COMEDY

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis

CRITIC'S CHOICE
[STARS 3]

Shaun is so used to the human detritus that's part of day-to-day urban life that when zombies start stumbling around his North London neighborhood, he assumes they're homeless, loony, drunk or all three. It is only after two zombies try to break into his house that Shaun (Pegg), a 29-year-old slacker, and his loutish flatmate Ed (Frost) finally look up from their video games to notice that something's amiss.

Shaun of the Dead—the title spoofs Dawn of the Dead, the classic 1978 cheapie chiller remade earlier this year—cheerily lampoons zombie flicks (why do the undead always lurch along as if they'd just had electric shock treament?) while paying fond obeisance to their conventions. And it's ever so British; even as Shaun is braining zombies with a cricket bat—the only way to stop them is by decapitation or a forceful blow to the head—he still finds time to pop 'round to Mum's for a cup of tea. Pegg, who cowrote Shaun with director Edgar Wright (the two earlier teamed on Spaced, a popular English sitcom), shows off expert timing, whacking punchlines and zombies with equal panache. (R)

SUSPENSE

Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Alfre Woodard, Gary Sinise, Linus Roache

[STARS 2]

Where are agents Mulder and Scully when you need 'em? The two X-Filers would get to the bottom of what's going on in this middling thriller a lot faster than anyone onscreen. Moore plays Telly, a mother in Brooklyn still grieving for her 9-year-old son, who died in a plane crash on his way to camp 14 months ago. One day all pictures of her beloved boy disappear from her house, along with any other evidence of his existence. Her husband (Anthony Edwards) sadly tells her that she never had a son, that she has made up the entire tragedy. She gets the same story from her shrink (Sinise) and everyone else she confronts. Did they all drink the same Kool-Aid or is she nuts? "It's not me," Telly vows. "I'm not insane."

For the first half The Forgotten cruises along, buoyed by its intriguing premise and Moore's fierce performance. But then, as logic goes out the window and supernatural elements waft in, director Joseph Ruben (Money Train) allows Forgotten to lose momentum and turn both mushy-headed and mushy. Sure, there are a few solid scares here, but nothing that'll have you covering your eyes. West (HBO's The Wire), playing a sympathetic father who also lost a child, makes for a low-charisma leading man, while Sinise is underused as a doctor who may know more than he's letting on. (PG-13)

ROMANTIC COMEDY

Katie Holmes, Mark Blucas

[STARS 2]

A show of hands, please, by all those who remember Chasing Liberty. Anybody? That was the teen comedy that came out last January starring Mandy Moore as a President's rebellious teenage daughter. The similarly plotted First Daughter, while better acted and boasting a soupcon more depth to its characters, is still nothing to write home to the White House about.

This time it's an election year, and Samantha (Holmes, of TV's Dawson's Creek), the Prez's sheltered only child, heads off to college in California. There she flexes her wings a bit, drinking, dancing on bar tops and falling for the resident assistant (Blucas) on her dorm floor. A displeased Dad (Michael Keaton, a long way from Batman) and Mom (Margaret Colin) try to rein her in. Her high jinks are innocuous stuff. So is the movie. As played by Holmes, Sam is such an obviously sensible and intelligent young woman, you know she'd never stray too far. (PG)

COMEDY

Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Joan Cusack, Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub

[STARS 3]

No one is immune from the lure of Hollywood. That's the joke at the big heart of this enjoyable tale of what happens when the FBI enters the movie business as part of a sting operation to nab a mobster. Loosely based on a true story, the film has a veteran FBI agent (Baldwin) pose as a Hollywood producer. Soon he is so caught up in the glamor and creative challenges of putting together a low-budget movie that he nearly loses sight of his real purpose.

Directed by a first-timer, Jeff Nathanson (a screenwriter on Rush Hour and Catch Me If You Can), The Last Shot is a shaggy little picture that deserves to find an audience. It is clever, funny and full of droll performances. Particularly notable are Broderick as a fledgling director convinced he is finally getting his big break and Collette as a self-dramatizing diva who lands the sham film's starring role. (R)

A Dirty Shame

[STARS 1]

Director John Waters's latest campy scandle is about a Baltimore neighborhood overrun by sexual fetishists, It's awful: lots of farcical energy, wriggling bodies and carnal hooting. Like a triple-X Benny Hill. (NC-17)

Infernal Affairs

[STARS 3]

In a complex police thriller from Hong Kong, a dedicated cop (Tony Leung) goes deep undercover as a gangster at the same time that a gangster (Andy Lau) infiltrates the cops. Which one will be exposed first? This psychological crime drama is a nail-biter, right to its emotionally potent end. (R)

Red Lights

[STARS 3]

A mousy Parisian bureaucrat, driving to the country with his hotshot lawyer wife, decides to go on an alcoholic bender en route. He winds up with a fugitive for a passenger. A superlative thriller, quietly sinister and, against all odds, quietly moving. (Not rated)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen.