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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Thursday
BIG FISH (PG-13) See review.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (PG) The idea of two people bringing 12 more into the world seems more irresponsible than it did in 1950, when this story was first filmed, but Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and their brood are fun to spend 99 minutes with if you stop thinking about our finite resources and focus on slapstick, puke, dog-in-crotch jokes and the love underneath it all. --Steve Warren

COLD MOUNTAIN (R) The English Patient's writer-director Anthony Minghella loses his way trying to bring Charles Frazier's Civil War odyssey to life. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman never strike sparks as would-be-lovers separated by the War Between the States, and Minghella stoops to crude means to manipulate his audience, rather than find a consistent tone. On the plus side, the film features a truly Homeric opening battle, a wrenching, well-crafted episode with Natalie Portman and a broad but amusing Renee Zellweger angling for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. --Curt Holman

PAYCHECK (PG-13) The title probably offers all the explanation you need for why Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and director John Woo are involved in this high-tech thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story.

PETER PAN (PG) The sexiest children's movie ever, P.J. Hogan's take on J.M. Barrie's classic may push young viewers into puberty ahead of schedule. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) uses her feminine wiles to manipulate Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) in a scene that sizzles as much as two 12-year-olds can make it. Director Hogan gives the otherwise familiar story a distinctive look -- slightly surreal, wholly artificial yet believable within its fantasy context. The film's eroticism will please some adults, upset others and probably go over children's heads, at least on a conscious level. --SW

Opening Friday
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (R) See review.

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (R) See review.

TO BE AND TO HAVE (NR) In this unforgettable documentary with the poetic, serene exposition and craftsmanship of a fiction film, director Nicolas Philibert (In the Land of the Deaf) tells the simple but profound story of a rural farm community teacher and his relationship with the young children he patiently instructs. Perhaps the most beautiful and philosophical film ever made about the nobility of teaching. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema. --Felicia Feaster

Duly Noted
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical horror spoof follows an all-American couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a drag-queen/mad scientist from another galaxy. It's all fun and games until Meat Loaf gets killed. Dress as your favorite character and participate in this musical on acid. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Marietta Star Cinema.

Continuing
BAD SANTA (R) Advocate for the anti-consumerist, retro-obsessed values of the splenetic counterculture, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) tries to apply his misanthropic perspective to mainstream Hollywood comedy. His alcoholic Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), who robs the same shopping malls where he plies his trade, is another antisocial cult figure infused with the values of Zwigoff's alternative comix imagination. But the director can certainly do better than this thin parody of the saccharine, smarmy Christmas comedy. --FF

THE COOLER (R) Director Wayne Kramer takes a humorous premise -- a man so unlucky that a Vegas casino pays him to jinx (or "cool") more fortunate gamblers -- and inexplicably treats it as the stuff of serious drama. The film features tender, insightful bedroom scenes and substantial acting from Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy in the title role, but its morality tale of honor in Vegas gambling dens never convinces. If The Cooler were a bet, you wouldn't take it. --CH

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) The Cat In The Hat is a dog. Rarely has a movie about having fun provided so little of it. In the title role Mike Myers does a total rip-off of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion, trying to be hi-Lahr-ious. The Cat drops in on the Walden kids, control freak Sally (Dakota Fanning) and rule-breaker Conrad (Spencer Breslin), and teaches them to have fun without consequences. This movie wouldn't even register on the Cat's "Phunometer." --SW

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. --Tray Butler

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