Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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THE LADYKILLERS (PG-13) The latest oddball odyssey from those wacky Coen Brothers remakes the beloved British comedy about a gang of crooks and con men using the home of an elderly widow as a base from which to pull off a heist. The Ladykillers isn't a bad film, but it's nowhere near the Coens' funniest or most distinctive or even most endearing works (those would be Raising Arizona, Barton Fink and Fargo, respectively). The movie's edges have been dutifully smoothed out and its characters, while colorful and eccentric, are never memorably odd in the best Coen tradition. Despite the occasional signature touch — a cat with a human finger in its mouth, a running gag involving Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a man giving mouth-to-mouth to a bulldog — the movie feels like another exploration of the mainstream vein recently opened up, to similarly mixed results, in Intolerable Cruelty. Most frustrating of all is the film's finale, a reduction of the original's elaborate last act to what feels like a rushed, 10-minute afterthought. Stars Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons.

LATTER DAYS (NR) Can a hunky L.A. party boy and a sexually conflicted Mormon missionary find true love and happiness together? You might just discover an answer to that question in this by-the-numbers gay romantic comedy, but you won't find much else. A virtual textbook on formulaic filmmaking, Latter Days is filled with stereotypical characters, contrived coincidences and insipid romantic cliches. The filmmakers would have been well served to remember that a cliche doesn't cease being a cliche merely because of the presence of a gay character or two. Stars Wes Ramsey, Steve Sandvoss and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Opens April 2 at local theaters.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13) The grand finale of Peter Jackson's masterful adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's books is a 210-minute, total immersion experience that's apt to leave one feeling both exhilarated and emotionally exhausted. All in all, it's a deeply satisfying conclusion to a series that now seems all but assured of a place in cinema history as the War and Peace of fantasy-adventure movies. 1/2

MADE-UP (NR) Tony Shalhoub's directorial debut adapts Lynne Adams' play about an independent filmmaker (Adams) making a documentary about the beautification of her aging sister (Adams' real-life sister and Shalhoub's real-life wife, Brooke Adams). The film has an engagingly loose, improvised feel, and there are wonderful moments of insight and humor here and there, but Shalhoub's film is ultimately as unfocused as the one that Adams' character is supposed to be making. Made-Up seems to want to be all things to all people — romantic comedy, self-mocking mockumentary, and satire on our culture's obsession with image, aging and beauty in general — but it never sticks with one element long enough to let it sink in. For what it's worth, the movie's preoccupations with female self-imaging will probably make the film more appealing to women than to men, but only marginally. Also stars Gary Sinise, Eva Amurri and an actress with the best name since Ultra Violet — Light Eternity.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13) Director Peter Weir's latest film is every bit the rousing, testosterone-infused adventure you're probably expecting, but it's also an above-average character study, and a finely drawn portrait of seafaring days in the early 19th-century. Based on Patrick O'Brian's popular novels about Captain Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander follows Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and the crew of HMS Surprise as they travel the seven seas (well, two or three of them), playing cat-and-mouse with a bigger, faster, better-armed French vessel. Also stars Paul Bettany and Billy Boyd. 1/2

MIRACLE (PG) There are no real surprises in Disney's latest inspirational, based-on-fact sports story, but the actors are refreshingly natural, and the production is considerably less glossy and saccharine than what you'd expect. The movie's real strength, however, is Kurt Russell (sporting a Fargo-esque Minnesota accent, the world's worst haircut and an even more atrocious wardrobe) as the tough but fair coach of the United States ice hockey team, circa 1980. Miracle is basically an account of Russell whipping his boys into shape as an apprehensive America — demoralized by long gas lines, hostages in Iran and a candy-ass President — roots for their underdog home-team against the seemingly invincible Soviet players. As if the title weren't enough of a tip-off, the movie's arc and ending are absolutely predictable, but it does have its charms. Also stars Patricia Clarkson and Noah Emmerich.

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