Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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click to enlarge KINSEY - Ken Regan/Camera 5
Ken Regan/Camera 5


STRAIGHT JACKET (NR) Not to be confused with the old Joan Crawford camp classic about the battle-axe with the axe. This contemporary Straight Jacket lacks Mommie Dearest and has nothing to do with murderous psychos, be they carrying large sharp tools or otherwise — although it might well have benefited from some. Directed by Richard Day, creator of the wonderfully raunchy Girls Will Be Girls, this bright-eyed but not very funny comedy stars Matt Letscher as a Rock Hudson-esque '50s matinee idol attempting to hide his gayness from the rest of Hollywood and the general public by getting hitched to a ditzy blonde bimbette (Carrie Preston). The ruse marriage is in trouble from the get-go, of course, but major complications set in when our hero falls for a cute male co-worker (Adam Greer). It's all pretty much as sitcom-like as it sounds, and the campy attitude and candy-colored sets don't begin to make up for the lame jokes and terrible acting. Also stars Veronica Cartwright. Opens Jan. 7 at local theaters.

WHITE NOISE (PG-13) Sounds like a supernatural thriller of the week, in which a dead person and a surviving spouse attempt to communicate with each other across the void. A long missing-in-action Michael Keaton stars, but don't expect too much. The studio isn't screening this one for critics until it's too late for most deadlines, which is never actually a good sign. Also stars Deborah Unger. Opens Jan. 7 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)


AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) Although there are worse ways to while away 90-some minutes, After the Sunset isn't really exciting or original enough to engage us as a heist movie, and it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy. Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are retired jewel thieves playing elaborately pointless cat-and-mouse games with FBI agent Woody Harrelson while they consider that inevitable one last heist. Also stars Don Cheadle. 1/2

ALEXANDER (R) Oliver Stone's three-hour biopic of Alexander the Great is, at best, a curiously uninvolving affair. There are lots of long, boring speeches; hokey dialogue; an unintentionally silly melange of accents (from Irish brogues to faux-Slavic); a couple of extended battle scenes where the cry of "Glory!" becomes a four-syllable word; a horribly manipulative soundtrack (courtesy of Vangelis); and a narrator who tells us about key events in the hero's life so that we don't have to actually witness them for ourselves. Colin Farrell makes a surprisingly lackluster Alexander, playing the great conqueror as a whiny, poofy-haired surfer dude with mother issues and an eye for the boys. In place of his usual conspiracy theories and cinematic provocations, Stone layers in heaping helpings of pop psychology, mainly manifested by Angelina Jolie as Alexander's dominating, guilt-tripping, weirdly sensualized mother (she does some interesting things with snakes, too). Also stars Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto and Christopher Plummer.

THE AVIATOR (PG-13) Martin Scorsese's biopic about Howard Hughes — businessman, adventurer, inventor, visionary, playboy, recluse and raving nut-job — the quintessential American. The Aviator crams an awful lot of history into its nearly three-hour running time, but the core of the movie eyeballs the obsessive personality that would allow Hughes to become a master of the world and then eventually transform him into a brittle paranoic, paralyzed by everything he felt was beyond his control. And while Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't quite have the gravitas to pull off this sort of role, you do get used to him after the first half hour or so. The film begins in the 1920s with Hughes' flirtation with Hollywood, segueing into his affairs with the likes of Katherine Hepburn (an uncanny impersonation by Cate Blanchette) and Ava Gardner (a lightweight Kate Beckinsale), his outrageous financial triumphs and his steady surrender to his delusions. The Aviator covers a lot of other ground, too, and the question becomes how could one film do justice to this life. The answer, of course, is that it can't. But Scorsese has given us a big, muscular epic that, while not ranking with his very best work, is at least two films in one, both good enough to ensure that one of those nice, shiny statues will soon be residing on the director's mantelpiece 1/2

