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August 11, 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.

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-

Barnyard, -- in which a feckless cow learns about responsibility, stars a bunch of animated farm animals that look like those cheap plastic toys from the convenience store, trinkets that will keep the kids amused for a few minutes. How appropriate, for that's about the best that can be said for this movie. It includes a few moments kids might find funny, but, for the most part, it's uninspired, not much to look at and laugh-free. (C.K.) PG 90 minutes C-

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.K.) R 97 minutes B

The Descent, -- the story of six thrill-seeking women who get lost while spelunking, is the most exhilaratingly horrifying movie to come out in years, a squirm-inducing exercise in terror that relentlessly preys on one of the most basic human fears: being trapped. Writer-director Neil Marshall has such a firm grasp of what scares us that it's almost possible to overlook the ill-conceived excesses of the film's second half. (C.K.) R 99 minutes B+

John Tucker Must Die -- is a female vengeance movie, as three high-school girls wreak vengeance 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. The biggest problem is the fourth girl, played by Brittany Snow - 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. 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+

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

The Night Listener -- stars Robin Williams as a radio storyteller lifted out of a spiritual funk by his friendship with a dying AIDS patient who may or may not be real. It makes for an interesting character study, but as a narrative, it has serious problems - holes so gaping that they're all but unavoidable. The film should be riveting, but it has no suspense. (C.K.) C+ 82 minutes R

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. (M.S.) PG-13 95 minutes C

Strangers With Candy -- stars Amy Sedaris as a 47-year-old recovering junkie who returns to high school after 32 years in prison or adrift. What makes her saga mordantly hilarious is its burlesque style: Sedaris turns herself into a depraved human sock puppet, and costars like Stephen Colbert as a closeted science teacher invent their own form of low-comic psychological slapstick. (M.S.) R 97 minutes A-

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