Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
BY LEAH ROZEN

Critic's Choice HEIST

Years ago, a reader wrote in to complain about a negative review, ending her missive with, "Why can't you just sit back at a movie with a Coke and a smile?" That's exactly what I did, minus the soft drink, at Inside Man. This isn't a perfect movie, but it sure is an enjoyable one. It has dialogue that pops, a tricky plot that'll keep a viewer guessing, and a star performance from Washington—teaming for the fourth time with director Spike Lee—that boasts as much snap as he gives to the brim of his character's snazzy fedora.

Washington plays a New York City police detective assigned to negotiate with a robber (Owen) who, along with three confederates, has taken over a downtown Manhattan bank and is holding 50 employees and customers hostage. It soon becomes clear to the cop that the robbery isn't just about money, particularly after being instructed by the mayor to keep sleekly chic Foster, a fixer for the rich and powerful, clued in about what's happening.

Man has an exceedingly strong sense of place. This is very much a New York movie about New Yorkers. Everyone, including cops, hostages and thieves, has an opinion—about everything. And everyone is either a wiseacre, a kvetcher or working an angle, often all three. ("Can you fix these?" a woman demands of Washington, handing him a bag full of parking tickets before she will agree to help the cops.) Owen makes for a charismatic criminal. In supporting roles, Foster oozes superiority and smarts, while Christopher Plummer, as the bank's chairman, puts the charm in smarm. The movie gets a tad ragged toward the end, but the final scene is a pip, so all is forgiven. (R)

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HEIST

Years ago, a reader wrote in to complain about a negative review, ending her missive with, "Why can't you just sit back at a movie with a Coke and a smile?" That's exactly what I did, minus the soft drink, at Inside Man. This isn't a perfect movie, but it sure is an enjoyable one. It has dialogue that pops, a tricky plot that'll keep a viewer guessing, and a star performance from Washington—teaming for the fourth time with director Spike Lee—that boasts as much snap as he gives to the brim of his character's snazzy fedora.

Washington plays a New York City police detective assigned to negotiate with a robber (Owen) who, along with three confederates, has taken over a downtown Manhattan bank and is holding 50 employees and customers hostage. It soon becomes clear to the cop that the robbery isn't just about money, particularly after being instructed by the mayor to keep sleekly chic Foster, a fixer for the rich and powerful, clued in about what's happening.

Man has an exceedingly strong sense of place. This is very much a New York movie about New Yorkers. Everyone, including cops, hostages and thieves, has an opinion—about everything. And everyone is either a wiseacre, a kvetcher or working an angle, often all three. ("Can you fix these?" a woman demands of Washington, handing him a bag full of parking tickets before she will agree to help the cops.) Owen makes for a charismatic criminal. In supporting roles, Foster oozes superiority and smarts, while Christopher Plummer, as the bank's chairman, puts the charm in smarm. The movie gets a tad ragged toward the end, but the final scene is a pip, so all is forgiven. (R)
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner

DRAMA

Like Jodie Foster, Joseph Gordon-Levitt just may be the real thing, a funny-looking but talented kid star who grows up into a swell-looking, accomplished adult actor. Now 25, the vet of TV's 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001) turns in an impressive performance in Brick, an atmospheric mystery that plays and sounds like an old-fashioned tough-guy detective thriller. The twist: Its slang-slinging characters are mostly high school students living in a California coastal town.

Gordon-Levitt portrays Brendan, a brainy outcast who makes like Humphrey Bogart while spending two frantic days trying to pin down who murdered his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin)—and why. His search brings him into contact with various types, including a rich femme-fatale (Zehetner), a jock (Brian White) and a drug dealer (Lukas Haas). What's refreshing about Brick, written and directed by first-timer Rian Johnson, is that it succeeds like Napoleon Dynamite did in creating its own unique, hermetic world. It's not necessarily a world that you'd want to live in, but it is an intriguing one to visit. (R)

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Jérémie Renier, Déborah François

DRAMA

When it comes to brother acts, the Wachowski siblings own action thrillers and the Farrellys comedy, but no one depicts the bleak lives of Europe's young, dispossessed underclass more movingly than Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian directing duo behind L'Enfant (The Child). This poignant French-language drama, which deservedly won the Golden Palm award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, follows the desperate efforts of a homeless 20-year-old small-time thief (Renier) to recover his newborn baby after he impulsively sells the infant to a black market connection without telling his girlfriend (François). Along the way, he gets an inkling that maybe it's time to grow up. (R)

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King Kong: Special Collector's Edition ($30.98) Director-cowriter Peter Jackson's eye-popping remake of the 1933 mega-gorilla classic is pure movie magic. Best scene: when Kong and Naomi Watts slide on the ice in a pond in New York City's Central Park. Extras: The two-disc set regrettably lacks any audio commentary with Jackson or the cast. There is an amusing faux documentary on Skull Island; a solid real doc on 1930s Manhattan; and Jackson's video diaries, which exhaustively cover every aspect of postproduction from sound dubbing to Kong's Times Square premiere. (PG-13) Movie:

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He's notched a No. 1 comedy album, a top-grossing tour, a TV gig (The WB's Blue Collar TV) and a line of trucker hats with his motto "Git-R-Done." Now Larry the Cable Guy (a.k.a. Dan Lawrence Whitney, 43) brings his blue-collar humor to the big screen with Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. How'd he do it?

1 DEVELOP A CHARACTER Larry is a part of me magnified. I grew up on a farm in Nebraska. All's I did was put on the [Southern] accent thicker.

2 STEP ON THE GAS Listen, I'm not all about farts, but they are hilarious. There are a few [in the movie]. It's about people getting food poisoning. It's kinda hard to avoid.

3 HAVE A FALLBACK JOB If I hadn't ended up doing [comedy], I would have opened my version of Bed Bath & Beyond for guys called Beer, Bed and a Blonde. There's still time.