. In this case, it's an end-of-the-world cult set on blowing up the planet. The key: an impeccably coiffed and perpetually 5-o'clock-shadowed college kid. Silly, pretentious and unnerving, Ka-Boom shows that while some of us might have grown, Araki sure as hell hasn't. — Louis Fowler

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Brad Meltzer's Decoded: Season One (PG)

A&E Entertainment

Brad Meltzer's bestselling novels are mostly conspiracy-theorist thrillers based around Freemasons, the Illuminati and the like. You could say he's sort of a low-rent Dan Brown, but Dan Brown's pretty low-rent to begin with. Either way, Meltzer's fascination with America's secret history is the basis for this History Channel reality series. It's pretty hit-or-miss. Meltzer fleshes out some seriously interesting ideas, such as the whereabouts of John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination or the suicide of Meriwether Clark, but he only appears in the wraparound segments. The rest of the time, we're left to deal with his irritating team of investigators, and their skepticism sucks all the fun from the room. I'd rather just watch Meltzer with a chalkboard and pointer instead of following around these clowns through badly staged investigations. — Louis Fowler


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