Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander | PG-13 |

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DRAMA
Juilliard dropout Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) is homeless, schizophrenic and plays on a ratty violin with only two strings, but that doesn't stop him from making beautiful music. When Steve Lopez (Downey), a Los Angeles Times columnist searching for a story, stumbles upon Ayers during a trip through L.A.'s slums, the two strike up a complicated, rewarding relationship.

Sound familiar? It should, and not just because The Soloist is based on a true story (see page 34). The homeless prodigy has become as much a Hollywood cliché as the hooker with a heart of gold, and The Soloist fails to break any new ground. Foxx is adequate in a tough part, but he's no match for Downey—has he ever given a bad performance?—who wisely underplays his role, content to stand back and take everything in just like the smart reporter that Lopez is. He's the film's real soloist. But the rest of the movie, directed with a heavy hand by Joe Wright (Atonement), doesn't follow in Downey's nimble footsteps. Instead, it labors away loudly, and desperately, to win our love.

Documentary | G |

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FOR NATURE LOVERS

Didn't have the time for the BBC's exquisite Planet Earth miniseries? This documentary (from two Planet alums) is an effective, albeit inferior, Cliffs Notes version. Narrated by James Earl Jones, it follows three moms and their babes around the globe: arctic polar bears, elephants in the Kalahari Desert and humpbacked whales migrating 4,000 miles to Antarctica. It's gorgeous—love those purple mountain majesties!—but you get the same rush watching the Discovery Channel.

>• The Party of Five and Mean Girls grad, 26, plays a berserk bride-to-be in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (out May 1).

YOU AREN'T MARRIED. HOW WAS FAKING IT ON FILM? I'm the type of girl who's thought about her wedding since she was 5. It was so much fun to put on the dress and the veil!

HOW DO YOU PICTURE YOUR NUPTIALS? I've always imagined a huge wedding. But after filming this movie and seeing the amount of time put on the details, I can see myself almost eloping.

CAN YOU SEE MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY AS YOUR REAL BROTHER-IN-LAW? No. Women in my family would never leave him alone!

>• The heartthrob star of the street-brawling flick Fighting, 29, weighs in on preparing for the physical role and his blockbuster summer ahead.

YOU'RE ULTRA-BUFF IN THIS FILM! When I'm on, I work really hard—I'll do three-a-day workouts. But as soon as I'm done with a movie, I go for the beer and cheeseburgers. Life is too short to miss out on the beautiful things like a double cheeseburger.

THE SEX SYMBOL GIG IS PRETTY NICE, HUH? It's about as flattering as it gets, but I never know how to deal with it. I'm just really humbled. I won the lottery in so many places in my life.

ANY WEIRD FAN ENCOUNTERS? Everyone always gives me their cell phone to talk to their friend. It's such an awkward conversation—they never know what to say.

YOU ALSO HAVE PUBLIC ENEMIES OUT IN JULY WITH JOHNNY DEPP AND CHRISTIAN BALE. NOT BAD! They're people I've watched since way before I knew what acting was. They're my sort of idols. Working with Christian was such an amazing experience. He was a class act. He takes his job incredibly seriously, and he taught me it's not just fun and games. It's a real craft.

AND YOU GET TO LIVE OUT A BOYHOOD FANTASY IN G.I. JOE THIS AUGUST. I watched G.I. Joe as a kid, and to see Snake Eyes standing next to you—you're just giddy.

>Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, 58—the gifted musician whose struggle with schizophrenia is portrayed by Jamie Foxx in The Soloist—is "as good as he's ever been," says his closest companion, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, 55. Since the two forged an unlikely friendship four years ago, Ayers has traded a life of homelessness and isolation for an apartment and renewed family ties. The one thing that hasn't changed? His passion for music. "He may never take antipsychotic meds, but he has the advantage of music working just like medicine," says Lopez. Watching himself portrayed on the big screen was tough for Ayers—"he sat through it with his eyes closed," says Lopez—but "the movie and his life are celebrations of music."

>In 1978 audiences sobbed through ICE CASTLES, the tale of a talented figure skater who goes blind but with the support of her boyfriend makes her dreams on the ice come true. Was it cheesy? Uh, yeah. (The theme was "Through the Eyes of Love"!) But get the Kleenex ready: A remake is in production and due out in 2010. While fans of the original may miss heartthrob Robby Benson, skating fans will delight in a cameo by Michelle Kwan.