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THE INVENTION OF LYING 3 stars (PG-13) On an alternate world that knows no deceit or falsehood, underachieving screenwriter Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) discovers the ability to lie and turns society upside down. Gervais and co-writer/co-director Matthew Robinson take the premise to fascinating lengths when the biblically named Mark describes an afterlife and implies that organized religion is a lie. Unfortunately, the film backs off from its more provocative ideas and contorts its concept to create rom-com complications for Mark and his true love (Jennifer Garner). Still, its funny lines, big ideas and parade of amusing cameos make Lying one of the year's most interesting comedies. Honest. — Holman
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN 3 stars (R) After home invaders kill his wife and daughter, “tinkerer” Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) exacts revenge on Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, particularly district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who cut a deal to give a sleazy killer a light sentence. If you like films with inventive “kills” but are too embarrassed to see theSaw series, Law Abiding Citizen puts a thin veneer of respectability over the bloodshed. It’s hard to care very much about Foxx’s crises of conscience, but Butler makes a fine villain, less like Charles Bronson in Death Wish than The Joker in The Dark Knight. — Holman
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS 2 stars (R) A newspaper reporter (Ewan McGregor) discovers that a would-be Iraq occupation contractor (George Clooney) claims to be a former "psychic soldier" trained by the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion. Inspired by Jon Ronson's nonfiction book about the First Earth Battalion, The Men Who Stare at Goats combines sight gags about tough soldiers failing to run through walls with heavy-handed satire about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Clooney gives a witty, poker-faced performance — you're never sure exactly what his character believes — but McGregor seems to have been cast as an inside joke based on the film's discussion of "Jedi warriors." — Holman
THE MESSENGER 3 stars (R) In this uneven but respectful drama, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson play members of the U.S. Army’s casualty notification team, tasked with informing the next of kind of their loved ones’ deaths in action. Reversing the usual perspective of the “we regret to inform you” scene, The Messenger’s cast proves equal to the fraught emotions at play, particularly Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton as two bereaved civilians. Director Oren Moverman seems to be a student of Hal Ashby’s excellent 1970s films The Last Detail andComing Home, although the film’s last act, by focusing on the two soldiers’ psychology, slows down to a crawl. — Holman
NINJA ASSASSIN (R) V for Vendetta director James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) present this martial arts film about a hitman (Rain) out for revenge. It sounds like the kind of film that should be an adaptation of a video game or a graphic novel or something, but apparently it’s an original work.
OH MY GOD (NR) Director Peter Rodger asks everyone from celebrities to average joes, the religious to the atheists the essential question: What is god?
OLD DOGS (PG) Dan (Robin Williams) has been happily divorced for seven years when his ex-wife shows up and reveals that she and Dan have 7-year-old twins. Dan, who knows nothing about family life, recruits his friends Charlie (John Travolta) and Ralph (Seth Green) to help him take care of the kids and learn the true meaning of family.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 stars (R) Director Oren Peli’s Blair Witch-style horror flick unfolds from the point of view of the video camera of a daytrader (Micah Sloat) who hopes to chronicle the supernatural experiences that bedevil his girlfriend (Katie Featherston). Costing an estimated $15,000, Paranormal’s most skin-crawling moments frequently come from a stationary camera trained on the couple’s bed and the darkened hallway leading to the bedroom. Deeper characterization could have enriched the film, but it’s still an effective horror flick that lives up to the claims of its viral promotional campaign. — Holman
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