Short Subjectives 

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READY TO RUMBLE (PG-13) ** David Arquette and Scott Caan live for wrestling. When WCW honcho Joe Pantoliano pulls the plug on their hero, Jimmy King's (Oliver Platt; other wrestlers play themselves) career they devote themselves to restoring his crown. The predictable plot strings together copious brutal bouts and scatological humor. Wrestling fans will enjoy a record number of crotch kicks — more nutcrackers than a year of Christmases — but I wonder if they'll appreciate the emphasis on the phoniness of it all. On the way out another critic said, "I wouldn't recommend it for anyone over 25," and I asked, "Years or months?" — SW

RETURN TO ME *** (PG-13) Return To Me is a lovely creation, full of life, not dramatic re-enactments of heartwarming moments designed to temporarily alleviate the fears of the insipid. It is also a story about risk. The risk of putting your soul on the line in the daring willingness to love. But ultimately, Return To Me is a film about human relationships and their ability to fill the heart with the effervescence of life. Stars Minnie Driver and David Duchovny. — RJ

THE ROAD TO EL DORADO (PG) **1/2 Getting there is most of the fun in this animated history lesson that begins in Spain in 1519 as a rollicking romp. Once Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) reach the "New World" as stowaways on Cortes' ship they're hailed as gods in El Dorado, "the city of gold." Kindred spirit Chel (Rosie Perez) provides the only amusement there as the film shifts into neutral and coasts for about an hour until gathering momentum for an exciting climax. Kline and Perez do a wonderful job of projecting their personalities onto their characters, unlike Branagh, who has no personality. — SW

ROMEO MUST DIE (R) ** 1/2 There's room at the top for an action star and Hong Kong martial artist Jet Li deserves the position once held by the late Bruce Lee. Like a '70s B movie but faster and louder, this one's about a supposed war between Asian and African-American gangs in Oakland and a developing romance between Li, the son of the Asian gang boss, and Aaliyah, the daughter of his black rival. It takes a bit too long to reach the unsurprising conclusion but there are plenty of fights along the way and Jet makes Romeo a winner - tru-Li, mad-Li, deep-Li. — SW

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (R) *** A few good points short of A Few Good Men, this military courtroom drama's stars make it well worth watching. Old friends and Marine Cols. Tommy Lee Jones defends Samuel L. Jackson when he's court-martialed for ordering troops to fire on civilians in Yemen. Inconsistently drawn prosecutor Maj. Guy Pearce is established as an idealist but winds up playing dirty. Director William Friedkin manipulates us skillfully if not always honestly, and the camaraderie of the stars goes a long way toward glossing over the film's minor flaws. Jones and Jackson rule and make Rules of Engagement damned engaging. — SW

THE SKULLS (PG-13) ** 1/2 This popcorn potboiler about an Ivy League society so secret that if you see the movie they'll have to kill you, held my interest despite plot implausibilities. Joshua Jackson is on a scholarship but has such drive the elitist Skulls induct him. When they have a death to cover up — and the power to do it — Jackson must decide where his loyalties lie and how much an assured future is worth. A potential political exposé or satire, the film emphasizes thriller elements instead, with some intellect used to resolve matters (between the car chase and the shootout). — SW

STUART LITTLE (PG) ** 1/2 Villains' roles are traditionally better than heroes', so the cat runs away with the season's big mouse movie. Nathan Lane as Snowbell mops up the floor with Michael J. Fox, who voices the title rodent, adopted by the Littles (Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie) as a brother for Jonathan Lipnicki. Besides, Stuart is computer-generated while the cats are mostly real (except their lip movements). Blatantly celebrating diversity and elective families, Stuart Little is as predictable as holiday movies should be. I'll cut it some seasonal slack and give Lane, who makes it all tolerable, the Snowbell Prize for his performance. — SW

3 STRIKES (R) * 1/2 It's another Friday in the hood, with more energy but no momentum connecting sketches about bland Brian Hooks doing everything (except turning himself in and explaining the misunderstanding) to avoid going to prison for the third time (a mandatory 25-to-life in California). — SW


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    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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