Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT (NR) Aside from the coming-of-age stories the French continually portray on the silver screen, they also hanker for the cinematic concoction of food, sex and death. French director Claude Chabrol satiates this craving with his latest film Merci Pour Le Chocolat. The exquisite actress Isabelle Huppert, last seen as a sexually repressed piano teacher in The Pianist now plays naughty waif Marie-Claire, who delights in spiking guests' hot chocolate with poison. Now playing at Burns Court, Sarasota. (Not Reviewed)

NATIONAL SECURITY (PG-13) Ex L.A. cop Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn) and police academy reject Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence), form an unlikely duo as security guards on a hunt to find the bad guys who killed Hank's partner. The plot isn't anything spectacular, but it provides an occasionally effective platform for the comic pairing of competent and determined Hank with thrill-seeking Earl. The story drags a little at times, and some characters' motivations seem weak, but Earl's smart mouth and his chemistry with Hank minimize the movie's flaws. Also stars Bill Duke and Eric Roberts. 1/2 —Ana Lopez

OLD SCHOOL (R) Returning to his distinguished oeuvre of college comedies, director Todd Phillips (Frat House, Road Trip) takes a promising gimmick, of three thirtysomething friends (Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn) who decide to start their own fraternity. Phillips unfortunately forms that tasty notion into a bland soy retread inspired by films like Animal House, but without the brains to retool the collegiate comedy genre. Vaughn and Ferrell, however, make an honorable effort to inject some much-needed goofiness into their parcel of the film. 1/2 —Felicia Feaster

THE PIANIST (R) Roman Polanski's film is based on the memoirs of Polish-Jewish classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who continued to be devoted to his art, even as he watched his world crumble and suffered an endless series of horrors and humiliations designed to rob him and others like him of dignity, humanity and, ultimately, life. The film's cool, reserved and utterly unsentimental style might sound at odds with the extremity of the subject matter, but it's all the more haunting for it. Stars Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Ed Stoppard and Frank Finlay.

THE QUIET AMERICAN (R) In a stunning one-two punch that began with Rabbit-Proof Fence, director Phillip Noyce follows through with this evocative Graham Greene adaptation, filled with the writer's trademark intrigue and sophisticated, world-weary wit. On the surface, the movie's a romantic triangle, set in early 1950s Indochina, with titular quiet American Brendan Fraser moving in on Brit journalist Michael Caine's young Vietnamese mistress (the lovely Do Thi Hai Yen from Vertical Ray of the Sun). The woman's a not-so subtle stand-in for the country of Vietnam, of course (mistress to a variety of Westerners, colonized by the world), and the film plays out as an intimate account of the battle for her soul. The movie's elegantly mysterious atmosphere is due in large part to cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the Caucasian master of Asian imagery. Also stars Rade Serbedzija. 1/2

RABBIT-PROOF FENCE (PG) Director Phillip Noyce's quietly moving tale exposes one of the Western world's dirtiest little secrets. Rabbit-Proof Fence focuses on the execrable racial laws in effect in Australia for much of the 20th century, when countless children of mixed aboriginal and white parentage were kidnapped by government employees and imprisoned in "re-education" centers. The film takes place in 1931 and is based on the true story of three young Aboriginal girls who escaped from one of these centers and trekked some 1,500 miles across the Outback to get back home.

THE RECRUIT (PG-13) Slick, briskly paced but ultimately forgettable thriller starring Colin Farrell as a MIT whiz kid tapped by veteran spook Al Pacino to work for the CIA. The movie's first half is fairly interesting as it depicts Farrell's basic training, awkwardly folding in a romantic interest subplot, while the latter sections are a strictly by-the-numbers account of Farrell routing out a mole. The movie feels too small and cramped to generate much excitement, and it's too glossy to communicate the sort of paranoia and quiet menace it clearly wants us to feel. Also stars Bridget Moynahan.

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