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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.Big Fat Liar – “Loud” does not equal “funny,” but the people who made this movie apparently think it does. All the characters are shrill and overbearing, all the pranks are flat and mean-spirited. And this is a kids’ movie? Frankie Muniz, who’s so funny and charming as the title character in “Malcolm in the Middle,” flails here with weaker material as a teen-ager who sabotages a Hollywood producer (Paul Giamatti) who’s stolen a story he wrote and turned it into a movie. Amanda Bynes plays the boy’s best friend in a hyperstylized version of what Hollywood filmmakers think we imagine Hollywood must look like. (PG for some language. 88 min.)Collateral Damage – Let’s pretend for a moment that nothing horrific happened on Sept. 11, and that this movie, with its images of terrorists blowing up buildings, showed up in theaters as scheduled the following month. It would be just another big, loud, dumb Arnold Schwarzenegger movie – and not the most high-profile example of Hollywood’s attempt to be sensitive by postponing action films. As a Los Angeles firefighter seeking vengeance on the Colombian terrorist whose bomb blast killed his wife and son, Schwarzenegger is a caricature of himself. But the curiosity factor – and the retribution on screen that reality can’t provide – should draw audiences. (R for violence and some language. 102 min.)The Count of Monte Cristo – Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce star in this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ irresistible tale of revenge-with-a-capital-R. However, when screenwriter Jay Wolpert’s thudding dialogue is combined with Kevin Reynolds’ tendency to direct things in the most bald-faced way, the results are not good. Even more perplexing than an ending that has more in common with “The Bold and the Beautiful” than anything the author intended is how unable it is to take advantage of the talents of its co-stars. With Richard Harris and Dagmara Dominczyk. (PG-13 for adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality. 171 min.) Crossroads – Britney Spears’ film debut is corny but tolerable for the first two-thirds. Then it collapses into soapy teen melodrama, which includes laugh-out-loud moments. We’re supposed to accept the sexy pop singer as the uptight school valedictorian, who makes a cross-country road trip with two old friends (Taryn Manning and Zoe Saldana). The three grow up and find love along the way – and Britney sings! But no matter what critics say, her fans will flock to the multiplexes. (PG-13 for sexual content and brief teen drinking. 94 min.)Dragonfly – Kevin Costner’s wife won’t stay dead. But with mediocre movies like this, his career will. Costner’s an absolute dud as a grieving widower trying to unravel little messages seemingly sent by his wife from the great beyond, through visions, poltergeist activity and clues channeled through children brought back from the dead. His acting is flat and empty, and Tom Shadyac’s direction is similarly inanimate. The mood is funereal, the story is uninvolving, the action drags, and the whole show is burdened by a ponderous melodramatic score and cheapened by a few B-movie scares. (PG-13 for thematic material and mild sensuality. 104 min.)Hart’s War – A World War II POW saga that plays out like a greatest-hits package of a broad range of military flicks, from the courtroom drama of “The Caine Mutiny” and “A Soldier’s Story” (with the racial overtones of the latter) to the prisoner-of-war adventures “Stalag 17” and “The Great Escape.” Bruce Willis stars as the ranking U.S. prisoner, who assigns a fresh arrival (Colin Farrell) to defend a black officer accused of murder. A strong story compensates for generally shallow characters. Director Gregory Hoblit’s direction is skillful if a little plodding, and the elaborately drab production design gives the film a somber, realistic atmosphere. (R for some strong war violence and language. 124 min.)In the Bedroom – Actor Todd Field’s impressive directing debut deals with what can happen when there are three in a bedroom, or even two. An unadorned, unflinching film about fierce and terrifying passions, with exceptional acting from Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei and others, tells a story of anger and grief, of grappling with the unthinkable. Based on an excellent short story by Andre Dubus. (R, for some violence and language. 122 min.) John Q – It’s hard to knock Denzel Washington’s earnestness in “John Q,” the story of a man who takes over an emergency room at gunpoint to force doctors to give his dying son a heart transplant. The preposterous excess of zeal the overall film oozes is another matter. Director Nick Cassavetes repeatedly bashes viewers in the head with a socially conscious hammer as he trashes all things related to health care. Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche and Ray Liotta co-star. (PG-13 for violence, language and intense thematic elements. 116 min.)Queen of the Damned – A rotting corpse of a movie that’s a feeble, nonsensical reflection of the previous adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt flick “Interview With the Vampire.” The only noteworthy attraction: R&B singer Aaliyah, killed in a plane crash last year, as an ancient vampire queen (though the image of her munching a beating heart is unsettling). Ham-handed direction by Michael Rymer, inane dialogue and sometimes incomprehensible action join with cheesy special effects and a deafening rock score to make a stake in the heart sound desirable. Stuart Townsend subs for Cruise as the vampire Lestat, an immortal bloodsucker who reinvents himself as a goth-rock star. (R for vampire violence. 101 min.)Return to Never Land – A disappointing animated sequel to the 1953 classic “Peter Pan.” Wendy is now the mother of two, including daughter Jane, who dismisses all this Peter Pan nonsense until she gets mixed up with Peter, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. Unengaging story, some nice visual effects. With voices of Blayne Weaver, Harriet Kate Owen and Corey Burton, who imitates the original Captain Hook voice of Hans Conried. (G. 72 min.)Snow Dogs – Put your mind in cold storage and you might get through this cute, dumb, kid-friendly comedy about a Miami dentist (Cuba Gooding Jr.) grasping for roots and purpose in a remote Alaskan village. With James Coburn, Sisqo, Nichelle Nichols, M. Emmet Walsh, Joanna Bacalso and a gang of big, beautiful huskies, some of them digitally enhanced. Directed by Brian Levant. (PG, for mild crude humor. 99 min.)


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