Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Martine McCutcheon, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy
ROMANTIC COMEDY
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Forget about stiff upper lips. Though very British, this irresistible ensemble comedy will easily coax full-sized grins of enjoyment from viewers. Love Actually works on the hopeful premise that, as the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show used to promise, love is all around. The key for the dozen or so main characters here—and, by suggestion, the rest of us—is in recognizing the emotion and latching onto it in all its sundry forms.

Written and directed by the talented Richard Curtis, Love is very much in keeping with the sophisticated mood and sympathetic wit of his earlier scripts for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary. The film's tangentially overlapping stories, set mostly in London, take place over the five weeks leading to Christmas, during which various characters' hearts are broken, mended or set a-thumping. A newly elected bachelor Prime Minister (Grant) finds himself ineluctably drawn to the vivacious Natalie (McCutcheon), a member of his serving staff. The P.M.'s sister (Thompson) suspects her husband (Rickman) may be straying. A recently widowed friend of hers (Neeson) must connect with his young stepson. And a new bride (Knightley) discovers that her husband's best friend is harboring a secret crush.

The acting by a strong cast sparkles, with Grant and Nighy (playing an aging rocker) hitting exuberant comic highs, and Thompson and Linney (as an office worker who is pining for a colleague) pulling at heartstrings. Arriving early for Christmas, Love is a perfect gift. (R)

Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel
COMEDY

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Since infancy Buddy (Ferrell) has been raised by elves at the North Pole. Though three times the size of his playmates and inept at toy-making, it is not until age 30 that the less-than-swift Buddy realizes he is not elfin but human. He learns that his real mother is dead but his father (Caan) is alive and working in the Empire State Building. With all the optimism of Voltaire's Candide, Buddy sets off to reunite with Dad. He quickly finds that life in the Big Apple has its hazards (cabs, in particular, keep plowing into him), but Buddy is so darned cheerful and filled with the Christmas spirit that he soon overcomes all obstacles and wins over all doubters.

It would be Scrooge-like to say mean things about the innocuous Elf, so I'll just point out that director Jon Favreau's film rarely reaches its full comic potential, especially with its lackluster ending. Easily entertained kids and adolescents, however, will eat this up. More discerning adults will note that Ferrell overplays his sweet, almost fey simpleton; he reminds one at times of a huskier version of Pauly Shore. Caan sleep-walks, as well he might, through the no-brainer role of Buddy's churlish father. (PG)

Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving
SCI-FI

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In the same way that it's often obvious a relationship is going nowhere by that dismal third date, so it is clear with this third chapter that the Matrix saga is played out. Which is a polite way of saying that The Matrix Revolutions is a downright bore for anyone but total Matrix geeks (you know who you are).

This promised final Matrix, again directed and written by the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, takes itself entirely too seriously. Its characters, almost all returnees from the first (1999) Matrix or last summer's Matrix Reloaded, prattle on about love, faith and saving Zion (their homeland) as if delivering a Sunday sermon—the kind that puts people to sleep in the pews. It's once more up to Neo (Reeves, impressively wooden as ever) to keep Zion free from the antagonistic Machines. Coming to his aid are his lady love (Moss) and the kindly Oracle (Mary Alice, subbing for the late Gloria Foster).

It's all beyond silly. The been-there/done-that action scenes—particularly those involving the Machines' army of attacking Sentinels, which look like metal octopi—are special effects wonders, but so what? The soul has gone out of this machine. (R)

Movie sequels arrived fast and furiously last summer, resulting in box office gridlock. Some you might have missed are now out on DVD—including one with a bonus feature that delivers more laughs than the big-screen version.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Columbia TriStar, $27.94)

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Drew, Cameron and Lucy, along with Angel-gone-bad Demi Moore, manage to over-the-top the first Angels flick while jettisoning much of its giddy fun. Also available in an unrated version, with extra violence and blood-spitting.

Extras: Fun, quirky trivia that runs as a subtitle track; revealing commentary from the three writers, who admit that even they can't follow the plot. (Unrated and PG-13)

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (MGM, $27.98)

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Reese Witherspoon's return as Elle Woods, battling animal testing in D.C., lacks the original's style and wit.

Extras: Uproarious commentary from Jennifer Coolidge and the supporting cast, who substitute new dialogue and lampoon the movie's frequent silly plot twists, transforms this bland Blonde into one of the year's funniest films. (PG-13)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Warner, $29.95)

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is back—this time facing off against a female Terminator—for a fast-paced, suspenseful sequel that proves a worthy addition to the groundbreaking Terminator series.

Extras: Commentary in which the future Governor of California frets about his nude scene; a funny deleted scene in which Schwarzenegger speaks in a dubbed Southern accent; a second disc containing informative documentaries about T3's amazing stunts and visual effects. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Jason Lynch.