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GHOST TOWN ***
Ricky Gervais plays a miserable New York dentist who briefly flat-lines on an operating table and can now see ghosts – most of whom want him to complete their unfinished business with the living. One jealous cad (Greg Kinnear) bugs the dentist to break up a romance between his widow (Téa Leoni) and a lawyer, to save his sanity, the dentist reluctantly woos the widow himself and falls in love. It's pure Hollywood fluff, but done with sharp timing, good humor and a surprising bit of heart, after the dentist starts to care about other people again. 102 minutes.PG-13: Some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.
An animated film about a mad scientist's hunchbacked assistant, who longs to become a scientist himself – to the displeasure of the mad scientists' community. Voices by John Cusack, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi. 87 minutes.PG: Some thematic elements, scary images, action and mild language.
IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS
A broke, lonely guy (Scoot McNairy) wants to spend the last week of the year in bed. But a friend convinces him to post a personal ad, and he meets a woman (Sara Simmonds) who's bent on finding the right guy to be with at midnight on New Year's Eve. 90 minutes.Unrated.
A cop (Samuel L. Jackson) menaces an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) who move in next door. Not screened for critics anywhere. 110 minutes.PG-13: Intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.
MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL
Jason Biggs hires Dane Cook to date ex-girlfriend Kate Hudson, so she'll realize she was better off before dumping him. This comedy was not screened for critics anywhere. 101 minutes.R: Strong language and sexual content throughout, including graphic dialogue and some nudity.
American tourists Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are endangered by fellow travelers on a train journey from China to Moscow. Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega and Ben Kingsley co-star. 111 minutes.R: Some violence, including torture and language.
Nicolas Cage plays a hit man in Thailand who befriends a deaf-mute pharmacist. Not screened for critics anywhere. 100 minutes. R: Violence, language and some sexuality.
Vin Diesel escorts a woman from Russia to America; unknown to him, she's host to an organism that a cult wants to harvest to produce a Messiah. 90 minutes. PG-13: Intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality.
John Crowley directed this drama about a man institutionalized for most of his life (Andrew Garfield) and released from prison at 24. He tries to live down his boyhood crime, when he and another boy murdered a child, and gets guidance from a social worker (Peter Mullan), but the tabloid press won't let things alone. 100 minutes. R: Language, sexuality, some disturbing content and brief drug use.
BURN AFTER READING ***
The Coen brothers lighten the mood after “No Country for Old Men” with this dark comedy; it's about dim-witted gym employees who get their hands on a disc containing CIA information and try to profit by it. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand star. The film's as light and cold as a popsicle, but don't expect to root for anyone: The venal, foolish and selfish characters dance toward the violent end in a mutual tango of destruction. 96 minutes. R: Pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
DEATH RACE * 1/2
The year is 2012, with prisons privately run for profit and the warden of Terminal Island (Joan Allen) holding fatal auto races for 70 million TV viewers. Stone-faced Jason Statham plays an unjustly imprisoned man forced to drive; Tyrese Gibson is his deadly opponent. Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson smashes things into one another and, if that gets boring, rams some minor character's head onto a metal spike. 89 minutes. R: Strong violence and language.
Spoof of disaster movies, with people bombarded by catastrophic events. 90 minutes. PG-13: Crude and sexual content throughout, language, drug references and comic violence.
A professor and cultural critic (Ben Kingsley) finds his life thrown into romantic chaos by a grad student (Penélope Cruz). Isabel Coixet directed and Nicholas Meyer wrote this adaptation of Philip Roth's “The Dying Animal.” 113 minutes. R: Sexuality, nudity and language.
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS
Tyler Perry wrote and directed this drama about a white family and a black family that learn to cooperate. Perry stars with Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard, Cole Hauser and Sanaa Lathan. 111 minutes. PG-13: Thematic material, sexual references and brief violence.
FROZEN RIVER ***
Melissa Leo and Misty Upham play mothers with absent husbands who agree to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border from Quebec to New York, in order to make enough money to hang onto their kids. Writer-director Courtney Hunt has caught the mutual resentment that may exist when whites and native Americans live alongside each other in poverty. 97 minutes. R: Some language.
THE HOUSE BUNNY
Anna Faris plays a Playboy bunny who's tossed from Hugh Hefner's mansion and falls in with clueless sorority women. 97 minutes. PG-13: Sex-related humor, partial nudity and brief strong language.
THE LAST MISTRESS
Catherine Breillat directed this film about love/sex among 19th-century French aristocracy. Asia Argento, Roxanne Mesquia and Fu'ad Ait Aattou star.104 minutes. Unrated.
MAN ON WIRE *** 1/2
In 1974, French wire-walker Philippe Petit crossed back and forth between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This delightful documentary explains how, if not why, he pulled off this amazing feat with the help of a strange band of cohorts. Director James Marsh borrows cleverly from the style of Oscar-winner Errol Morris, blending black-and-white re-creations with grainy real footage from 1974. 90 minutes. PG-13: Some sexuality and nudity, and drug references.
Publicity materials say this is “an emotional, inspirational and visual journey depicting … everyday Americans who exemplify the best that we can be.” 105 minutes. PG: Some mild thematic elements.
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro team up as New York City detectives who fear a serial killer may be at work – and may have committed a murder for which they put someone else behind bars. 100 minutes. R: Violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.
TELL NO ONE *** 1/2
French director Guillaume Canet has adapted New Jersey writer Harlan Coben's novel, moving the setting to his own country. A pediatrician (François Cluzet) gets e-mails that appear to come from the wife (Marie-Josée Croze) who reportedly died eight years ago. Canet does a good job of conveying the atmosphere of fear, rage, bewilderment and helplessness in the face of danger that are staples of film noir. 125 minutes. Unrated: Violence, language.
This thoughtful (if often implausible) drama asks us to re-think the way we see Muslims, to conceive that their loyalty to America may be as intense as their enemies' loyalties to jihad-inspired terrorists. Don Cheadle plays a devout man who's an undercover FBI agent; he's chased by agents (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) who wrongly believe he's selling explosives to Yemeni extremists. 110 minutes. PG-13: Intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language.
This remake of the 1939 comedy stars Meg Ryan as a wealthy New Yorker who leaves her cheating husband to visit a resort with friends. The cast includes Eva Mendes, Annette Bening, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Debra Messing and Bette Midler. Writer-director Diane English helped create TV's “Murphy Brown.” 114 minutes. PG-13: Sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking.
THE DARK KNIGHT (PG-13) ****
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3-D ** 1/2
THE LONGSHOTS (PG) ***
MAMMA MIA! (PG-13) *** 1/2
THE MUMMY; TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (PG-13) * 1/2
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (R) ** 1/2
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 (PG-13)
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (PG) **
SWING VOTE (PG-13) ***
TROPIC THUNDER (R)***1/2
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (PG-13) * 1/2
WALL-E (G) *** 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.