Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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HIDALGO (PG-13) Viggo Mortensen is Frank Hopkins, a moral man in the morality challenged America of the 19th century (not unlike Cruise's Last Samurai). Hopkins also loves his horse, Hidalgo, a scrappy mixed breed that all too clearly represents the melting pot ideal of all that's best in America. And so when pesky foreigners start bad-mouthing the horse and challenge its master to participate in a grueling 3,000-mile race across the Arabian desert, Hopkins jumps at the chance. The big race takes up most of Hidalgo's running time, and there's much talk about how impossibly difficult and awful it all is, but we almost never get a sense of that being true. There's a big digital effect of a sandstorm midway through the movie, and Arab bandits skulk about calling Hopkins an infidel, but most of the movie has all the suspense and dramatic gravity of an overly sanitized Disney cartoon. Also stars Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson and Louise Lombard. 1/2

HOME ON THE RANGE (PG) If you've been waiting your whole life for a movie where Roseanne Barr tells us right up front, "I'm a cow" — well, the wait is over. The thing about the Disney animated feature Home on the Range is that Barr really is a cow — or at least she's lending her voice to one — although she's in good company, with Dame Judi Dench supplying another bovine voice. Together with cow No. 3 (Jennifer Tilly as a psycho-babbling new-agey heifer) and an assortment of other plucky barnyard animals, the trio become bovine bounty hunters in order to collect the reward money needed to save their farm. There's some nice retro hand-drawn animation here (just to prove it's not quite dead yet), and some amusing gags involving animals who seem to think they're in spaghetti westerns or kung-fu movies. Other than that, Home on the Range is a pleasant enough diversion but not really memorable in the manner of so many of Disney's very best films. Also features the voices of Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Randy Quaid.

INTERMISSION (R) Violent, visceral, frantic and very funny, this Irish comedy-drama introduces us to a sprawling ensemble of Dublin deadbeats and all-out nasties, and actually manages to make them seem endearing in the process. Director John Crowley weaves a narrative collage that hits all the right notes — romance, crime and comedy — interlocking lives and stories in a way that's frequently hilarious, sometimes poignant, and rarely less than engaging. The cast is excellent as well, including a particularly passionate Colin Farrell, back on home turf, who dives into the material and comes up bloody and smiling. Also stars Shirley Henderson, Colm Meaney, Cillian Murphy and Kelly MacDonald. Opens April 16 at Channelside Cinemas. 1/2

JAPANESE STORY (R) Toni Collette stars as an Australian geologist enlisted to serve as a guide and escort for a Japanese businessman who wants to see the Outback. The brash westerner and reserved Asian form an instant dislike for one another, so we know it's only a matter of time before the golden rule of opposites attracting kicks in — and so it does. Director Sue Brooks is overly reliant on the film's impressive Australian landscape shots to convey a story her dull, underdeveloped script isn't quite up to, but that's almost a moot point. The real reason to see Japanese Story is for Collette, whose amazing performance almost completely overshadows all the culture clash cliches on display here. Also stars Gotaro Tsunashima and Lynette Curran. Opens April 16 at Channelside, Tampa, and Burns Court, Sarasota. Call theaters to confirm.

JERSEY GIRL (PG-13) Lord knows what was going on in Kevin Smith's mind to cause him to make this stinker, but the movie's sheer awfulness almost renders the question moot. Ben Affleck stars as a single dad living at home with his widower dad (George Carlin) and raising an impossibly cute 7-year-old daughter (Raquel Castro). Whether you love or hate Smith's previous films, it's impossible not to see Jersey Girl as the exact opposite of everything he's ever done. Smith's new movie is as sentimental, as by-the-numbers and, frankly, as brain-dead as any conventional romantic comedy you've ever seen, with most the big drama involving Affleck's character getting together with a cute video store clerk (Liv Tyler) or trying to get his former job back. Also stars Stephen Root.

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