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Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Page 5 of 6

SIGNS (PG-13) Ominous crop circles presage otherworldly events that befall a widowed man of the cloth (Mel Gibson) and his grieving family. Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan lays on the faith-based symbolism with a heavy hand, and his characters never seem as stilted or strange as when they're meant to be "normal." But his powers with Hitchcock-esque suspense are undiminished as he uses misdirection and half-glimpsed threats to build tension to nearly unbearable levels.--CH

SPIRITED AWAY (PG) When her parents are turned into pigs, a Japanese girl enters the realm of spirits and deities to save them and herself. An Alice in Wonderland for the 21st century, this animated treasure finds director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) at the height of his powers, offering mature characterizations, sharp conflicts without violence and one of the strangest, least predictable coming-of-age stories you've ever set eyes on.--CH

SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS (PG) This hurry-up sequel bursts at the seams with even more gadgetry and more eccentric characters than the original, but rather than building on the sense of wonder and fun, this overstuffing only slows the picture down. The title team (again played by Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) is still appealing, though, and some of the special effects pay satisfying homage to the fantasy flicks of the great FX innovator Ray Harryhausen. -- MB

STUART LITTLE 2 (PG) The similarities to E.B. White's original, classic children's book are becoming increasingly remote. The title character, a talking mouse (voiced by Michael Fox) adopted by a human couple (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie), pitches woo with a parakeet (voiced by Melanie Griffith) and matches wits with a hawk.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (PG-13) You get a more accurate depiction of the South in that movie about the Country Bears than this lazy, laugh-deficient romantic comedy. Reese Witherspoon plays a hotshot designer engaged to the son of New York's mayor, who she must get a divorce from the laid-back husband (Josh Lucas) she abandoned in her sleepy Alabama home town. Witherspoon's controlled performance gives a few grace notes to a predictable parade of both Southern and wedding movie cliches.--CH

TIME CHANGER (PG) A 19th century Bible scholar is transported from the 1890s to the 1990s and tries to adapt his religious faith to modern life. This Christian-themed and -financed film features Gavin MacLeod, Hal Linden and Paul Rodriguez.

THE TRANSPORTER (PG-13) Snatch's Jason Statham plays a buff, hard-boiled courier who rebels against his evil bosses upon learning that his latest "package" is a kidnapped young woman (Shu Qi). Directed by Hong Kong fight choreographer Cory Yuen.

TRAPPED (R) Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend play yuppies drawn into one of those deadly games of cat and mouse when a pair of vicious kidnappers (Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love) abduct their daughter (I Am Sam Oscar nominee Dakota Fanning).

THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (PG-13) Daft remake of deft 1963 comedy-caper Charade puts Thandie Newton in Audrey Hepburn's place as a woman pursued all over Paris by bad guys convinced that her murdered hubby gave her their missing loot. Mark Wahlberg sleepwalks through it as a suitor who might know more than he admits about the money and the murder.--Eddy Von Mueller

TUCK EVERLASTING (PG) Disney's self-conscious throwback to its live-action family films like Swiss Family Robinson has everything going for it: Oscar winning actors (Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, William Hurt), a weighty message and a pedigree from children's literature. Alas, this tale of a sheltered girl (Alexis Bledel) and a peculiar family of immortals only lacks a sense of fun and a rationale for keeping your attention. Good intentions, though.--CH

THE TUXEDO (PG-13) The best special effect in a Jackie Chan movie is always Chan himself, which makes the affable performer's latest American vehicle an especially ill-fitting and ill-conceived affair. Chan plays a bumbling, insecure chauffeur who dons a top-of-the-line government issue suit that turns him into a superspy of sorts. Dressed to thrill, he teams up with a rookie agent (Jennifer Love Hewitt, enjoyably awful) to stop a power-mad bottled-water magnate (dull Ritchie Coster). It's always a rush to witness Chan kick and chop his way across the screen, but the film forces him to play second fiddle to the dull effects that allow the suit to come to life. -- MB

WAKING UP IN RENO (R) Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Swayze, Charlize Theron and Miranda Richardson play a pair of cracker couples who play musical beds en route to a monster truck rally in this long-delayed comedy.

WHITE OLEANDER (PG-13) If the screen version of Janet Fitch's bestselling novel were an Olympic event, it'd be hard to tell which of the movie's four actresses would win the gold. This powerfully performed drama stars Michelle Pfeiffer as an artist whose cold-blooded murder of her philandering boyfriend lands her in prison and places her 15-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) in a troubled foster care system. Lohman handles the picture's largest role with the discipline it requires, while Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright-Penn score as foster moms of different temperaments.-- MB

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