Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark

Featured attraction

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) has cast himself as a suspected drug dealer in Unbreakable, which is fitting since he's peddling both uppers and downers in his latest suspense thriller. The highs come from the movie's taut script, deliberate visual style and willingness to grapple with the big question of why any of us are put here on earth. The lows? Unbreakable is so unrelievedly morose you keep wishing someone would sneak up and goose the characters just to liven things up.

Willis plays doleful David Dunn, a security guard in Philadelphia who is the sole survivor of a train wreck that leaves 124 others dead. Numb, but none the worse for the accident, he returns home to the shabby row house he shares with his estranged wife (Penn) and young son (Clark). News of Dunn's miraculous escape prompts a note from a comic-books enthusiast (Jackson) who, upon meeting Dunn, proposes a supernatural explanation for his resiliency. Though initially skeptical, Dunn is intrigued enough by the theory to break out of his melancholy and embark on a voyage of self-discovery.

As Dunn's Everyman tries to uncover his true purpose in life, Unbreakable veers between silly and profound, zigzagging from overintellectualized twaddle about super-heroes to a moving depiction of Dunn's journey to find himself. It's a search that will resonate with any viewer who has ever aspired to accomplishing more in life than just waking up day after day. While the movie's symbolism is obvious (not for nothing does Willis's rain poncho look like a cape), it is effective, adding texture and meaning and guaranteeing that you will be mulling over Unbreakable days after leaving the theater.

Willis, in top form, gives an exacting performance as a man ill at ease with himself and his family until he finds his mission. Jackson brings snap to his scenes, but his role is little more than a conceit. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Handled with admirable care

Glenn Close, Gérard Depardieu

There are only two reasons even to consider seeing 202 Dalmatians: 1) to catch Depardieu, the hulking French star, prancing about as a fashion designer clad in tiny fur hot pants and pronouncing puppies as "poup-pees" and 2) for Close's rabid mugging in her second turn as she-monster Cruella De Vil. Otherwise, 102 is a dull, pointless sequel to 1996's 101 Dalmatians, which was itself a live-action remake of the original 1961 animated film.

Having reformed during a stay in prison for her puppy-napping crimes in 101, De Vil begins 102 Dalmatians as a dog fancier. She changes her spots soon enough, reverting to her old fur-craving ways and plotting to steal the cute canines owned by 102's drippy romantic leads, played by loan Gruffudd and Alice Evans. (There's no word here on what has happened to 101 's dalmatian-dizzy couple, Anita and Roger.) The sequel also includes a shameless, mid-movie plug for Lady and the Tramp, the 1955 Disney cartoon available, I'm sure, at a video store near you. (G)

Bottom Line: Who let the dogs out?

Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck

Brilliant acting requires the ability to express conflicting emotions without revealing the gear-shifting within. At the tender age of 28, Paltrow makes it look easy. In scene after scene in Bounce, a slight but savvy romantic drama from writer-director Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex), the actress swings from happy to sad to confused to hopeful, all in milliseconds and with each feeling fully and gracefully conveyed.

Too bad the script isn't as effortless. Bounce's contrived plot has Affleck playing Buddy Amaral, an advertising executive who, thinking he's about to get lucky with an attractive blonde he just met in an airport bar (Natasha Henstridge), gives up his plane ticket to another man (Tony Goldwyn). The plane goes down and the guy dies. A year later, Buddy looks up the man's widow (Paltrow), intending to make amends but instead falling in love with her. "What will happen when she finds out his secret?

Despite many funny and heartfelt moments, Bounce never quite rises above its fundamentally clanking plot. Affleck does his best acting yet, and though he has potent onscreen chemistry with real-life ex-sweetie Paltrow, he can't match her radiance. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Paltrow soars, but Bounce only goes so high

Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine

The point to sadomasochistic sex, one assumes, is knowing when to stop. Quills, though intriguing, goes too far. The film uses the life of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), the French aristocrat turned literary pornographer (whose very name became the eponym for the painful sex practices he wrote about in novels like Justine), to examine the rights of an artist versus the rights of society.

Director Philip Kaufman (Henry & June) and screenwriter Doug Wright take liberties with Sade's bio, here pitting him against a priest (Phoenix) and a doctor (Caine) who oversee the lunatic asylum to which the Marquis (Rush) has been committed. His only ally is an illiterate laundress (Winslet) who smuggles out his manuscripts. Quills goes way over the top (those with delicate stomachs are forewarned), but then so did the Marquis. The accomplished cast is up to the task, but when it comes to scenes of necrophilia, there's only so much an actor can do. (R)

Bottom Line: More pain than pleasure

>Charlie's Angels Three great-looking dames (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu) kick butt. What's not to like? Dumb, empowering fun. (PG-13)

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas This isn't one for the ages, but for the season there's no beating Jim Carrey's hilarious turn as the big green meanie. Fun for kids and adults. (PG)

La Bûche If you're tired of Christmas ham, try this wry French comedy about three grown-up sisters (Emanuelle Béart, Sabine Azéma and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who count down the days to Noel by keeping secrets, spatting and mediating between their long-divorced parents. (Not rated)

Rugrats in Paris: The Movie Nickelodeon TV's wisecracking diaper brigade goes to France. Oui, oui. (G)

The 6th Day Two Arnolds prove better than one as Schwarzenegger gets cloned in an okay action picture. (PG-13)

You Can Count on Me Lovely small film about the ties that bind siblings, even in adulthood. Excellent acting by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. (R)