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ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (R) Terry Zwigoff's second project with graphic novelist Daniel Clowes doesn't have quite the effortless swing of their first collaboration, Ghost World, nor the epic, car-crash poetry of Crumb, but there's still considerable, loopy fun to be had here. If you consider Zwigoff's movies so far as hit singles (a process culminating with Bad Santa), then you might think of Art School Confidential as a noble B-side. Our hapless hero here is Jerome (Max Minghella), a sweet but insecure college sophomore who's just trying to get laid or find true love (whichever comes first), all while navigating the bizarre corridors of art school and doing whatever it takes to become the greatest artist of the century. Zwigoff does a wonderful job spoofing the whole art school experience, and the movie's first half is a mostly hilarious collection of observations and vignettes, but the film eventually loses its focus. Things tip over the edge in ways both unexpected and unpleasant during the movie's last act, as Art School Confidential's satire transforms into a less than convincing thriller-cum-love story. It's all still well worth a look, but we feel Zwigoff straining at some sort of significance toward the end that blows the movie's cool. Also stars John Malkovich, Sophia Myles, Jim Broadbent and Matt Keeslar. Opens May 12 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

JUST MY LUCK (PG-13) The luckiest girl in the world (Lindsay Lohan) exchanges a kiss with a handsome loser (Chris Pine) and their fortunes immediately shift. Also stars Samaire Armstrong, Bree Turner and Faizon Love. Opens May 12 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE (R) The "notorious" in the title is both significant and ironic, since this cleverly crafted and very entertaining biopic portrays its subject — 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page — as a sweet, innocent lamb who literally has to have it explained to her why some self-appointed protectors of society find her nude posing disgusting. There's a sprinkling of solid social commentary here, but don't go expecting another wrenching attack on social mores and repressed sexuality along the lines of The People vs Larry Flynt. Director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) and writer Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) mainly have a lot of fun detailing Page's life from her prim upbringing in Nashville to her rise to fame as a nudie icon in New York. Gretchen Mol is surprisingly effective in the lead role, the film's blending of black-and-white and saturated color photography beautifully captures the spirit its '50s setting, just as its playfully mocking tone nails Page's basic approach to sex and life. Also stars Lili Taylor. Opens May 12 at local theaters. 3.5 stars


ADAM AND STEVE (NR) The New Queer Cinema may not be so new anymore, but great gay films continue to push the boundaries of what the cinema can do. That said, what we have here is just the sort of thing that gives gay movies a bad name. Adam & Steve is an often embarrassingly inept, broadly-written boy-meets-boy comedy that combines all the blandest clichés of straight romantic comedies with all the most repellent excesses of gross-out gag flicks. The performances and technical aspects are amateurish and the movie never settles on one tone for long enough to allow us to figure out what it's supposed to be doing. Adam & Steve is pumped up by familiar faces like Parker Posey and Chris Kattan, but nothing helps. Also stars Malcolm Gets (of Caroline in the City) and Craig Chester, who's also responsible for writing and directing this time-waster. 1.5 stars

AKEELAH AND THE BEE (PG) Moviegoers who just couldn't get enough of Spellbound — you know who you are — might be more than a little curious about this tale of an 11-year-old girl who struggles against the odds and unites her community when she enters a national spelling bee. The studio's publicity flacks are throwing around the word "inspirational" a lot for this one, so be warned. Stars Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer and Curtis Armstrong. (Not Reviewed)

AMERICAN DREAMZ (PG-13) Say what you will about writer-director Paul Weitz's defiantly low-brow American Pie, but at least the movie knew how to make us laugh (even if we felt horribly guilty as each giggle and guffaw spontaneously erupted from some unmanageable place deep within us). American Dreamz, Weitz's latest movie, wants to pass itself off as something significantly more meaningful — a satire of American politics and pop culture — but not only does the film fail miserably in its loftier goals, the thing isn't even remotely funny. The movie takes aim at targets so ridiculously huge they're already practically parodies of themselves, giving us a dim-witted Bush-like Prez (Dennis Quaid) who becomes a judge on an American Idol-like TV show where one of contestants is an Arab — secretly a terrorist, natch, albeit one who loves show tunes. Smart, irreverent guys like South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker would have had a field day with this material, but Weitz thinks that all he has to do is it put all these elements in close proximity to one another and the rest will take care of itself. It doesn't. There are hardly any decent jokes here, and the sole "meaningful" idea is that — news flash! — politics and people and pop culture are all kind of silly. Also stars Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein, Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Golzari. 1.5 stars

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