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November 03, 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.

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, -- the adventures of a teen spy created by British novelist Anthony Horowitz, is about as clunky as a movie gets. Newcomer Alex Pettyfer, reportedly plucked from a gaggle of some 500 teen heartthrob wannabes, plays Rider, a heretofore carefree high schooler who's recruited into Britain's top-secret MI6 after the murder of his super-spy uncle (Ewan McGregor, displaying more charisma during his brief time onscreen than the rest of the cast combined). Stormbreaker is less a movie than a patchwork quilt. Even when the chase is on, which happens repeatedly, there's little energy to the film, just the nagging feeling that director Geoffrey Sax (White Noise) should move on already. (C.K.) PG 93 minutes D

Catch a Fire, -- based on the story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a black South African whose torture at the hands of the apartheid government transformed him from an apolitical family man to a dedicated counterrevolutionary, is both a condemnation of torture as a political tool and a tribute to the bravery that exists within everyone. Director Phillip Noyce clearly sees parallels between South Africa in the 1980s and what's happening in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, firmly establishing that it's more than their own humanity that the authorities put at risk. What emerges is a compellingly righteous film condemning torture and inhumanity in the name of the law that seems as much a warning to the abuser as a commemoration of the abused. (C.K.) PG-13 101 mins. B+

The Departed -- illuminates, with a blowtorch, the tangled roots of urban corruption when a Boston Irish kingpin (Jack Nicholson) puts a mole (Matt Damon) in the State Police and the cops put a mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the mob. The direction (Martin Scorsese) and the writing (William Monahan) burst with exposed-wire energy; so does the ensemble, including the scene-stealing Mark Wahlberg as a police sergeant. (M.S.) R 149 minutes A

Flags of Our Fathers -- purports to tell the story of Marines raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima and the iconic photo that was snapped during the battle to take the island during World War II. The film has all the coherence and lucidity of a fragmentation bomb. It spews out cliches about the ambiguous nature of heroism - failed cliches, at that - and they fatally wound any authentic character or artistic notion that it has. (M.S.) R. 132 minutes. C-

Flyboys -- are red-blooded young Americans who become members of France's Lafayette Escadrille to fight the Germans in the air before the United States 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+

The Guardian, -- with Kevin Costner as a grizzled Coast Guard vet out to tame and train recruit Ashton Kutcher in the fineries of saving lives, is that rarest of cinematic commodities: an action movie displaying brains and heart and the opportunity for its stars to do something more than keep the narrative flowing between explosions. Undeniably stirring, It's also blessed with a commanding star turn from Costner, who brings a hard-earned, rough-hewn edge to his character. Overseeing it all is Andrew Davis, furthering his reputation as one of Hollywood's finest action directors. (C.K.) PG-13 139 minutes B+

Hamilton -- is a slice-of-life drama that follows two young unmarrieds (local actors Stephanie Vizzi and Chris Myers) as they drift through a hot summer day in Northeast Baltimore. The film offers few insights, but many opportunities for audiences to fill in the blanks in the characters' lives. It also offers film lovers a chance to revel in this first effort by a director - Baltimore native Matthew Porterfield - more interested in observing life than sensationalizing it. (C.K.) Unrated 64 minutes B+

Jesus Camp -- is a hypnotic, upsetting and bleakly humorous documentary about evangelical children raised in churches and camps that emphasize ecstatic connections to God while blurring the line between church and state. Despite a half-dozen regrettable directorial decisions, the film taps urgent, often contradictory feelings. (M.S.) PG-13 87 minutes B+

Jet Li's Fearless, -- according to its star, is his final martial-arts film. If that's true, Li is leaving the genre in glorious style with this magnificent ode to honor, friendship, responsibility, dedication, grace and about a dozen other 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. Li's determination to do well by his spiritual ancestor infuses the film. (C.K.) PG-13 103 minutes A-

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