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August 18, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOEW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH | MICHAEL SRAGOEW 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, 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. (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. (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-

Little Miss Sunshine -- features the madcap Hoover clan from Albuquerque, N.M. (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin), which unites to get the youngest Hoover (Abigail Breslin) to the Little Miss Sunshine contest in Redondo Beach, Calif. The action, the direction and the writing bring it the warmth as well as the madness of a crazy quilt. (M.S.) R 110 minutes A

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

Step Up, -- in which two dancers find love and purpose at the fictional Maryland School for the Arts, follows the time-honored formula of bad boy meets good girl; boy cleans up act; everyone goes home happy. But such predictability is ultimately OK, because screenwriters Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg create a world that seems as real as it is contemporary, while choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher infuses her dance numbers with energy. (C.K.) PG-13 98 minutes B-

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. Sedaris 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-

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+

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby -- is a gas: a rambunctious NASCAR farce that's generous with baggy-pants comedy and semi-sophisticated farce. Sacha Baron Cohen, as an inscrutably Gallic Formula One racer, is as rib-tickling good as Will Ferrell's dazed Ricky Bobby - and so is John C. Reilly as Ricky's sublimely fatuous sidekick. (M.S.) PG-13 105 minutes. B+

World Trade Center -- pays heartfelt tribute to Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), Port Authority police officers who maintained hope while caught 20 feet below the rubble of Sept. 11. In its own over-emphatic, sometimes clumsy way, it can move an audience to tears, cathartic laughs and cheers. (M.S.) PG-13 129 minutes. B

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. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes C

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