Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Ruby Dee, Josh Brolin R |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

CRIME

You don't need an MBA degree to appreciate American Gangster. This entertaining true-life crime thriller vividly shows how, by applying capitalism's basic principles, Frank Lucas (Washington) came to dominate the New York City heroin trade in the late 1960s and early '70s. He sold a superior product—a purer grade of dope—for less money, making up in volume what he sacrificed in price. Oh, and he personally whacked his cheating rivals.

Gangster is built on such irony. Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) establishes that this shrewd businessman has all the qualities—drive, determination, devotion to family—one usually associates with a hero. Lucas loves his wife, escorts his mom (Dee) to church on Sundays and finds jobs for his five brothers in his fast-growing business. In contrast, the personal life of hot-tempered Richie Roberts (Crowe), the incorruptible cop who eventually nails Lucas, is a shambles.

Even with a running time of 2 1/2 hours, Gangster moves at a fast clip, helped by dynamic turns from Washington, all calm determination, and Crowe, all hair-trigger emotion. As their parallel stories unfold and their paths inevitably cross, the movie gains force and complexity as it becomes clear that, at their core, these two are not as fundamentally different as they may seem. The better man? Your call.

Voices by Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Chris Rock | PG |

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ANIMATED

Unlike his legendary self-titled sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie is actually about something. There's plot to spare in this computer-animated family comedy about Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld, who also cowrote the film), a busy worker bee who, having graduated from college, longs to see the world. He ventures to Manhattan, where he falls for Vanessa (Zellweger), a florist who's human and about 200 times his size. Next, our winged hero discovers to his horror that humans are "stealing" honey from bees and goes to court to rectify this wrong. And there's still another third of the movie to go!

Much of Bee is gently funny, the vocal performances are distinctive and the digital animation glistens, but in the end the characters and story lack—wait for it—sting. That said, Fred, my 7-year-old consultant on kids' films and an ardent Seinfeld fan, loved it, saying, "It was like school—I learned law stuff—but it's a great movie too."

John Cusack, Bobby Coleman, Amanda Peet, Sophie Okonedo| PG |

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DRAMA

A recently widowed sci-fi writer (Cusack) adopts an emotionally disturbed orphan (Coleman) who claims he's from Mars. In the boy, the writer recognizes the alienation he himself felt as a child, only magnified. If he just loves and supports the kid, will the boy accept that he's a human? Martian Child means well, but it takes an excessively whimsical, rose-colored glasses view of the problems that truly troubled kids face. If only it were really this easy.

Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon | R |

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COMEDY

A deserved hit at 2006's Sundance Film Festival, this quirky comedy is finally opening in theaters. A wan young man (Fugit), who slashes his wrists over love woes, wakes up in a purgatory reserved for suicides. The place is just like life (you can get pizza delivered), only drearier. How he survives there—making friends and even finding a degree of happiness—is, doggone it, almost life-affirming.

• The actress, 42, bares all in the thriller Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

WOW, YOU HAVE SEVERAL NUDE SCENES! I'm getting older, and it was now or never. There is an ease with growing up, feeling more comfortable in your own skin and caring less what other people think.

STILL, THAT OPENING SEX SCENE IS PRETTY EXPLICIT. On-set I was a little faint—I hadn't really eaten in two days because I had some ridiculous panic!

WILL YOUR FAMILY BE WATCHING THE FILM? It will be a toss-up: They want to support me, but I don't know if they want to put themselves through that. It's embarrassing having your family watch that!

Thirteen years after playing Simba in The Lion King, Matthew Broderick, 45, gets animated once again, as the voice of straitlaced bee Adam Flayman alongside friend Jerry Seinfeld in Bee Movie.

DID YOUR PAL JERRY SEINFELD MAKE YOU AUDITION FOR THE PART? Jerry saw me on a David Letterman interview, and I remember him saying he thought I was funny and that's what he wanted. Then he called me and said, "You're the guy."

YOU PLAY A CONFORMIST BEE. DID YOU RELATE? It's very scary to try something new. I've never wanted to do what everyone else is doing, but I have that side in me.

WHAT DID YOUR SON JAMES WILKIE, 5, THINK OF THE FILM? He seemed to get very into the story. He forgot that it was me. He related to Jerry's character and knew which one I was but didn't seem particularly interested that I had recorded it.

YOU AND WIFE SARAH JESSICA PARKER ARE FRIENDS WITH THE SEINFELD FAMILY. DOES JAMES WILKIE PLAY WITH HIS KIDS? Yes! They play together a lot, particularly in the summer because we live near each other in Amagansett [N.Y.].

GOT ANY DISH ON THE SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE THAT SARAH JESSICA IS FILMING? My wife is very happy doing it, but I don't know much else.