Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Fracture, Hot Fuzz, Black Snake Moan and more

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FRACTURE (R) Although this is basically just a pumped-up version of one of those old Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV episodes about trying to get away with the perfect crime, Fracture works best when it's pretending to be The Silence of the Lambs, minus the fava beans and tasty liver. Ryan Gosling takes the Jodie Foster role (complete with down-home accent and humble beginnings), a law-abiding golden boy playing, and mostly losing at, a game of wits with a brilliant psychopath — portrayed by none other than Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins hams it up in fine, Lecter-ish style, right down to the creepy little facial ticks and reptilian stare (accented by ghoulish low-key lighting straight out of Silence). In fact, the Lecterisms are so in-your-face that at times the movie seems to be emulating The Freshman's postmodern hat trick with Brando's tongue-in-cheek reprise of his iconic Godfather role. There's ultimately nothing remotely postmodern or self-reflective about Fracture, however, and it soon becomes clear that the movie is simply cashing in on a registered trademark. That said, you could do worse. It's so entertaining watching Hopkins oozing his creepy charisma that we hardly notice all the plot holes and lack of gravitas around him. Also stars Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke and David Straithairn. Opens April 20 at local theaters. 3 stars

HOT FUZZ (R) An even more seamless genre-bender than the director's previous Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright's thoroughly entertaining Hot Fuzz mashes up comedy, action, buddy movies and the odd Agatha Christie whodunit, while gleefully taking the piss out of everything it touches. The movie's smart enough to show some respect too, and its bottom line simultaneously spoofs and cherishes big, splashy action movies in much the same way that Shaun stroked and skewered horror. Wright's co-scripter Simon Pegg stars as Nicolas Angel, a London supercop who makes his less dedicated colleagues look so bad that he finds himself "promoted" to a beat in a picturesque, backwater burg (at which point the movie's perfectly chosen soundtrack becomes dominated by The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society). The big joke here is that the sleepy village turns out to be anything but, and Angel winds up matching wits with a hooded reaper who's slicing and dicing the locals (and making it all look like a series of extremely unconvincing accidents). Hot Fuzz is some very funny stuff, with comedy that does droll as well as slapstick, and a well-stocked bank of almost too-clever pop culture references. It all tends to go on a bit too long for its own good (there are at least two climaxes too many here), but even the excesses are worth a look. By the end, Hot Fuzz is all glorious anarchy, as it should be. Also stars Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Billie Whitelaw and Edward Woodward. Opens April 20 at local theaters. 4 stars

RECENT RELEASES

300 (R) We've come a long way from Final Fantasy, to the point where it's easy to forget that the digitally tweaked imagery washing over us in 300 is not, strictly speaking, real. The source here is a graphic novel by Frank Miller, and the sense that's imparted is that director Zack Snyder (rebounding nicely from his Dawn of the Dead remake) has imbued the panels not only with motion but also with life. An even more sophisticated blend of human actors and computer-generated environments than what was achieved in Miller's Sin City, 300's virtual universe recreates the battle of Thermopylae, when a small band of Spartan warriors held off a much larger army of Persians in 480 B.C. There's style to burn here and gore aplenty, as three hundred Spartan musclemen (resembling Tom of Finland fantasies in their red capes and black leather jock straps) take on hordes of fantastic and fearsome foes in a spectacle both elegant and unabashedly grisly. The movie is mainly notable for being an amazing technological achievement, but there's an actual story here as well (with some engaging characters and surprisingly smart writing), revealing 300 as something more than simply style for its own sake. Stars Gerald Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West and Rodrigo Santoro. 3.5 stars

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (PG) Billy Bob Thornton stars as Charlie Farmer, a more or less ordinary man who — as is required in stories like these — dares to dream an extraordinary dream. Charlie's got an adoring wife (Virginia Madsen), two perfect children and a family farm to run, but it turns out that he once had dreams of being an astronaut, and what he really wants to do is to fly a rocket ship into outer space. That's why Charlie's going broke building that massive rocket in his back yard, and that's why the FBI is monitoring him and everybody in town thinks he's crazy. But of course, those of us in the audience are supposed to understand that he's anything but crazy, except in the best and most inspirational follow-your-dreams sort of way. For every interesting little bit of quirkiness there are two big, uplifting speeches complete with swelling Muzak ("Without our dreams, we're nothing"being the main mantra here), and the movie's pieces fall into place with a perfunctory thud completely at odds with the uplift the story strives for. Also stars Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern and Richard Edson. 2.5 stars

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