Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

ALONG CAME POLLY (PG-13) As its title more than suggests, what we have here is a romantic comedy that feels like a series of slapped-together outtakes from There's Something About Mary. The relationship at the center of the movie is a by-the-numbers case of opposites attracting (Ben Stiller's uptight insurance analyst falls for Jennifer Aniston's free-spirited eccentric), with semi-funny physical humor and Farrelly Brothers-ish toilet jokes abounding. There's even a blind ferret subbing for the little pooch in Mary. On the plus side, Aniston makes her underwritten character feel surprisingly real, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin deliver a few solid chuckles on the sidelines. Stiller plays the same character he always plays, and is usually much better when reacting to situations than when he's trying to drum up some laughs on his own. Also stars Debra Messing and Hank Azaria.

BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS (PG-13) Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer star in this sequel to last year's popular comedy about a group of folks frequenting a small barbershop on Chicago's South Side. This time out, the movie's got gentrification on its mind, as the mom and pop stores in the barbershop's neighborhood begin losing ground to an invasion of Starbucks-esque establishments. Also stars Sean Patrick Thomas and Eve. (Not Reviewed)

THE BIG BOUNCE (PG-13) There are moments in this oddball heist comedy that unexpectedly recall the eccentric heights of '70s Altman and other American mavericks of that era. There are many more moments, however, that simply seem miscalculated and aimless. The Big Bounce is the second big-screen version of Elmore Leonard's book (the first being a forgettable Ryan O'Neal project back in '69), and the title fits: the movie's set-up is pure noir, but it's played out with a light and loopy screwball swing. Owen Wilson stars as a small-time crook seduced by a local bad girl (Sara Foster) into robbing her weaselly sugar daddy. Wilson and many of the other actors appear to be having a genuinely good time here, bringing a refreshingly loose, off-the-wall energy to the proceedings, but the plot advances in awkward lurches and reveals itself in an almost throwaway manner. The scattershot, anti-climatic feel is cemented by a wet fish of an ending that appears out of nowhere and an 80-minute running time that feels unnaturally truncated. On the other hand, there's a scene where we get to see Wilson and Morgan Freeman sitting around shooting the breeze with Willy Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton, and that alone nearly justifies the movie's existence. Also stars Gary Sinise, Bebe Neuwirth and Charlie Sheen.

BIG FISH (PG-13) Tim Burton's new movie often appears to be one absurd image and taller-than-tall tale after another. Strip away all the baroque detours, though, and you'll find a simple saga about estranged sons making peace with absent fathers, a scenario that trades in a familiar Hollywood sentimentality straight out of any number of so-so movies with names most of us have already forgotten. It's a meticulously crafted movie and, in its way, an immensely enjoyable one, but that instantly identifiable, auteurist hand behind Ed Wood and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is almost nowhere to be found. You might say that Big Fish represents a more mature Burton, a now nearly fully domesticated filmmaker capable of creating mellower movies that don't feel the pressing need to assert their originality with every frame. With its kinder, gentler quirkiness, Big Fish has the unmistakable feel of a fairy tale, but one told by a grown-up. Stars Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange and Helena Bonham Carter. 1/2

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (R) Ashton Kutcher stars as a troubled young man who discovers he can travel back in time to "fix" the childhood traumas that screwed him up so badly. Only problem is that once Kutcher gets back to the present, he finds that things haven't necessarily changed for the better. The Butterfly Effect is a less-than-inspired What If project, in which the principal pleasure is supposed to lie in watching the various alternate versions of the main character's reality unfold. Unfortunately, neither the main character nor his realities are particularly interesting, the movie's way too clumsy and silly to handle delicately the themes it touches upon (such as child abuse), and Kutcher simply can't act his way out of a paper bag. Also stars Amy Smart.

CALENDAR GIRLS (PG-13) The sort-of-true story about a small English town shaken up by middle-aged members of a Yorkshire women's club who pose nude for a charity calendar, foregoing the usual rural scenery and artful flower arrangements. Some of the best moments occur during a delightful sequence involving a bashful photographer and 12 giggling 50-somethings peeling off their skivvies. The wonderful Helen Mirren (Gosford Park) stars as the ringleader, and considering how hot she is for 59, one wonders how much fortitude her decision to pose actually took. The film is altogether until a rambling third act that had me asking: "Is there still more?" The answer is that there wasn't, but the filmmakers thought there should be. Unnecessary length aside, this film captured the idea of women's empowerment in a way that 10,000 Christina Aguilera songs couldn't, and for that, I applaud. Also stars Julie Walters. 1/2—Laurie Stark

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