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THE PINK PANTHER (PG) Another pointless remake that will stink up the theaters for a few weeks before finding its way to home video. Steve Martin steps into Peter Sellers' shoes in the classic role of bumbling, oddly-accented Inspector Jacques Clouseau, and the results are predictably disappointing. While it's probably not quite cricket comparing vintage Sellers to the 2006 version of Martin, a comedian who hasn't been particularly funny for the better part of a decade, the former wild-and-crazy-guy's overly literal interpretation of Clouseau makes comparisons unavoidable. The material doesn't help either, with fart jokes and lame Viagra gags sprinkled throughout the movie's main course of uninspired physical comedy. The murder-and-missing-diamond plot is inconsequential and Henry Mancinci's brilliant original music is barely audible beneath the generic hip-hop remix. Also stars Jean Reno, Kevin Kline and Beyonce Knowles. 1.5 stars

RUNNING SCARED (R) Running Scared is the sophomore effort from director Wayne Kramer, and although it's a marked departure from his character-driven debut The Cooler, it's anything but an improvement. The film stars Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious), who's also trying to stretch out here, but just doesn't have the chops to get beyond that Rob Lowe/Keanu Reeves pretty boy image. Walker adopts a not-quite-believable New Jersey tough-guy accent and dutifully chews the scenery as Joey Gazelle, a petty crook desperately racing against time to recover a gun used to kill a cop and that can be traced back to him. The gun turns out to be in the possession of a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright, the spooky kid from Birth), and Joey's frenzied search brings both characters into contact with various denizens of the night, including Russian gangsters, pimps, hookers, dirty cops and, in the film's most gratuitously yucky scene, a smiling yuppie couple who make pedophiliac snuff films. All of these encounters and characters are so stylized they border on the surreal and, since the entire movie takes place over the course of a single evening, Running Scared often seems like a cross between a wannabe After Hours and a wannabe Night of the Hunter. Not that you're likely to notice those lofty ambitions, since Running Scared is mostly interested in pouring on the blood and moving the camera around in pointlessly flashy ways that recall the worst excesses of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Also stars Chazz Palminteri, Vera Farmiga and Karel Roden. 2 stars

THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA (R) An old-school western for new-school sensibilities, Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut cleaves fairly close to classic western models, but not without a few idiosyncratic detours along the way. Jones himself takes the lead as a grizzled Texas ranch hand whose personal code of honor demands he abduct his dead friend's presumed killer and force him along on a trek to Mexico to give his pal a proper burial. That journey is at the heart of the film, but the movie sets it all up from multiple, Roshomon-esque perspectives, employing a fractured chronology in keeping with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's previous time scrambling in Amores Perros and 21 Grams. All of the film's individual stories eventually intersect, with the teasing tail-chasing of the first half crystallizing as the strange odyssey of two men and a corpse trekking across the Tex-Mex landscape. Fellow travelers are met along the way, with Three Burials revealing a world that's essentially one long border crossing, where cultures and individuals collide and inevitably transform each other in the most curious ways. The movie segues neatly from neo-western to Greek tragedy to macabre, absurdist farce, as notions of revenge, redemption and other frequent staples of the western genre are gently shredded and manipulated with considerable black humor. And for what it's worth, this may go on record as the first western ever where a character pulling out his gun is interrupted by the sound of somebody's cell phone ringing. Also stars Barry Pepper, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam Melissa Leo and January Jones. 4.5 stars

TRANSAMERICA (R) Felicity Huffman, who snagged a well-deserved Golden Globe for her performance here, is the main reason to see Transamerica, but the rest of the film isn't too shabby either. Huffman stars as a woman trapped in the body of a man, and whose long-awaited sex change surgery is put on hold when a troubled teenaged son (Kevin Zegers) appears out of the blue and demands rescuing. Father/mother and son pack up their belongings into a beat-up car and head for the coast, as Transamerica becomes an episodic and pleasantly eccentric road movie (is there any other kind?) in which the characters eventually reveal themselves to each other. The film strains a bit to work out the correct balance of sweet and sour, and nothing in the movie even begins to measure up to Huffman's tour-de-force performance, but Transamerica is a trip well worth taking, filled with moments both whimsical and penetrating. Also stars Graham Greene and Fionnula Flanagan. 3.5 stars

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