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THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (R) A sensation at Sundance and at the Toronto Film Festival, Thank You For Smoking doesn't quite live up to the buzz but it's good, nasty fun nonetheless. Aaron Eckhart (The Company of Men) has his moment in the sun as the perfectly named Nick Naylor, a sliver-tongued shill for the tobacco industry who never met a piece of spin he didn't like. Morallly flexible to the max, Nick has made his deal with the devil, but he's also smart and curiously likeable — as is the movie — and both of them eventually have us eating out of their hands. First-time writer-director Jason Reitman (son of perennial Hollywood fixture Ivan) positions Nick at the center of a deliciously non-PC satire of modern-day life and a culture grounded in the notion that everything is for sale. The film fans out in too many directions as it unfolds, and by the end there are at least two or three irons too many in the fire — a kidnapping scheme, a scheming potential love interest (Katie Holmes) and Nick's impressionable son (Cameron Bright) all vie for screen time — but, Thank You For Smoking still gets its job done in style. So far, this is the funniest and smartest American comedy of the year. Also stars Robert Duvall, Adam Brody, Maria Bello and David Koechner. 4 stars

UNITED 93 (R) An unabashedly tough but brilliant film, United 93 is less about suspense and more about provoking something not unlike the debilitating, all-pervasive queasiness that an act of terror strives to instill in us. An account of the one plane hijacked on September 11 that failed to hit its target, United 93 shows us from its opening moments that the worst is in store; from then on, it's all about waiting for the other shoe to drop. Much of the first hour unfolds as a collection of small, seemingly inconsequential details that simply bring us into the reality of what we're observing. By the time the movie skillfully segues from everyday banalities into the chaos of September 11, cutting between events in the air and on the ground, the tension is excruciating. We see things as they actually appeared at the time, imperfectly, piecemeal, through the eyes of various air controllers and military personal struggling to make sense of the situation, with director Paul Greengrass orchestrating the confusion like a mysterious, terrible symphony. Greengrass strives for maximum authenticity here, casting mostly unknowns and capturing details on the fly with agile, highly attentive cameras more concerned with energy and emotion than with painterly compositions or a strict allegiance to focus. The film's final fifty minutes — from roughly the time the hijackers of United 93 start randomly slitting throats to the flight's fiery end — play out in real time, with a level of intensity that's not for the faint-hearted. It's miles from Bowie telling us we can all be heroes, but if every disaster film is ultimately a film about triumph — and the bigger the catastrophe the bigger the glory — then this one is off the scale. Stars David Alan Bashe, Richard Bekins, Ben Sliney, Trish Gates, Denny Dillon, Khalid Abdalla and Susan Blommaert. 4.5 stars

WAIST DEEP (R) Set in the tough streets of southern Los Angeles, Waist Deep attempts to create a modern-day spin on the story of Bonnie and Clyde and fails miserably. Tyrese stars as Otis, or O2, an ex-convict whose son is kidnapped during an ill-fated carjacking. O2 teams up with a street hustler named Coco (Meagan Good) and discovers that the only way to get Junior back is pay $100,000 to Meat (hip-hop superstar The Game), O2's former partner-in-crime. This prompts the newly-formed duo to stage a series of bank robberies to obtain the money. If the horrendous plotline isn't enough to ruin the film, the substandard acting and blatantly fake emotion make it tough to watch without plenty of eye rolling. Also stars Larenz Tate and Kimora Lee Simmons. 1/2 —Amy Moczynski

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (PG-13) There's lots to gawk at in this supposedly final installment of the X-Men franchise, including super-powered mutants who can fly, walk through walls, create massive walls of fire and ice, conjure storms, read minds, transform into metal, duplicate themselves and, in one spectacular sequence, redirect the path of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Last Stand would almost certainly have benefited from a narrowed focus on just a handful of characters, but the script and performances are a half-notch above what we expect in our comic-book extravaganzas, making this a solid if somewhat workmanlike conclusion to the X trilogy. The story this time out revolves around a newly discovered "cure" that turns mutants into ordinary humans — a discovery that forces the international mutant community to make some hard choices about who they are and who they want to be. This gives the movie plenty of room for not-so-thinly disguised messages about accepting one's self and others, but the whole mutant "cure" thingie is really just a Maguffin, a holy grail to be drooled over and chased after, not unlike the one currently on display in The Da Vinci Code. Fortunately, The Last Stand does a considerably better job with this material, and by the time the film moves in for the kill with its final assault of battles, disasters, illusions and revelations, we're exhausted and overwhelmed in that blissful way that only the best popcorn movies can supply. Stars Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Kelsey Grammar.3.5 stars

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