Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

AGAINST THE ROPES (PG-13) "Make yourself invisible" are practically the first words we hear uttered to Meg Ryan's character when she's just a little girl, so it's a sure bet that the grown-up version will turn out to be anything but. Against the Ropes is the absurdly inept and by-the-numbers biopic of Jackie Kallen (Ryan), a gutsy female who became a boxing manager and rose to the top ranks of that poisonously sexist world. With Kallen's quasi-feminist posturing and outlandish outfits, the movie seems to want to be considered as some sort of ringside Erin Brockovich, but the shallow stereotypes, hackneyed dialogue and narrative cliches put it much closer to the unintentional camp of Showgirls. There's a clumsy, generic feel to just about every minute of this soulless project, culminating in the inevitable big championship bout between Ryan's independent fighter and a nasty company man. Guess who wins? Also stars Omar Epps and Tony Shalhoub. 1/2

AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON (PG) Frankie Muniz (Fox TV's Malcolm in the Middle) reprises his role as the plucky young spy saving the world from whatever. This time the action takes place in London, where Muniz's character is chasing down a rogue agent in possession of a stolen mind-control device. Also stars Hannah Spearritt and Anthony Anderson. (Not Reviewed)

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.

THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (R) Anyone with an affection for Denys Arcand's 1986 The Decline of the American Empire — a Big Chill-ish account of self-possessed baby boomers, Euro-style — will want to check out this film, which is essentially a companion piece to the director's earlier work. Arcand revisits Remy (Remy Girard), the sophisticated sensualist of Decline, now bald, bed-ridden with terminal cancer and watched over by his estranged, uptight son Sebastien (Stephanie Rousseau), who uses his considerable wealth to make his father's final days as comfortable and interesting as possible. Sebastien keeps his father happily stoned and brings together many of Remy's old friends and lovers (virtually the entire cast of Decline), as the movie offers up a stream of stylishly witty observations, eventually taking the form of a bittersweet reverie to lives well lived. The movie's not nearly as profound as it seems to think it is, but as far as elegant odes to love, sex, youth and its passing, God and art, you could do worse. Don't come expecting Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in 99 minutes (as the movie sometimes seems to consider itself), and be prepared for loads of cyclical conversations, and you'll do just fine. Also stars Marie-Josee Croze. 1/2

BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS (PG-13) Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer star in this sequel to last year's popular comedy about a group of folks frequenting a small barbershop on Chicago's South Side. This time out, the movie's got gentrification on its mind, as the mom and pop stores in the barbershop's neighborhood begin losing ground to an invasion of Starbucks-esque establishments. Also stars Sean Patrick Thomas and Eve. (Not Reviewed)

BUS 174 (NR) Another extraordinary documentary in a year fairly bursting with them. Part edge-of-your-seat thriller, part social critique, Bus 174 offers a gripping, if somewhat over-long account of a Rio de Janeiro bus robbery that turned into a no-win hostage situation and a national scandal. The film mixes actual footage of the event with interviews with many of the participants (the police, the hostages, friends of the perpetrator, reporters), telling its tale from multiple perspectives, and achieving an impressive sense of realism and emotional depth. Simultaneously, Bus 174 probes the history of the young street person who committed the crime, ultimately presenting itself as a powerful but not particularly subtle condemnation of the racism and class injustices that create similarly lost souls. Directed by Jose Padilha. 1/2

COLD MOUNTAIN (NR) There's more than a whiff of dread hanging in the air in director Anthony Minghella's wildly tragic-romantic opus, and it won't be giving away much to mention that it all ends badly. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman (sporting not-too-embarrassing Southern accents) star as a pair of absurdly clear complected, Civil War-era lovebirds buffeted by the cruel winds of destiny. The film practically begs for consideration as Minghella's Gone With the Wind, or maybe his Pilgrim's Progress, a panoramic study of a vanished America, bolstered by handsome cinematography and oodles of lively performances. For all the epic sprawl, there's a scattered, episodic quality to the film that makes even the better performances feel a bit like cameos. Also stars Renee Zellweger and Natalie Portman.

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