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*Billy Elliot (R)

The plot of this film is nothing really new, clichd even: young-child-overcomes-parental-disapproval-to-follow-his-true-dreams-to-the-point-of-melodrama. But Billy Elliot manages to really shine through some tough spots with a combination of fine acting, terrific cinematography and a deep respect for the inner lives of the mute masculine characters. Jamie Bell, who plays Billy, is a somewhat gangly child on the cusp of adolescence. Opposite him are a cast of adults whose lives have all turned out for the worse, and in each, the actors convey the sorrow and the panic of adult lives out of control. This is, in large part, a film about class, about how a middle-class woman helps a working-class boy get out of his tough situation, about how working-class men are forced to cope with their lives, about the redemption of masculinity through work and art. A must-see. -- AL

Kimball's Twin Peak

Bounce (PG-13)

See full review, page 42

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills

Charlie's Angels (PG-13)

A strange and oddly enjoyable hybrid directed by a video director named McG (?), this Charlie's Angels is no television throwback, but a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top female martial arts fantasy in which every uttered word is a sexual innuendo -- and a funny one at that. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore are utterly engaging as three gorgeous chicks with all the usual hangups who just happen to also be secret agents capable of dismantling the high-tech world's most sophisticated security system. Don't worry about the plot; it doesn't matter. All that matters is the pace and the ass-kicking which are both non-stop, cleverly filmed and arresting in a very Jackie Chan-ish manner. Diaz, in particular, shows terrific comic flair. -- KCE

The Grinch (PG)

See full review, page 42.

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Gold Hill Theaters

The Legend of Bagger Vance (PG-13)

If you haven't recently memorized Zen for Dummies, Bagger Vance may hold little charm. In your less-than-elevated state, you might find that this picture of Depression-era Savannah, at the height of the worst spate of lynchings in U.S. history, is rather too rosy. You also might find that Bagger Vance's (Will Smith) "yassuh" and "no suh, Mr. Junuh," in duet with Junuh's (Matt Damon) casual treatment of Bagger rubs you the wrong way, and you might wonder what the Fresh Prince is doing suddenly playing Mr. Bojangles. You might have to stifle a snicker at the video-golf special effects that follow the ball across the sculpted terrain. This is the cult of golf at its most banal, claiming that feeling the beat of earth, the pulse of the tides is really, as Bagger Vance proclaims, what you do when you cut work to drink beer and play nine holes. -- AL

Chapel Hills

*Meet the Parents (PG-13)

Within the framework of what, on the surface, looks like a typical family comedy lurks a biting satire on the empty material satisfactions of WASP existence in America. Ben Stiller is the unfortunately named Gaylord "Greg" Focker, a Jewish male nurse who immediately unravels when he has to meet the parents of his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) -- a blonde with an Oyster Bay pedigree. Robert DeNiro gives a pitch perfect performance as Daddy Dearest for whom no suitor of his precious Pammy will ever measure up. Uproarious scenes of physical comic chaos meld with an interesting perspective on the untruths we tell to make ourselves look better in this ultimately sweet and very funny film. Owen Wilson turns in a killer appearance as Pam's too perfect, but lonely, ex-fianc Kevin. Stiller and DeNiro spar with graceful comic ease, and ultra-suburbia has rarely been drawn more convincingly. -- KCE

Chapel Hills

*Men of Honor (PG-13)

Finally, after a long stretch of mediocre comedies, Robert DeNiro returns to dramatic acting as Billy Sunday, a racist master chief Navy diver in charge of training Navy salvage mates at a facility in Bayonne, N.J. Academy Award-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire) gives a solid performance as Carl Brashear, the first African American to be accepted into diving program in the newly integrated 1950s Navy. Loosely based on the story of Carl Brashear's life, Men of Honor overshoots its mark, working harder than it needs in making a point of Brashear's tireless diligence and sense of honor. Much of the dramatic impact that drives the film is due to director of photography Anthony Richmond's work. Both DeNiro and Gooding are intensely captivating in the way they use their bodies as thinking extensions of Navy men, completely focused on opposing goals. A well-rounded family film.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

Pay It Forward (PG-13)

Haley Joel Osment is Trevor, a latchkey kid, weary of his mother's (Helen Hunt) problems with alcohol. Eugene Simonet, a scar-faced Kevin Spacey, is Trevor's social studies teacher who gives his class a confusing and challenging extra-credit assignment: Think of an idea to change our world -- and put it into action. Trevor comes up with an ingenious solution which quickly sets off an exponential eruption of good-deed-doing. Hunt plays the hard-ridden, recovering alcoholic, single mom with grit and heart. And given Spacey's compelling performance, their dance of romance is genuinely moving. But instead of ending as a love story with a social message, Pay It Forward succumbs to grandiosity, insisting on becoming a forced religious allegory. Any power that the film built up with its lovely characterizations and charming story is quickly released like a gush of air from a balloon. This is a classic example of a very good movie ruined by the director's ambitions for a blockbuster ending. -- KCE

Chapel Hills

Red Planet (PG-13)

Red Planet is very much a 1950s science fiction throwback, choosing not to rely on spectacle and expensive effects so much as human foibles, character flaws and the trajectory of what feels like a doomed mission. It's a mildly enjoyable excursion, though not particularly mind stretching or dramatically compelling. Basically the four guys in the crew are catapulted onto Mars' surface while the female commander (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix) stays with the crippled ship, trying to figure out how to get them all back to Earth. Val Kilmer brings his trademark low-key humor to the role of Mechanical Systems Engineer Robby Gallagher, the crew's non-intellectual fix-it man whose practical skills come in mighty handy once on Mars. Besides the crew, the only other inhabitant of Mars is a robot named AMEE whose gears get jammed when she hits the planet's surface turning her into a killing machine on the loose. Like I said, there's nothing new here besides the barely camouflaged notion that once we wreck this planet we can just move on to another one -- the ultimate Mars fantasy. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Gold Hill Theaters

Remember the Titans (PG)

Remember the Titans glorifies youth, manhood and the pursuit of football as the best avenues for social justice. The field of justice is, in this case, an Alexandria, Va., high school ordered to desegregate in 1971, where the school board hires a black man, Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) to coach their successful Titans football team. As usual, Washington manages to hit just the right note throughout the film, helping to redeem a fairly cheeseball script and bring out its nobility. It helps if you're willing to believe that the struggle against racism is best fought by men on the model of a war. Whether the male/war model contributes to lasting change is questionable. But war makes for good un-nuanced drama, and Remember the Titans takes full advantage of that. -- AL

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Gold Hill Theaters

OPENING THIS WEEK

102 Dalmatians (G)

Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close) is released from prison promising to be good -- but that's bad news for Pongo, Perdy and all of the puppies.

Gold Hill Theaters; Chapel Hills

Unbreakable (PG-13)

After becoming the sole survivor of a horrible train wreck, David Dunne (Bruce Willis) meets a man (Samuel L. Jackson) who thinks he may know the reason he was spared.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

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