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click to enlarge : Ben Stiller is Derek Zoolander
  • : Ben Stiller is Derek Zoolander

American Pie 2 (R)
The first American Pie was one of the funniest, most original teen flicks of last year. Unfortunately, the sequel plays to the lowest common denominator. We are dealt one scene after another of gross-out sex jokes, skits that are as predictable in their assured outcome as the first film was unpredictable. All the smart girls, with the exception of flute-playing Michelle, are assigned peripheral roles, and we don't get any of the wise girl-guy interchange that characterized American Pie 2's predecessor. -- Kathryn Eastburn

Tinseltown

*The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (R)
In the face of a sagging career, due largely to his controversial personal life, Woody Allen has resorted to the raw elements of what makes comedy funny: timing, delivery and imagery. It's a confection that pops with gentle surprises. Allen plays C.W. Briggs, a crackerjack insurance investigator at polar odds with Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), a tyrannical efficiency expert recently hired to streamline the company. The fun gets cooking when a magician known as Voltan the Jade Scorpion (David Ogden Stiers) hypnotizes the bitter rivals into being temporarily in love at a dinner club, and later takes advantage of his subjects by using code words to send them out on unconscious jewel stealing missions. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

Don't Say a Word (R)
A glorified kidnap thriller that bundles together gaudy New York City atmospheres with worn-out detective story plot devices in the hopes of creating suspense and surprise. The plot never crystallizes because there's never any doubt about how it will end. As an exercise in performance, Michael Douglas helms the movie with characteristic driving dedication while Brittany Murphy as not-so-insane psychiatric patient Elisabeth Burrows is all over the place as a teenaged girl hiding behind mental disease. Not even Douglas' heartfelt emotion can plug up the void that the filmmakers open up. -- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

The Glass House (PG-13)
As anyone who saw the previews for this slick piece of nothing knows, The Glass House is supposed to be a thriller. Unfortunately, the thrill is gone about 15 minutes into the movie when we understand, without having to think too hard, how the story is bound to play out. Bottomline: skip the overpriced ticket to this stinker; wait until it comes out on video or DVD. -- Kathyrn Eastburn

Tinseltown

Hearts in Atlantis (PG-13)
By all counts, this film should be a winner. It stars Anthony Hopkins, an actor I'd be happy to watch sleep for two hours. It was directed by Scott Hicks, who catapulted to Hollywood fame with Shine. It's the cinematic retelling of a Stephen King non-horror tale (think Green Mile), is amply budgeted, lovingly shot and features the fascinatingly pale and slightly off-kilter actress Hope Davis (Next Stop, Wonderland). But Hearts in Atlantis disappoints on a number of counts. It is mistakenly told as a flashback, which, in this case, is plodding and painfully slow, adding little if anything to the core story. Dedicated to legendary cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, who filmed it and passed away shortly thereafter, Hearts in Atlantis is a fitting tribute, as the cinematography outshines most everything else in the film. -- Kathryn Eastburn

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

*Hedwig and the Angry Inch (R)
This, you can be sure, is as original a story as we're going to see on film this year. John Cameron Mitchell, writer, director, producer and star, calls his film a "post-punk neo-glam rock musical." The music -- which is fantastic if you have the taste for it -- is forged from the ashes of two loud, overbearing rock genres (1970s punk and 1980s glam rock), and the story and characters are the culmination of decades of arguments about sexuality and identity. Hedwig is the lead singer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, who hail from Germany. They're on a tour of American cities for one reason -- to follow around the world's biggest rock star, Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who, Hedwig claims, has used her songs to make himself famous. As the movie's title suggests, Hedwig is not only pissed at Tommy; she is also pissed about the inch of flesh that is the result of a botched sex-change operation some years before. Of all the things Hedwig addresses -- among them Faith, Gayness, Performance, Popular Culture, Separation and Commitment -- perhaps the most important is the intense struggle that comes with standing in the middle, with being ambiguous and uncertain. -- Patton Dodd

