Outtakes

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Reign of Fire (PG-13) A ragtag band of humans square off against a deadly species of fire-breathing dragons in the decimated future of 2020. Director Rob Bowman's movie looks good, if you go in for tons of grubby, post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but the plot arc here is just short of by-the-numbers, the action scenes are far too murky to generate much excitement, and the characters are uniformly underwritten or annoying. Stars Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale and Izabella Scorupco.

Road to Perdition (R) Director Sam Mendes follows up American Beauty with a densely textured but occasionally magnificent gangland epic. Tom Hanks stars in an uncharacteristically ambiguous role as a paid killer who doesn't like what he does, but does it anyway. Targeted by his former boss and a couple of mad dog killers, Hanks and his young son take to the road seeking revenge and survival, and finding (this is a Hollywood movie, after all) redemption. While not as immediately hooky as Mendes' debut, Perdition may just be an even better film. Also stars Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig and Tyler Hoechlin.

Scooby Doo (PG) A big-screen experience pretty similar to watching an old Scooby Doo cartoon on TV, only longer. Outside a very small handful of semi-hip inside jokes (including a drug reference or two), the live action movie of Scooby Doo is a pretty bland affair, whose target audience consists of kids ages 3 to 7. Even older youngsters will begin to have problems with the predictable, middle-of-the-road nature of the movie — it's not competent enough to be taken at all seriously and not silly enough to have any actual camp appeal.

Signs (PG-13) The least convoluted but, in some ways, the least compelling movie yet from M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). Mel Gibson stars as a faith-challenged former clergyman who spends most of the movie sweating bullets and waiting, along with the rest of the world, for a devastating attack from hostile extraterrestrials. The movie is all mood — ominous, still and full of apocalyptic mystery. Nothing much happens, but it's good, uncomplicated pulp entertainment, with a vaguely spiritual underpinning that rises to the surface in the last act. Creepy as it is, Signs is also effortlessly commercial, with a filmmaking sensibility a little bit like that of a darker, more obsessive Spielberg. Like all of Shyamalan's movies, it also feels more than a bit like a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone that somehow wound up getting expanded into a feature-length film. Also stars Joaquin Phoenix , Cherry Jones and Rory Culkin. Opens Aug. 2 at local theaters.

Space Station (PG) New IMAX featurette documenting a pair of voyages to the international space station floating high above planet Earth. The multinational crews include a mix of American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. At IMAX Dome Theater.

(Not Reviewed)

Spider-Man (PG) Sam Raimi's big screen adaptation of Spider-Man is surprisingly faithful to Spidey's origins as an outsider superhero, even if the edges have been smoothed out a touch. The movie's first half lays the story out in a manner that has all the symmetry and primal oomph of modern myth, with Peter Parker spending most of the movie simply adjusting to his new powers (we don't even see Spidey in full costume until a full hour into the movie). Even though the second half of Spider-Man is infinitely more action-packed than the setup, the movie gives the distinct impression of slowing down as it progresses. The main reason the movie's second half suffers is due to the fundamental shift from characters to CGI-dominated action — and, frankly, some of the digital effects aren't quite up to the task. Also stars Kirsten Dunst and James Franco.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (G) An animated, all-American tale of freedom and bravery that's very nearly a kid-friendly remake of Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman's role being taken by a talking horse. The movie's equine protagonist is actually far more heroic than Hoffman's chameleon-like survivor, but both characters wind up serving as virtual tour guides on a condensed history of the Old West by passing back and forth between the Native American and white man's civilizations that defined the era.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (PG) As enticing as anything George Lucas has ever done, Episode II is good enough to not only ease the pain of the fiasco otherwise known as Episode I, it quite nearly redeems it. The middle installment of Lucas' new trilogy is a big, juicy entertainment that manages to put into perspective everything that's come before and neatly set up what's to follow. The action sequences are among Lucas' most muscular and exciting to date, but the movie's narrative is surprisingly intriguing as well. Stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee.

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