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November 24, 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.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -- features a terrific, risky comic creation: a village idiot for the global village. A TV reporter from Kazakhstan comes to the United States and discovers everything you always wanted to know about America but were afraid to ask. Conceived and acted by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, the character of Borat catalyzes uncommon combinations of hospitality and hostility at every stratum of American society. Cohen and director Larry Charles give Borat the high-low genius of an aces episode of South Park. (M.S.) R 85 minutes A

Babel, -- in which director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu suggests that the world's peoples do a lousy job of talking to one another, doesn't devolve into babble, but it comes perilously close. As usual, Inarritu employs multiple story threads that unfold with little regard to chronology, but the device seems arbitrary and unnecessary. One thread, involving a deaf Japanese teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) struggling with the emotional devastation caused by her mother's suicide and the frustrating uncertainty wrought by her blossoming sexuality, belongs in a different movie altogether. The others, centering on Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt as an American couple traveling in Morocco and Adriana Barraza as the nanny watching their kids back in San Diego, work to varying degrees. But the film comes across as more willfully clever than profound, leaving us to applaud the message while pondering why the messenger had to strain so hard to get it across. (C.K.) R 142 minutes B-

Bobby -- a star-studded fictional account of what 22 disparate people were doing at the Ambassador Hotel the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, is a lament of what might have been. It is not a history lesson; those looking to explore the events of June 5-6, 1968, should look elsewhere. It does not offer insight into the mind of his assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, or touch upon the myriad conspiracy theories that since have arisen. It does not delve into RFK the man, or look at the political climate or examine the times in which he lived. What it does, with sincerity and untempered hero worship, is offer Kennedy as a paradigm of what a leader should be - a unifying force, whose appeal transcends age and race and class. Not everyone, of course, is going to buy into that image; then, as now, some considered Kennedy as an opportunist who rode the coattails of his martyred brother. But for those who believed in RFK, Bobby will pack an emotional wallop. (C.K.) 112 minutes B+

Casino Royale -- showcases that terrific actor Daniel Craig as he and the whole creative team go back to novelist Ian Fleming's original conception of the super-agent as a somber, driven operative on Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's a shrewd and often exciting relaunching of a franchise, but the filmmakers show too much of their sweat - especially for those of us who think Bond movies should be more emotional and funny, with a bit of brass-knuckled charm. (M.S.) PG-13 144 minutes B

Deck the Halls -- stars Danny DeVito as a car salesman with a dream: erecting a holiday-light display so huge it can be seen from space. In the process he alienates his across-the-street neighbor, optometrist Matthew Broderick, heretofore the local "Mr. Christmas." There isn't an earned moment of uplift or laughter in the movie, but the audience explodes with merriment at each pratfall or explosion; maybe when you're stuck in a mirthless holiday contraption such as this, an Xmas demolition can serve to clear the air. (M.S.) PG 95 minutes F

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 police 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

Deja vu -- follows a cutting-edge FBI unit as it enlists ATF agent Denzel Washington to solve the horrible bombing of a jammed New Orleans ferry. It's tense and engrossing, but it lacks exactly what the title advertises: the sense of inexplicable familiarity that should haunt you as the story unfolds and leave you all a-tingle when it ends. Only Washington's megawattage wariness and the searing urgency of Paula Patton as the beautiful key to the case give the film any emotional momentum. (M.S.) PG-13 126 minutes B-

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