Reviews from recently released movies

Flushed Away, Night at the Museum, Rocky Balboa

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DÉJÀ VU (PG-13) ADD-challenged director Tony Scott, back from the dead after Domino, manages to impress with what amounts to a virtual remake of Otto Preminger's classic film noir Laura, re-envisioned here as a post-9/11 sci-fi action flick. Denzel Washington stars as ATF agent Doug Carlin, whose investigation of a terrorist bombing becomes linked to the murder of a beautiful girl whom Carlin, shades of Laura, begins to obsess upon. (This being 2006, though, and Scott being Scott, instead of the elegant femme specter of Laura, Déjà Vu's dead girl is first introduced to us as a mutilated — but still beautiful — corpse.) The movie works backwards and forwards simultaneously, beginning basically as a mystery, with fantasy elements mostly taking the form of high-tech toys, Then, about an hour in, Déjà Vu morphs into full-blown sci-fi, treading deep into time travel territory (albeit with one foot firmly placed in adrenaline-goosing car chase scenes and monster explosions) and, against all odds, makes the fusion work. The scientific basis of the movie's sci-fi is pretty dodgy if you think about it for longer than a few seconds, but Déjà Vu is well worth its admission price as a tightly constructed and well played action-thriller. The film was shot on location in New Orleans, and the local flavor is a major perk. Also stars Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg and Jim Caviezel. 3.5 stars

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (R) As in Unforgiven and other key Clint Eastwood films, Flags of our Fathers is about mythmaking and heroes who are not really heroes. There will be those who hail Flags of our Fathers as Eastwood's most "important" movie for addressing this favorite subject in such an epic and obvious way, but it is for exactly those same reasons that the director's new film feels so turgid. The movie's main characters are the three surviving soldiers from the famous photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima (Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach), recruited for a nationwide publicity campaign to beef up the war effort. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding that photograph are considerably fuzzier and less heroic than they seem, and the three soldiers spend most of the movie trying to keep it together while selling an illusion to the public. For 132 rather long minutes, Eastwood and screenwriter Paul Haggis (master of the ham-fist from Crash) lurch back and forth between scenes showing us the chaos and cruelty of war and scenes showing us how that same war is packaged and sold, sanitized into something curiously bloodless. The battle scenes are plenty graphic but the storytelling sputters and sprawls so badly that it's hard to get emotionally involved. The movie's rhythm is all fits and starts, with several characters appearing out of thin air to briefly take center stage (particularly in the last act) and others so sketchily developed that there's an awful lot of agonizing going on here about people we barely know. The production (by Spielberg) screams class and the material begs to be taken seriously, but Eastwood makes his points in the film's first 15 minutes and then essentially just repeats himself. Also stars Barry Pepper, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell and John Benjamin Hickey. 2.5 stars

FLUSHED AWAY (PG) The latest project from those ever-reliable genius types at Aardman Studios (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) is the animated tale of two mice — posh urban rodent Rodney (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and his scruffy female counterpart Rita (Kate Winslet) — sharing an amazing adventure in London. More accurately, the movie situates itself in a miniaturized clone of London located in the sewers below the real city, and populated by a wonderfully eccentric menagerie of mice, frogs and slugs of indeterminate origin (the later being the movie's biggest scene stealers who break out in song at the most bizarre moments). The Anglo-centric humor may occasionally drift over the heads of younger viewers (there's wordplay here on distinctly British patter such as "diverting" and "smashing," and at one point a cockroach can be seen reading Kafka), but the movie is basically good, silly fun for everyone. The characters all have personality to spare, elements of slapstick, adventure and romance are expertly fused and paced, and the classy CGI animation skillfully emulates the charming stop-motion style for which Aardman is so well known. Also featuring the voices of Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis. 3.5 stars

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