Capsule reviews of recently released movies

For Your Consideration, Tenacious D

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DÉJÀ VU (PG-13) ADD-challenged director Tony Scott, back from the dead after Domino, manages to impress with what amounts to a virtual remake of Otto Preminger's classic film noir Laura, re-envisioned here as a post-9/11 sci-fi action flick. Denzel Washington stars as ATF agent Doug Carlin, whose investigation of a terrorist bombing becomes linked to the murder of a beautiful girl whom Carlin, shades of Laura, begins to obsess upon. (This being 2006, though, and Scott being Scott, instead of the elegant femme specter of Laura, Déjà Vu's dead girl is first introduced to us as a mutilated — but still beautiful — corpse.) The movie works backwards and forwards simultaneously, beginning basically as a mystery, with fantasy elements mostly taking the form of high-tech toys, Then, about an hour in, Déjà Vu morphs into full-blown sci-fi, treading deep into time travel territory (albeit with one foot firmly placed in adrenaline-goosing car chase scenes and monster explosions) and, against all odds, makes the fusion work. The scientific basis of the movie's sci-fi is pretty dodgy if you think about it for longer than a few seconds, but Déjà Vu is well worth its admission price as a tightly constructed and well played action-thriller. The film was shot on location in New Orleans, and the local flavor is a major perk. Also stars Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg and Jim Caviezel. Opens Nov. 22 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (PG-13) A worm's-eye view of Hollywood, For Your Consideration should have been Christopher Guest's ready-made masterpiece. Guest and his collaborators are some very funny people, and they know this terrain as well as anybody does, but For Your Consideration rarely offers much beyond some pretty mild amusements, and the level of satirical insight on display here is a notch or two below even the filmmaker's recent A Mighty Wind. The new film revolves around a little independent film (an unintentionally kitschy item called Home for Purim) that's inexplicably managed to generate some Oscar buzz, but, to no one's surprise, Guest and cowriter Eugene Levy use the storyline as a jumping-off point for a series of sketches skewering actors, agents, publicists, critics and various other sundry members of the movie industry. Curiously, though, much of the humor comes off as flat, toothless this time around, and even weirdly dated (jokes about out-of-touch agents exploring the "world Interweb," anyone?), to the point where even a standout performance by Guest regular Catherine O'Hara can't quite turn it all around. Also stars Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge. Opens Nov. 22 at local theaters. 2.5 stars

TENACIOUS D: THE PICK OF DESTINY (R) Tenacious D is pretty much a love-it-or-hate-it proposition and, from where I'm sitting, there's not much to love about Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny. This is stoner retro-comedy, pure and brain-cell-decimated simple, a notch above Half Baked (but several notches below Cheech and Chong), and the movie's gleeful wallowing in its own stupidity doesn't make it any more appealing. There are no distinctions drawn here between heroes and losers, and both functions are filled by Jack Black and Kyle Gass, two ordinary schlubs charged with the divine mission of becoming the "greatest rock band of all time." This band turns out to be Tenacious D, natch, and director Liam Lynch (Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic) follows Black and Gass, performers of very limited range (putting it mildly), as they rehearse their boring, hard rock ditties, endure a series of humiliations, and do an awful lot of standing around while repeating various catchphrases. There are a few worthwhile bits here — an opening homage to Tommy is inspired, a cameo by Tim Robbins is a treat, and a Sid-and-Marty-Kroft-esque mushroom trip isn't bad either — but the rest is often excruciating. Tenacious D is probably best experienced in small doses, and this 98-minute dose can be painful. Also stars JR Reed, Troy Gentile, Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller. Opens Nov. 22 at local theaters. 2 stars


BABEL (R) Many tongues are spoken and many stories interwoven in Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu's Babel, but, like those blind men feeling up the elephant, each of the movie's characters has only the foggiest notion of the big picture of which they're a part. Babel continues the patented blend of interlocking narratives and scrambled time frames that Innaritu and screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga dished out in Amores Perros and 21 Grams, a method that links its characters' lives by a series of coincidences rendered cosmic in the unbearable randomness of being. In Babel's version of chaos theory, a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere and a Japanese businessman on vacation gives his hunting rifle to a Moroccan guide, eventually resulting in the guide's youngster accidentally putting a bullet in Brad Pitt's wife (Cate Blanchette). This in turn causes Pitt's and Blanchette's housekeeper, on the other side of the world, to risk missing her son's wedding unless she brings the couple's kids with her to Mexico, where beautiful and dangerous things await. And so on and so on. There are some painfully potent moments here, but the filmmakers' grasp sometimes exceeds their reach; simply put, we too often feel the movie straining to supply the connections necessary for making sense of the chaos. Still, Babel is bound and determined to pull off its cosmic hat trick and, even with all the metaphysical doodling and contrived rearranging of structure, the film gives us slabs of emotion that ring raw and true, with an English Patient-esque mix of ingenious editing, seductive cinematography and solid performances that goes a long way toward winning us over. Also stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi and Elle Fanning. 3.5 stars

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