BEING JULIA (NR) "Luminous" is a word that film critics tend to overuse when describing beautiful actresses lighting up the screen, beautifully, but hardly any other word will do for Annette Bening's career-topping performance here. The film itself is lushly mounted but otherwise pretty standard stuff — Bening plays an aging diva in 1930s London, engaged in a clandestine affair with a younger man — but Bening herself is on screen nearly every moment, and it's impossible to take our eyes off her. Director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto, Sunshine) invests the material with an appealingly light touch, lovely visual flourishes and as much wit as we might expect in what is essentially a pretty dull story. The film becomes better during a last act that manufactures some All About Eve-like backstage intrigue and runs with it, but the real reason to see the film is Bening, who is extraordinary. Also stars Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevens and Michael Gambon. Currently playing at burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm. 1/2

BEYOND THE SEA (PG-13) Kevin Spacey's well-intentioned but seriously bungled biopic about Bobby Darin nails the singer's voice, his stage mannerisms and his act, but gets almost everything else wrong. The movie takes one of those warmed-over Dennis Potter-esque approaches, à la All That Jazz and De-Lovely, where the characters step outside the action to comment on it and take us on a guided tour of their lives while conversing with younger versions of themselves. The poor man's pomo trappings fall particularly flat here, a lame attempt to disguise the movie's shallow and crushingly uninspired adherence to standard biopic formulas as it trudges along from one episode in Darin's life to the next. Bobby Darin was actually a pretty interesting guy, an ambitious chameleon with a complicated relationship to the whole hipster/lounge music phenomenon that, for many, defined him — not that you'd know it from this movie. The music is pretty happening, though, and a couple of the Vegas show recreations are almost worth sticking around for. Also stars Kate Bosworth, Brenda Blethyn, Bob Hoskins and John Goodman. Currently playing at Burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm.

BLADE: TRINITY (R) Wesley Snipes returns as the iconic, elaborately tattooed hybrid human-vampire, but this time he's reduced to a minor character in his own movie, overshadowed by a pair of young, vampire-hunting hipsters. One is Jessica Biel, who slinks around exposing her midriff when not kicking vampire butt, and the other is Ryan Reynolds, who engages in incessant, lively banter with Blade and supplies most of the movie's comedic moments. We quickly become numb to all the blood, guts and speed, and there really isn't much spooky stuff to be found, much less atmosphere. Blade: Trinity also features no less a baddie than Dracula himself (now known simply as Drake), although he's a bland, gold-chain-wearing beefcake, shirt unbuttoned to display the bulging pecs where his acting ability apparently resides. Also stars Dominic Purcell.

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (PG-13) Bridget Jones is far from happy as a pig in shit, but that's exactly where she lands — wallowing with a bunch of swine in a tub of excrement — within the first few minutes of this bouncy but not particularly pleasant sequel to the popular 2001 film. From there, it's a short step to extreme wide-angle close-ups of B.J.'s considerable bum (accompanied by an off-screen voice demanding "get a shot of that porker"), as Edge of Reason piles on scene after embarrassing scene where the game plan apparently equates maximum humiliation of its heroine with maximum laughter. Stars Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. 1/2

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS (PG) A holiday movie that's about as pleasant as sitting in a dentist's chair with a drill boring into your teeth. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis play a married couple being guilt-tripped and virtually terrorized by their friends and neighbors because of their decision to take a vacation cruise rather than hang around and participate in the holidays. Things become even more chaotic when their grown daughter unexpectedly shows up, causing Allen and Curtis to put together a last-minute holiday extravaganza. The movie's first half amounts to a series of astonishingly unfunny sequences that beat us over the head with the commercialization of Christmas, while the second half does a complete about-face and makes with the sappy stuff. Also stars Dan Aykroyd and Julie Gonzalo.

CLOSER (R) Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen play sexual (and maybe, just maybe, romantic) musical chairs in a raw-boned ballet of what director Mike Nichols probably intends as modern alienation. Law's would-be writer and Portman's off-and-on stripper are Couple No. 1, and Robert's long-suffering photographer and Owen's rude-and-crude dermatologist are Couple No. 2, although each time the movie jumps forward in time it seems like someone is screaming at someone for screwing someone else. Nichols and writer Patrick Marber give us some moments of genuine, albeit vicious, power here (particularly in the film's later stages), but Closer's basic take on self-destructive relationships often seems like it's been chiseled with a sledgehammer — and it's certainly nothing new. 1/2

