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Watching this adaptation of Tyler Perry’s popular stage play is akin to channel surfing between showings of Soul Food and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps — with an occasional flip over to “The Jeffersons” for good measure. 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). Dejected, depressed and distraught, Helen moves back to the ‘hood, where she’s taken in by her grandmother Medea. It takes the support of her family and her new boyfriend (Shemar Moore) to help her get back on track, but ultimately she must come to terms with her own conflicted emotions before she can truly move forward. A huge hit with African-American audiences, 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. In this respect, the movie’s emotionally satisfying (if a bit simplistic), yet Perry dilutes its potency by casting himself in the roles of Medea, the gun-wielding, easily excitable grandmother, and her brother Joe, a flatulent senior citizen constantly leering at women when he’s not busy smoking dope. Perry plays these roles in the broadest terms possible, and while some of the resultant moments are modestly amusing, they severely disrupt the heartfelt story that exists at the movie’s center.


Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer, the picture casts Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, who’s always had the ability to recognize the angels and demons that walk the earth in human form. It seems that God and Satan had long ago reached an agreement that they would not directly impact whatever events occur on our planet, but that they could use these “half-breeds” to subtly influence us mere mortals. Constantine once attempted suicide to put an end to his tortured visions, but precisely because he took his own life, he found himself in hell for a few minutes before being resuscitated and brought back to life. Determined not to spend eternity in Hades, Constantine now figures he can “buy” his way into Heaven, by wiping out as many demonic half-breeds as possible. The androgynous angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) informs Constantine that going the Charles Bronson Death Wish route won’t gain him acceptance, but he perseveres nonetheless. Yet as he goes about his business, Constantine realizes that there’s a seismic shift occurring in the underworld: Full-fledged demons are starting to cross over into our world, and the only way he can get to the bottom of the mystery is to join forces with a police detective (Rachel Weisz) investigating the apparent suicide of her psychic twin sister. 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.


For traditionalists, old-fashioned love stories can still be found in period pieces (Cold Mountain) or movies set in distant lands (Beyond Borders). But as titles like How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days, Deliver Us From Eva and Little Black Book demonstrate, when it comes to love connections in present-day U.S., mind games must be played and/or dollars must be doled out before anyone can even think about living happily ever after.

At least Hitch locates the romantic spark behind all those account-emptying checks being passed back and forth. 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. An honorable man in a dubious profession -- he refuses clients who are simply out to get laid -- 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… never mind -- initially has trouble keeping pace with a leading man prettier than she is, but she ends up holding her own and even sneaking off with a couple of scenes.


To say that the script for The Wedding Date is bottom-of-the-barrel would be too kind; this one was already decomposing under a mountain of mulch before “Will & Grace's” Debra Messing unwisely fished it out. Messing stars as Kat Ellis, a 30-something woman whose neurotic impulses are obviously meant to be endearing but who instead comes off as something of a pill. Required to fly to England to attend the wedding of her loathsome sister (Amy Adams), Kat can't stand the thought of arriving without a boyfriend -- especially since her ex-lover (Jeremy Sheffield) will be there as the best man. So Kat does what any normal woman would do: She drains her savings account of $6,000 in order to hire a male prostitute to pretend to be her boyfriend. Her stud of choice is Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney), who's somehow become a legendary man-whore -- articles are even written about him in glossy magazines! -- even though his musings on sex, love and relationships travel far beyond banal. Although the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the tepid Jennifer Aniston vehicle Picture Perfect, this was clearly inspired by the success of such Brit-flavored confections as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones' Diary. It's hard to gauge Messing's big-screen potential because her contradictory character is an impossible one to play. But Mulroney, who has a rakish charm that's been used well in other films (Lovely & Amazing, for instance), is simply terrible here: His slurred line readings, errant comic timing and glazed expression can't help but suggest that the actor got stoned before each and every take. And who could blame him?


It’s becoming increasingly rote to review junky, generic thrillers like Hide and Seek: Critics would do well to simply cut-and-paste their slams of last year’s Secret Window (this film’s doppelganger) and leave it at that. But let’s not stop with that Johnny Depp dud: If Hide and Seek were a math equation, it would read something like Secret Window plus The Shining plus What Lies Beneath plus Cape Fear plus The Sixth Sense plus May plus The Bad Seed plus Happiness multiplied by a high level of improbability and divided by a lack of any genuine scares. Robert De Niro, in full paycheck-gorging mode, is miscast as David Callaway, a New York psychologist who, after his wife (Amy Irving) commits suicide, moves upstate with their traumatized 9-year-old daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Still struggling to cope with the tragedy, Emily invents an imaginary friend named Charlie, and a subsequent string of disasters leads David to wonder whether Emily suffers from a split personality, whether another person is manipulating his daughter, or whether there’s a supernatural presence in their new home. Hide and Seek contains the usual visual “scares” always found in this sort of nonsense, such as the cat that suddenly springs out of a closed closet (which begs the question: How did a cat get in a closed closet in the first place?). Equally daft is the dialogue credited to first-timer Ari Schlossberg, with the defining moment of unintentional hilarity arriving when, after it appears that Emily has mutilated all her dolls and drowned the family cat in the bathtub, David lays out his reason for not wanting to take her back to the city: “I’m afraid it might make her condition worse.”


A favorite of critics and cultists alike, 1976’s Assault On Precinct 13 was a nifty little “B” flick that John Carpenter helmed before hitting the big time with Halloween. The film concerns itself with the members of an LA street gang who descend upon a nearly abandoned police station with the sole purpose of wiping out everyone inside. That the protagonists never learn the reason for the siege (though we do) adds to their sense of discombobulation, and the brutal death of a little girl in the early going remains one of the most disturbing acts of homicide ever committed on screen. In this flashy update, there’s no little girl, no bloodthirsty street gang, and certainly no kick-ass Carpenter score. Instead, we get a competent but entirely generic action opus in which it’s a group of rogue cops who attack the precinct in order to kill a captured crime lord whose testimony would put them behind bars. Laurence Fishburne plays the cool-under-fire kingpin, who reluctantly teams up with an honest officer (Ethan Hawke) to ensure his own survival.


Talk about a house of flying daggers: The multiplex is filled with them once Marvel’s blade-wielding superheroine springs into action in this spin-off of 1993’s Daredevil (in which she appeared in a supporting role as the sightless superhero’s romantic interest). But while this lady in red often kicks it into high gear, the movie surrounding her rarely moves beyond a stroll. It’s a blown opportunity, because Jennifer Garner has proven (through 13 Going On 30 and TV’s Alias) that she’s an ace at layering her physical prowess with emotional resonance. Yet here she’s basically required to walk around sporting a scowl, and attempts to explain what led to this dour disposition result in poorly conceived flashback sequences that further deaden an already lifeless film.


First, The Incredibles comes along and pushes the message that it’s OK — even advantageous — to be exceptional in America instead of conforming by dumbing down. And now here’s Coach Carter to nudge a similar theme about the importance of a solid education over all else, even (gasp!) sports. Coach Carter works the usual underdog cliches fairly well as it tells the true story of Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), a high school basketball coach in California who manages to turn a team that won only four games during its previous season into a statewide powerhouse. But at the height of their success, with an unbroken string of victories, Coach Carter elects to bench the entire team once he discovers that most of his players are performing poorly in their classes.


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.


This adaptation of the Broadway smash draws its strength from the performances of the three principal actresses: the classically trained Emmy Rossum is affecting as Christine, the Phantom’s obsession; Minnie Driver hams it up beautifully as obnoxious opera star La Carlotta; and Miranda Richardson adds authority as Madame Giry, the only person who knows the Phantom’s secrets.