Hellboy II: Big-budget bizarro

Guillermo del Toro's dazzling sequel

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MONGOL (R) Mongol, the Academy Award-nominated epic about Genghis Khan, hinges on its revisionist notion of an enlightened Temudjin, who was dubbed with the title "Genghis Khan" after his death. Throughout the film, Temudjin comes across not as a bloodthirsty superwarrior but a reasonably sensitive guy whose military success derives from the love of a good woman and belief in the rule of law. TheKazakhstani production works as a kind of trans-Asian melting pot, featuring a Russian director, a Japanese leading man and actors ranging from Chinese movie stars to Kazakh nonprofessionals. Director Sergei Bodrov displays impressive powers of crowd control and widescreen composition, offering a period piece with the visual sweep and panoramic battles they don't make any more without extensive CGI enhancement. Mongol clearly oversimplifies vast swaths of Temudjin's life story but still provides rousing entertainment that makes Hollywood's action blockbusters look meek by comparison.The film lacks the nuanced vision of history and character that you find in David Lean's similarly sprawling Lawrence of Arabia or Kurosawa's masterpieces on feudal Japan, but Mongol feels more authentic than the likes of, say, Mel Gibson's Braveheart.StarsTadanobu Asano,Odnyam Odsuren, Khulan Chuluun,Ba Sen,Amadu Mamadakov andHonglei Sun. 4 stars —Curt Holman

ROMAN DE GARE (R) On the most visible of its several levels, Roman de Gare is a thriller, a distant cousin to the films of Claude Chabrol (aka the "Gallic Hitchcock"), but Claude Lelouch's movie is also a fine romance, a witty reverie on the creative process and a dance of muddled and mistaken identities that at times almost approaches the metaphysical heights of Vertigo. The framing device is a famous writer (Fanny Ardant) being interrogated for having supposedly committed a perfect crime (a murder, although the victim isn't revealed until well into the game), but the movie mostly concerns itself with connecting the dots between an alternately charming and ominous figure played by Dominque Pinon (the grizzled little Popeye clone from Delicatessen) and various other curious characters. Just for starters, we get a teacher who has abandoned his wife and kids, a writer in search of a story, a hairdresser who might also be a hooker and a serial killer on the run, and the movie's structure is intricate and clever enough to keep us guessing until almost the last minute as to who's who. Just when we think we have the scenario sussed out, the movie throws us for an elegant loop, its narrative dipping and hiccupping until the characters' identities are revealed to be not at all what we thought. Ultimately, the velvety red herrings don't provide quite the payoff the movie deserves, but even if Lelouch's film finally reveals itself as something of a soufflé, it's one with heft, an airy batter brushed with goose fat. Also stars Audrey Dana, Zinedine Soualem and Michele Bernier. 4 stars

SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE (R) Romantic relationships are fleeting but a designer handbag is forever in Sex and the City: The Movie, nearly two hours of product placement disguised as a feature film. Although basically just a criminally bloated chick flick, the big-screen Sex often feels more like a slightly revamped sitcom from decades past, with its four gal pals coming off as if Mary and Rhoda had cloned themselves, consumed a steady diet of Danielle Steele, scrounged up the cash for better wardrobes, and spent more of their time talking about, and occasionally having, sex. Writer-director Michael Patrick King dutifully trots out a stream of minor infidelities, misunderstandings, bedroom problems, commitment issues and the like, but the threadbare plot is essentially driven by the three S's — shoes, shopping and sex (or, more specifically, the idea of sex, since there's surprisingly scant shtupping in this rather tame project, save for a horny little dog who shows up to hump a pillow or a pile of laundry whenever the movie requires a laugh). Those who thrill to spotting fabulous designer items by Prada, Gucci and Chanel will be in heaven here. Those of us less enamored of montages of dresses, jewelry and stiletto heels will discover a brand of fashion porn every bit as dubious as the so-called torture porn dished out by some movies these days. Fans of the series probably won't be much dismayed by the lack of depth — think of it as Transformers transformed as a chick flick — but the rest of us will find so little of interest that it's hard not to start fixating on how the little wart on Sarah Jessica Parker's chin seems to change size from scene to scene. Stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth and Jennifer Hudson. 2 stars

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