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August 04, 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, 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 them, it slavishly follows Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name. (M.S.) R 100 minutes B

The Ant Bully -- brings home the perils of being a meanie -- it's about a kid who, after flooding an anthill, is reduced to ant-size and taught the error of his ways. The film is nothing special. But at least it has a message about tolerance and forgiveness that bears hearing. One could do a whole lot worse than this kid-friendly metaphor for the ugly world out there. (C.K.) PG 88 minutes B-

Army of Shadows, -- Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece, goes beyond the tension of French rebels scrambling to preserve a remnant of civic virtue during the Nazi occupation. It's about the glory and anguish of finding meaning in action: how "living in the moment" should also mean living in history. (M.S.) Unrated 145 minutes A+

Clerks II -- packs few surprises. Chronic slackers Dante and Randal are still working behind a counter. The characters hardly qualify as role models, but they can be blisteringly funny in a to-heck-with-taste way. While the film sometimes stoops to lows the term sophomoric barely describes, it also possesses a sly wisdom and compassion that are easy to admire. (C.M.) R 97 minutes B

John Tucker Must Die -- is a female vengeance movie, as three high-school girls from disparate cliques wreak vengenace on the stud who dated them simultaneously by recruiting a fourth girl to break his heart. As a 21st-century visit into John Hughes territory, it lacks bite and resonance, but it is funny -- especially the three "victims," who establish a catty, wary rapport. The biggest problem is the fourth girl, played by Brittany Snow, the focus of the film, and she's the least interesting of the bunch. (C.K.) PG-13. 87 minutes B-

Lady in the Water -- is a beautiful sea nymph who yearns to reawaken land folk to the forgotten hopes and wonders of life. Sounds simple -- maybe even simple-minded. But if you're not a fan of the convoluted, teasing thrillers of M. Night Shyamalan, trying to get into this movie is like cracking a puzzle whose constructor keeps breaking his own rules. (M.S.) PG-13 110 minutes D+

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, -- Lian Lunson's blend of documentary and concert footage, takes its title from the singer-songwriter's hilarious and profound declaration that no matter what his lover wants, he's her man. Centered on eclectic record/concert producer Hal Willner's Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening of Leonard Cohen Songs, the movie proves that in an age when everyone wants to be the man, Cohen really is your man. (M.S.) PG-13 105 minutes A-

Little Man -- must set the record for most kicked-in-the-groin jokes in one movie. Starring Marlon Wayans as a pint-sized jewel thief who impersonates an infant to get his loot back, it's a seven-minute idea tastelessly padded-out to 90 minutes. (C.K.) PG-13 90 minutes D+

Miami Vice, -- the new-millennium movie version of the seminal '80s TV hit, packs hard-grained texture and tingling moods into a bullet-riddled scenario. It sheds the series' famous and influential pastel look and plunges its cast of warriors (Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx) and woman of mystery (the incredible Gong Li) into the 21st century. It doesn't just make you want to rumble. It makes you want to rumba. (M.S.) R 130 minutes A-

Monster House -- could be called a coming-of-age tale if coming-of-age meant spinning in place. The movie's biggest selling point is the digital wizardry that transforms the voice actors' physical performances into nuanced cartoons and places them at the center of an animated frolic. (M.S.) PG 91 minutes B

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+

Scoop, -- Woody Allen's latest failed attempt to regain comic form, involves a terrible magician (Allen), an American journalism student (Scarlett Johansson) and a powerful lord's dashing son, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), who may be a serial murderer. Allen's inventiveness and wit have worn away to splinters. Allen has reached the point where his critical and movie-going fans are humoring him. (M.S.) PG-13 95 minutes C

Shadowboxer, -- about the humanity of paid assassins Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr., has gloss, pace and picturesque Philadelphia locations. But the screenplay twirls human kinks, traumas and foibles as if they were dishes to be spun on sticks at a carnival sideshow. (M.S.) R 101 minutes C

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. 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 self-absorbed, chronic adolescent with a heart of gold. The rest of the world, however, is going to wonder what all the fuss is about. 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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