George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack R |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

THRILLER

Weary, bleary corporate fixer Michael Clayton (Clooney) pulls his car to the side of the road and gets out to admire horses grazing serenely in a field. Behind him, the automobile suddenly blows up and he takes off running. Talk about starting a movie with a bang.

When friends ask if there's anything for grown-ups to see at the multiplex these days, I'll be recommending Clayton, a smart thriller that sets your heart pumping and your mind racing. After that jarring early scene, the movie rewinds to four days earlier, with Clayton on the job at an elite Manhattan law firm. There the one-time prosecutor works as a self-described "janitor," cleaning up messes by knowing who to call and pay off. It's one of these messes—involving a colleague (Wilkinson) and a corporate client accused of peddling a toxic weed killer—that soon puts Clayton's own skin at risk.

Screenwriter Tony Gilroy (all three Bourne films) makes a remarkably sure-handed directing debut here. And Clooney gives as sharp a performance as he has ever given—no small compliment—portraying a man who comes to understand that he may be battling not only for his life but, more importantly, his soul.

Martin Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Penélope Cruz | R |

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COMEDY

Whatever mean things Paltrow may have done—and I'm not saying she did—to younger brother Jake when they were kids, she has more than paid her debt by appearing in this feeble comedy, which he wrote and directed. Put bluntly, The Good Night is a bad movie, wasting the talents of Paltrow and other swell actors. Paltrow plays the morose girlfriend of Gary (Freeman), a jingle writer obsessed with sleeping because it's in a shut-eye state that he dallies nightly with Anna (Cruz), his literal dream girl. There's so little dramatic drive or real laughs here that taking a good nap during Good will cause you to miss nothing.

What's it like to play the wife from hell in The Heartbreak Kid? The Swedish-Canadian actress, 29, tells all.

OKAY, HOW CRAZY IS BEN STILLER? He's sweet and gentle. We had amazing conversations about life.

YOU PLAY A JILTED WIFE. EVER BEEN DUMPED? Of course! Everyone's felt [heartbreak], whether it's big or just a little bit crushing.

YOU'RE MARRIED TO MUSICIAN ROBERTO ZINCONE. WHAT'S THE BEST PART? It's nice to say "husband."

NEXT YOU'RE IN 27 DRESSES WITH KATHERINE HEIGL. DISH. She's got a dirty mouth on her that you would not believe!

He's Hollywood royalty (mom: Talia Shire; uncle: Francis Ford Coppola; cousins: Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola), but Jason Schwartzman, 27, is making his own way as cowriter and costar of The Darjeeling Limited alongside Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody.

DID YOU EVER GO ON EXOTIC FAMILY TRIPS? We went to Venice when I was 3. I just remember being naked with a hat on. And I was just at the Venice Film Festival thinking, "God, last time I was here, I was wearing my birthday suit."

BACK THEN, DID YOU REALIZE YOUR MOM WAS FAMOUS? People would make a big deal about her and it was actually exciting for me. She was thankful but she's private. I'd say, "They love you!" and she'd be like, "I just want to be alone with you. We're having dinner!"

HOW WAS WORKING WITH OWEN AND ADRIEN? We were like brothers. After a long day's work there'd be a knock at my door, and it'd be Owen. He'd just come in and hang out and then the two of us would go to [director Wes Anderson's] room and hang out in there. We always preferred to be together.

YOU MUST MISS HIM. If he was here right now he'd be way funnier than me! You'll meet him at some point. And when you do, you'll love him.

It's a mawkish, obvious family comedy, but Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson scored a No. 1 hit with The Game Plan. Why? Pairing a macho star with a cute kid or kids often equals box office gold. Before The Rock pulled on ballet tights in Plan, there was Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Vin Diesel as a Navy SEAL turned babysitter in The Pacifier. The formula isn't foolproof; though Hulk Hogan donned a pink tutu, few bothered to catch the ex-pro wrestler (The Rock of his era) in the dopey Mr. Nanny (1993).