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July 21, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH | MICHAEL SRAGOW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITICS

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

A Scanner Darkly, -- Richard Linklater's nightmare drug movie, should be continually compelling. But it loses its fizz after a strong series of pops. Instead of a moviemaking vision, it merely has a look: an unsettling, changeable new form of animated live action. And, instead of a lucid, original take on wigged-out junkies and the government that spies on and manipulates them, it slavishly follows Philip K. Dick's 1977 novel of the same name. (M.S.) R 100 minutes B

The Devil Wears Prada, -- Lauren Weisberger's trashy best-seller about the terrors of working for a fashion-media tyrant becomes a film about the pursuit of excellence and self-knowledge. The moviemakers put the material on lifts - and end up tripping into TV dramedy land. Luckily, Meryl Streep is such a consummate actress that she wrings the full witchery out of the title character, even though she dedicates herself to "rounding out" a character that, in print, is simply undiluted evil. (M.S.) PG-13 110 minutes C+

Little Man -- must set the record for most kicked-in-the-groin jokes in one movie. I lost count after the first dozen, lost hope after it happened three times in rapid succession to the same guy. Starring Marlon Wayans as a pint-sized jewel thief (the actor has his head grafted onto a little person's body) who impersonates an infant to get his loot back, it's a seven-minute idea (done memorably by the Looney Tunes folks 52 years ago) tastelessly padded-out to 90 minutes. (C.K.) PG-13 90 minutes D+

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -- is everything you feared the first would be: a theme-park spectacle lasting 2 1/2 hours. It doesn't just make you seasick - the action on land is equally overblown, repetitive and clumsy. (M.S.) PG-13 151 minutes D+

A Prairie Home Companion -- is a down-home-exquisite musical dramedy. It fills you with a joyful noise even when the subject is mortality. Working from a script by Garrison Keillor, with some of the characters from Keillor's radio show, director Robert Altman achieves a homespun-gossamer texture. (M.S.) PG-13 105 minutes A

Superman Returns -- is slavishly reverential and morose - it presents the Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) as a messiah from the pages of The Da Vinci Code. Its one good running joke is the way everyone wonders how far Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) went with the big guy in the past, when she spent the night with him. The movie contains a dozen winning moments, but too much of it plays like a near-death experience. (M.S.) PG-13 154 minutes C+

Wordplay -- is a small triumph of infusing personality into formula. Director Patrick Creadon and producer Christine O'Malley mold their documentary around puzzle-solvers anticipating the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (M.S.) PG 85 minutes A-

You, Me and Dupree -- should be just the thing for fans of Owen Wilson's stock-in-trade, the self-absorbed, chronic adolescent with - as inevitably revealed in the final act - a heart of pure gold. The rest of the world, however, is going to wonder what all the fuss is about - when the film is not focused on Wilson, it's really not focused at all. This is a comedy ever holding itself in check, filled with plot threads and asides that seem as though they should be funny but almost always fall short of the mark. Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon are the newlyweds stuck with Wilson's houseguest-from-Hades character. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes C

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