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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) Mike Meyers follows in Jim Carrey's footsteps by donning heavy make-up and a fuzzy suit to play a beloved Dr. Seuss character in this big-screen expansion of the children's book.

ELF (PG) Will Ferrell plays an ill-adjusted man-child raised by Santa's helpers then sent to New York City to find his long-lost father and -- surprise! -- save Christmas in the process. Director Jon Favreau (Swingers) should end up on the naughty list for producing such pointless holiday pabulum.--TB

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (NR) Part All About Eve parody, part "Golden Girls" gone to hell, this witty and bitter comedy pits three wicked roommates (all women played by men) against each other in a war of the wigs. Dried-up '70s star Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick) spews contempt for newcomer Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson), an opportunistic actress who's the daughter of Evie's late arch-nemesis. The plot sometimes falters, but the Airplane-esque slapstick and sizzling dialogue make the film an instant drag classic. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.--TB.

GOTHIKA (R) Halle Berry should plead temporary insanity for choosing this mentally-deficient suspense film for her first leading role after winning her Best Actress Oscar. She plays a prison psychiatrist who finds herself an inmate in her own penitentiary, but the plot's Kafka-esque possibilities are ignored for ghostly goings-on. French art-house director Mathieu Kassovitch gets drunk on own camerawork and doesn't bother to address the plot's persistent silliness, like Berry's ability to escape from her "high security" cell as easily as audiences can walk out of a thrill-free thriller.--CH

THE HAUNTED MANSION (PG) If Pirates of the Caribbean left you pining for another motion picture based on a Disney theme-park attraction, your wait is over. Eddie Murphy plays a realtor who discovers that a piece of prime real estate already has some undead occupants.

THE HUMAN STAIN (R) The adaptation of Philip Roth's novel casts Anthony Hopkins as a Jewish professor whose use of a racial epithet sends him on a personal tailspin. But rather than explore the book's themes about political correctness and racial self-loathing, Robert Benton's icily formal film emphasizes the professor's May-December affair with an uncouth janitor (Nicole Kidman masquerading as white trash). Wentworth Miller's flashbacks as the young Hopkins touch on the complex ethnic implications of a film that otherwise ducks controversy at every turn.--CH

KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (R) Quentin Tarantino's geek side returns with a vengeance in the first half of his loving yet overblown salute to kung fu movies and other cult revenge flicks. A blonde assassin (Uma Thurman) tracks down the former colleagues who betrayed her, and while Tarantino strives for the grandiosity of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, he undercuts himself with ironic jokes closer to McG's Charlie's Angels. It's up to Uma to carry the film -- and she does, conveying a toughness oddly comparable to Lee Marvin. Volume 2 is due in February.--CH

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (PG) Part animated cartoon and part live-action cartoon, this is the Funny Movie the Scary Movies tried to be, with a similar scattershot approach scoring far more laughs. It's got the wackiness, the violence and the pop culture (especially 1950s sci-fi) references of the Looney Tunes of old, and not even one of Steve Martin's less inspired performances and a silly plot about a diamond that turns people into monkeys can slow it down.--SW

LOVE ACTUALLY (R) Love is all around in this British Love Boat (on dry land) that makes a case for the ubiquity of pop music. In the five weeks leading up to Christmas, dozens of characters initiate, maintain or break off relationships of a romantic, sexual, familial or platonic nature. Excellent casting makes each person stand out, whether the actor is familiar (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson) or not (Heike Makatsch, Andrew Lincoln). Richard Curtis, the witty writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, makes his directing debut with a commercial movie that gives commercial movies a good name.--SW

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13) Russell Crowe lightens up a bit to play Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), captain of the HMS Surprise as he matches wits with a bigger, faster French ship in this Napoleonic-era nautical adventure. Director Peter Weir stays faithful to the spirit of Patrick O'Brien's novel, one of a beloved series that elevates maritime procedure over swashbuckling plot. The film's impeccable approach to detail will appeal more to History Channel fans than the general movie-going audience, but it boasts exciting set-pieces and a colorful cast of character actors.--CH

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