Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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SHANGHAI KNIGHTS If you're gonna insist on making a distressingly formulaic sequel to a distressingly formulaic comedy, then this might be the way to go, by overstuffing it with so much nonsensical material that some of it is bound to charm through sheer willpower. Its 2000 predecessor, Shanghai Noon, ranked as one of the weaker "odd couple" comedies of late, with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson going through the paces in a dull action romp set in the Old West. Knights is clearly an improvement, with Chan and Wilson (both more animated than in the previous picture) heading to London to solve the murder of Chan's character's father. The villains are uninteresting and the central plot thread (involving the massacre of the royal family) is dopey, but it's what's around the edges that makes this painless entertainment. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar find clever ways to incorporate historical figures into their storyline (best of all is the use of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, winningly played here by Thomas Fisher), and they also pay tribute to practically every notable screen comedian this side of Cheech and Chong (Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and the Hope-Crosby team are among those honored). The anachronisms make Oliver Stone's dramas seem like cinema verite documentaries by comparison, yet it's perversely pleasurable to hear The Who's "My Generation" and "Magic Bus" in a film that's set in 1887. 1/2

TALK TO HER (NR) The "new" Almodovar all the way, a natural evolution of the more relaxed and emotionally direct approach that the director's been steadily honing over the past several years. It's a curiously restrained film for Almodovar, almost fragile in its way, but still bursting with life and fully informed by the juicy, overwrought passions and fabulous theatricality. In Talk to Her, Almodovar gives the male perspective for a change as two men express their love for women in comas. Almodovar skillfully zigzags through time, offering up strange little narrative detours and flashbacks within flashbacks but never allowing anything to get in the way of the movie's forward momentum. Stars Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonar Watling and Rosario Flores. Held over at Beach Theatre, St. Pete Beach, and Burns Court Cinema, Sarasota. Call theaters to confirm. 1/2

—Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted

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