Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris

I once asked a friend who had just seen a Broadway play how the acting was. "Well, there certainly was a lot of it," he said. So too with The Hours, an estimable but studied movie featuring superb performances by an elite trio of leading ladies. Did I admire it? Yes. Did I love it? No.

The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer-winning 1998 novel and directed with great sensitivity by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), follows three women during a pivotal day in each of their lives. The first is Englishwoman Virginia Woolf (Kidman), who in 1923 is starting to write Mrs. Dalloway, her novel in which a woman's life is revealed in a single day. The second is an unhappy housewife (Moore) in 1951 in L.A.; the last is a successful book editor (Streep) in 2001 in Manhattan. All three feel themselves unraveling. They grapple with the big question: What is happiness? There is a thread linking the three, though how closely Moore and Streep are tied together is revealed only at the end.

Watching Hours, one feels smart—and let's be honest, a little smug—for understanding this self-consciously literary picture. "Aha!" you say to yourself as you make the connections between what Woolf says in one scene (someone in Dalloway will die "so that the rest of us shall value life more") with what happens in another scene (a suicide). What's sacrificed is emotion. Only the final scenes prove affecting and then more on an intellectual level than a heartfelt one.

In different ways each of the three actresses bowls you over. Kidman is all technique and tricks (including a fake nose), but it works. Moore is a miniaturist, conveying volumes with the tiniest of sad shrugs. Streep is a force of nature, so intensely present and vital that, when the movie's over, you half expect to run into her on the street. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Mostly quality time

Featured attraction

Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Anne Hathaway

Though Charles Dickens's novels always feature an admirably resourceful hero or heroine, much of the pleasure to be derived from his books comes from the improbably named and often eccentric supporting characters. Douglas McGrath (Emma), who adapted and directed this version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens's 1839 novel about a young man making his way in Victorian England, understands that perfectly. He allows a talented ensemble of character actors to shine brightly in this robust, delectable drama.

There's Plummer, who practically licks his lips at his own evil as a conniving rich uncle. Jim Broadbent is all sadistic bluster as an abusive schoolmaster. And Nathan Lane fairly purrs as a theatrical impresario who is kind to our young hero. It's Nicholas Nickleby himself, at least as played by the blond but bland Hunnam, who's the least interesting person onscreen. (PG)

BOTTOM LINE: Offers a Dickens of a good time

Jason Lee, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair, James Brolin, Julie Hagerty

Here is yet another movie about a stuffy guy headed down a predictable life path only to be shaken out of his complaisance upon meeting a wacky, endearing woman. For earlier, better versions, see Bringing Up Baby (1938), ITALIC "Something Wild"] (1986) and even the Sandra Bullock-Ben Affleck flick ITALIC "Forces of Nature"] (1999).

In ITALIC "A Guy Thing"], staid groom-to-be Paul (Lee) wakes up the morning after his bachelor party and finds himself nearly naked in bed beside a hula dancer (Stiles). He remembers meeting her at his bash the night before, but not much after that. She reassures him that nothing happened and they part, but soon meet again because—get ready for a knee slapper—she's the cousin of Paul's nagging fiancée (Blair). Complications ensue, including falling from a tree, getting arrested and toilet humor.

There's little wit or style on display in this forgettable trifle. Lee, a quirky, low-key actor, is more suited to supporting roles than leading man ones. And Stiles seems to know she's stuck in a stinker and simply does her best not to hold her nose. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Entirely skippable

Stine Stengade, Lars Mikkelsen

Kira (Stengade), a wife and mother, returns home after a stay at a psychiatric hospital. She and her attractive businessman husband (Mikkelsen) at first try to pretend that all is back to normal in this disquieting Danish drama (with English subtitles), but soon the facade starts crumbling. Kira has her reasons for staying crazy.

In most Hollywood films about mental illness, all is resolved happily with the help of a caring psychiatrist. Not so here, making Kira all the more fascinating. Stengade, in her film debut, gives a haunting knockout of a performance. (Not rated)

BOTTOM LINE: Intriguing look at a woman on the verge

Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson, Christopher Walken

It takes a good half hour for the titular marsupial of this perfunctory kids' comedy to show. Once he does, he makes off with $50,000 that our dim-bulb American heroes (O'Connell and Anderson) are supposed to be delivering to a mobster in Australia. The two set off in pursuit.

The plot is predictable, the jokes lame and only the anthropomorphized kangaroo (who is sometimes computer-generated), whether rapping or nibbling on licorice, amuses. Kids, of course, will love every dumb minute, but then they always do. (PG)

BOTTOM LINE: No need to hop to it

Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy

Ashton Kutcher and Murphy are mismatched newlyweds—working-class lug, rich man's daughter—who come unglued during a string of farcical honeymoon mishaps. A skimpy, preprogrammed romance, Married is better suited to Ashton Kutcher, with his one-note goofball adorableness, than Murphy. She plays cute, but her knack is for slower, lower-energy comedy. Here she's like a jet-lagged Reese Witherspoon. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Not engaging

CHICAGO
Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere have a swell time in a musical romp. Cynical and smart. (PG-13)

NARC
Two Detroit cops try to find out who murdered an undercover detective in a gritty thriller. Ray Liotta is a revelation; Jason Patric is almost his match. (R)

THE PIANIST
Adrien Brody is excellent in director Roman Polanski's vivid WWII drama about a Jewish pianist hiding from the Nazis in occupied Warsaw. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.