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CATWOMAN *

About the only purpose this DC Comics adaptation serves is to answer that age-old question: What would an Ed Wood movie look like had the hack auteur ever been handed a sizable studio budget? The answer is that he probably would have spent all the money and yet still produced something as cheap-looking -- and as unintentionally funny -- as Catwoman. Only time will tell if this dud will become a camp classic on the order of Myra Breckinridge or Showgirls or Wood’s own Plan 9 From Outer Space, but for now, it will have to content itself with being the best bad movie of the summer. Halle Berry stars as mousy Patience Phillips, who’s murdered after she discovers that a new facial cream about to hit the streets is actually hazardous to one’s health. But she soon finds herself resurrected as Catwoman, a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix who looks like the star attraction on an S&M website. Once Berry suits up, the movie enters MST3K territory and never looks back. In any event, cat lovers will be horrified by this film -- does PETA handle defamation suits?

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY **1/2

Even more than 2002’s The Bourne Identity, this second installment (based on the Robert Ludlum bestseller) slips into a worn groove as familiar as the repetitive template for, say, the Friday the 13th series (slice, dice, wince, repeat). So by the umpteenth time I watched Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) evade his pursuers by stealing a car or climbing onto a rooftop or rigging some makeshift electronic device, I felt like the needle had gotten permanently stuck in that groove. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy many parts of the film, but it doesn’t strike me as being much more than an adequate piece of workmanship; it’s the same reaction I had to its predecessor, a movie that admittedly everyone else liked more than me. Here, Damon’s ex-CIA assassin is even more tight-lipped than before; without girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente, former co-star reduced to cameo player) to bounce off, he’s a rather one-dimensional figure, going through the motions as he tries to find out who’s framing him for murder and theft. The movie culminates with a sloppily edited car chase that goes on for so long that I had to be reminded: Was Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne or Sheriff Buford T. Justice?

LITTLE BLACK BOOK **

Is it possible for an actress to out-twinkle Meg Ryan? In movie after movie, Ryan too often falls back on those mannerisms that once endeared her to Middle America: that lopsided grin, that crinkling of the nose, that squinting of the eyes. Brittany Murphy has apparently not only learned from the champ but has also supplanted her: This rising actress trots out so many adorable tics during the course of this film that she ends up making Ryan in Sleepless In Seattle seem as dour as Anne Ramsey in Throw Momma From the Train. She’s a cutie for sure, but 90 minutes of watching her declare her fabulousness is ultimately as exhausting as jogging to Nashville and back. It’s better to focus on the excellent performances by Holly Hunter and Julianne Nicholson, the primary reasons that this mean-spirited comedy can be tolerated at all.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE ***

The sooner some realities regarding this remake are accepted by fans of the 1962 version, the sooner they can settle down and enjoy the film. This isn’t a masterpiece like the ‘62 edition, which still reigns as one of the finest thrillers ever made. Meryl Streep, while quite good, can’t touch Angela Lansbury’s bone-chilling portrayal of evil disguised as matronly concern; likewise, solid Liev Schreiber doesn’t quite match Lawrence Harvey’s multilayered performance as her tortured son. And a newly added plot twist will have audience members choking on their popcorn, but it leads to a disappointing conclusion that doesn’t make sense no matter how it’s dissected. But in most other respects, this new Candidate is that rare remake that paves its own way without exploiting or cheapening its predecessor.

THE VILLAGE **

M. Night Shyamalan, who’s absurdly been compared to Alfred Hitchcock more than once, would do well to learn from The Master. As a director, Shyamalan has a distinct visual style, and there are scenes in The Village that shimmer with an eerie beauty. But as a writer, he’s becoming a parody of himself: Eager to top the climactic twist of The Sixth Sense, he has masterminded three subsequent movies in which (unlike Sense) the "gotcha!" endings seem to be the only reason for their existence. The Village isn’t really much worse than Unbreakable or the silly Signs, but Shyamalan’s carny act already feels like it’s decades old -- it’s a shame, because some good ideas are squandered in a muddled thriller that ends up duping itself. William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and promising newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron’s daughter) are among those playing the residents of a 19th century burg that’s surrounded by woods containing fearsome monsters. As long as the townspeople stay put, there’s no danger, but one inquisitive citizen (Joaquin Phoenix) toys with the idea of overstepping the boundaries.

THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR ***

Based on a sizable chunk of John Irving’s A Widow for One Year, this outwardly melancholy but inwardly hopeful movie reunites Nadine stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as Ted and Marion Cole, silently suffering parents who, years later, are still unable to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons. Ted, the author of popular but eerie children’s books, suggests a trial separation that involves both parents shuffling back and forth between two properties to each spend time with their young daughter (Elle Fanning); this decision coincides with the arrival of Eddie (Jon Foster), a young man who’s been hired for the summer to apprentice under Ted but who ends up spending more time in the sack with Marion. The Door In the Floor is one of those movies that screws up the small details while tapping into the larger issues, yet we’re affected by the varying measures of cruelty and compassion that Ted and Marion fling at each other in their futile efforts to make their own pain go down a little easier.

HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE **1/2

Harold and Maude Go to White Castle might have been a better bet, but this is nevertheless a gross-out comedy with a difference — it tosses some sharp social satire into the usual mix of horny guys, amiable dopeheads, repulsive rednecks and homosexual bit players. And instead of making its lead characters typical morons like Bill and Ted or the Dude, Where’s My Car? pair, this one gives us two smart kids in Korean-American Harold (John Cho), a mild-mannered employee at an investment firm, and Indian-American Kumar (Kal Penn), a more rebellious type who isn’t quite ready to become a medical grad student like his dad desires. The plot is lifted from the Cheech and Chong playbook, as Harold and Kumar spend a Friday night getting high and then deciding that their munchies can only be satisfied by the burgers and fries at White Castle. So they’re off on an all-night road trip, one which finds them coming into contact with a Bible-thumping hillbilly named Freakshow and Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug-addled party animal.

I, ROBOT ***

I, Robot finds Will Smith shoehorned into a high-tech yarn “inspired” by Isaac Asimov’s collection of loosely related stories. Faithfulness to the source material isn’t a strong point — and that makes it different from other Hollywood adaptations exactly how? The important thing is that on its own terms, this delivers the goods as a zippy piece of sci-fi pulp. Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, a detective in 2035 Chicago who’s convinced that a scientist has been murdered by one of his own robot creations. Only thing is, robots are programmed not to harm humans — ever — and Spooner’s suspicions are dismissed as prejudice and paranoia.

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY *1/2

As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Will Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Keaton comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly.

SPIDERMAN 2 ***

Set two years after the first film, we rejoin Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in a particularly difficult time of his life. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the woman he loves, has gone on to become a model of national renown and an actress of, uh, no renown. Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist with a genuine wish to serve mankind, has just made a breakthrough in the area of fusion, yet after his experiment goes awry, he transforms into Doctor Octopus, a madman who’s controlled by four metallic arms permanently grafted onto his body. Maguire seems to be playing Superman rather than Spider-Man, and the exaggerated nature of both his swinging abilities (a couple more feet and he could probably touch an orbiting satellite) and his strength (his attempts to stop a runaway train are simply absurd) all too often takes us out of the story and reminds us that, yes, we’re merely watching a movie. But somehow, the human element always pulls us back in.
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