40 Days and 40 Nights (R) A moderately pleasant little surprise for anyone simply expecting another mindless, cookie-cutter sex comedy. The story here is certainly slight enough — sex-crazed twentysomething Matt (Josh Hartnett) takes a vow of celibacy for 40 days, during which time he meets the perfectly charming and hot, hot, hot girl of his dreams (Shannyn Sossamon) — but under the assured, stylish direction of Michael Lehmann (Heathers, The Truth about Cats and Dogs) the movie feels like considerably more than it really is. 40 Days and 40 Nights springs from the same aggressively raunchy, bubble-brained wellsprings as most teen and post-teen sex comedies, but the touch is lighter and more self-aware, the script and acting a cut or two above the norm, and the movie's whole mix of sex and (for lack of a better word) spirituality is the most weirdly watchable conflation since the glory days of Prince. Also stars Paulo Costanzo. Opens March 1 at local theaters.

Amelie (NR) Plucky, quintessentially quirky Amelie (saucer-eyed Audrey Tautou) spends her time choreographing good deeds and love connections for her neighbors and, eventually, herself. Amelie, which is as much a fairy tale as it is a cartoon, brims with imagination and emotion.

A Beautiful Mind (PG-13) A Russell Crowe performance that has Oscar written all over it is the main reason to see this atypically twisty Ron Howard production about an emotionally fragile genius whose life spins out of control in all sorts of unexpected ways. The movie's later sections feel a little too close for comfort to a disease-of-the-week movie, and the whole thing could be shortened by at least 20 minutes, but A Beautiful Mind is still rarely less than engaging.

Beauty and the Beast (G) The modern Disney classic is alive with great scenes, songs and characters, and features a script by turns clever and emotionally resonant, and stripped down the essence of its timeless tale. Playing at IMAX Dome Theater and at Channelside Cinemas IMAX. Call theaters to confirm.

Big Fat Liar (PG) Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz stars as an irate kid who tracks down the bigshot Hollywood producer who stole his class paper and turned into a hit movie. Also stars Paul Giamatti and Amanda Bynes. (Not Reviewed)

Birthday Girl (R) The less one knows about Birthday Girl the more one is probably apt to enjoy it, so don't expect a full plot run-down here. Suffice to say that the movie starts out being about the oddly touching romance between a bashful British bank clerk (Ben Chaplin) and his Russian mail order bride (Nicole Kidman), and then transforms into something quite different and, in its way, exciting.

Black Hawk Down (R) Basically just a breathless account of the last hours of a small group of American soldiers trapped deep within enemy territory in Somalia and brutally besieged by hordes of unseen enemies hell-bent on making them bleed. The movie's agenda is a purely visceral one, putting us squarely into the fray, and Scott films it all in a pumped-up but gritty, claustrophobic manner that seems to suck all the air out of the room. Stars Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Sam Shephard.

Collateral Damage (R) Arnold Scharzenegger single-handedly takes on the international network of terror in this murky and not terribly exciting action vehicle. Schwarzenegger basically assumes Charles Bronson's Death Wish role, making for a sort of Arnold vs. mock-Osama mano a mano, as our hero goes to the ends of the earth (well, Colombia) tracking down the terrorist who snuffed his wife and kid.

The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13) Director Kevin Reynold's big screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic plays even more like a Cliffs Notes version than we might have imagined, although that doesn't necessarily make the film unwatchable. The movie looks good, the action scenes are fairly well choreographed and some of the performances are worth a look.

Crossroads (PG-13) Pop star Britney Spears stars as young woman taking a cross-country trip with her two best pals from childhood. Also stars Zoe Saldana and Taryn Manning. (Not Reviewed)

Dragonfly (PG-13) It's probably impressive that a nearly two-hour movie can seem like three or four, but it doesn't make for a strong story. Kevin Costner stars in what must be his shortest movie in a decade as Dr. Joe Donner, whose wooden mask of a face is well suited for a man grieving the death of his wife and soulmate. Early on, Dragonfly feels like a simplistic but truly felt story about grieving and moving on ... until it turns into a combination of The Sixth Sense (children are seeing Joe's dead wife) and What Dreams Will Come. With the help of a meddling nun and the always-great Kathy Bates, not to mention a bald parrot, Joe eventually figures out he has to go to the village in Venezuela where his wife died. What follows includes a conveniently isolated tribe that has a handy answer for Joe's problems, not to mention the film's interminable pacing.
—Greg Gipson 2

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