Outtakes

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. Opens Jan. 16 at local theaters.

BAD SANTA (R) Billy Bob Thornton stars as the world's most horrible department store Santa in this wonderfully disgusting new comedy from Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World). The closest modern equivalent to the movie's brand of sick-sick-sick humor might be There's Something about Mary, but Bad Santa turns wallowing in ugliness into something not only very funny but also very sad and real in a way that the Farrelly Brothers rarely manage. Things get a little gooey at the end (when Thornton's relationship with a weird little kid blossoms) and chirpy Lauren Graham of The Gilmore Girls seems a bit out of place here, but the rest is solid gold, dipped in blood, booze and puke. Also stars Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.

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

BROTHER BEAR (G) Joaquin Phoenix provides the voice for Kenai, a brash young warrior who learns about humility and love when he's magically transformed into a bear and forced to walk a mile in the shoes — er, paws — of the very critters he's blithely killed. The lush animation is mostly of the old-fashioned 2-D variety, the obligatory, ultra-cute talking animal sidekick is on hand (a little cub called Koda), and the moral instruction offered by the movie, while well-meaning and potentially valuable, is a bit too preachy for both tykes and their parental units. Also features the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Jeremy Suarez and Michael Clarke.

CALENDAR GIRLS (PG-13) For those who just can't get enough of The Full Monty, here's a new British comedy about a group of proper middle-aged ladies who decide to raise money for a hospital by posing in the all-together for a calendar. Any questions? Stars Helen Mirren and Julie Waters. (Not Reviewed)

CAT IN THE HAT (PG) The sets are as crazily colorful as you'd expect from a movie directed by a former production designer, but that's about all The Cat in the Hat has going for it. The jokes are weak, the musical numbers and special effects decidedly un-special, and Mike Meyers' titular character is neither particularly funny nor endearing. An even worse Seuss adaptation than the recent The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Also stars Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin. 1/2

CHASING LIBERTY (PG-13) Life is tough when you're a pretty teenage girl who just happens to be the only daughter of the President of the United States. Mandy Moore stars as the First Teen, trying to get on with her social life while being followed by squads of secret service types. Also stars Jeremy Piven, Mark Harmon and Annabella Sciorra. (Not Reviewed)

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (PG) Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt star as the loving but harried parents of 12 children in this remake of the 1950 comedy of the same name. Chaos ensues. Also stars Piper Perabo and Hilary Duff. (Not Reviewed)

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