Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole
BY LEAH ROZEN
CRITIC'S CHOICE
COMEDY

Like The 40-Year-Old Virgin last summer, Talladega takes a viewer pleasantly by surprise. It doesn't have the depth of genuine feeling that Virgin had, but this smart-silly comedy about a NASCAR champion boasts a refreshingly dark heart.

Even as a toddler, Bobby (Ferrell) knows, "I wanna go fast." As an adult, his ruthless driving makes him No. 1 on the NASCAR circuit, until a supercilious gay Frenchman (Cohen, of HBO's Da Ali G Show) appears, sipping macchiatos and reading Camus behind the wheel and leaving Bobby in the dust. A humbled Bobby must learn what it really takes to be champ.

Celebrating all that is inane about the nexus of sports, speed and celebrity, Talladega merrily allows a talented cast to pursue any weird comic riff that strikes their fancy, including a tiff over whether to pray to the baby or adult Jesus and repeated scenes of Ferrell running stripped to his skivvies while under the delusion that he's on fire. (PG-13)

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Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal

DRAMA

When it comes to the big stuff, it's the little stuff that matters. John McLoughlin (Cage), a veteran cop buried beneath 20 feet of concrete and twisted metal after the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, clung determinedly to life partly because he hadn't finished putting up new kitchen cabinets. He tells Will Jimeno (Peña), a rookie officer trapped with him, his wife (Bello) would never forgive him if he died without completing the job.

World Trade Center is very much a small-picture view of the massive 2001 tragedy, concentrating on the personal lives of these men and their rescue (they were the last survivors pulled from the wreckage). Coming from bombastic director Oliver Stone (Alexander), the film is surprisingly conventional and restrained. It's well-acted, sincere and at times even tear-inducing, but World never transcends being a Hollywood movie. And for this New Yorker, it may still be too soon for that. (PG-13)

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Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza
SUSPENSE

On vacation in America, six European women set out to explore a cave in the Appalachian Mountains. It's dark and deep, and soon horrifyingly bad stuff starts to happen to them—including being stalked by mysterious, murderous creatures. It will take every last ounce of strength, courage and smarts the adventurers possess for any of them to survive.

That's the setup for a spooky chiller from British writer-director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers). The Descent opens with a bloody bang and never lets up. Lean, mean and far more effective than similar films boasting bigger budgets and names, it'll have your hair standing up like stalagmites. (R)

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Voices by Kevin James, Courteney Cox Arquette, Danny Glover, Wanda Sykes, Sam Elliott
ANIMATED

Having been raised in close proximity to dairy farms, I always thought cows were female. Hence my surprise when Otis (James), the young bovine hero of this loud, run-of-the-farm comedy, is identified as a cow. So are his father and a trio of rowdy pals. When Dad is killed by malevolent coyotes, Otis must decide whether to remain a party animal or succeed Pop as the barnyard's protector. Mostly, the story serves as thin filler in between hip tunes blasting on the soundtrack, as if priming young viewers for their impending MTV years.

Upon checking a dictionary, I see an alternative definition lists "cow" as applying to either sex. But male cows here all sport prominent udders. I'm udderly confused and guessing many kids will feel the same. (PG)

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MOST LIKELY TO BE REMADE

THE NIGHT LISTENER In a curiously enervated suspense film, Robin Williams (below), a spinner of tales on the radio, befriends a boy (Rory Culkin) with a tragic past but then begins to question the adolescent's story. A high-quality cast, including Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Bobby Cannavale and Joe Morton, gives this one plenty of polish but can't, in the end, make it shine. (R)

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QUINCEANERA A top prizewinner at the Sundance Film Festival, this touching drama follows two Mexican-American cousins (Jesse Garcia, below left, and Emily Rios) as they struggle to make their way in L.A.'s Echo Park, a Hispanic neighborhood being gentrified. Both show courage and resourcefulness against imposing odds. The title? Rios's character is planning a quinceañera party to mark her 15th birthday, the beginning of womanhood. (R)

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13 TZAMETI The English-language remake rights have already been snapped up for this superb psychological thriller, which will come as no surprise to anyone lucky enough to catch the tense, 93-minute original. The ingenious plot: An immigrant worker (Georges Babluani, below right) in France unintentionally gets caught up in a Russian roulette tournament, with others betting on his life. (In French and Georgian, with subtitles.) (Not rated)

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Inside Man ($29.98) Director Spike Lee resuscitates both his career and the sputtering bank-heist genre with this deft thriller about a New York City detective (Denzel Washington) navigating red tape while facing off with an ingenious bank robber (Clive Owen). A sleek Jodie Foster steals scenes as a fixer to the rich and powerful. Extras: A riveting chat between Lee and Washington, collaborating here for the fourth time; energetic, informative commentary from Lee, who points out clever homages to Dog Day Afternoon and his own Do the Right Thing. (R)
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BARNYARD'S MOTHER HEN

As Barnyard's kindly Etta the hen, the 48-year-old actress, former model and mother of three spreads her wings in her first animated role.

HOW DID YOU LIKE DOING VOICE WORK? I was in a little sound booth in Asheville, N.C., right down the road from me. It was sort of like reading to my children.

DO YOU FEEL GUILTY WHEN YOU EAT CHICKEN NOW? You know, my daughter, for some reason, decided to be vegetarian two months ago. She's 11. So I haven't been eating any chicken, and she'd be relieved if I never ate chicken again.

YOUR LINES WERE DUBBED IN YOUR FIRST MOVIE. NOW YOU GET PAID FOR YOUR VOICE. I think my voice has ended up being a great asset for my career. It's really distinct. Most directors like they way I sound.

HOW DO YOU STAY LOOKING GREAT? I eat real food: vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish. I run, I walk, I do yoga and Pilates. I do everything! I have a great stomach, I do.