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•THE SANTA CLAUSE III: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE (PG) Tim Allen once more dons the white beard and red felt as a regular guy who takes to his newfound career as Kris Kringle. In this outing, Santa invites his new in-laws (Ann-Margaret and Alan Arkin) to the North Pole at the same time as Jack Frost (Martin Short) attempts a hostile takeover. It sounds sort of like a cross between Meet the Fockers and "Mr. Cold Miser."
•SAW III (R) Like watching the leaves turn color and fall to the ground, the release of the latest Saw film in late October has become an annual autumn tradition. In the third installment, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) introduces an apprentice to his dismembering mind games.
•SHORTBUS 2 stars. (NR) Beware directors who say they're going to make the definitive sex movie. With just one (albeit an exceptional one) film under his belt, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell feels it's time to tackle porno-quality sex married to an actual art-house story. The explicit sex is frank, all right – much of it placed front and center in the film's introduction – but is tied to a corny, shallow story about sexy New Yorkers having a hard time in bed. Mitchell suggests post-Sept. 11 angst is to blame, but cardboard characters and dialogue out of a '60s encounter session just might be the real problem. – Feaster
•SHUT UP AND SING (NR) This documentary blends performance footage and behind-the-scenes sequences to recount the firestorm that surrounded country music stars the Dixie Chicks following singer Natalie Maines' criticism of President Bush during a 2003 concert.
•STRANGER THAN FICTION 3 stars. (PG-13) Dull IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) learns that he has inadvertently become the lead character in a book being written by reclusive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Despite the innovative premise, this never matches the existential, mind-bending depths of, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and remains resolutely mainstream, with flights of fancy that lightly tickle the brain but never really challenge it. The upside is that this allows a love story to take root amid the high concept, and as enacted by Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal (playing a baker who awakens Harold's dormant passions), it's both charming and disarming. – Matt Brunson
•TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY 2 stars. (R) Jack Black and Kyle Gass bring their hilarious, "heavy acoustic" comedy duo, Tenacious D, to the big screen with frustrating results. As Black and Gass's deluded, open-mic-night losers embark on a quest to find a black magic guitar pick, The Pick of Destiny seems to have everything going for it, including hilariously overwrought songs, Tarot-style animated titles and cameos from Sasquatch, Satan and Tim Robbins. Rather than hit the raunchy heights of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, however, director Liam Lynch achieves no better than the level of an old Cheech and Chong movie, and watching the film's weak comedic timing is like seeing a great live act diminished by feedback distortion. – Holman
•THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED 3 stars. (NR) Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick takes aim at the secrecy and de facto censorship practices of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which gives American movies their ratings from "G" through "NC-17." The film raises provocative questions about "acceptable content" when it reveals the MPAA's bias toward the major studios and independent filmmakers, and toward gory violence over realistic sexuality. Dick's decisions to hire a private investigator, literally root through garbage and reveal the MPAA's raters on camera raise myriad ethical red flags, but undeniably make for compelling viewing, particularly when he submits his work-in-progress to the MPAA. – Holman
•UNKNOWN (R) Five men awaken in a locked warehouse with no memories of who they are in this thriller whose plot suggests Reservoir Dogs by way of Saw. Directed by Simon Brand and starring James Caviezel, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper and Greg Kinnear
•WRESTLING WITH ANGELS 4 stars. (Not rated) Freida Lee Mock's (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) documentary offers a modest but revealing portrait of the gay, socialist, activist, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America). Following Kushner from Sept. 11 to the 2004 presidential election, Mock captures the endearingly down-to-earth playwright in personal moments, celebrating his father's 80th birthday in Kushner's hometown of Lake Charles, La., or delivering an impassioned speech at a pre-Iraq invasion antiwar rally in his home base of Manhattan. It is hard not to respect a man who so passionately interweaves his political beliefs with a great compassion and empathy for the human condition. – Feaster