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NEW RELEASES

KARZZZZ

Himesh Reshammiya stars in a Bollywood film about reincarnation and vengeance. 136 minutes. Unrated: Thematic material including some disturbing images, brief language and smoking.

MAX PAYNE * 1/2

Part revenge fantasy, part government conspiracy drama, part incoherent video game action, part demonic fantasy and all gibberish. Mark Wahlberg plays an NYPD detective who has spent three years searching for the killers of his wife and child, though he hasn't noticed a clue so obvious that we can spot it in about two minutes. Director John Moore has a strong, eerie visual style, but nothing else here works. 100 minutes. PG-13: Violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language.

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES ***

An abused white teenager (Dakota Fanning) runs away from her father (Paul Bettany), and she and their housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) find sanctuary with beekeeping sisters in small-town South Carolina in 1964 (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo). Events may be implausible, but writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood has adapted Sue Monk Kidd's novel with love, and it shines through everywhere. 110 minutes. PG-13: Thematic material and some violence.

SEX DRIVE

A high school student drives cross-country to try to have sex with a girl he met online. 109 minutes. R: Strong crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some drug and alcohol use (all involving teens).

W. *** 1/2

You might expect a Bush-bashing mockery from Oliver Stone, but the noted lefty has given us something more compelling. He and writer Stanley Weiser examine the conditions that put the president where he is now and made him the political animal he is. His character is pitiable, like a dwarf who dons a giant's robes and can never grow into them. Josh Brolin leads with his chin as stubborn W, and the supporting cast acts well and/or gives killer impersonations. Richard Dreyfuss' gleefully scummy Dick Cheney is a dead ringer visually and believable as the power behind the throne. 130 minutes. PG-13: Language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images.

RECENT RELEASES

APPALOOSA ***

A western long on atmosphere but short on detail. Ed Harris co-wrote, directed and stars as a dictatorial itinerant lawman with a cooler-headed sidekick (Viggo Mortensen). The town of Appaloosa hires them to subdue a brutal outlaw (Jeremy Irons) at the risk of giving up personal freedoms; you can see this as political allegory, if you like. With miscast Renée Zellweger as a mystery woman. 114 minutes. R: Some violence and language.

AN AMERICAN CAROL

An anti-American filmmaker out to abolish the Fourth of July holiday is visited by three ghosts who try to change his perception. Directed by David Zucker. Not screened for critics anywhere. 83 minutes. PG-13: Rude and irreverent content, language and brief drug material.

BATTLE IN SEATTLE

Stuart Townsend wrote and directed this docudrama about activists protesting a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin star. 98 minutes. R: Language and some violence.

BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA **

Two snooty creatures, a lost dog and her spoiled caretaker, fall in love with a humble chihuahua and the Latino gardener who owns him in this noisy, colorful but completely predictable adventure. Piper Perabo is dull as the human, and Drew Barrymore is the nondescript voice of the dog. Kids will laugh, but adults will find nothing to enjoy but the vocal antics of Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez as beasts. 91 minutes. PG: Some mild thematic elements.

BILLY: THE EARLY YEARS **

This well-meaning film pays unadulterated homage to the Rev. Billy Graham, following him from his tent-revival conversion as a Charlotte teenager to an L.A. speech in 1949, where the orator and the man of faith were fully joined. Despite Armie Hammer's charismatic presence in the title role and good support, notably from Lindsay Wagner as his mother and Stefanie Butler as his wife, the movie never gets far enough under Graham's skin. It also makes faith in God seem like a choice that involves no struggle, no despair, virtually no doubt – just smiling, unexamined belief. 89 minutes. PG: Thematic material, disturbing images, brief language and smoking.

BODY OF LIES ** 1/2

A CIA employee in the Middle East (Leonardo DiCaprio) becomes dissatisfied with the heartless policies of his boss (Russell Crowe) and attempts to keep humanity and sanity intact while pursuing a terrorist leader. He has a not very credible romance with a Jordanian nurse, but the picture is mostly about America's attempt to police the world while retaining its respect. The movie's on fuzzy ground there, and not as complex as it ought to be. With Mark Strong as a suave, shrewd Jordanian anti-terrorist operative. 128 minutes. R: Strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout.

CITY OF EMBER **

This imaginative children's fantasy hasn't been thought out well enough or given sufficient detail. It's another teens-save-civilization fantasy, with Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan finding a way to rescue their underground city from falling into perpetual darkness when it uses up its resources. The environmental message is welcome, but the movie never makes the contained, dying world of Ember real enough. 95 minutes. PG: Mild peril and some thematic elements.

THE DUCHESS ***

Lady Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley) marries the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) in the 18th century, then realizes she's a glorified brood mare expected to produce a son and ignore his affair with her best friend (Hayley Atwell). The film doesn't do full justice to her political and social impact – it's more about wigs than Whigs – but the romantic triangle is interesting. 110 minutes. PG-13: Sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material.

THE EXPRESS ** 1/2

Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, was by all accounts a quiet, lovable, hardworking guy. This movie sets Davis (Rob Brown) amid the racial politics of the civil rights era, not entirely convincingly, and shows how he awakened the consciousness of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). A well-meaning history lesson, with just enough drama to get by. 120 minutes. PG: Thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.

FLASH OF GENIUS ** 1/2

Greg Kinnear plays Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper and fought for years to get automakers to pay him; Lauren Graham plays his wife, who tried to hold their family together in the face of his obsession. Neither has quite enough fire to spark this honest but mundane look at a little guy fighting the corporations.119 minutes. PG-13: Brief strong language.

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA

Spike Lee directed this World War II drama about black soldiers trapped in an Italian village. Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller star.160 minutes. R: Strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.

NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST

Romance blossoms between two teens in Manhattan, a guitarist for a rock band (Michael Cera) and an average-Jane who knows nothing of hip fashions (Kat Dennings) but keeps bumping into him through one night. 90 minutes. PG-13: Mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.

QUARANTINE

A horror film about an infection in an L.A. apartment building investigated by a TV crew. Screened nowhere in advance. 89 minutes. R: Bloody violent and disturbing content, terror and language.

RELIGULOUS

Bill Maher interviews figures from all over the map – geographically and denominationally – to put the world's religions into perspective. Larry Charles (“Borat”) directed. 101 minutes. R: Some language and sexual material.

LONG RUNS

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (PG-13) ****

BURN AFTER READING (R) ***

CHOKE (R)

EAGLE EYE (PG-13) ***

THE FAMILY THAT PREYS (PG-13)

FIREPROOF (PG)

IGOR (PG)

LAKEVIEW TERRACE (PG-13)

NIGHTS IN RODANTHE (PG-13) ***

TELL NO ONE (NR) ***1/2

TRANSSIBERIAN (R)

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (PG-13) * 1/2

Film capsules are written by Lawrence Toppman. If there's no star rating, he hasn't seen the movie.

Grades: **** = excellent, *** = good, ** = fair,

* = poor.

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