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8 MILE (R) This much-anticipated portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-dawg stars white-boy rapper/pop sensation Eminem as a barely disguised version of himself in younger days. Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys), the movie is set in Detroit's mid-'90s hip-hop scene, where aspiring rapper Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith (Eminem) lives in a trailer with his trashy mom (Kim Basinger), works a dead-end factory job by day, and hangs with his pals and performs by night. It's all extremely engaging, and the climactic battle between dueling rappers is half-Rocky, half-spaghetti western and an instant classic. Also stars Mekhi Phifer.

ABOUT SCHMIDT (R) Jack Nicholson is resplendently bland in this skewed character study of an ordinary, retired insurance salesman with penchant for crankiness and a bad comb-over (is there such a thing as a good comb-over?). After his wife suddenly dies, Nicholson's Schmidt hops in his 30-foot Winnebago and embarks on a mini-road trip, revisiting his past — only to find he doesn't really seem to have a past, or a future. Schmidt's confusion and limbo status are played mostly for laughs, though, and communicated largely through the letters he writes to his Tanzanian foster child. There's an unconventional arc to the movie's narrative that seems to want to recall classic Nicholson journeys such as Five Easy Pieces, but About Schmidt isn't quite in that league. Director Alexander Payne is a little too obvious in his efforts to tackle his subject from the side, rather than head-on. And simply putting his character in a variety of odd situations, while amusing, doesn't necessarily reveal him in ways we don't expect. Also stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates and Howard Hesseman. Opens Jan. 3 at local theaters 1/2

ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS (PG-13) An animated cinematic experience from Adam Sandler, just in time for the holidays. A traumatic event during Hanukkah turns 12-year-old good kid Davey Stone sour, and 20 years of drinking, delinquency and surliness later, he is hated by the townspeople of Dukesberry. The story plays out a little slowly, seeming longer than its 78 minutes, and songs written and performed for the most part by Sandler supply some narration in the story but don't deliver the same kind of laughs as his songs about lunch ladies and red-hooded sweatshirts. Features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin Nealon and Jon Lovitz. 1/2—ANA LOPEZ

ANALYZE THAT (R) Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro are back as the nerdy little shrink and his tough-guy mobster patient, in this installment of Harold Ramis' Mafioso comedy. The jokes this time out are even flatter than the first time around, and the movie never really seems able or willing to strike some sort of workable balance between humor (which basically consists of Crystal and De Niro mugging) and whatever's going on here that passes for drama. Also stars Lisa Kudrow. ANTWONE FISHER (PG-13) Denzel Washington's directorial debut is a sort of African-American Equus, starring Washington himself as a navy psychiatrist doing his best to help a troubled young seaman. Washington's quietly confident film is a moving but fairly predictable tale about dysfunctional kids and their mentors, very much in the tradition of Good Will Hunting, Ordinary People and way too many others to mention. The cast turns in solid performances, particularly Derek Luke, who's unaffected and powerful conveying both the gentle naivete and confused anger of Fisher. Washington's directorial style is admirably restrained (a flashier approach might have reduced this already overheated material to pap), but the script fails to offer many real surprises. For a first effort, Washington's film is an effective, but not a particularly remarkable one, a little like one of those Oprah book club selections with lots of exhaustively rendered pain and tears, a series of revelations that aren't really revelatory, all culminating in an uplifting but unsurprising pay-off. Also stars Joy Bryant. AUSTRALIA: LAND BEYOND TIME (PG) The film takes us Down Under to the flattest, driest continent on Earth, immerses us in parched, otherworldly landscapes and introduces us to tons of incredibly odd and supremely adaptable animals 1/2

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (PG) Steven Spielberg's movie about the world's most successful con man is glossy Fun with a Capital F, a snappy old-school caper that never takes itself too seriously. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Abagnale, a high school drop-out who in the 1960s successfully impersonated a doctor, a lawyer and an airline pilot, and who passed some four million dollars worth of forged checks, all before his 21st birthday. Tom Hanks is the dedicated but humorless FBI agent who pursues Abagnale and eventually forms a strange bond with him. Spielberg handles the material in a brisk, bright and thoroughly amiable manner, even in those rare moments when Frank's nagging personal problems start bubbling towards the surface. The movie is relentlessly upbeat and as solidly entertaining as anything Spielberg's done in ages, a slick little cat-and-mouse adventure with some tasty retro color. Also stars Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and Nathalie Baye. 1/2

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