Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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—Joe Bardi

MEAN CREEK (NR) Mean Creek tells of a prank gone wrong, a trip down river with a canoe full of kids plotting revenge on a bully for beating up one of their circle. Everyone reveals a bit more of themselves than expected during the trip — most of all the bully, who turns out to be spoiled, obnoxious and annoying but not nearly the monster everyone was expecting — but, in the tradition of all good noir tragedies, a plan once put into motion is too late to stop. The movie generally avoids heavy-handed moralizing of the After School Special sort, but there's no mistaking it as a morality tale, with the weight of the characters' actions taking on a terrible mass that eventually colors and crushes everything in its path. Writer-director Jacob Estes has cobbled together what is basically a very promising first feature, reassembling some tried and true elements into an interesting new shape. Stars Rory Culkin, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck and Carly Schroeder. Now playing at Burns Court Cinemas. Call theater to confirm. 1/2

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (R) A beautifully observed road movie/buddy pic that gains considerable resonance from the fact that one of its central travelers is a young Che Guevara, sowing a few wild oats before becoming the revolutionary poster-boy who went on to famously fight in Cuba and die in Bolivia. The movie follows 23-year-old medical student Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal as a sweetly sincere pre-Che Che), and his slightly older friend Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna), as they embark on an epic journey across Latin America on a rickety motorbike dubbed "The Mighty One." The early portions of the film are loose and lively and not in a particular hurry to get anywhere fast, unfolding as a vibrantly colored On the Road, with our heroes revealing themselves as less interested in earth-shaking self-discovery than in the simple pleasures of having a good time. The movie becomes more downbeat but no less engrossing as it progresses, with Director Walter Salles (Central Station) tracing with admirable subtlety the young Guevara's changing connection to the world and his budding political consciousness. Also stars Gustavo Bueno, Mia Maestro and Jorge Chiarella.

MR. 3000 (PG-13) A winning baseball comedy from director Charles Stone III (Drumline), Mr. 3000 stars Bernie Mac as retired baseball great Stan Ross, a man who displayed excellence on the field and extreme arrogance everywhere else. Nine years removed from the game and campaigning heavily for induction into the Hall of Fame, Ross is confronted with the reality that three of his 3,000 hits were statistical errors. Seeing that he has built his entire life around his hit total, Ross returns to an attendance-challenged Brewers club that is happy to let the fan-favorite chase his lost record. The film's success hinges on Mac's every move, and he never disappoints. Angela Bassett, Brian J. White, Michael Rispoli, and a (mostly) silent Paul Sorvino round out the excellent ensemble cast. 1/2

—Joe Bardi

RAISE YOUR VOICE (PG) Not much surprising about this saccharine-sweet "girl-triumphs-over-inner-turmoil" blockbuster. Hilary Duff, now one of the genre's repeat offenders, stars as Terri Fletcher, a small-town girl whose livelihood depends on getting into a prestigious summer program at a music conservatory in L.A. Tragedy strikes when her brother is killed in a car accident after the two of them deviously attend a rock concert; racked with guilt, Terri almost can't find the urge to sing. Almost. Of course, she must strive for her brother's sake, even if it means overcoming contrived dialogue; unconvincing, shamefully stereotypical characters; plot seams that feel more like speedbumps; and an utter lack of artistic vision. Undoubtedly, any truly prestigious art school would be expected to produce more than a few songs of substandard MTV-ified drivel — but the musicians in the film just can't deliver. Sometimes a spoonful of saccharine won't help the medicine go down.

—Casey Clague

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (R) More of that ol' video game slice-and-dice featuring cartoonish human warriors pitted against swarms of yucky, flesh-eating zombies. Stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory and Jared Harris. (Not Reviewed)

SHALL WE DANCE? (PG-13) This is the one with manly man's man Richard Gere making goo-goo eyes at sultry Jennifer Lopez, although there's little indication that anyone's heart is remotely in what they're supposed to be doing. Gere plays a successful, middle-aged lawyer, seeking refuge from the drudgery of wife and kids by escaping into the arms of the black-eyed beauty (Lopez) who works at the local dance studio. Since Gere's character ultimately can't bring himself to even make a decent pass at JLo, he settles for taking dance lessons from her, turning all that fancy dancing into some sort of symbol for personal freedom, self-expression or whatever. Shall We Dance? is a movie about passion that feels like it's been systematically drained of passion, typical Hollywood twaddle defanged and de-sexed to the point of self-obliteration. Also stars Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. 1/2

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