Get Smart, The Love Guru aim for laughs

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SPEED RACER (PG) With little to it other than pure, frenetic energy and an ultra-groovy design sense, Speed Racer is pitched somewhere between a manga comic book and a neon Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas acid trip amplified to the point of no return. Moviegoers raised on a steady diet of videogames will likely revel in the head-spinningness of it all; other (possibly older) viewers may find themselves yearning to be submerged in the nearest sensory deprivation tank. Constantly in motion and way beyond candy-colored, The Wachowski Brothers' new movie seems positively irradiated, like one of those trendy nitrogen oxygen cocktails pumping through the digestive track of some phosphorescent deep-sea creature. Speed Racer spews out a stream of splashy visuals, careens forward at a breathless clip and provides a certain modicum of fun, but it's impossible to enter into this proudly two-dimensional story in any meaningful way. Even the action scenes — primarily a series of races in which fancy cars endlessly flip around tracks twisted as if inside a worm hole (probably situated inside The Matrix, or maybe Tron) — are so flat they fail to drum up much excitement. And with no real sense of danger and no gravity (literally), the Wachowskis' pop opus begins to look a little like Shark Boy and Lava Girl with delusions of grandeur. Stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Matthew Fox. 3 stars

THE STRANGERS (R) In the opening scene of writer/director Bryan Bertino's debut effort, two young boys stumble upon a crimson knife and a blood-splattered wall, the gruesome aftermath of the film's ensuing "based on true events" cautionary tale, which focuses on a young couple, Kristen and James (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) who are terrorized by three masked strangers while they are visiting their country home. The next 90-minutes takes the audience on a tension-filled, albeit often predictable, ride that finds the couple involved in a violent struggle with the strangers. Though the protagonists are relatable and sympathetic, the suspenseful peaks are disappointingly trite. And despite having all the plot devices and miraculous escapes associated with horror films, The Strangers lacks that final "I get it" moment. The villains' motives (and their identities) are never revealed, and when Kristen repeatedly asks why she and James are being attacked, the reply is simply "because you were home." The film seems to be commenting on the void of human compassion and connection in the modern world, but instead, it just comes across as a cheap and easy fix. 2 stars —Franki Weddington

THEN SHE FOUND ME (PG-13) Helen Hunt's directorial debut is one of those movies people like to call a "dramedy," and even the actress/director's face seems in on the game; gravity has tugged so furiously on the corners of the former Mad About You star's mouth that she now looks heartbroken even when smiling, as if the twin masks of comedy and tragedy were somehow simultaneously inhabiting the same face. Hunt's mug is just right for April Epner, a 39-year-old schoolteacher with a ticking biological clock, a failed marriage, a local talk show host (Bette Midler) claiming to be her birth mother, and the divorced father (Colin Firth) of one of her students hitting on her scant hours after the break-up of her marriage. All of this plays out in some nebulous zone midway between melodrama and sitcom, as the movie ricochets back and forth between April's developing relationships, and a series of improbable plot twists causes everything to fall apart before coming together again. The movie flirts mightily with formula and shtick but the performances (particularly Hunt's and Midler's) give the characters weight; the balance between bitter and sweet is generally effective; and even when the rapid-fire dialogue sounds so pleased with itself it resembles a dinner theater adaptation of The Gilmore Girls. Hunt can usually be counted on to temper it with something worthwhile. At one point we even get a cameo by Salman Rushdie as a frazzled obstetrician and then all is forgiven. Also stars Matthew Broderick and Ben Shenkman. 3 stars

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