ENDURING LOVE (R) Enduring Love features some fascinating ideas and a delicately unhinged performance by Rhys Ifans, but the film, despite its pretensions of being something grander, is basically just an artier Fatal Attraction. Daniel Craig stars as a troubled academic haunted by a recent tragedy and being stalked by an enigmatic stranger (Ifans) who experienced that tragedy with him. The film throws enough twists and turns at us to keep things interesting, but for most of its running time it can't quite seem to make up its mind whether it's going to be some moody, metaphorical think piece or something more along the lines of an old fashioned thriller-diller. Also stars Samantha Morton and Bill Nighy.

FAT ALBERT (PG) That old-school gang of cartoon characters from the '70s TV show are transported into the real world of 2004, where they're briefly transformed into flesh-and-blood versions of their two-dimensional selves in order to help out a young girl's low-esteem issues. The first 45 minutes or so of this good-natured kiddie comedy is surprisingly watchable in a so-ridiculous-you-just-gotta-love-it kind of way, as Fat Albert and his crew riff away on their established cartoon personae while revealing themselves as street kids from a kinder, gentler time. They smile at people, solve problems and recoil at horror at gangsta rap, all with just a hint of a wink to let us know that the movie's not quite as dumb as it looks. It's not until the last half hour, when the Cosby Kids start becoming assimilated with the real world, that the movie ceases being very much fun and starts making with the messages. Stars Kenan Thompson, Dania Ramirez, Omari Grandberry, Marques Houston and Keith Robinson. 1/2

FINDING NEVERLAND (PG) Finding Neverland depicts the friendship between Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie (an unusually subdued Johnny Depp) and the five young sons of a beautiful young widow (Kate Winslet), giving us a romance, a coming-of-age tale, and an elaborate parlor game in which we're teased with the bits from Barrie's life that served as inspiration for his classic-to-be about a boy who refused to grow up. It's best to put history out of your mind here, since the movie whitewashes several key facts of Barrie's life, but then again Finding Neverland is a movie designed to lift spirits, not dash them. Mark Foster, a talented director previously responsible for the much grittier Monsters Ball, coaches solid performances from the cast and layers Neverland with pleasing symmetries, wit and moments that make good on a clear intention to appear "magical." What we get is pleasant enough but a bit too pre-digested to take completely seriously. Also stars Radha Mitchell, Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. 1/2

FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (PG-13) A by-the-numbers re-working of Robert Aldrich's 1965 curiosity about a ragtag group of plane-crash survivors stranded in the middle of the desert and attempting to survive while they rebuild their plane. The 2004 version turns the characters into a much blander crew of misfits, adds some awful-looking CGI sequences and a couple of supposedly rousing inspirational speeches, and pads the action with extended and almost entirely gratuitous montage sequences set to classic rock songs (and a smattering of new tunes that smack of readymade nostalgia). Giovanni Ribisi is fairly interesting as the quirkiest member of the crew, but the rest of the cast is utterly forgettable, not excluding Dennis Quaid, who spends a lot of time with his shirt off but is not remotely up to the task of slipping into Jimmy Stewart's shoes. Also stars Tyrese Gibson and Miranda Otto.

THE INCREDIBLES (PG) The Incredibles mines some familiar movie models — three parts action blockbuster to two parts classic spy flick, shaken not stirred, and complete with cool gadgets, dastardly arch-nemesis and a groovy Goldfinger-esque score. Like all of Pixar's little animated opuses, however, it is also essentially a love letter to the family unit, and although this smart and very funny movie's emotional center might be a touch less overtly warm and fuzzy than something like Finding Nemo, it still gets the job done nicely. Featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee.

