Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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GODS AND GENERALS (PG-13) Ted Turner Pictures offers a would-be epic of the first two years of the Civil War, and it feels like it was shot in real time. Gettysburg writer-director Ronald Maxwell does a fine job at battlefield reenactment, especially for the extended sequence of Fredericksburg, but has no clue how to make such figures as Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) into intriguing characters. The film's tedium is easier to forgive, though, than its whitewashing of the institution of slavery, which here merely seems like a bad career choice. —Curt Holman

THE HOURS (PG-13) The film interweaves moments from the lives of three women living in three separate times and places, straining to establish unifying themes involving feminine strength (or lack thereof), motherhood, lesbianism and suicide. In the best segment, the writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) skulks about in 1923, chain-smoking and mulling over ideas for a new book. In the worst segment, a contemporary New York publisher (Meryl Streep), nicknamed for a character in Woolf's book, prepares a party for Harris' dying writer. In between, there's Julianne Moore as a 1950s housewife who reads Woolf's book, quietly cracks up, and checks into a hotel with a year's supply of sleeping pills. Also stars Toni Collette and Claire Danes.

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (G) Following pretty much the same pattern as Disney's recent direct-to-video sequels, this "2" basically just reprises the same characters, songs and settings from the original Jungle Book, and then pits hero against villain in an ever-so-slightly revamped context. The animation is a few notches above the sequel norm (which is probably why the movie rated an actual theatrical release), but there's even less of an attempt at going through the motions of a story. Clocking in at just over an hour, Jungle Book 2 is little more than its characters dancing around to a string of forgettable songs, bolstered by the venerable "Bare Necessities" (which we're forced to hear no less than three times). Featuring the voices of Haley Joel Osment, John Goodman and Tony Jay.

JUST MARRIED (PG-13) Nauseatingly camera-friendly Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy star as newlyweds who insult and electrocute each other around Europe in a surprisingly clever comedy from director Shawn Levy. Kutcher (Dude, Where's My Car? and That 70s Show) does as little as possible to dispel his typecast as a sweet-at-heart moron, and Murphy, fresh from bumping uglies with Eminem in 8 Mile, lands yet another dubious onscreen catch. Just Married is formulaic but nonetheless makes a valiant bid to win over even the toughest anti-chick-flick critic. The problem, though, is its predictable and tedious ending. By the time the credits roll, Kutcher and Murphy have conspired to produce a cliched ending which entirely undermines the first two-thirds of the movie, leaving Hollywood's record of generic romantic-comedy conclusions unthreatened. —Dave Stevenson

THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (R) "There is no truth," announces one of the characters in this disastrous misfire from normally clear-headed director Alan Parker, "only perspectives." It's a horribly misleading statement, setting us up for a delicately nuanced, Rashomon-esque meditation on shades of gray, only to deposit us smack dab in the middle of a heavy-handed message movie that's as simplistic and clunky as they come. Kevin Spacey is uncharacteristically smug and sanctimonious as a former professor and dedicated death-penalty opponent about to be executed for the murder of a former colleague. Kate Winslet (in a rare, non-breast-baring performance and sporting a serviceable Yankee accent) is the ambitious journalist to whom Spacey relates his sad tale in a series of clumsily integrated flashbacks. The movie telegraphs every plot point, dutifully trotting out subplots involving all manner of made-for-TV-luridness in the process (rapes, conspiracy theories, alcoholism, life-threatening diseases). It's all a bit of a slog. Charles Randolph's script is dull, sloppy and thoroughly unconvincing, and a mildly engaging last-minute plot twist only succeeds in making the whole thing feel like a bad, two-hour and 10-minute O. Henry story. Also stars Laura Linney.

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