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March 17, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW & CHRIS KALTENBACH | MICHAEL SRAGOW & CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITICS

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Aquamarine -- is a movie only 14-year-old girls can love. Claire (Emma

Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna Levesque) are bumming. Hailey's mom has landed a dream job in Australia. Then a storm deposits a mermaid (Sara Paxton) in their Florida pool. She must find someone to love her in three days or marry her father's pick. For their help, she'll trade one wish. But the boy Aquamarine wants is Raymond (Jake McDorman), whom both girls have a crush on. (C.K.) Rated PG 100 minutes B-

The Boys of Baraka -- provides eloquent and infuriating testimony to the failures of the Baltimore public school system. But the two-year program it's based on - sending a score of 12- and 13-year-old African-American boys to a boarding school in Kenya - remains a sign of hope, even after the program disintegrates. And the movie is a sign of hope, too. It's unceasingly involving and entertaining. (M.S.) Unrated 84 minutes A

Curious George -- gives the fabled Man in the Yellow Hat a name (Ted), but otherwise all is as it should be in this winsome adaptation of H.A. and Margret Rey's tales of a mischievous monkey and his innocent adventures. The story is about Ted's search in Africa for a giant idol that will save his museum from bankruptcy and the little monkey who follows him home. Curious George is a charmer. (C.K.) G 87 minutes B

Dave Chappelle's Block Party -- records the comic's attempt to stage his dream rap concert on a Brooklyn corner, shooting it in sherbety colors and editing it in an ice-cream swirl. Chappelle doesn't just generate laughs: He inspires wonder and delight. He's an observational comic with a drawling syntax almost as sly as Mark Twain's. He loves Thelonious Monk's timing because when the jazzman seemed off-rhythm, he was really on. Same for Chappelle. (M.S.) R 100 minutes B+

Failure to Launch -- offers Matthew McConaughey as Tripp, a 35-year-old yacht broker who still lives at home. Though they don't really mind having Tripp around, Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) eventually take action. They hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who makes a living out of luring overgrown boys out of parents' houses. But Tripp's a tough case, especially after she falls for him. Failure to Launch resorts to mismatched-couple formulas. But it also keeps the atmosphere light and the laughter steady. (C.K.) PG-13 95 minutes. B

Firewall -- offers competently doctored formula: Grade B pap with a violent mickey in it. As a computer security V.P. for a bank, battling a master thief who locks down his family, Harrison Ford has the reliability and the plain and simple charm of the old Timex watch: He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (M.S.) PG-13 106 minutes B-

The Libertine -- crashes to Earth with a sickening thud. As the degenerate John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester and Charles II's sometime-ally in the House of Lords, Johnny Depp brings neither debauched grace nor lucidity to a wastrel who ends up looking the Corpse Husband. And John Malkovich, as the King, lets his false nose, sickly skin and cascading wig do most of the acting. (M.S.) R 130 minutes C-

Neil Young: Heart of Gold -- turns two Young performances into an intimate epic. Director Jonathan Demme, like his star, knows the power of plain utterance. But to generate this movie's tsunami of emotion, Demme doesn't rely on the yearning that pours out from Young's Prairie Wind album. Shot by shot, choice by choice, he magnifies the feelings and multiplies the meanings of each verse or chord, each glance between performers or faraway look in their eyes. The result is a vision of American life as moving, funny and rueful as John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. (M.S.) PG 103 minutes A+

Night Watch -- arrives here from Russia with its graphic potency intact and a rush of inventive subtitles that ramp up its comic-book-like energy: when vampires summon their latest victim, the letters run red and trail off in wispy streams of blood. The plot depicts one of those never-ending battles that start in antiquity and persist to the present day. Luckily, the director, Timur Bekmambetov, who co-wrote the script with Sergei Lukyanenko (author of the original novel), keeps the conflicts immediate and crunchy. (M.S.) R 116 minutes B

16 Blocks -- marks an intriguing new chapter in an established actor's career and an exciting milestone in that of a relative newcomer. The veteran would be Bruce Willis, here as boozy cop Jack Mosley, who gets a shot at redemption. Mos Def is Eddie Bunker, a small-time hood who's decided to turn his life around. Mosley's assignment is to take Eddie from the station to the courthouse just 16 blocks away. But Eddie's the key witness in a police-corruption case, and a bunch of cops are determined to see he doesn't make it alive. (C.K.) PG-13 105 minutes B+

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada -- stars Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) as a Texas ranch hand who seeks justice for the killing of his Mexican best friend (the Melquiades Estrada of the title, played by Julio Cesar Cedillo) and fulfills a promise to return him to rural Mexico. Jones' quest becomes a civic-minded riff on Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Too bad the rotting-corpse grotesquerie doesn't mesh with fables of brotherly love and a racist sadist getting his comeuppance and redemption. (M.S.) R 121 minutes C+

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