KINSEY (R) The so-called sexual revolution of the 20th century is a can of worms we still struggle with today, and this classy biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey gamely lays it all out, a bit provocative around the edges, but never off-putting. The film is handsomely crafted, witty, sensitive and frequently thoughtful, but it's also a bit bloodless, at least for what this material would seem to demand. Kinsey doesn't exactly ignore the meatier, thornier implications of its own story, but it folds them neatly and a little too smoothly into quantities of more conventionally appealing biopic material, beginning with Liam Neeson in the title role as another Schindler for another moment, a flawed but benevolent facilitator of refugees seeking asylum of the sexual kind. Kinsey may have been somewhat robotic in real life (think of him as the original sex machine), but Hollywood has never had much trouble making androids endearing, a feat accomplished here with the casting of Neeson, a supremely sympathetic actor, and by a sprinkling of carefully calculated insights into Kinsey's personal life and background. Also stars Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, John Lithgow, Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton and Tim Curry. Currently playing at Beach Theatre. Call to confirm. 1/2

LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (PG) Morbidly witty, imaginatively stylized and with surprisingly little pandering to tiny or otherwise tiny-minded viewers, there's much to enjoy in this dark-but-not-too-dark fantasy about the trials and tribulations of a trio of ingenious orphans. Jim Carrey dons a series of elaborate disguises as the young pups' nemesis, an evil actor who keeps putting the kiddies in a succession of increasingly harrowing predicaments from which they must use all their considerable, McGuyver-like resources to escape. It's not exactly Shakespeare, but there are lots of curious characters, bizarre and outlandish landscapes, and a tone that's more or less faithful to the dark, disarmingly dry sensibility of the original books. The film is a production designer's dream, with wonderfully odd little Edward Gorey-esque flourishes and filigrees loitering about the edges of nearly every frame. Also stars Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep and Jude Law. 1/2

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (R) While its joys are not so warming or self-evident as those of his previous Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson's latest movie is unlike any other. With The Life Aquatic, Anderson doesn't give us particularly likeable or even "real" characters, and the humor is so dry and understated that "jokes" frequently fly under the radar, but the film does present an entire, not-quite-alternate universe, one as inexplicably skewed and intricately self-contained as something you'd find in a big, fat novel by Thomas Pynchon. Anderson seems to be setting himself up as Hollywood's Pynchon, in fact, with a movie that, while technically a comedy, is often maddeningly enigmatic to the point of obscurity, set in a world a half-stop removed from reality and floating along on a narrative both elaborate and sketch-like. The movie's characters include some magnificently strange but emotionally distant birds (led by Bill Murray as the disagreeable but oddly charismatic Zissou), a guy who periodically croons Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie songs in Portuguese, and there are even a few mock action sequences as wonderfully inept and ludicrous as anything you'll see in Team America. Also stars Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Anjelica Huston. 1/2

THE MACHINIST (NR) Christian Bale sheds his pretty-boy image and some 60 pounds in order to play a tortured, skeletal loner who hasn't slept for a year and can't seem to distinguish between what's real and what's not. The film unfolds and Trevor slips deeper and deeper into what appears to be a delusional state, although the movie teases us with the possibility that maybe he really is the victim of some vast, bizarre conspiracy aimed at costing him his job, his sanity, maybe even his life. It's conceivable that the entire movie is Trevor's hallucination, and we're encouraged from the get-go to take everything we see with as many grains of salt as possible. The is-it-or-isn't-it reality submitted for our approval in The Machinist is far from inviting, but there's no denying that it manages to grab us from the first frame and not let go. Also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon and John Sharian. 1/2

MEET THE FOCKERS (PG-13) If you liked Meet the Parents, odds are you'll love this sequel, which has pretty much everything the original had plus a little something else just to make sure all the bases are covered. Besides the patented oil-and-water dynamic between Ben Stiller and his future in-laws, we get an even more strained (and consequently, in movie logic, wackier) dynamic between those same, uptight WASPy future in-laws and Stiller's own oversexed and way ethnic parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand). There's also a cute baby, a tiny dog and cat who do terrible (as in terrible-funny) things to each other, and Robert DeNiro wearing a fake boob. The main show here is Hoffman and Streisand, though, who are actually quite funny together, despite being saddled with a script that too often relies on jokes about old people having sex and that apparently thinks the ultimate in hilarity is to simply have someone say anything that pops into their heads in Yiddish. The movie also gets much comedic mileage merely by repeating the word "Focker" again and again, but, fortunately, there's a fair amount here that's genuinely amusing, too. Also stars Blythe Danner and Teri Polo.

