Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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SPANGLISH (PG-13) James L. Brooks' new movie is terrible because it's long-winded, pointless, shamelessly manipulative and not particularly funny, but it's also something new and even more terrible: a mean-spirited feel-good movie. The basic scenario here is pure sitcom - mildly eccentric yuppie couple hires beautiful, fiery Mexican housekeeper and mayhem ensues - but the execution is flat and extremely unpleasant, with a 130-minute running time that leaves little doubt that Brooks feels he's doing something important here. The characters are, without exception, either underdeveloped or drawn in ridiculously broad strokes, particularly Tea Leoni's hardbodied queen bitch of a hausfrau, who crosses the line from quirky to just plain cruel early on and leaves the movie with a big, fat hole in its emotional center. Brooks was apparently going through a messy divorce while he was directing Spanglish and was trying to "work something out" in the film, but the result is far and away his worst movie. Also stars Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman and Sarah Steele.

STRAIGHT JACKET (NR) Not to be confused with the old Joan Crawford camp classic about the battle-axe with the axe. This contemporary Straight Jacket lacks Mommie Dearest and has nothing to do with murderous psychos, be they carrying large sharp tools or otherwise - although it might well have benefited from some. Directed by Richard Day, creator of the wonderfully raunchy Girls Will Be Girls, this bright-eyed but not very funny comedy stars Matt Letscher as a Rock Hudson-esque '50s matinee idol attempting to hide his gayness from the rest of Hollywood and the general public by getting hitched to a ditzy blonde bimbette (Carrie Preston). The ruse marriage is in trouble from the get-go, of course, but major complications set in when our hero falls for a cute male co-worker (Adam Greer). It's all pretty much as sitcom-like as it sounds, and the campy attitude and candy-colored sets don't begin to make up for the lame jokes and terrible acting. Also stars Veronica Cartwright.

TESTOSTERONE (NR) The tone lurches blindly from sunny comedy to unpleasant psychodrama in this sloppily scripted tale of a gay comic book illustrator (oops, I mean "graphic novelist") who travels to Buenos Aires in search of his hunky Latino lover and winds up embroiled in a convoluted mystery that makes very little sense. David Sutcliffe (Rory's dad from The Gilmore Girls) is passable in the lead role, and Sonia Braga turns in a nice cameo, but virtually everyone and everything else in this mess misses the mark. Even the exotic Buenos Aires locations aren't utilized to full advantage. Also stars Antonio Sabato.

UNCLE NINO (PG) Sub-moronic corn about a wise old Italian peasant (Pierrino Mascarino) who comes to visit his suburban American relatives and turns everyone's unhappy lives into pure sweetness and light. Joe Mantegna stars as the workaholic dad who doesn't have time for his wife and kids until kindly Uncle Nino teaches him the value of smiling, listening, puppy dogs and making pizza from scratch. The movie's attempts to charm us are transparently by-the-numbers and clumsy throughout, and the whole thing is as poorly written and acted as it is conceived. Also stars Anne Archer and Gina Mantegna. Currently playing at Burns Court Cinemas.

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (R) Like all of the films of Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), A Very Long Engagement is a love story. But it's also a war movie, directly descended from hard-hitting humanist classics like Paths of Glory. Amelie's Audrey Tautou plays Mathilde, a simple provincial lass who spends virtually every one of Engagement's 134 minutes searching for her lost soulmate, a missing French army recruit. Her investigation yields some interesting results as conflicting versions of reality emerge, weaving a richly confounding, Rashomon-like tapestry of the truth. The film becomes a maze of loose ends and detours, all rendered in typically stunning visual form by Jeunet. Even the most inventive visuals can't completely redeem an earthbound script, though, and the later sections of the film occasionally forget that this director's movies are best when they're allowed to fly. Jeunet seems to have created the epic he felt was demanded of him, but the filmmaker didn't quite give us the movie either he or we deserve.

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