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June 09, 2006

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, except where noted. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Akeelah and the Bee -- follows a formula, one of the oldest in all of fiction: an underdog, struggling against the odds, seeks fame, fortune and - most importantly - self-respect. But this is one of the most winning movies of 2006 in its abundance of great intentions. (C.K.) PG 112 minutes B+

Art School Confidential -- is intermittently exhilarating. Director Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa) skewers not just the jocks who taunt the artist hero (Max Minghella) in high school, but the clueless members of his family and, most of all, the pseuds who surround him at the Strathmore Institute, a fashionably decrepit art school. When the hero falls for a smart, gorgeous art model (Sophia Myles), it becomes an unwieldy combination - bitter and semisweet. (M.S.) R 102 minutes B

The Break-Up -- is half a great movie: a biting, hard-hearted comedic look at what happens when former lovers take off the gloves and begin using each other as emotional punching bags. It gets the sense of betrayal right, the absolute fury that the pig you've been sleeping next to all this time not only doesn't understand his or her piggishness, but seems to revel in it. But The Break-Up doesn't offer insight into how the mutual attraction between Vince Vaughn's Gary, a narcissistic, good-time-loving schlub, and Jennifer Aniston's Brooke, a cultured, meticulous, Type-A poster girl, arose in the first place. (C.K.) PG-13 105 minutes B

Brick -- is a remarkable oddity, audacious and engaging. This film noir for the young and the feckless spills over with suburban bravado and unrelenting wit. Our antihero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), tries to get to the bottom of a narcotics underworld that has swallowed up his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). The movie is deliriously disarming in the way it laces life-and-death heartbreak in and out of cozy-seedy circumstances. (M.S.) R 110 minutes A-

The Da Vinci Code -- issues a spray of perspiration - not from the hero (Tom Hanks) and heroine (Audrey Tautou) outrunning forces set on framing them for multiple murders, but from director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman sweating buckets of unholy water as they try (and fail) to stay on top of novelist Dan Brown's heavy, exposition-riddled plot. Howard treats Brown's book as holy writ. It's a fatal mistake for an adaptation of a novel whose sole virtue is irreverence. (M.S.) PG-13 149 minutes C

District B-13 -- boasts actor-athletes David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, who turn kicking butt into jack-booted ballet. It's 2010, and the French government has disowned and walled off the most crime-ridden suburb of Paris, turning it into a tenement empire running on coke and greed. The plot clicks into gear when someone hijacks a neutron bomb and delivers it to the district's ruling drug lord. The entire film goes by like a theme-park cyclone ride. (M.S.) R 85 minutes. B

Down in the Valley -- features Edward Norton as a cowboy who ambles into the contemporary San Fernando Valley and creates a walking pocket of calm in the dull suburban roar of engines and air conditioners. As a Valley Girl who says she's been waiting for life to happen, Evan Rachel Wood ferments yearning and concupiscence into essence-of-adolescence. The balance between his courtliness and her readiness gives this film's magical first hour the unexpected sensual lilt of a lithe, spontaneous dance. The movie has a trick second half, but writer-director David Jacobson and his actors do so much with the characters that they leave an ambiguous residue of blood-streaked regrets and sadness. (M.S.) R 125 minutes B+

Ice Age: The Meltdown -- offers some good news: The nut-nutty squirrel of the first Ice Age is back. Otherwise, the movie has exactly the same flaws as its predecessor. It's a glacier-paced mastodon quest, just critters on the run from extinction. (Orlando Sentinel) PG 85 minutes C-

Inside Man -- is a slick, briskly paced tale of bank robbers who think they're at least twice as smart as everybody else, and maybe are. Clive Owen is the robber determined that everyone play his game, Denzel Washington is the detective assigned to the case, and Jodie Foster is a mysterious operative. (C.K.) R 129 minutes B+

Just My Luck -- does for Lindsay Lohan something unmatched by any of her previous films. It makes her boring. She plays a woman who unwittingly trades her fabulous luck with a guy (Chris Pine) who has no luck whatsoever. (C.K.) PG-13 100 minutes C

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