Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt

BY LEAH ROZEN

THRILLER

D is for deep, which V for Vendetta is not—though it strains mightily to be. A futuristic political thriller, the movie wants to have its action sequences and make audiences ponder the nature of terrorism and totalitarian governments. It's akin to trying to ride a speeding roller coaster while paging through Orwell's 1984.

Vendetta is set in the near future in an England ruled by a repressive regime that exploits its citizens' fears of terrorist attacks. (Don't expect V to score an A with the Bush Administration.) Evey (Portman), our heroine, comes under the sway of V (Weaving), a mysterious masked man planning to blow up Parliament.

Written by The Matrix's Andy and Larry Wachowski (based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore) and directed by James McTeigue, Vendetta's insurmountable problem is the unchanging mask (a grinning visage of 17th-century British extremist Guy Fawkes) that Weaving wears throughout. It leaves Portman—though she's impressive—with nothing to play against except a shiny plastic facade. (R)

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Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Katie Holmes

CRITIC'S CHOICE

COMEDY

Nick Naylor is about as self-confident as a fellow can get. "You know that guy who can pick up any girl?" he asks. "I'm him on crack."

Nick (Eckhart) is a smooth-tongued operator who suffers no guilt over being a lobbyist for cigarette companies. He is the hero, or antihero if you will, of Thank You for Smoking, a clever comedy that turns a knowing eye on the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., Hollywood and corporate America. It's only when Nick takes his young son along on a business trip that he begins to feel the slightest, barely discernible twinge of conscience about his job.

Writer-director Jason Reitman, who based his script on a novel by Christopher Buckley, has made a hilariously snarky, fast-moving film. Eckhart is perfect as the blow-dried influence peddler, while Holmes displays a smarmy charm as a duplicitous reporter who romances Nick. (R)

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Vin Diesel, Linus Roache

DRAMA

Tony Soprano isn't the only New Jersey mobster with a sense of humor and a fierce pride. Meet Giacomo DiNorscio (Diesel), known as "Jackie Dee" to both his fellow gangsters and the U.S. prosecutors determined to take him down. Find Me Guilty, based on actual transcripts from the longest criminal trial ever (21 months during 1987-88), shows how Jackie, an already convicted felon, fared when he opted to act as his own lawyer. His line of defense: "I'm no gangster, I'm a gagster."

While it's amusing to watch the often likable Jackie charm the jurors with his comedy routines and drive the district attorney (Roache) nuts, Guilty never pretends that he isn't a scary guy. Which is why the jury's final verdict, which affects not just Jackie but 19 other members of the Lucchese family being tried along with him, is all the more shocking. Veteran director Sidney Lumet (Critical Care) coaxes a canny performance out of Diesel, who shows more acting muscle here than he ever did in XXX or The Pacifier. And Annabella Sciorra has a brief but scorching cameo as Jackie's bitter ex. (R)

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Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum

COMEDY

It's not necessary to brush up on your Shakespeare to enjoy this feisty teen comedy, though a passing familiarity with the Bard's Twelfth Night certainly helps. Very loosely adapted from that play, She's the Man has Viola Hastings (Bynes) passing herself off as her twin brother at Illyria Prep, a boarding school, so that she can play on the boy's soccer team. The rub: Viola falls for her hunky roommate (Tatum).

Bynes exhibits a flair for physical comedy, nailing the faux toughness of adolescent boys. When called upon to really emote, however, she never digs deeper than the correct facial expression. (PG-13)

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Don't Come Knocking
A craggy cowboy (Sam Shepard) flies on horseback through the desert. The camera pulls back to reveal a film set; our cowboy is a western star gone AWOL. That's the brilliant opener for a shaggy comic drama directed by Wim Wenders and written by Shepard. Don't will either charm you with its laconic loopiness or leave you bored. Jessica Lange and Eva Marie Saint costar. (R)

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The Shaggy Dog
As a dad who turns into a dog, Tim Allen paws his way to laughs in a family film. (PG)

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Capote ($28.95) Most actors playing Truman Capote would have been content to simply master his southern-accented, baby-talk whine and call it a day. But that's just a jumping-off point for Philip Seymour Hoffman and his spellbinding, pathos-soaked portrayal of the author, who lost his soul—piece by devastating piece—while writing his final masterpiece, In Cold Blood. Extras: A featurette on the real Capote is worth a look, but the best stuff spotlights Oscar-winner Hoffman: A making-of doc illuminates his acting nuances and a revealing commentary features the actor discussing how he struggled mightily with the role throughout the first week of shooting before finding his way. (R)

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The Squid and the Whale ($26.96) Writer-director Noah Baumbach draws on his own childhood for this quirky gem of a tale about a family coping with divorce in '80s Brooklyn. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are their usual brilliant selves, but the real revelation here is Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) as their conflicted 12-year-old. Extras: Skip the mind-numbing, esoteric New York Film Festival Q&A with Baumbach, who saves all the fascinating stories for his commentary. (R) Movie:

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Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story ($19.95) This Seabiscuit-lite tale of a girl (Dakota Fanning) who helps resuscitate the career of an injured filly has a big heart, albeit one that beats sporadically until the second half. Extras: Largely for young horse lovers, including a look at the real-life filly that inspired the film and a primer on horse grooming (don't forget the mane conditioner!). (PG)
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