Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst
CRIME CAPER
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Tom Hanks, usually the least showy of thespians, acts up a comic storm here and takes obvious, almost lip-licking delight in doing so. To observe Hanks, as a con man masquerading as a learned professor, natter on in an exaggerated drawl about playing "ray-naaahy-saahnze" music on period instruments is to savor the appeal of this offbeat comedy that is in the quirky details rather than the big picture.

The Ladykillers, cowritten and co-directed by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), is a remake of a classic 1955 British comedy starring Alec Guinness. The story, deftly transplanted from London to rural Mississippi, is in its broad outlines the same: The "professor" and an inept gang of thieves (Wayans, Simmons, Ma and Hurst) use an elderly widow's house as headquarters to plot and carry out a robbery. When the old gal (Hall, who manages to steal scenes even from Hanks) gets wise to the scheme, the gang bungles multiple attempts to kill her.

The Coens are coasting in low gear, satisfied to pull off a Rube Goldberg slapstick scene or impress with a unique camera angle (the point-of-view shots from within a football helmet are a hoot). They have naught invested in their characters. That said, even an appetizer from the Coens is still tastier than a full meal from most filmmakers. And Ladykillers' gospel soundtrack is as toe-tappingly irresistible as the roots music of O Brother's was. (R)

Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Raquel Castro, George Carlin, Jennifer Lopez
ROMANTIC COMEDY

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Remember Baby Boom, the delightful 1987 movie in which Diane Keaton's yuppie single gal became a better person after taking on parenting duties for an infant girl? Jersey Girl is a saccharine copy, with Ben Affleck parading his sensitive side in the Keaton role. He's a pushy Manhattan publicist who, in short order, loses his wife (Lopez) to childbirth and then his job. He moves back to New Jersey with his barfly dad (Carlin) and wastes years moping over his fate and new job as a garbage man. (What, there are no PR jobs in Jersey?) Finally his daughter (Castro), now a precocious-verging-on-obnoxious 7-year-old, steers him straight. Affleck is better than he has been in his recent action roles, and Tyler is likable as a new gal in his life. But this kind of treacle gives sugar a bad name. (PG-13)

Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany
DRAMA

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The latest from bad-boy Danish director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), Dogville will have audiences scratching their heads, wondering, "What does it all mean?" That is, if they make it through this nearly three-hour marathon in which actors stomp around on a close-to-bare soundstage with chalked-in outlines of rooms as they debate the meaning of life, freedom, democracy and mercy. A summer popcorn movie this is not.

The story, such as it is, involves a gangster's moll (Kidman) who, in the 1930s, escapes to a small Rocky Mountain town where the residents treat her kindly but later turn on her, forcing her into servitude and sexual slavery. She shows forbearance, but then—in a darkly funny, fiery finale—turns on them. It's like Our Town written in acid by Brecht. Von Trier seems to be criticizing the U.S. for being hypocritical, but mostly he just wants to provoke. Dogville is equal parts entertaining, infuriating and snooze-inducing. Never boring, though, is a resplendent Kidman, who gives her every scene a visceral kick. (R)

Cillian Murphy

Ireland's Cillian Murphy, 27, hops from the horror hit 28 Days Later to Intermission, a new comedy.

ON COMPARISONS TO INTERMISSION COSTAR AND PAL COLIN FARRELL We were living in Dublin when we started off, and we started going out drinking. I'm proud of what he's done, but I don't consider myself the next anybody. I haven't established myself as me. How could I be anybody else?

ON 28 DAYS' SURPRISE SUCCESS People were feeling anxious: Sept. 11, SARS, air rage. Audiences understood it as a zombie film and also that it was dealing with other issues.

ON HOW TO THROW UP ONSCREEN Cold soup. And you have the obligatory diced carrot in there. You have it in your mouth, and then you don't.

ON DECORATING FROM THE DUMPSTER Not all my flat is furnished secondhand. The washing machine is new. I locked myself out twice lifting it up the stairs.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip

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An intriguing but ultimately sad documentary about Rodney Bingenheimer, a longtime rock deejay in L.A. who lives to serve the famous. (R)

Ned Kelly

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A legendary figure in Australia, Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) was a criminal turned folk hero, clad in homemade armor, who battled it out against police in the late 1800s. This sympathetic version of his life portrays Kelly more as put-upon Robin Hood than desperado but fails to stir much interest. A glowering Orlando Bloom appears as a member of his gang, and Naomi Watts plays a rich married lady with whom Kelly enjoys a quick tumble. (R)

Never Die Alone

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A stylishly shot urban gangster drama, Die chronicles the rise and fall of a drug dealer (rapper DMX) who pushes heroin and mistreats girlfriends in New York City and L.A. While director Ernest Dickerson (Bones) gives the movie lots of energy and a gritty beauty, in the end it's a familiar tale. Barbershop's Michael Ealy is affecting as a young man with a secret but disappears for a large chunk of the film. (R)

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

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Another round of ghost-busting with the kids and their computer-animated hound. Marginally better than the first, mostly because Freddie Prinze Jr. has let his hair grow out and it's a good look for him. (PG)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Courtney Rubin.