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September 29, 2006

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

All the Kings Men, -- the second movie adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's novel, stars Sean Penn as Warren's Willie Stark, a veiled portrait of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. The movie fails to capture Stark's electric connection with the voters, or how a democratic mass movement can turn fascistic; it also suffers from flat pacing, a pseudo-literary tone and a total waste of a promising cast. (M.S.) PG-13 128 minutes C-

The Black Dahlia -- stars Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as top cops trying to solve the instantly infamous case of a would-be starlet whose murder seemed to sum up the sick soul of post-World War II L.A. Director Brian De Palma imbues the imagery with an obsessive grandeur even as the narrative falls apart. (M.S.) R 121 minutes B-

Everyone's Hero -- is the animated adventures of a young boy who tries to reunite Babe Ruth with his bat so the Yankees can win the 1932 World Series. Young children - especially baseball fans - will doubtless enjoy it. (C.K.) G 80 minutes C+

This Film Is Not Yet Rated -- performs a great service, though not especially well. The service is shining a light on the Motion Picture Association of America and its ratings board, a klatch of anonymous men and women who essentially dictate what Americans are allowed to see in the movies and where they're allowed to see it. But director Kirby Dick can't tell his story straight. (C.K.) Unrated 97 minutes B-

Flyboys -- are red-blooded young Americans who become members of France's Lafayette Escadrille to fight the Germans in the air before the U.S. enters World War I. But the movie is a passionless and attenuated spectacle: The characters are like stick figures from a game of hangman - you just wait for them to prove themselves or die or both. (M.S.) PG-13 139 minutes D+

Gridiron Gang -- stars the Rock as a real-life juvenile probation officer who molded some of the toughest residents at a "last chance" facility for underage felons into a football team. The moviemakers have shaped the material to follow the beats and rhythms of underdog-sports movies, not life. (M.S.) PG-13 125 minutes C+

Half Nelson -- is a portrait of the artist as a junior-high history teacher and girls' basketball coach. He's also a coke addict. But the bond he shares with one of his student-players is a sign of life in a blighted urban landscape. The performances of Ryan Gosling as the teacher and Shareeka Epps as the girl who befriends him will make you feel whole. (M.S.) R 107 minutes A-

Jackass Number Two -- is crude, disgusting, lowbrow comedy, a relentlessly (and proudly) scatological ode to the kind of high jinks that seem screamingly funny in direct proportion to the amount of liquor one has imbibed. It's a bunch of guys doing dangerous stuff, disgusting stuff, outrageous stuff and just-plain stupid stuff. Though I'm ashamed to admit it, moments left me chuckling. (C.K.) R 95 minutes C

Jet Li's Fearless, -- according to its star, is his final martial-arts film. If that's true, Li's leaving the genre in glorious style with this magnificent ode to honor, friendship, responsibility, dedication, grace and about a dozen other timeless virtues. Oh, yeah, and at 43, Li can still kick it. He plays revered Chinese master Huo Yuanjia, an early 20th-century proponent of the wushu fighting style to which Li has dedicated much of his life. (C.K.) PG-13 103 minutes A-

The Last Kiss -- is about those last frightening days of youth, when it looks as though all the carefree good times are about to end. At a time when the idea that actions beget consequences is becoming almost passe, The Last Kiss earns points for holding its flawed protagonist's feet to the fire and not simply forgiving him for his indiscretions. (C.K.) R 115 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 acting, the direction (by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) and the writing (by Michael Arndt) bring it the warmth as well as the madness of a crazy quilt. (M.S.) R 110 minutes A

Quinceanera -- centers on a makeshift family of three, 14-year-old Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios), her rebellious gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) and their elderly great-great-uncle, Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez). In Hispanic culture, the quinceanera is a coming-of-age celebration, with religious overtones, for 15-year-old girls. But in this Quinceanera, everyone comes of age. (C.K.) R 90 minutes B

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 overemphatic, sometimes clumsy way, it can move an audience to tears, cathartic laughs and cheers. (M.S.) PG-13 129 minutes B

The column "The Gripe" will return next week.

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