Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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*THE COW (KRAVA) (NR) A fable-like tale from the Czech Republic about the trials and tribulations of a simple peasant, the woman he loves, and the buddah-like bovine that silently takes it all in. There's not a tremendous amount of depth or complexity to director Karel Kaychna's film but its performances are convincing, its imagery is lyrical, and its emotional power is undeniable. Plays 8:30 p.m. on April 8 at the University of Tampa's Reeves Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2

*CUCKOO (NR) Alexandr Rogozhkin's grim account of the brutalities of the proto-KGB organization charged with eliminating enemies of the young Soviet state. The film offers up more naked bodies than you'll find in a Peter Greenaway film, although here they're just so much flesh to be disposed of. The film is beautifully shot but verges on bombastic freak show, as it graphically depicts the routine mechanics of evil whereby lists are drawn up and bodies are stripped, shot and hoisted into carts. Plays at 7 p.m. on April 5 at Tampa Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2

DAREDEVIL (PG-13) The latest Marvel superhero to hit the big screen is by far the most dour and exquisitely tormented of them all. "I'm not the bad guy," Daredevil tells us (and himself), but that's debatable, considering how much he obviously relishes inflicting pain upon the scummy lawbreakers scurrying through the city. A blind lawyer by day, a costumed, superpower vigilante by night, Daredevil has a thirst for justice that borders on the pathological, so that our vicious, crime-fighting hero often seems to have crossed the line from self-doubting neurotic (a la Spider-Man) to full-blown nutcase. Daredevil is a violent, relentlessly downbeat and dark movie on almost every level (amazingly, it wasn't rated "R"), often coming across like Death Wish crossed with vintage film noir, with just a bit of extreme sports thrown in the mix. Ben Affleck is surprisingly effective as the tortured title character, and he's surrounded by a well-cast ensemble including Jon Favreau, Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell. Only a handful of overly cartoon-y moments and a generic soundtrack mar the final effect. Also stars Jennifer Garner. 1/2

DARK BLUE (R) Ron Shelton sets his new thriller at the time of the Rodney King trial, and the movie's tale of police corruption and racial divisions dovetails neatly (a little too neatly) with that very public event. Kurt Russell stars as a hardboiled Los Angeles cop battling his inner demons while tracking down some killers and getting sucked deeper and deeper into the messy politics of the LAPD. The movie gets the details right, painting the various black, white, Korean and Mexican L.A. subcultures in vivid colors, but fails to supply a script that offers much in the way of surprises or originality. The overly broad strokes used to depict the shady process by which cops, judges and lawyers do things may well be accurate, but the lack of narrative subtlety drags the movie down. Also stars Ving Rhames, Scott Speedman and Brendan Gleeson.

DREAMCATCHER (R) Although it starts out intriguingly enough, director Lawrence Kasdan's sci-fi/horror blowout quickly reveals itself as a disaster of Battlefield Earth proportions. Based on one of Stephen King's weaker efforts, this astonishingly bad movie crudely mashes together recycled tidbits from Stand By Me and The Tommyknockers with Alien, John Carpenter's The Thing and even a bit of Kasdan's The Big Chill. The resulting flick is a kitchen sink horror filled with exploding body parts, ubiquitous X-Files-esque alien viruses and vaguely psychic childhood pals who turn into lovable thirtysomethings and are promptly killed. It's boring, scatterbrained and an embarrassment to everyone involved. Stars Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Tom Sizemore.

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