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Film shorts

Here are capsule reviews of films playing at local theaters. They are from Associated Press and Los Angeles Times staff writers.

Changing Lanes – Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson turn an expressway fender-bender into a daylong vendetta of sustained road rage. Underlying director Roger Michell’s thriller are positive sentiments about venting human weakness, letting loose our personal dogs of war, pushing it to such extremes that the only options are sinking to savagery or rising to some state of grace. But the actions of the lead characters are so contrived and implausibly excessive that “Changing Lanes” repeatedly sputters and stalls. In its favor are fine performances all around and substantial – if none too subtle – explorations of personal and corporate scruples and the consequences of the smallest of everyday actions. (R for language. 99 minutes)

Clockstoppers – A thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure about a teenage boy with a wristwatch that appears to make time stop all around him, while he moves about swiftly and invisibly. Bad guys kidnap his scientist father to harness that power for themselves. So it’s up to Zak (Jesse Bradford) and his beautiful companion, Francesca (Paula Garces), to make the rescue. Best visual treat: the striking scenes where time is basically frozen. (94 minutes, PG for mild language and action violence.)



High Crimes – This court thriller has the dramatic punch of a parking ticket. Like umpteen other forgettable thrillers, “High Crimes” barely scrapes up enough suspense to occupy audiences’ minds. Ashley Judd stars as an attorney defending her husband, an ex-military operative accused of a civilian massacre in El Salvador. Morgan Freeman plays a shaggy-dog lawyer who helps her out. Judd and Freeman, reuniting for the first time since “Kiss the Girls,” project an agreeable camaraderie that makes the excess of thriller cliches in “High Crimes” more tolerable. A little. (PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language. 115 min.)

Ice Age – A mammoth, a saber-toothed tiger, a sloth and a “scrat”‘ confront the big chill in this computer-animated adventure. It’s regrettable that the film’s conception, plot and dialogue are so formulaic, because director Chris Wedge has done nifty, amusing things on the visual side, joining bright new technology to an old story. Though its forced glibness often makes you wish you could turn down the sound, the film’s sense of physical adventure and its gift for creating wild rides is considerably more entertaining. With the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary. (1:21. PG, for mild peril.)



Monster’s Ball – Enigmatic, ambiguous and mesmerizing, this Marc Forster-directed picture unleashes a series of calamities to bring together an equally numbed Georgia corrections officer (Billy Bob Thornton) and an impoverished black woman (Halle Berry) to discover whether they might find the strength to put the burdens of the immediate and distant past behind them. Superb portrayals not only from the stars but also supporting players Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs and Mos Def. (1:41. R, for strong sexual content, language and violence.)

Murder by Numbers – Sandra Bullock’s crime drama is too calculated and superficial to deliver a psychological thriller with real depth, too straightforward to create any sense of mystery. A clever premise, estimable performances, tingly atmosphere crafted by director Barbet Schroeder and moments of hearty humor help. But the story zigzags from police procedural to narrative of cold-blooded killers to portrait of Bullock as a spiritually wounded cop, never settling into a consistent groove. Bullock and Ben Chaplin play homicide detectives hunting two brilliantly murderous teens (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt). Bullock is exceptional early on as the bold alpha cop, but a back story of past tragedy in her life gradually deadens her character. R for violence, language, a sex scene and brief drug use. 120 min.

National Lampoon’s Van Wilder – Not as atrocious as it looks, it’s also not as funny as the best movies to carry the National Lampoon banner – 1976’s “Animal House,” which it aims to emulate, and the original “Vacation” from 1983. But for every stupid gag involving half-naked women or uncontrollable bodily functions, there’s a clever, laugh-out-loud line that sneaks up on you. Ryan Reynolds, as eternal college student Van Wilder, is charming enough to make the weaker material bearable and the stronger material effortlessly funny. Tara Reid, as a reporter at the school paper who falls for him, is cute but typically vapid. (R for strong sexual content, gross humor, language and some drug content. 95 min.)

Panic Room – Director David Fincher is at it again, using the same seemingly impossible tracking shots for which he made his name three years ago in “Fight Club.” The technique is almost enough to distract from the script, which begins with a weak premise and collapses into an unbelievably ridiculous series of twists. Jodie Foster is characteristically confident and controlled as a divorced mother who hides with her daughter in the panic room of their Manhattan home when burglars invade in the middle of the night. Her performance balances beautifully with the twitchy, manic energy of Jared Leto as one of the burglars. (R for violence and language. 110 min.)

The Rookie – High school baseball coach Dennis Quaid makes it to the big leagues at 35. Against all expectations, “The Rookie” turns out to be an unapologetically emotional film that doesn’t make you gag, one that manages to be sentimental without turning into a shameless wallow. Based on a true story. With Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez and Brian Cox. (G)

The Scorpion King – A brisk, amiably silly fist fest that establishes pro wrestler The Rock as heir apparent to Arnold Schwarzenegger for favorite on-screen bruiser. The movie flies by, nicely paced by director Chuck Russell, who keeps swords, arrows and punches flying in swashbuckling style. Reprising his brief role in last year’s “The Mummy Returns,” The Rock takes on the evil warlord Memnon (Steven Brand) and steals away the bad guy’s beautiful sorceress (Kelly Hu). After the finesse fighting of “The Matrix” and its many copycats, “Scorpion King” is a nice reversion to street-brawling power over agility. PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality. 91 min.

Showtime – Smart, satirical action comedy that teams Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy as a pair of very different LAPD cops who end up in a live reality TV show dreamed up by ambitious producer Rene Russo. From largely the same team that mined so much laughter in “Shanghai Noon”‘ when they turned Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu loose in the Old West. “Showtime” is just as funny and lively. (1:36. PG-13 for action violence, language and some drug content.)

The Sweetest Thing – Women now have a gross-out comedy of their own. “The Sweetest Thing” proves that a lowbrow chick flick can be just as cretinous as a big dumb guy movie. In a nutshell: Girl (Cameron Diaz) meets boy (Thomas Jane), girl loses boy, girl and ditzy pal (Christina Applegate) go looking for boy. What little substance there is in this vegetative tale is conveyed through mind-numbing prattle and imbecilic bathroom or bedroom slapstick. Co-star Selma Blair is hung out to dry as the patsy in some pathetically lame sex sight gags. Applegate wangles a few small laughs, upstaging the usually winsome Diaz. (R for strong sexual content and language. 84 minutes.)


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