Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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AMERICAN SPLENDOR (PG-13) The movie American Splendor, like the comic book American Splendor, is about real life — the life of Harvey Pekar, a rumpled, cranky, middle-aged file clerk at a Cleveland veteran's hospital — in all its drab, dreary, petty glory. It's also about the ways that life is like a cartoon and the ways life sometimes transcends its own mundane details and becomes something sublime. The movie effortlessly blends live action and stylistic devices borrowed from cartoons to show us a series of darkly humorous vignettes from Pekar's life — his failed relationships, his daily grind, meeting up with a struggling underground cartoonist named R. Crumb (a meeting that led to a longtime collaboration). Filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have a ball communicating all the rich contradictions in the material, even breaking the fourth wall from time to time to offer us the real-life Harvey and company commenting on the actors playing them on-screen. American Splendor is ultimately more heart than head trip, however, and all the movie's elaborate self-reflexivity is really just a means to an end. Stars Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander and James Urbaniak. 1/2

AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN (PG-13) A jewel thief and a lounge singer, both with matching brain tumors, have some sort of mystically fateful encounter in Morocco while a variety of half-baked lounge songs gurgles away on the soundtrack, indirectly and directly commenting upon what we're seeing. The nuts and bolts of director Claude Lelouche's new film are just as wildly, impossibly romantic (and as shallow) as his best known movie, A Man and a Woman, but the whole thing's gussied up with someone's idea of what a cerebral, postmodern art film should be like. A director like Jacques Rivette might — might — have pulled off something this theatrical and self-reflexive, but in the hands of a lightweight like Lelouche, it all seems rather coy, pretentious and often simply ludicrous. Stars Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas.

ANYTHING ELSE (R) Woody Allen doing a teen comedy? Either a sure sign of the apocalypse or a desperate plea for continued relevance in a youth-dominated market. Maybe both. The rosy-cheeked stars of this strange bird are Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs (American Pie), whose nerdy screen persona might just turn out to be a weirdly appropriate alter ego for the rapidly wrinkling director. Also stars Stockard Channing and Jimmy Fallon. Opens Sept. 19 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

CABIN FEVER (R) A workmanlike fusion of Evil Dead, Blair Witch Project, Deliverance and I Know What You Did Last Summer, this slackly paced, wildly over-hyped splatter flick feels long even at a scant 90 minutes. Cabin Fever plops a group of vacationing college kids in a backwoods cabin and marks them all for death (via a mysterious, skin-disintegrating infection). The movie then takes half its running time to do what 28 Days Later did in less than five minutes — get everybody contaminated and spewing blood. There are a few cheap but effective scares scattered throughout, but the level of filmmaking is generally pretty pedestrian and entirely unoriginal.

COLD CREEK MANOR (R) Director Mike Figgis puts his cerebral experimentations on the back burner with this supernatural thriller about a yuppie couple who buy a country home that turns out to be possessed. The early reviews on this one are almost universally negative. Stars Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone and Sephen Dorff. (Not Reviewed)

DICKIE ROBERTS, FORMER CHILD STAR (PG-13) David Spade's latest features the former SNL comedian as a 35-year-old parking valet desperate to reclaim the celebrity he briefly enjoyed on a TV sitcom when he was 5. Also stars Mary McCormack and Jon Lovitz. (Not Reviewed)

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (R) One of the happiest and most unexpected surprises I caught at last year's Toronto Film Festival was this delightfully quirky thriller set within London's diverse immigrant community. In its own small, singular way, director Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things has all the makings of a cult hit. The film features some great local color, an offbeat but steadily gripping plot involving black marketeers and organ-selling, a star turn by lead actor Chjwetel Ejiofor, and Amelie's Audrey Tautou as an illegal immigrant from Turkey, with a moustache. Also stars Sophie Okonedo. 1/2

DUPLEX (PG-13) A sweet little old lady turns out to be the neighbor from Hell when Drew Barrymore and hubby Ben Stiller move into the apartment just below her. Danny DeVito directs. Opens Sept. 26 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS (PG-13) Sounds like Sister Act minus the nuns and with the addition of a down-home, country setting. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as a sophisticated Manhattan ad executive who finds himself running a gospel choir in a sleepy little Southern town. Also stars Beyonce Knowles. (Not Reviewed)

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