NATIONAL TREASURE (PG) Lightweight but entertaining yarn about a secret treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers, an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, and an enterprising treasure hunter (Nicholas Cage) who hopes to find what generations of his family members could not. The film could play as nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the massive success of The Da Vinci Code, but director Jon Turteltaub manage to keep the plot moving and the characters convincing. Cage is outstanding at the center of the film, always engaging and lending heft to the pseudo-history presented throughout the film (think of it more as name-dropping than actual history). The supporting players, including Diane Kruger as the love interest and Harvey Keitel as the cop investigating the case, are also terrific. Perhaps the film's biggest surprise is just how innocent it is, playing up adventure instead of violence and keeping the language mild. This one truly is for the whole family. —Joe Bardi

OCEAN'S 12 (PG-13) Master thieves George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of the Ocean gang are back in a gleefully convoluted plot that involves a couple of heists, a sexy detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in hot pursuit, a showdown with a rival criminal mastermind and an assortment of glitzy Euro-destinations including Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and Lake Como. The actors all appear to be having a grand old time and director Steven Soderbergh moves the film along at a clip, with a pleasantly off-kilter, loosey-goosey style that, not to put too fine a point on it, evokes the energy and attitude (not to mention the jump cuts and radical temporal shifts) of the early French New Wave. The movie nearly breaks its own spell in the end with a final plot twist involving Julia Roberts' character that's so postmodern meta-meta it nearly breaks the film's flow, but it turns out to only be a minor disruption in what is basically a very good time at the movies. The soundtrack is pretty stellar, too. Also stars Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle and Vincent Cassel. 1/2

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (PG-13) Remixed version of the hit Broadway musical, The Phantom of the Opera finds director Joel Schumacher switching scenes around, adding a new song, wrapping the whole thing in a framing story and managing to construct a successful film out of the parts of the stage original. As the chandelier crashes and the opera house burns, it becomes clear that this Phantom, for better or worse, is pumped up with the Hollywood juice. While purists might gasp at Schumacher's liberties, the updates free the film to breathe, jump around in time and even escape the confines of the opera house (for some swordplay in a graveyard, no less). Fans, take heart: even with all the changes, the plot (Phantom tutors girl, loses girl, goes on murderous rampage) and the music manage to stay true to the original. An up-and-coming cast including local boy Patrick Wilson (as the Phantom's enemy, Raoul) and beautiful newcomer Emmy Rossum lend the film energy and heart, and the set design, costumes and staging of the musical numbers are first-rate. 1/2 —Joe Bardi

THE POLAR EXPRESS (G) An amazing technical achievement, but one with a very big heart, Polar Express looks a lot like an instant holiday classic. Based on Chris Van Allsburg's popular book, this beautifully animated feature follows a magical train as it transports a group of children to the North Pole for a close encounter with the Clausmeister. Along the way, all sorts of strange things happen, things both inexplicably surreal and, sometimes, terribly exciting, and it all culminates in an irresistibly sappy message about the child-like joys of believing in believing. Director Robert Zemeckis handles the movie's frenetic action sequences in fine style, but is equally adept at communicating the atmospheric poetry of the long, nearly wordless stretches. Tom Hanks, whose voice and movements provided the template for no less than five of the movie's characters, is in fine form here as well, although there's still something just a little unintentionally creepy about watching digitally generated humans who are this close to being exactly like us, but aren't. Also features Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye and Peter Scorlari.

RAY (PG-13) While not quite the modern American classic we were hoping for, Ray is still solid entertainment and a particular joy for Ray Charles fans. The movie presents Charles as a fusion of musical genius, tortured soul and Daredevil/Zatoichi (with an impressively developed hearing sense compensating for his blindness), and then dutifully walks us through the high and low points of his life. We get the music (thankfully, and lots of it), the childhood traumas, the drugs, the womanizing, the refusal to see blindness as a handicap, and the eventual rise to fame. The music is glorious, of course (with a heavy concentration on Ray's brilliant mid- to late-'50s period), and Jamie Foxx's performance/impersonation ranks with Jim Carrey's impeccable Andy Kaufman, but Ray is not immune to many of the problems that inevitably plague biopics. As is common with this form, the movie tends to play like a greatest hits (and flops) of Charles' life, with equal weight given to nearly everything, too much crammed in, and too little transitional material. Also stars Kerry Washington and Regina King. 1/2

