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Maybe it’s because it was produced by his own company, Cheyenne Enterprises. Or maybe it’s because the part of his character’s imperiled daughter is played by his real-life daughter, Rumer Willis. Or maybe it’s simply because he’s been slumbering too long. Whatever the reason, Bruce Willis has woken up in time to deliver a committed performance in this adaptation of Robert Crais’ novel. Opening with a stylized, eye-popping title sequence that might lead viewers into thinking they’re catching an early sneak of the new Batman flick, Hostage then settles into familiar crime territory with the introduction of Willis as Jeff Talley, an LAPD hostage negotiator whose botching of a tense standoff leaves him with innocent blood on his hands and prods him into moving to a sleepy community where the crime rate hovers around zero. But once three ruffians attempting to steal a car end up killing a police officer and subsequently taking a family hostage, Talley finds himself back in the sort of situation he would like to avoid. For a good while, director Florent Siri and scripter Doug Richardson do their pulpy material proud, with a real attention to both exposition and execution. But as the storyline gets more crowded (another gang of villains ends up holding Talley’s own family hostage), the attention shifts from individual character detail and psychological chess matches to outlandish developments and ludicrous resolutions to the various plot strands.


If ever a movie warranted the Second Coming of silent cinema, it’s this animated effort from the same studio (20th Century Fox) and director (Chris Wedge) that brought us the middling Ice Age. Visually, the film is yet another triumph for computer programmers, as their blood, sweat and bytes have enabled them to create a wondrous landscape that’s a joy to behold. But whenever any of the metallic characters that populate this world open their mouths, it’s like listening to rusty bolts across a chalkboard. That’s because these ‘bots are apparently programmed to deliver only two types of dialogue: wisecracks that reveal an obsession with bodily functions (who knew that robots could break wind?) and flat speeches that have already been endlessly recycled from far superior kid flicks.

Robots’ rote storyline centers on young Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), who journeys from his tiny hometown to the sprawling metropolis of Robot City to fulfill his dream of becoming an important inventor. Yet his arrival in the big burg coincides with the power play of the ruthless company executive Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who plots to destroy all the destitute robots by catering only to the rich ones. Pixar and (in most cases) Disney understand the importance of matching the right vocal talent to the right role, but the makers of Robots were simply happy to land an all-star cast and left it at that. Two of the few exceptions — one for better, one for worse — are Mel Brooks and Robin Williams, respectively cast as kindly inventor Bigweld and manic misfit Fender. Brooks, so cheerful a personality that even a documentary on the Depression would seem like a laugh riot were he tapped to narrate it, provides a spirited reading for his role, and his genuine warmth and obvious enthusiasm are a real boon. Williams, on the other hand, comes across as little more than a trained seal, balancing the ball on his nose when commanded but investing little beyond the physical action. Sad to say, he’s become as mechanical as the robot he portrays.


Yet one more lazy sequel to a great film, Be Cool is a major disappointment that fails to capture the essence of what made Get Shorty such a memorable experience. In adapting the Elmore Leonard novel, director Barry Sonenfeld and scripter Scott Frank knew that the key to success rested in the capable hands of John Travolta, whose work as shylock-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer remains a career best. Travolta owned that picture, yet he received more than adequate support from Sonenfeld’s playful direction, Frank’s character-driven screenplay and a stellar supporting cast that included Danny DeVito. Alas, F. Gary Gray (the tepid remake of The Italian Job) is no Sonenfeld, Peter Steinfeld (Analyze That) is no Frank, and a promising cast is largely left to flounder in the middle of a movie that never provides a compelling argument for its own existence. DeVito is pushed out after one brief scene, while Travolta often seems like an extra in his own story. The cast includes Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Cedric the Entertainer, yet the most creative acting comes from Vince Vaughn as a thug who fancies himself black and The Rock as his gay bodyguard.


The gorgeous Kimberly Elise (The Manchurian Candidate) gets to display her acting chops as Helen McCarter, who’s stunned when her husband of 18 years, a prominent Atlanta lawyer (Steve Harris), demands a divorce and forcibly throws her out of their mansion to make room for his gold-digging girlfriend (Lisa Marcos). A huge hit with African-American audiences, Tyler Perry’s play has been adapted (by the author himself) into a movie that’s overflowing with positive Christian ideals as well as an honest assessment of the intrinsic desire for seeking retribution versus the spiritual need for giving absolution.


From the connotations of its hero’s name (Constantine was the Roman emperor who endorsed Christianity more for personal gain than for any spiritual fulfillment) to depictions of Hell that borrow heavily from the works of Hieronymus Bosch, Constantine tries hard to include heady material that will allow for post-screening discussions around the water cooler or in cinephile trades (something The Matrix accomplished masterfully with its rampant theology). But as was the case with the muddled Jacob’s Ladder, Constantine never brings its debates into focus, choosing instead to pile on its issues like so many toppings onto a baked potato.


A warm and witty comedy that unfortunately runs itself into the ground during its final act, the picture benefits immeasurably from the presence of Will Smith, who may or may not be a great actor but who is most assuredly a great movie star. He's at turns sly, suave and sexy as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, who bills himself as the Date Doctor because of his ability to make a living by advising other men how to land the woman of their dreams. He finds his biggest challenge in the form of Albert (Kevin James), a clumsy, overweight accountant who's hopelessly under the spell of beautiful super-model Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). But Hitch unexpectedly finds his own romantic inclinations rising to the surface once he meets Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). Mendes, who's always come across as a Jennifer Lopez who can't act -- no, wait, that would still make her Jennifer Lopez -- initially has trouble keeping pace with a leading man prettier than she is, but ends up holding her own.



Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) runs The Hit Pit, a boxing gym located in downtown Los Angeles, with the help of his only friend, Scrap (Unforgiven co-star Morgan Freeman). Scrap serves as the facility's caretaker, yet in his day he was a plucky fighter with a lot of promise, a quality he instantly spots in the young girl who wanders into the gym intent on becoming a champion boxer. Her name is Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), and, as Scrap notes at one point during the film's effective voice-over narration, "Maggie grew up knowing one thing: She was trash." Up until this point, Million Dollar Baby contains all the familiar trappings of crowd-pleasers like Rocky and The Karate Kid. Yet what makes this portion of the film soar is the attention to character that's provided by Eastwood (as director) and scripter Paul Haggis (adapting short stories from F.X. Toole's critically acclaimed book Rope Burns).


The key scene in Sideways arrives when Miles (Paul Giamatti), a lovable loser who collects unhappy memories the way some people collect stamps, cuts through his own haze of despair long enough to open up to Maya (Virginia Madsen), who like Miles is a divorced individual with a great passion for wine. Moved by Miles' sincerity, she launches into a lovely monologue in which she links all wine to all people by pointing out its complexities, its ability to evolve… and its tendency to go downhill after it reaches its peak. And then she adds the exclamation point -- "And it tastes so fucking good!" That term of profane enthusiasm might also be an apt way to describe Sideways, an offbeat road movie that averages more memorable moments per mile than just about any other picture released this year. Uncork it, give it time to breathe, and then luxuriate in its rich, heady flavor.


Rather than trying to cram an overstuffed life into one motion picture, Director Martin Scorsese and writer John Logan instead have chosen to focus on Howard Hughes’ anecdote-rich period from the late ‘20s through the late ‘40s. This time frame allows Scorsese ample opportunity to bask in the glow of his movie memories, as this was the period when the billionaire industrialist (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose emotional intensity makes up for his less-than-commanding physical presence) decided to try his hand at making movies.