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What's in movie theaters this week

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THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (PG-13) Sex and sibling rivalry juice up this historical drama about two sisters competing for the attentions of Henry XIII. Stars Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas. (Not Reviewed)

OVER HER DEAD BODY (PG-13) The biggest dose of star power (and the titular dead body of this bland, cookie-cutter comedy) is supplied by Eva Longoria, who turns in a basic variation on her Desperate Housewives shtick, playing a spoiled, over-accessorized bitch who winds up crushed to death by an ice sculpture on her wedding day. One year later, fiancée Paul Rudd still hasn't moved on, so he sees psychic Lake Bell in order to achieve some closure but winds up falling for her — causing Longoria's jealous ghost (who could use a bit of closure herself) to do whatever it takes to come between them. Despite the intriguing prospect of some human-poltergeist catfight materializing, Over Her Dead Body simply bubbles along in its own little hectare of romantic comedy hell, a Ghost-meets-Mr. Woodcock gene-splice in which two competing characters (one living, one dead) squabble over a mutual object of desire. The requisite secondary characters abound, and the whole thing feels considerably closer to a TV sitcom than a big screen production. And with no end in sight for the writers' strike, maybe Over Her Dead Body will turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for all those increasingly frustrated viewers jonesing for a disposable TV-styled fix. Also stars Jason Biggs, Lindsay Sloane and Stephen Root. 2 stars

PENELOPE (PG) Christina Ricci stars as a poor little rich girl born with a big heart and a snout for a nose. Penelope is more candy-colored cartoon fantasy than Elephant Man journey into darkness, but both are essentially ugly duckling fairy tales about uncovering the beautiful swan within. There's much to enjoy here, but the problem with Penelope is that it can't quite seem to decide if it wants to be a lighthearted romance or something meatier and more disturbing. The film wraps itself in an actively quirky sensibility and a semi-edgy visual style that, appealing though they can be, are often at odds with the gentle romantic comedy Penelope seems to be on its most basic level. Ricci's Prince Charming turns out to be a down-on-his-luck scoundrel (James McAvoy), and both are transformed by true love, but the movie's symmetry is upset by too many uneven scenes and a truly awful last act that seems to come out of nowhere. The performances are generally very good, but the movie itself feels unfocused, often rambling so noticeably that it seems to rely on Ricci's voiceover narration to hold it all together. Also stars Catherine O'Hara, Simon Woods, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Dinklage and Richard E. Grant. 3 stars

PERSEPOLIS (NR) In the tradition of great comic-book chronicles like Maus and some of the more personal cartoons of Robert Crumb, the animated feature Persepolis reflects modern life with a passion, wit and complexity rarely achieved in the more "legitimate" corners of literature and cinema. Director Marjane Satrapi adapts her own autobiographical graphic novels to relate a story beginning in Iran in the late '70s, just as the Islamic Revolution is gathering steam. Young Marjane (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes) would much rather be watching Bruce Lee movies than talking religion or politics, but when the country transforms into a theological police state, she finds that remaining on the sidelines is no longer possible. The movie cleverly contrasts the girl's oppressive new world with her love for decadent, disposable Western culture. And as the Islamo-Orwellian double-speak intensifies, so does our hero's lust for forbidden ABBA LPs and black market Iron Maiden cassettes. Persepolis doesn't preach, but it offers reams of pointed commentary in the richly drawn journey of its main character. The black-and-white animation is simple and cleanly stylized, almost looking like woodcuts in places, but these 2D images offer more depth than most stories you'll see at the multiplexes these days. Featuring the voices of Gabrielle Lopes, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux and Catherine Deneuve. 4 stars

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