Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson
HISTORICAL DRAMA

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Laurence Olivier used to say that in preparing for a role, he would find his character when he hit upon the right nose. For Thornton, apparently, the key is donning the perfect wig. Playing frontiersman Davy Crockett in this middling would-be epic, Thornton tosses his shoulder-length stringy locks with romantic abandon. The hair is the balancing yin to the yang of Crockett's otherwise sardonic demeanor. Thornton's amused and amusing performance adds welcome humor to an otherwise dour, choppy, cover-all-the-bases movie.

Depicting the brave but doomed last stand in the titular fort of a couple hundred men against a massive Mexican force in San Antonio in 1836, this Alamo will not be remembered as the definitive cinematic version of the famous battle. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), the film labors to bring to life historical figures such as Sam Houston (Quaid, who barks every line), knife-carrying Jim Bowie (Patric, glum as ever) and Lt. Col. William Travis (Wilson), the commanding officer. We learn snippets about each: Houston drank; Bowie had tuberculosis; and Travis was a debtor. The movie is so busy shuffling its large cast on- and offscreen, though, that neither the individual characters nor their greater cause ends up registering much. (PG-13)

Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge
COMEDY

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Just what the world doesn't need: a lousy sequel to a film that was only so-so in the first place. The Whole Ten Yards, a strained comic caper following up on 2000's The Whole Nine Yards, comes up at least five yards short of scoring a touchdown.

Ten reunites Nine's retired hit man Jimmy "the Tulip" Tudeski (Willis) and Oz (Perry), his bumbling dentist pal. There are also the women who love them: a dental assistant turned aspiring hit woman (Peet), who is now wed to Tudeski, and the hired killer's ex-wife (Henstridge), now married to Oz. This time out, all four find themselves the targets of a vengeful crime boss (Kevin Pollak) whose gang Tudeski double-crossed in the first film.

Comedies about hit men, particularly those in which folks actually end up dead, can be dicey, and this one fails miserably. The jokes are wan, the plotting frantic and clumsy. Willis plays his role as if doing shtick on Letterman, Perry huffs and puffs and bangs into doors and Henstridge is merely decorative, which leaves Peet the odd woman out because she's actually trying to act. (PG-13)

Cedric the Entertainer, Vanessa Williams
COMEDY

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It has been seven years since Chevy Chase, as Clark Griswold, last took his movie family on a comically disastrous holiday ('97's Vegas Vacation, their fourth outing). Possibly sensing an opening—tag it the Bumbling Dad with TripTik Planner Gap—Cedric the Entertainer has answered the call. In the modestly funny Family Vacation, he plays Nate Johnson, a hapless dad who packs his brood into the car and drives from L.A. to a family reunion in Missouri. En route, he bonds with his rap-loving son (Bow Wow), earns points with his fashion-victim daughter (Solange Knowles, Beyoncé's younger sister), spoils his youngest kid (Gabby Soleil) and reconciles with his estranged wife (Williams) while learning to respect her career ambitions. This is sitcom material, though it's pleasant enough if one isn't looking for the Vacation of a lifetime. (PG-13)

Ella Enchanted

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The Princess Diaries' Anne Hathaway (above) shows again that she has that charming touch when it comes to playing regal characters, but here she's mired in a weak comic Cinderella takeoff. Preteen girls will likely adore Ella, but anyone older will yawn.(PG)

The Girl Next Door

    



Despicable, inept comedy about a sweetie-pie high-school senior (Emile Hirsch) who falls for a porn star (Elisha Cuthbert). Risky Business this isn't. (R)

The Rock

ON PLAYING A VIGILANTE My character is pushed to violence in a very justifiable way. I appreciate the reluctant hero, like [the ones played by] Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood. Clint is my favorite all-time actor—I'd love to work with him someday.

ON FAMILY LIFE My wife [Dany, 35, who runs a private investment fund] is very aggressive. I'm also a fairly aggressive guy, so we're a good combination. She and [2-year-old daughter] Simone bring out my tender side. But I don't really do diapers.

ON MAKING HIS CHARECTER INTERNATIONAL Growing up, everyone wanted to know what I was. My mom is Samoan, my dad is black. I remember sitting in a meeting with the Walking Tall writers and the question came up, what are my character's parents going to look like? In the movie, my mom, she's white, my dad, he's black. For me, that's America.

ON THE GETTING TAGGED "THE NEXT SCHWARZENEGGER" The passing-the-torch thing comes up a lot. It was never my goal to be the next Arnold. I talk to him all the time. A long time ago he told me, "Just keep working hard and it'll happen." I follow politics, but I don't see myself doing that. I don't know if I'm a Democrat or a Republican.

ON HIS WRESTING PERSONA The Rock is Dwayne Johnson with the volume turned all the way up. The ring is my stage. I love going back. You can't replicate the energy of 30,000 people anywhere. I can do anything—sing, break out the guitar—and then there's the opportunity to kick a little ass too.

2003 was a banner year for films featuring strong female characters, but so far this year, multiplexes have returned to their usual male-dominated fare. Fortunately powerful women reign supreme in these new DVD releases.

Panic Room (2002, $39.95)

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Jodie Foster redefines homeland security in this taut thriller, even more claustrophobic on the small screen. Extras: The immersing three-disc set boasts three enlightening commentaries, including one by Foster, and superb documentaries on every aspect of production. (R)

A League of Their Own (1992, $24.96)

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Who said there's no crying in baseball? Director Penny Marshall's winning look at the All-American Girls Baseball League still elicits both tears and laughs. Extras: A documentary packed with fascinating trivia (some cast members got concussions practicing base-sliding on a Slip 'N Slide); unusually strong deleted scenes, which reveal a romantic subplot between Geena Davis and Tom Hanks. (PG)

Something's Gotta Give (2003, $28.95)

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Diane Keaton received an Oscar nomination for her vibrant turn as a fiftysomething playwright who falls for her daughter's aging beau (Jack Nicholson). Extras: Nicholson sings karaoke in a sweet deleted scene and discusses his acting process in an engrossing commentary; Keaton offers up only innocuous observations in a fleeting appearance on a second track. (PG-13)

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003, $29.99)

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Uma Thurman slices and dices in director Quentin Tarantino's gloriously giddy—and bloody—return (Volume 2 hits theaters April 16). Extras: Instead of detailing Bill's breathtaking anime and fight scenes, Tarantino prattles about "test[ing] the limits of my talent" in a featurette. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Sona Charaipotra,
  • Jason Lynch.