Kimball's Twin Peak

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (PG-13)
We're supposed to hate this movie. By nearly all critical accounts, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is dull and clich-ridden. But I had loads of fun watching this picture. Lara Croft is a young, single heiress who's regularly called upon to save the universe. She spends her days training for battle in her massive castle, fighting off dummy cyborgs and practicing insanely dangerous acrobatic stunts. We don't really know where she came from or why she's so militaristic. What we do know is that she kicks ass, and that's all that matters. -- Patton Dodd

Silver Cinemas

*The Others (PG-13)
Atmospheric storytelling, rich lighting, a superb set and a strong ensemble cast combine to make Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar's The Others a successful, though not particularly terrifying, psychological thriller. Nicole Kidman in a Grace Kelly pageboy hairdo is all nerves and raw edges as Grace, a woman left with her two young children on the foggy Isle of Jersey when her husband goes off to war. The children suffer from a rare, severe allergy to light, which means the curtains must be drawn whenever they are in the room. Several scenes set the audience screaming and jumping in their seats, accomplished with little other than carefully choreographed motion and sound. -- Kathryn Eastburn

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

The Princess Diaries (G)
Teen star Anne Hathaway plays Mia, a San Francisco teenager who considers herself to be "invisible," an awkward ugly duckling with bad glasses and too much hair. When Mia's grandmother, the Queen of Genovia (played by Julie Andrews) appears one day, announcing that Mia is heir to the throne of the tiny principality of Genovia, Mia is reluctant to assume her responsibilities, largely because she thinks she doesn't look good enough. So the transformation begins -- a complete hair, posture and elocution makeover. The problem with this lame entry into princess mythology is its false attempts to be social-minded. After Mia is scoured and scraped, coiffed and creamed into the mirror image of a Revlon ad, we are asked to believe that the real reason she wants to be a princess if to "affect change." False sentiment piles up in the last 30 minutes of the film like too many spoonfuls of sugar. -- Kathryn Eastburn

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

*Rush Hour 2 (PG-13)
Rush Hour 2 is a movie sequel that comes with a preemptive seal of approval by virtue of Jackie Chan's dedication to pushing his martial arts skills to the limits of acrobatic extremes. Add to this Chan's proven screen chemistry with the infectious high-pitched comic improv abilities of Chris Tucker (Money Talks), and what follows is a stream of highly enjoyable, physically demanding set pieces punctuated by constant comic riffing. -- Cole Smithey

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Serendipity (PG-13)
Serendipity is sweet but ultimately flavorless. John Cusack stars as Jonathan Tragar, a New York television commercial producer who, one perfect December night, bumps into lovely Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) while both are Christmas shopping at Bloomingdale's. It's clear to the audience that they are meant to be together, but Sara is a fan of romantic destiny and tells Jonathan if it's really meant to be, the universe will send them a sign. Naturally, it doesn't happen quite that simply and seven years later, as their mutual wedding dates draw nearer, Jonathan and Sara begin to dwell on what might have been. From here, the movie enters a hide-and-seek, cat-and-mouse chase formula which annoys more than anything else. Their planes criss-cross in the sky, their paths cross endless times but they fail to connect. All the while, we are longing for even a brief scene where Beckinsale and Cusack, whose chemistry is palpable, appear together. When it's finally all over, we wish that Sara and Jonathan had hooked up about an hour earlier, giving us at least the pleasure of watching Cusack and Beckinsale effortlessly woo and glisten on the screen. -- Kathryn Eastburn

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

*Training Day (R)
See full review, page 61.

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Kimball's Twin Peak, Tinseltown

*Zoolander (R)
I adored Ben Stiller's fluffy take on male models, narcissism and the utter ridiculousness of our fashion-obsessed culture. I even loved the blatant product placement/name dropping, especially Zoolander's wonderful Aveda commercial. Costumed as a mermaid, burbling underwater, he murmurs meaningfully, his pouty lips pursed: "Moisture is the essence of wetness. Wetness ... is the essence of beauty." The fatal gasoline fight scene won't escape any viewer's memory any time soon. The laughs keep coming in this silly satire, and I, for one, was grateful to be able to guiltlessly guffaw at a piece of harmless, very funny entertainment. -- KCE

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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