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JUNO (PG-13) Director Jason Reitman's second film is loopy in a more conventional way than his first, Thank You For Smoking, but it's equally clever and, even more crucially, just as much fun. The deliciously baroque plot twists of Smoking are almost entirely absent in Juno, but Reitman makes good use of this new-found, off-kilter minimalism, focusing his often static camera on characters whose endearing qualities rarely get in the way of their monumental oddness. Ellen Page is extremely appealing as the title character, a self-described "freaky girl" who gets pregnant, opts not to abort, and agrees to hand the infant over to a barren couple advertising in the local penny-saver flyer. Things start out impossibly light and bouncy, with everyone speaking in bursts of such glibly stylized strangeness (think Rory Gilmore meets Kevin Smith) that it's sometimes hard to take the characters seriously — but Juno eventually allows just enough cold reality to seep in to get our attention. Still, even when our heroine's water breaks and she's rushed to the delivery room, Juno has time for one last kitsch clarion cry, hollering "Thunderbirds are go!" It's that kind of a movie. Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody seem to be having a ball referencing all the hippest bands and grooviest horror movie directors, and they fill their movie with music by Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, and whimsical pop tunes a la The Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You," which are so simple and achingly sincere they seem to cross the line into pomo irony. Just like the movie. Also stars Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons. 3.5 stars

THE KITE RUNNER (PG-13) The breathlessly anticipated big screen version of The Kite Runner turns out to be as handsome as it is curiously bloodless — unless, of course, you're counting the picturesque spattering of crimson dotting the ground after a noble character's off-screen rape. Director Marc Foster's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's much-admired book spans several decades and no less than two far-flung worlds while laying out a scrupulously symmetrical tale of friendship, loss and jumbo-sized redemption. The story begins in Afghanistan in the late '70s, where privileged 12-year-old Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and household servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) are the best of friends despite obvious differences in class and ethnicity. The young actors are extremely engaging, but Foster doesn't dig too deep beneath the surface of Hosseini's novel, often reducing political and cultural nuances to glossy ethnic exotica, and eschewing shades of grey for big, black and white emotions. Too many huge upheavals are crammed into too tight a space, with Afghanistan summarily gobbled up by the Soviets and then by the Taliban, followed by a barrage of coming-to-America soap-operatics culminating in an Act of Personal Courage redeeming the hero from the Very Bad Thing that occurred earlier in the film. Also stars Kalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Shaun Toub and Nabi Tanha. 3 stars

MAD MONEY (PG-13) A feeble yuk-fest for The Great Depression II, Mad Money stars Diane Keaton as an over-educated, under-skilled yuppie who takes up crime when her husband is the victim of downsizing. Callie Khouri (screenwriter of Thelma and Louise) is the director here, so there's plenty of warmed-over girl power going on, as Keaton hooks up with an African-American single mom (Queen Latifah) and a cute space-cadet (Katie Holmes) to stick it to the man, take the money and run. The movie tests our credulity at every step, with friendships forged in perfunctory fashion between its paper-thin characters, gaping plot holes you could do laps in and a heist that's straight out of a Scooby Doo cartoon. By the movie's midpoint, the women are all bumpin' hinies in the bedroom to golden oldies, and the shrinking middle class is just a shot away. The brand of humor here is supposed to get funnier in direct proportion to the bleakness of the times, but even with the New Dark Ages breathing down on our necks, Mad Money is just a drag. Also stars Ted Danson and Stephen Root. 2.5 stars

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (PG-13) Bumbling out-of-work governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) worms her way into a gig as a social secretary for a fast-living starlet (Amy Adams) and finds herself lighting up lives, including her own, in the fizzy but thoroughly disposable Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The movie takes place in London on the eve of World War II, which is supposed to add an undercurrent of dramatic tension to the lighter-than-air romantic dalliances here, but mostly serves as an excuse to puff up the fluff with swell-looking period costumes and English accents. There's some fun to be had in watching Adams flit about as the promiscuous, aspiring actress (channeling Marilyn Monroe with her breathy, little-girl voice), but the movie too often feels both predictable and hopelessly stagebound as it goes about the business of showing us McDormand's character magically smoothing over the bumps in the love lives of everyone she encounters. It's obvious from the start who's going to wind up with whom, and by the time the prim and proper Miss Pettigrew loses her inhibitions and hooks up with her own Prince Charming, the movie has all but worn out its welcome. Also stars Lee Pace, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson and Mark Strong. 2.5 stars

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