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Movies Today

April 14, 2006

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, except where noted. Full reviews at

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.) PG 100 minutes B-

ATL -- marks a promising feature debut from director (and Harford County native) Chris Robinson. This tale, of black teens in Atlanta trying to escape their neighborhoods, excels at moving beyond conventional Hollywood stereotypes. If only Robinson and screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism had paid as much attention to matters of story and narrative flow. Still, the film presents a complex depiction of the pressures faced by teens, particularly black youths. And at a time when much of what Hollywood regards as popular entertainment offers trite views of a world where nuance seems a dirty word, ATL entertains without oversimplifying and offers empathy without condescension. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes B-

Ask the Dust -- both honors and transforms John Fante's 1939 novel about a first-generation Italian-American novelist, Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell), and his tortured relationship with an immigrant Mexican waitress, Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), in Depression-era Los Angeles. Writer-director Robert Towne turns it from a brilliant pathological nightmare to an authentic, gritty romance about the self-hatred that contorts love and the urge for transcendence that makes love real. (M.S.) R 117 minutes A-

Basic Instinct 2 -- retains much of what made the earlier film scurrilous but little of what made it interesting. We're reintroduced to Sharon Stone's Catherine Tramell as she races her sports car through the streets of London, engaged in sex with a soccer player. Tramell loses control of both herself and the car, sending it to the bottom of the Thames with soccer guy still inside. Scotland Yard enlists a psychiatrist, Michael Glass (David Morrissey), to interview Tramell and, before a judge, paint her as the psychopath she is. But the judge lets her off anyway. Now it seems poor Glass might be next. If this film does nothing more than wash Catherine Tramell out of Stone's system, all will not be lost. (C.K.) R 114 minutes C-

The Benchwarmers -- severely tests the maxim that "There's no such thing as a bad movie about baseball." David Spade and Jon Heder are nerds whose lifetime of getting picked on is avenged when they join pal Gus (Rob Schneider), for a three-on-nine baseball scrimmage against some Little League bullies, and Gus single-handedly crushes them. Billionaire former nerd Mel (Jon Lovitz) sponsors a "Build a ballpark" tourney featuring the "benchwarmers" against the best adolescent teams in the region, and Nerd Nation tunes in (on the Web) to see their humiliation avenged. (Orlando Sentinel) PG-13 80 minutes D+

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 black 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

CSA: The Confederate States of America -- provocatively presents the world as it would be if the South had won the Civil War. The clever conceit behind CSA is not just to show the mock documentary, but to place it in the context of an evening of Confederate network TV. That means commercials that add up to the kind of ferocious satire on race in America not seen since Spike Lee's Bamboozled. There's an ad for Runaway, a reality show on the capture of fugitive slaves, and The Slave Shopping Network. In taking us up to the present day, CSA uses a wide and inventive variety of bogus footage. Among the fakes are a 1950s pro-slavery educational documentary for schoolchildren and public service announcements for government bureaus like the Office of Racial Identity, concerned with unmasking people who are passing for white. (Los Angeles Times) Unrated 89 minutes B

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

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