SIDEWAYS (R) Alexander Payne's latest film, like the director's previous About Schmidt, is a road movie that easily transcends its own sub-genre, a tragi-comic quest with no clear objectives but lots of priceless detours. There's no real end in sight, but it hardly matters; the fun is all in how we get there (or not). Sideways is also a buddy movie of sorts, a testosterone comedy that serves as a playful, sometimes painful and always spot-on dissection of the male psyche as it lurches toward middle age. The aging male buddies in question are a classic odd couple, depressed wannabe author Miles (Paul Giamatti) and cocky, washed-up actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church), two old pals spending some time together in California's wine country during the week before Jack's wedding. Also stars Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Currently playing at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa and Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota. Call to confirm. 1/2

SPANGLISH (PG-13) James L. Brooks' new movie is terrible because it's long-winded, pointless, shamelessly manipulative and not particularly funny, but it's also something new and even more terrible: a mean-spirited feel-good movie. The basic scenario here is pure sitcom — mildly eccentric yuppie couple hires beautiful, fiery Mexican housekeeper and mayhem ensues — but the execution is flat and extremely unpleasant, with a 130 minute running time that leaves little doubt that Brooks feels he's doing something important here. The characters are, without exception, either underdeveloped or drawn in ridiculously broad strokes, particularly Tea Leoni's hardbodied queen bitch of a hausfrau, who crosses the line from quirky to just plain cruel early on and leaves the movie with a big, fat hole in its emotional center. The plot stumbles along with all the predictability and shallowness of a grade-C TV sitcom but very little of the snap, while the dribs and drabs of affection passing between the characters — particularly Adam Sandler and Paz Vega — aren't particularly satisfying or convincing. Brooks was apparently going through a messy divorce while he was directing Spanglish and was trying to "work something out" in the film, but the result is far and away his worst movie. Also stars Cloris Leachman and Sarah Steele.

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (PG) Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Yep, it's Nickelodeon's favorite son, that little ol' absorbent, yellow pop culture icon, making the leap from the living room boob tube to your neighborhood megaplex. There are a few snags along the way — the movie has trouble holding our interest for nearly 90 minutes, mostly owing to an overly conventional storyline (Spongebob and Patrick embark on a quest to retrieve King Neptune's crown) that tries too hard to mold itself for the big screen. Still, that patented blend of wide-eyed nonsense and gleeful anarchy remains pretty much intact and there are periodic bursts of absurd brilliance that make it all worthwhile. The world of Bikini Bottom seems to work better in small doses, but any excuse to spend some time with Mr. Squarepants — the Pee-Wee Herman of his generation — is OK with me. Featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass and Bill Fagerbakke. 1/2

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (R) Like all of the films of Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), A Very Long Engagement is a love story. But it's also a war movie, directly descended from hard-hitting humanist classics like Paths of Glory. Amelie's Audrey Tautou plays Mathilde, a simple provincial lass who spends virtually every one of Engagement's 134 minutes searching for her lost soulmate, a missing French army recruit. Like Amelie (only with a less interesting sense of humor and a limp), Mathilde devotes herself to finding true love, although she takes a considerably less innovative approach. Her investigation yields some interesting results, though, as conflicting versions of reality emerge, weaving a richly confounding, Rashomon-like tapestry of the truth. The film becomes a maze of loose ends and detours, all rendered in typically stunning visual form by Jeunet. Even the most inventive visuals can't completely redeem an earthbound script, though, and the later sections of the film occasionally forget that this director's movies are best when they're allowed to fly. Ultimately, this is a film to be admired and appreciated, not to be devoured whole or ravished by. Jeunet seems to have created the epic he felt was demanded of him, but the filmmaker didn't quite give us the movie either he or we deserve. Currently playing at Sunrise Cinemas. Call to confirm. 1/2

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