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AMERICAN PSYCHO ***1/2 (R) Director Mary Harron has salvaged a seemingly unredeemable, minor shock-novel by Bret Easton Ellis and turned it into a whipsmart funny satire and pungent critique of male competition, money lust and a world of appearances. Christian Bale delivers an entirely credible and compelling take on Ellis's Wall Street yuppie who turns killer, and, commendably, never glamorizes his virulent misanthropy. A coolly, stylishly shot piece of cultural commentary, American Psycho has some regrettable slasher-film hack touches but remains an admirable alchemic transformation of rubbish into, if not gold, then a pretty shiny likeness. — FF

BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (R) ** An Altmanesque dramady about the intersecting lives of a hodgepodge of troubled Londoners, all of whom are in some way touched by the Bosnian war, this first film from Bosnian-born, England-based Jasmin Dizdar is intentionally far-fetched and zany, but this glib approach to what ails the modern mind grows as tiresome as the director's falsely feel-good effort to symbolically "fix" the world's problems in the end. — FF

BLACK AND WHITE (R) ** The likes of Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Claudia Schiffer, Mike Tyson and members of the Wu-Tang Clan mix it up in James Toback's heavily improvised depiction of the connection between white youths and black hip-hop culture. It's ambitious, inclusive and never boring, but it never explores its racial thesis in much depth. Toback seems more interested in the gray areas of sexuality and criminality, featuring a youth-gone-astray subplot worthy of a 1950s juvenile delinquent film. — CH

BOILER ROOM (R) *** Like Glengarry Glen Ross, Junior, the first film from 27-year-old writer-director Ben Younger offers a tour of the high-stakes, high-testosterone would of sleazy, twentysomething stock brokers. It lacks dramatic polish but knows its world inside and out. CH

BOYS DON'T CRY (R) **** Directed with uncommon style and consideration for its white trash milieu, Kimberly Peirce's true crime art film concerns the 21-year-old Nebraska woman who tried to pass herself off as a man, Brandon Teena, and paid dearly for her gender subversion. A meaty, intense evocation of this badlands crime scene, Boys splits the film into two vantages, making us dread the escalating danger closing in around Brandon and also feel the ecstatic hopefulness of the dreamy drag king imagining he's finally found love and a home amongst the wasted teen miscreants of Falls City. — FF

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (PG-13) ** 1/2. John Irving adapts his own weighty novel about love, orphans, abortion and apples, and the results are true to the letter of the book without catching fire as a film. Despite an inconsistent New England accent, Michael Caine does a nice job as a sad-eyed, ether-addicted abortionist, while Tobey Maguire continues to look like a young Dustin Hoffman as an orphan trying to find his place in the world. Directed by Sweden's Lasse Hallström, Cider House Rules ultimately comes across as overly pretty and even-keeled, with every outcome seeming preordained. — CH

COTTON MARY ** (R) Like the member of a successful band recording a solo album, Ismail Merchant of the Merchant-Ivory production team directs this glimpse at East-West tensions in India of 1954. The title character is a Ango-Indian nurse (Madhur Jaffrey) with delusions of being English, and when she sneakily ingratiates herself into the troubled British family of Greta Scacchi, she accelerates its difficulties. The Indian locales look both exotic and lived-in, but Merchant's characters are uniformly passive and unsympathetic. — CH

THE CUP *** The Cup is a lovely, unpretentious family film full of unintended ironies. Superficially a simple story, the film concerns the minor disruption of routine at an expatriate Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India when a particularly rambunctious lad develops a passion for World Cup soccer and wants to watch the final match. That's it, whole story. In and of itself, the narrative flows comfortably, if languidly, and possesses an accessible charm. It is the kind of film parents should drag their pre- and early teenagers to for they will appreciate its colorful yet universal characters and comprehend the moral lessons within. — RJ

ERIN BROCKOVICH (R) *** A true populist movie that deserves its inevitable popularity, Steven Soderbergh's film is a perfect vehicle for Julia Roberts. In this true story, she's a working-class woman who dresses like a working girl. In a menial job at Albert Finney's law firm, she stumbles on PG&E's involvement in pollution that poisons an entire community. She builds a case and persuades Finney to take it. That's not funny, but Susannah Grant's screenplay finds copious humor in the characters while treating the story with the seriousness it deserves. But for the March release, this could have been Roberts' Oscar role. — SW

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