Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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THE INTERPRETER (PG-13) Glossy production, political relevancy and an A-List of names behind and in front of the cameras can't save director Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter, a suspense thriller with very little suspense and even fewer thrills. Nicole Kidman stars as a U.N. translator who accidentally overhears a plot to assassinate an African dictator and then finds herself locking horns with and (you guessed it) eventually drawn to the secret service agent (Sean Penn) handling the case. At root, the plot is simple - a race against time to stop foreign terrorists from making a spectacular kill on American soil - but the movie is so concerned with making us think it's smarter than it is that it endlessly and needlessly complicates itself with Maguffins involving the various competing (and imaginary) African factions who may or may not be part of the conspiracy. Nothing too terribly interesting results from any of this, and the movie's topical touchstones, such as global terrorism and ethnic cleansing, aren't explored so much as they're used as texture and background scenery. (The film would probably have been far more compelling had Pollack dived right into the whole ideological morass of terrorism and jettisoned his movie's African orientation for a less PC but infinitely more applicable Islamist one.) There are some exciting individual sequences in The Interpreter but they don't hang together or add up, and the simmering but basically dull romance between Kidman's and Penn's characters is a cliché of the worst sort. It's hard to shake the feeling that the movie's script was pieced together from the suggestions of too many cooks, with the only unifying element being director Pollack's proudly liberal faith in the grand and glorious possibilities of the United Nations - a sensibility that's sure to go over big with megaplex audiences across America. Also stars Catherine Keener.

KING'S RANSOM (PG-13) In the final stages of his divorce settlement, marketing mogul Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson of Kangaroo Jack) decides to kidnap himself to avoid negotiating the split of his multi-million dollar firm with his greedy wife (Kellita Smith). In the meantime, three other plans to kidnap King are hatched, and he ends up in the basement of a home owned by Corey (Jay Mohr), a recently jobless fast food employee. Hilarity almost ensues. The plot's predictability leaves obvious room for improvisation but all the actors seem to be channeling other comedians; Anderson misuses the sarcasm of Bernie Mac and Chris Rock, while Jay Mohr, in his funniest moments, suggests Adam Sandler's Water Boy persona. The highlight of the film is Donald Faison of Scrubs fame, who plays a valet service attendant mistakenly kidnapped after being confused for King. Compared to the rest of the cast, Faison is a comic genius, inciting laughs with nothing more than a well-timed grin. A film like King's Ransom should never pretend that it's more than a vehicle for comedic personalities. It's the sort of comedy that relies more on performances than plot, and when those performances don't deliver, the movie is nothing but a train wreck of actors possessing no real comic identity. Also stars Regina Hall and Loretta Devine. 1/2

-Matthew Pleasant

KUNG FU HUSTLE (PG-13) Even though they share a lot of the same cultural baggage, Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle is worlds apart from the highly poeticized elegance of something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Silly, sloppy, sometimes gleefully crude, Chow's movie is a hoot, pure and simple, a goofy throwback to the glory days of Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio, sort of like Kill Bill minus all the blood and attitude. Think of it as an old school martial-arts action-comedy melding classic Jackie Chan with the concentrated surrealism of a Roadrunner cartoon. Kung Fu Hustle sends up the whole martial arts genre even as it proves immensely satisfying as the very thing it spoofs - a kick-ass kung-fu flick. The plot, which constantly winks at its own silliness, revolves around a colorfully seedy neighborhood called Pig Sty Alley, whose residents attempt to fend off various super-assassins sent out by a gang of thugs they've managed to offend. There's not much more to it than that, but it's enough - more than enough, actually. Kung Fu Hustle essentially becomes a series of increasingly outrageous battles, mostly played as hyper-exaggerated physical comedy, and with each "ultimate" encounter one-upping the one that's come before. The movie's humor is an unapologetically broad mix of slapstick and low-brow wackiness: exposed butt cracks and bugged-out eyeballs are the order of the day, and politically incorrect stereotypes run rampant (an effeminate gay character is particularly trying of our patience). Still, there's a lot of pleasure to be had here, at least for anyone willing to suspend disbelief and get in touch with their inner Three Stooges fan. Also stars Lam Tze Chung, Yuen Qui, Leung Siu Lung and Huang Sheng Yi. Held over at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 1/2

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